Saturday 31 October 2020

UK's Lockdown Flounderings and Artefact Hunting

In the UK, museums and galleries must close under the new Covid-19 lockdown regulations (Gov.ukm: New National Restrictions from 5 November). Some FLOs had returned to work in their host institutions, most it seems had not. Now many will be returning home after 5th November, this time maybe they will all take boxes of unrecorded finds to keep them busy, because actually using this lull to get some outreach materials created and using social media to promote a broader understanding of best practice seems to be beyond most of them. Anyway, there are some private initiatives - maybe if they can't produce their own, they can use that...

But it seems that even treating artefact hunting as "outdoor exercise" (which is what the grabby site trashers do in the UK) may not be enough to allow them to get out and pilfer the past for the next few weeks, at least not in groups. The PAS and NCMD have yet to issue detailed guidelines. The European Council for Metal Detecting never got around to producing any at all.

Ashmolean Museum Spreading Mental Fluff, Failing to Address the Main Question

Another British Museum is acting as a gatekeeper, but merely using objects in its stores for facile and demeaning guessing games:
Ashmolean Museum@AshmoleanMuseum It's MYSTERY OBJECT TIME! [emoticon] What do you think this could be? Wrong answers encouraged.

Oh how utterly droll, eh? Note that they do not give any indication of dimensions (no scale in photo) or material. This was followed by people making fatuous remarks, each of which the Ashmolean staff answered individually - having obviously a lot of free time at the moment. That is, apart from one:

Paul Barford@PortantIssues·11 g. W odpowiedzi do @AshmoleanMuseum 
Jade ear ornament that you date no closer than 7 centuries, date of context lost on market. Bought (from whom?) in 1996, no provenance or collecting history on Museum website, no mention of documentation of legal export. Why are you doing this? Why is this in a UK museum at all? [followed by link 'Viet Nam News: Return looted artworks to the Vietnamese people']
It seems to me with all the public debate (in the UK too) about repatriation of unethically-appropriated cultural property, there were more profitable lines of discussion with members of the British public that one could have used this object to initiate than making silly suggestions.* Note that only one of these comments included the idea that the museum in a far-off land should not be hanging on to something like this (probably looted from a grave) in order that their nationals can entertain themselves by making fun of it. Dumbdown culture at its very worst. And what valuable mind-expanding information did the museum impart at the end" 
Ashmolean Museum@AshmoleanMuseum·30 paźW odpowiedzi do @AshmoleanMuseum
We had so many guesses that this was a coat hanger that we started to second guess ourselves. It is not, in fact, a coat hanger, but an ear ornament! Otherwise known as 'lingling-o', these were often made from jade or nephrite and might have indicated the wearer's social status.

This of course is why we get people voting for Brexit. Reassuringly equally-inane comment, followed by Inane ("we are with you") comment sketchy label (followed by an exclamation mark) then three sketchy "facts", omitting to say which country/culture produced it, where and when. Most importantly how it got out of the country of origin and why, how it entered the UK and how it ended up in their stupid guessing game. Totally meaningless fluff.

*"The lower half of a crown with a changeable top. It was marketed for the conqueror with many cities but precious little time", "It's either an oojemaflip or a watchimacallit. I suspect the former", "Clearly a coat hanger for an 80s power jacket", "Gecko Multi-Gym", "Portable scales?", "Hotel tie hanger?", "Coat hanger", "Blikopener", "Surgical retractor?", "Tooth extractor", "Rapelling device", "An early example of a comb for balding men", "It’s an early precursor to those Marks and Spencer’s trouser hangers with the two clips at either end which are always too stiff to open and are just plain useless...?", "It's to dry socks on your rotary drier", "Is it a bone age coat/loin cloth hanger?", "Clearly it's a 1980s bra-hanger for  Madonna", "Early Star Wars fighter prototypes were very unreliable and prone to frequent breakdowns, as evidenced by the large tow hook on this example", "Tickling stick?", "Medieval version of a swiss army knife", "Jewellery stand", "shoes hanger", "A ceremonial staff?", "An anchor", "A coat hook for bats", "Ancient Mesopotamian key fob", "Toast rack", "Clearly a Cro-Magnon cloak hanger; Please return it to the family; Thanks".



Thursday 29 October 2020

Those numbers of metal detectorists... STOP Fudging the Question


Fudge is no answer
While the Helsinki gang can gaily ignore the implications of Hardy's 2017 estimate of 27000 artefact hunters in England and Wales, the rest of us would prefer to know the facts. We have seen that "Let's Go Digging" has 13400 followrs, and now I see that the latest membership numbers for the "Fudgeworld" (Metal detecting Private group) currently stands at 26.2K members. Not all will be British, not all will be active, but then again, not all active English and Welsh detectorists will be members of this one facebook page. It's beginning to look as if there is a problem here that current policy needs to address.

Wednesday 28 October 2020

Let's Go Digging Insurance

Metal detectors and farmers

Some comments were made here on whether fly-by-night visits through pay-to-dig companies qualified for insurance cover. Paul "White Lives Matter" Howard, the organiser of the Let's Go Digging events has announced:

Piece [sic] of mind everyone who attends Lets Go Digging events is insured up to £10’000’000 public liability insurance while on our farms
They can't provide toilets but have the money to pay premiums on insurance like that... Does this insurance cover the farmer from loss if a metal detectorist were to steal something from the property? (as if, eh?). 

"Our farms"? 


California Museum Dragging Feet over Thai Artefacts Acquired without Paperwork in 1960s

Khao Lon lintel
A museum in California is, for some reason, displaying two ripped-off Thai sculptures. They were spotted accidentally by the Thai consulate general in Los Angeles who saw the lintels on display when he visited the museum in 2016. Now, four years later, the U.S. government is demanding the museum gives up any claims to these objects and sends them back, the U.S. attorney’s office announced Tuesday (Associated Press, 'Lawsuit demands California museum forfeit Thai artifacts', Washington Post Oct. 28, 2020. ).
The lawsuit says the items illegally made their way to a private collector in the United States and were donated to the city- and county-owned collection of the Asian Art Museum [...]. The museum said one lintel is from Nong Hong Temple and dates to 1000-1080 AD. The other is from Khao Lon Temple and dates to 975-1025 AD. The museum says one item was bought by noted collector Avery Brundage and the other by the museum, with Brundage as a go-between, in the 1960s from sellers in London and Paris.
Nong Hon lintel
The museum said that its own study found no evidence that the lintels were looted but also didn’t turn up any copies of required export documents required under Thai law, which raises questions about what they were playing at having them in the museum collection for more than half a century before this lawsuit. They seem to have been taking their time after finding a big enough box:
"The lawsuit is surprising because the museum had been negotiating with both the Department of Homeland Security and Thai officials since 2017, said Robert Mintz, the museum’s deputy director. The lengthy process of permanently removing the items from the museum’s collection had been expected to be completed this spring but now ”the lintels won’t go anywhere until the legal process is complete,” he said. “We’re surprised by this filing and we’re disappointed that it seems to throw up a roadblock to what seemed like positive and developing negotiations.” he added.
If somebody's stolen car was found in their car park in 2016 and they were told that getting the paperwork together for them to give it back was going to take the museum "a lengthy period", I suggest that a court case would be in order four years later. This case was noted here in an older post, odd to see it is still dragging on: Thailand is seeking the return of Illicit items from museums in the United States, PACHI  Saturday, 4 August 2018.

As for: "museum said that its own study found no evidence that the lintels were looted but also didn’t turn up any copies of required export documents required under Thai law", either they are being disingenuous or are just not very bright Trump voters.  Looting and smuggling are two different activities, export licencing refers to the latter activity. And yes, the absence of any export licencing is evidence that this thing is not suitable to add to any responsible collection. 

Antiquity is in the Eye of the Beholder

Barakat galleries (London, Seoul, Amman, West Hollywood, Hong Kong) aim to be a "mirror of all ages and cultures" and in their  Masterpieces of Biblical Art, they had a Bronze Age Limestone Votive Sculpture that was sold last night:

Bronze Age Limestone Votive Sculpture SKU PF.0167 Circa 2500 BC to 1500 BC Dimensions 8″ (20.3cm) high x 6″ (15.2cm) wide,   Medium:  Limestone,   Origin:  Northern Syria,   Gallery Location USA
With his arms clasped reverently to his chest, this powerful figure stands in awe before some god the world has now forgotten. He evokes a distant age, a time when man felt more helpless before the forces of the cosmos. Even after all these centuries, his quiet dignity in the face of the unknown has the power to move us.
Barakat (fair use for purposes of criticism and comment)
That's it. What a sales spiel!  The object was first spotted by Professor Erin Thompson [@artcrimeprof] John Jay College (CUNY), NYC who described it as looking like a "fossilized heap of Weetabix". The bidding stood at $12k last night when I last saw it. First of all, as Prof Thompson remarked, who in their right mind would buy a dubious object from what has been for some time now a heavily looted conflict zone with absolutely no information about how and when it left Syria (
Rebels, Rojava or Regime?) and entered the US, and what its collecting history was? Perhaps it has "none", which raises all sorts of questions. At one extreme, somebody was careless with the documentation, at another somebody deliberately deleted all trace of its recent past, and a third option is that the object has no past because it is a recent production that the dealer mistook for an antiquity.

Note that the gallery did not give any proper description at all of what is on sale. In particular, that condition report is scanty, yet it is in the condition in which the object is that part of its biography is embodied. Any dealer/auction sale should treat the task of describing what they've got a little more seriously than, "here's a few random arty pictures not necessarily showing all angles, you pays for what you sees". And that is what we had here.

Like the potential buyer was, I'm looking at these pictures and trying to see the object in four dimensions from them. I see the left arm is oddly deformed, and not clasped on the chest in awe or not. The figure seems to be holding a rectangular object (a book?). But oddly there is not a photo showing that left arm properly.

Stylistically, there are a muddle of associations, the head as it is today seems to want to be Mohenjo Daro or a star-gazer, while the figure as a whole also reminds one of Yemeni stuff. Perhaps this stylistic melange is the reason why the dealer does not want to go into details. But one does wonder about the stature of a dealer that describes a chunk of stone a dozen or so centimetres tall as "powerful".

Barakat (fair use for purposes
of criticism and comment)

The front of the figure has a recent scar, cutting through the brownish patina to reveal the limestone is grey. It looks like a glancing plough or mattock scar, hinting at the process of how it came onto the market. But then there is a second scar on the back of the head. If you zoom in and look at the back, the patina is scarred and scuffed as though this item was at some time in a box of rocks.
How and when did that happen? But then the same scuffing is absent from the front and sides, and the edges of the protruding arms and nose. In one photo, the arm seems to be formed from a sawn surface. Or is it? Because one prominent element of the object is not described at all, the oblique scar of the chin. The dealer makes no reference to that.

My first question, looking at the profile is what form this had in the first place. Secondly, why is the fracture so flat? Has the object split along a bedding plane or joint? Is the right shoulder another fault in the rock? The dealer makes no reference to that and should (for example how many inner faults might this object have?).

Barakat (fair use for purposes
of criticism and comment)
But then look at the back (keeping the blocky profile and the back of the head and neck in mind). Doesn't that look like a bedding plane, with that rectangular slabby bit behind the left shoulder? This is where I start to get really suspicious. Look at the bottom edge, where there is a break. Remember the right side has been carved out of a flat surface. So that bottom edge is chipped quite a lot, apparently after breakage, and you can see before the scuffing. So the implication is that the complete figure was broken and the upper part subject to some rolling or bashing process, chipping the edge of the break.... but not the arms, angular shoulder (OK, the nose is battered). That's a bit odd, and I would expect the dealer describing his goods to mention this.

I am a bit puzzled what the lower part of this "artwork" is supposed to have looked like. There is no indication of a waist having been below the break. Was this a rectangular stela with a head on top? Was it a fully round figurine that tapered lower down, to end in small feet? What parallels can be adduced for any of this in the art of "Northern Syria"? The dealer does not say. But he opines that it is "Bronze Age". Why? He does not say.
All my own work, based on subjective
 interpretation derived from  what
one can glean from description
by Barakat (fair use for purposes of
criticism and comment).
Because the problem is that the odd chipping an weathering of the back of this object could equally mean that somebody found a slab of limestone with a weathered broken edge meeting a flat edge almost at right angles, with a nice weathered bedding plane, and got creative with it. One might very well interpret it like that. There is nothing in the seller's description (including the photographs) that conflict with that interpretation of what we see presented. And that means the object would have been manufactured to look as if it had been broken. The shadows in the photos prevent us from seeing in detail any differences there might be between the patina on the front, sides and back. And again, the seller says nothing about this. ("Caveat emptor, but I'm not gonna help you"?)

So what actually is this undocumented chunk of stone said to be ancient and said to be from Northern Syria ? The opinion of Mr Barakat is that this is a "masterpiece (sic) of Biblical (sic) art" dated by him to the Bronze Age, I think there are good grounds to ask on what this opinion is based apart from "because I say so". The antiquities trade sorely needs to start taking the description of their goods more seriously, to avoid any misunderstandings.
hat tip Erin Thompson

Monday 26 October 2020

Gutted Wen Fings Aint Wot They Sim- Honest

Some news from the toiletless dig at Moreton-in-Marsh
Paul Howard Admin 1 h
1 x Gold Roman now from our Moreton-in-Marsh permission, Always hammered and Roman to be found, we’ve done a few visits now but it just keeps giving and yesterday we had a go on a new 50 acre area and had a silver Roman and hammered and gold half sovrin, We will be doing the new 50 acre again but we now also have the 100 acre site we’ve done a few times and had the 1st gold Roman been ploughed and is ready for us to book so keep eye on events I’m going to get us back their in next few weeks, also has lots hard standing parking
Lee DjIlla B Booth: Nice Paul , it’s not everyday you see gold Roman coming out the ground hope you well fella

Lorraine Maud Awesome

Gary Molloy Congratulations to the finder,awesome
Paul Howard Gutted just seen a live video of the what looked like a gold roman but it turns out it’s a lead farm token that in Kevin’s pics looked gold but def isn’t

According to finder, a
 farm token not worth
reporting to the landowner.

Oh def. This "lead token" with a goldy sheen has an inscription on it TI CAESAR DIVI - AVG F AVGVSTVS and on the reverse PONTIF and the rest is worn... That's really quite interesting for a lead farm token, I would say the landowner should jolly well get that valued before he gives it away, it could be worth quite a bit to a collector of funny-looking-lead-farm-tokens-found-by-metal-detectorists. Especially as this one has that attractive golden sheen to it (must be the artificial chemical fertilisers that did that). I think this should be recorded by the PAS, and I hope they manage to contact "Kevin".

I can't help wondering why a "farm token" would be made to look just like a slightly worn aureus of Tiberius - like the ones that the finder could locate on a dealer's website like here (prices up to 16000$). Rauch (sale 108) had three for about 3-4000 euros and there are several sellers listed in CoinArchives (Leu et al.) that have them at a hefty price ticket too, even for ones in quite grotty condition like the LGD one. This is why I think a "lead farm token that is def not a valuble Romin coin" is especially interesting, I wonder what the landowner thought of it when the finder showed him and asked if he could take it? Maybe when the FLO has recorded it, he could interview the landowner and it would make a very interesting post for the PAS blog, about public attitudes to the past, the metal detectorists out there for the "love of history (and not the money)", the landowner that wants to share the history of his land with the public. 

Now you may be saying, "Paul, this photo shows what clearly IS a Roman coin", but you'd be wrong, we have the word of the finder AND Mr Howard that this is not the case, and as we all know, LGD events take place on the basis of a contract (and mutual trust) between the landowner and the person responsible for his members' conduct on that property, and that contract states clearly that high-value items (such as an aureus of Tiberius) would be reported to the landowner and a financial settlement agreed. So this CAN'T be an aureus of Tiberius can it, that would mean the metal detectorists were ripping off the landowner... and surely nobody suspects that metal detectorists would do anything like that. No, this must be lead - but let the PAS see it and record it just to make sure.  

Sunday 25 October 2020

If Only People Would Look into Artefact Hunting and Collecting Like This


The ability to identify misinformation is a crucial skill these days. This should be being taught in every school. Fighting fake news is the same whether its Covid or the nonsenses of the PAS and Helsinki Gang about "metal detectorists":

Instead of "trusted sources", (ie what other arkies say, because most of them are parrotting the same rumours and half-truths) I'd suggest going back to verbatim sources produced by the detectorists themselves. 

More British Looting: Engaging in and Excreting on the PASt in Moreton this Weekend. [Updated]

Pay to Dig Looters like animals

Heritage Action, 'Right now another innocent community is being put at risk by a pay-to-dig metal detecting rally', Heritage Journal 25/10/2020. Moreton In Marsh is a particularly beautiful historical Cotswold town. So that means its a target for the pay-to-dig brigade that have signed a contract with a local landowner that means that

people from goodness knows where (but including those from High-Risk Zone 2 places) [will be] descending on their town and using their facilities. It’s the second such stunt in Gloucestershire in a week. The locals will be pondering how come their innocent agricultural show had to be cancelled whereas a grubby, acquisitive metal detecting rally is allowed. And no, the incomers won’t be keeping out of their town, for the organisers, Let’s Go Digging, have told attendees: “No catering or toilets but very close to the town of Moreton” No toilets! Imagine! There’s a pandemic on yet Britain is the ONLY place in the world where the health of locals is being put at risk like this. And for why? “Anything you find under £3,000 is yours without having to split with farmers“ (which speaks loudly of the motivation of the attendees and their propensity to report all they find to the farmer and PAS).

This is disgusting on all accounts. Ripping out collectables, and leaving behind poo-strewn fields because the organisers can't organise proper sanitation  in Britain is what "gets detecting a bad name". British archaeologists if they had the balls would be doing something about their "partners" getting involved in damaging commercial activity like is to protect sites, but we all know they could not give a proverbial poo-bag in a tree. 

Let's recall that the LGD Facebook page shows the group has over 13.4 thousand followers, half the metal detecting "partners" in the country. 

UPDATE 25th October 2020

I've just been contacted by an emotional detectorist who'd paid up to attend but suffers from incontinence, but when he was preparing to set off today, wanted to find out where precisely in Moreton the public toilets open on Sunday were. Google Earth however told him that the organisers were pulling a fast one. There are none. The nearest are about 10 km away. Is that in the organisers' risk assessment? 

Google Earth Sunday October 25th 2020. The yellow line is 10 km long. He should get his money back from the pay-to-dig charlatans. 

Presumably, one of the 'benefits' of the island leaving the EU is that rules about grazing animals on land that is contaminated with human faeces will have been lifted. But this allows the spread of parasites. That kind of hygienic laxity will not help the UK reach a trade deal with anyone if the meat supplied by Gloucestershire farmers is found to be riddled with disease.  

Saturday 24 October 2020

UK to return 5,000 ancient artifacts to Iraq'


Al-Monitor, 'UK to return 5,000 ancient artifacts to Iraq' Oct 23, 2020

The British government will return nearly 5,000 stolen artifacts to Iraq, the office of Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said Friday. Kadhimi, who was appointed premier in May, arrived in the United Kingdom earlier this week for an official state visit. During a tour of the British Museum in London, the Iraqi leader was briefed on the UK's pledge to return clay tablets and other artifacts to Iran. They are expected to be delivered next year, in what Kadhimi's office said is Iraq’s largest-yet repatriation of looted artifacts. Included in the repatriation 4,000-year-old Sumerian relic that museum experts discovered for sale by an online auctioneer in May 2019. The limestone sculpture is believed to have been taken from a temple in Iraq that was heavily looted during the Gulf War and again in 2003.

OK, we know about the relief that an Essex auction house was trying to flog off. Where are the other 4999 seized artefacts from, what are they and who was selling them? And how many arrests have been made in the UK as a result of the in-depth investigations of this crime? Somehow that seems to be missing from this text. How deeply involved are British dealers in the trade of conflict antiquities from this and other Middle Easter countries, and why are we not being told anything at all about this? Repatriation of loose smuggled artefacts should be the end of the process, not its aim. 


More British Looting: Essex Metal Detectorist Caught in Flagrante

Though fans will tell you "only a small minority go artefact hunting illegally", as legal access to land that has not already been hunted out dries up, more and more are going to disregard the niceties and go out reasonably confident they'll not be caught, or if they are, the police will not make the charges stick. This guy overtested his luck. The police already had evidence to make an arrest, now look what happened:
Oops. Congratulations on Essex police for such a piece of serendipity. What time was the attempted arrest, and why did the people at home not advise Mr Hawker by phone that the police were on the way to him? 

And of course the thread below is full of "detectorists" condemning the thief, who "gets the hobby a bad name". But I would be interested to hear why they think that is, because the damage done by this guy doing it illegally is exactly the same as that doing it legally by UK law and not reporting, or doing it legally by UK law, hoiking out the stuff without proper observation and recording of the context and reporting it. All we get from the latter are loose objects, and not in any form real archaeological information (any FLO or British arkie* wishing to contest that is welcome to try in the comments below). There simply is no difference in real archaeological terms between artefact hunting that is legal by the UK's wet-paper-bag antiquities "legislation" or illegal by the same measure. Open to discussion. 

*or "Bonnie and Suzie", Andras Minos and Pieterjan too. Go on, I know you want to. 

More British Looting. Artefact Hunting on Scheduled Site in Kent

 Kent Police Tonbridge and Malling,  reports of criminal damage at Little Kits Coty House. The digging and removal of artefacts from the ground will be investigated. How? (Not a rhetorical question). 

If the police are to protect this heritage, what changes would have to be made in the regulation of the collecting of and trade in archaeological objects to make that possible given the existing resources? Surely instead of just shrugging shoulders as more and more culture criminals get away with it, all those that (really) care about the past and its archaeological study should be able to find ways to reduce the chances that they can. 

King Ring Found by Metal Detectorist

       Hawking in Angmering?
An interesting object apparently connected with a famous person. Timeline: Auctions, 24th November 2020,

LOT 0553 King James I's Personal Hawking Ring. Estimate GBP (£) 4,000 - 6,000 1603-1625 AD
A silver vervel or hawking ring used during falconry, comprising a flat-section hoop with legend in italic script 'Kyng James', and a waisted heater shield with quartered arms of the Stuart kings; the arms displayed are the royal arms used by the Stuarts (outside of Scotland) from the accession of James I to the British throne in 1603. 0.84 grams, 10.36mm (1/2"). Fine condition; edge of shield bent. An excessively rare ring, the personal possession of an important British monarch.

Found while searching with a metal detector near Angmering, West Sussex, UK, on 8 November 2016; declared under the treasure act under reference number 2017 T10, subsequently valued at £4,000-£4,500, but disclaimed as no museum was in a position to acquire it; accompanied by a copy of the treasure report for H M Coroner, the official provisional valuation, letters from the British Museum, and a copy of the Portable Antiquities report number SUSS-D17951; this lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by AIAD certificate number no.10233-167384.

[ a load of narrativising waffle about kings and falcons - wikipedia stuff...]
There is an interesting change in appearance in the ring (and look at the inscription) between the PAS photo and now. So if this was vetted by the PAS as being found by the nameless detectorist, at a particular place and a particular time, WHY is Timeline asking the Interpol Database?  I really do not see the logic in this action. Unless of course Timeline are saying "never trust a metal detectorist" - maybe (like me) they have some experience with this?

Nobody has explained why the shield of arms is bent round like that.

Now these metal detectorist chappies are always saying they are not interested in the money. So why is this one on sale when, mercifully, the museum could not raise the cash to buy it (did the museum too perhaps have doubts about it)? Nobody decided to donate it, but it got flogged off. The ring was, it seems, made before 1603, and why was it in Sussex?

Historic England: "Not so Many, and What Can we Do?"

There was an online heritage seminar and it was suggested I might like to register to watch Mark Harrison, Head of Heritage Crime Strategy, Historic England. I said I was not going to because... blood pressure. But I submitted a question through a HA member 

I think we should ask the head of Heritage Crime Strategy about police estimates of the discovery rate of illegal metal detecting given that latest estimates are that there are 27000 active detectorists and they now frequently report they cannot get permission from any of the farmers they approach, what sort of police resources would there have to be to deal with the scale of effect?
HA reported "the presentation was pretty well as much as you'd predict/expect" and "one of my questions was chosen for discussion. Sadly, not Paul's one!" Surprise there, eh? Inevitably, even this "was turned around to state that only a 'small minority' of detectorists are nighthawks/thieves".

A small minority, eh? On what evidence? Let it be said that just 4%* of 27000 is 1080 detectorists who could potentially be going out even once a week... We are talking about the possibility that several thousand sites are being damaged each year, even if such a number only targets just three sites each (the number a group of men arrested in the UK a few months ago were reputed to have 'done' - no word to date of any charges brought).

It seems to me that the "strategy" is to wring hands that there are not the resources to place brightly coloured police cars with flashing lights and coppers camouflaged in hi-vis clothing on country roads to catch nighthawks in flagrente. That's a good way of not having to actually create a strategy. 

It seems to me that an obvious strategy would be to create a permit system, anyone caught out metal detecting without the permit, and signed agreement from the landowner to be on that land at that time, gets taken back to the station for questioning. Secondly, there should be spot checks on eBay sellers of artefacts, requiring them to present adequate documentation of provenance and title.

That's what Historic England's strategy should be, not to say "no can do, and there's not many of them anyway". As for those numbers, the Nighthawking Report was a bit of a cop-out (as I explained on my blog at the time) and more importantly written eleven years ago. The situation in artefact hunting in the UK eleven years ago was totally different. Then, most people had personal contracts with landowners. Now huge numbers of them are finding it so difficult to get onto land that they are having to pay to access it. One pay-to-dig commercial entity facilitating that has over 13000 followers, half the detectorists in England and Wales. Tell us that all metal detectorists that want land and have not got a "farmer" of their own, are now paying all that money each year. 

*The conventional estimate of the proportion of society that are sociopaths. Not all sociopaths are criminals, but not all criminals are sociopaths.

Friday 23 October 2020

Stolen Banksy on 'Antiques Roadshow'

The PAS should be explaining this
 Kara Weisenstein, 'A man took a stolen Banksy on 'Antiques Roadshow' and got completely owned', Oct. 21, 2020

A shameless British man [...] went on Antiques Roadshow recently and tried to get a Banksy piece appraised — after admitting he ripped it off a wall. The unidentified man explained that he spotted the small work of street art — of a rat holding a power drill — near the Brighton seafront in 2004 and decided to make it his. “It looked loose, I went over — pulled it off, basically,” he admitted, laughing about how it took “a little bit of a tug” to pry the piece off the wall. Art expert Rupert Maas had bad news for the man, however. While an authenticated Banksy of that size would’ve fetched at least $25,000, a stolen Banksy is worthless, since the artist refuses to authenticate it — as he always does when people take his art from the public spaces where they were installed. “He calls it pest control,” Maas told the would-be Banksy owner. “I think the message here is, if you do see a piece of graffiti art out there, leave it — leave it for the public,” the art expert added.
British metal detectorists take note. We need a lot more pest control of people that take for themselves what should belong to us all, that is the knowledge that is trashed when oiks like this dig holes in sites and assemblages and pocket what they fancy.

Tuesday 20 October 2020

Unexplained Attack on Artworks and Antiquities in Berlin's Museums [UPDATED]

Western European museums claim that they can 'look after' other people's cultural heritage better than the source countries, so "for the objects' own safety, they should stay in western collections". According to research by Zeit and Deutschlandfunk, after the Berlin Museumsinseln's institutions were reopened to the public after being in lockdown because of the Coronavirus, objects were damaged in more than three museums on October 3, 2020. Embarrassingly for the museums, for more than two weeks, neither the public nor other museums that might be at risk were informed about this, one of the most extensive attacks on works of art and antiquities in the history of post-war Germany (Stefan Koldehoff, Tobias Timm, 'Anschlag auf Kunstwerke und Antiken auf der Berliner Museumsinsel', Zeit Online October 20, 2020). See also: Philip Oltermann, 'Vandalism of museum artefacts 'linked to conspiracy theorists' the Guardian 20 Oct 2020  

One or more unknown perpetrators had sprayed at least 70 objects in the Pergamon Museum, the New Museum, the Old National Gallery and other locations with an oily liquid that left visible stains.  The objects attacked included Egyptian sarcophagi, stone sculptures and paintings from the 19th century. Nothing is known about the motives behind the attack so far and no organisation has yet claimed responsibility. 

Die Zeit and the Guardian have linked the museum island attack to conspiracy theories pushed through social media channels by prominent coronavirus deniers in recent months that have claimed that the Pergamon Museum, which at that time was still closed due to corona, was the "Throne of Satan" and that it was the centre of the "global Satanist scene and corona criminals", announcing "here they make their human sacrifices at night and violate children!" 

One such theory claims that the Pergamon Museum is the centre of the “global satanism scene” because it holds a reconstruction of the ancient Greek Pergamon Altar. Attila Hildmann, a former vegan celebrity chef who has become one of Germany’s best-known proponents of the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory, posted messages on Telegram in August and September in which he suggested that the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, was using the altar for “human sacrifices”. On Tuesday night Hildmann, who has over 100,000 followers on his public Telegram channel, posted a link to the Deutschlandfunk article with the words: “Fact! It is the throne of Baal (Satan).” 

The Guardian links this to another recent event: 

In 2018 two women were arrested in the Greek capital, Athens, after smearing museum exhibits at the National Museum of History with an oily substance. The two women, later identified as being of Bulgarian origin, told police they were spraying the artworks with oil and myrrh “because the Holy Scripture says it is miraculous”.

There are few details, a brief account here and here. It would be interesting to see a spectrograph of the oils extracted from both attacks. 

Update 23rd Oct 2020

Photos have been published showing the damage to the antiquities, which does look like some kind of "annointing", but no information has been supplied about which paintings were attacked and whether there was a common theme.

In a statement shared yesterday, German culture minister Monika Grütters asked for a comprehensive report on the attacks  [...] including an assessment of how similar events can be prevented in the future. At a conference on museum security[last autumn], Grütters said that museums were insufficiently prepared for possible crimes. But as commentators writing for the German national daily Die Zeit pointed out, museums and the country’s government are unlikely to be “comfortable” providing information about their own security in the wake of demands for restitution of artworks taken during the colonial era, “which are still being answered with the argument of alleged security problems in African countries.”


From a UK Metal Detectorist's Facebook Page

Checking out a few of the commercial artefact hunting organisers' webpages the other day, I found this (right) proudly displayed, I can't make out the second flag. It is difficult to say whether I am more surprised seeing such a thing from a British metal detectorist trying to get people to come to their pay-to-dig rallies, or whether I am not at all surprised to see such a thing from a British metal detectorist.

Gaia Getting Angry about Looting?

Anselm Feuerbach, Gaia

Gaia is fed up with waiting for the Portable Antiquities Scheme to speak out about collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record hidden in the earth. She's fed up with waiting for artefact hunters to wake up and start acting responsibly. Coronavirus is not having much of an effect, the looters go out anyway. Maybe the changing climate will make them start thinking about more than just themselves?  
Wilsford Rally Cancelled:
This event has just been cancelled by our farmer due to heavy rain yesterday and overnight, We thought it might dry up a bit but fields are very wet and the field we was (sic) parking in just won’t take the volume of cars in and out without vehicles getting stuck unfortunately so we have no option on this one. It to cancel to be re arranged for another date, apologies in advance but it’s again out of our hands .
Indeed, the landowner has the right to decide who comes onto their property and when. "Our famer" indeed!


Polish Metal Detectorist Arrested as Result of Tip-off from Concerned Member of Public


Polish police protects heritage from
damage by metal detectorists

Ed Whelan, 'Hundreds Of Illegal Historical Artifacts Recently Recovered By The Polish Police!' 19th Ocober, 2020 

Recently in Poland, authorities have recovered hundreds of stolen historical artifacts in a targeted police operation [...], the cache of illegal historical artifacts was found in Andrychów, in the south of Poland [...] A local man had been on the police’s “radar for some time,” reports The First News. It seems that a tipoff led them to search the suspect's property. Officers “received information that one of the inhabitants of Andrychów may be in possession of prohibited objects,” reports Wadowice Online. This led to officers from the regional police headquarters, based in Kraków, and local police to raid the home of a 40-year-old man. [...] What the authorities found was a treasure trove of stolen historical artifacts. Hundreds of items were found in cardboard boxes all over the property. [...]  The owner of the illegal historical artifacts was arrested, and a file is being prepared in the local prosecutors’ office in relation to the case. The police believe that the objects were excavated illegally, and this is contrary to the Protection of Monuments and the Care of Monuments laws in Poland. [...] It seems that most of the artifacts were obtained by “illegal searches using a metal detector around Poland, without the necessary permission,” reports The First News. 

Monday 19 October 2020

A Reminder, "Metal Detecting" is About Digging BLIND Into Archaeology

A plug for a spade that you can buy on a metal detecting forum near you. It's a reminder that what is euphemistically called "metal detecting" is often about blindly hacking out collectable archaelogical artefacts out of archaeological contexts - trashing them. It's not about a "love of history" but a consumerist "love of HAVING". As you can see, this spade has got a nasty serrated edge for "cuttin'fru those roots" and anything else that's there. Of course if you are following the Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales and keeping off pasture and out of undisturbed woodland etc, then you'll not need that. It looks pretty dangerous to me. 

Archaeologists and Detectorists, the Same?

Left, what detectorists find,
right: what archaeologists are looking for

The headline: "Metal Detectorists strike gold on Crete":
[...] At the end of the day the two were about to give up, but on the way back to the car, one last signal kept them on the site until dusk fell...[...] Because of the spikey brush, Kostas and his 11-year old son had difficulty digging down to locate the source of the signal, the ground was very rocky, so they had to dig a few hours to find the gold pieces that were mixed up with rocks, charcoal and pottery fragments. When they reported the find the archaeologists at the museum were baffled about what they were...:
The alternative headline: Iota Sykka ' Archaeologists strike gold on Crete' Ekathimerini 19.10.2020 :
Everything indicates that an early sanctuary operated there, which the later inhabitants respected and did not strip of its gold. They built a stone altar on top, where the 200 ceramic items were found. As the excavator explains, in the room where they located the xoanon, animal and human figurines were discovered, like those usually found at the most important sanctuaries.


It really beats me how real archaeologists, the ones that have been to university, gained qualifications in the subject and even teach it, can say that artefact hunting is a form of "citizen archaeology". Digging down blind into archaeological deposits because an electronic box detects "there's metal down below" produces decontextualised artefacts, and not only does not recover archaeological information (which the Ixelles Six/Helsinki gang characterises as "zero gain"), but actually trashes it by removing the items from that context - wherever they are. 


"Sovereign Rally" Cancelled

The health benefits of outdoor exercise
Heritage Action are reporting that they have been told that the commercial rally due to be held near a scheduled Roman villa site in Shropshire was called off, not on conservation grounds but because it could not show it was exempt from complying with health regulations currently in place (and that raises questions about the business status of this organization and its accounting procedures):
That makes two rallies banned recently (Pink Wellies and Sovereign) and one shut down by police halfway through (Let’s Go Digging) but one allowed to go ahead and more than one rally per week scheduled for the rest of the year by Let’s Go Digging (consider the takings, health implications and possible unreported heritage that implies). Is it too much to hope that the archaeological bodies should get round a table with the police and DCMS and sort this out before next week? (Lest PAS are frit to offend detectorists we suggest they ask around and check the detecting forums for once. All detectorists other than the attendees appear to despise the existence of pay-to-dig rallies, so why the blue blazes are they still allowed to happen?)
We need regulation of the despicable and irresponsible commercialisation of collection-driven exploitation of the achaeological record by metal detectorists, and the time to do that is through emergancy legislation during this pandemic.

Sunday 18 October 2020

UK's Shambolic Commercial Cash-in-Hand "Metal Detecting Rallyz"


Charles Lloyd in
a fetching anorak

The collocation sovereign together with rallies has bad connotations, regardless this group with the deliberately misspelled name revels in the notoriety:  Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys (private Facebook page). It was founded on 13th April 2019 and already has 1,4000 members (one in 19 metal detectorists of the Hardy estimate)* If you want to join they ask you right away: "Are you a member of NCMD or FID? With valid insurance? This is compulsory to attend events. Please send proof to admins or you risk being removed as a member. Happy digging.". Once you've done that, you have to agree to the Rules of the Group:

Members agree to abide by these rules:

1 Green Waste. A problem.
Please know measures are taken to reduce this risk. It can happen in spite of this. Please understand it is not deliberate and the risk we take. Please know measures are taken to reduce this risk. It can happen in spite of this. Please understand it is not deliberate and the risk we take. Dig the rubbish and there’s still rewards :)
2 Attending Events.
Please advise if not attending at earliest opportunity. Allowances can be made for emergencies. But failure to attend can result in a double charge for next attending event.
3 Maybe’s ... please do not click this option.
Maybe is not an automatic reserve. We kindly ask that you either click going or not going in order to arrange numbers efficiently. Thankyou.
4 Advertising and selling.
Please do not advertise or sell on the group page unless prior request of permission from Charles Lloyd. Posts will be removed without this courtesy.
5 Be kind and courteous
We're all in this together to create a welcoming environment. Let's treat everyone with respect. Healthy debates are natural, but kindness is required.
Respect everyone's privacy
Being part of this group requires mutual trust. Authentic, expressive discussions make groups great, but may also be sensitive and private. What's shared in the group should stay in the group.
7 Insurance.
This is compulsory to attend all events.
8 Filling holes.
Please dig neat holes and fill accordingly. Failure to do so will result in being removed from the event and blocked from the group.
9 Refunds.
Time and effort is put into all areas to avoid green waste but can happen in spite of this. Just as much as ‘good finds’ are not assured. Refunds do not apply as genuine attempts are made to avoid.
It looks like they've had complaints from members for the amount of contaminated green waste on the fields. Also it looks like they've had problems with the landowner seeing on the Group's page (or he would if it were not hidden) how many people will attend and demanding payment accordingly, but some participants did not turn up with the cash in hand payment in an unmarked envelope so the landowner did not get as much as they expected. I wonder why they don't just get people paying online before, everything easy and transparent, like? "Being part of this group requires mutual trust", what does that mean, and why the secrecy? What goes on on this closed antiquities hunters Facebook page? This is like all those looting pages on Facebook that the Antiquities Trafficking and Heritage Anthropology Research (ATHAR) Project are investigating. Perhaps somebody needs to investigate the secret underworld of British pay-to-loot organisations too. Like the taxman. Are the farmers declaring the income from the selling off of antiquities to these people? What about the money raised by participants by selling off the material found and removed, either now or at a later date? How is the cash paid to landowners and how (and where) are the business accounts kept by Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys, where are the invoices? WHY are British archaeologists not investigating this already?

Note that the Group Rules make no explicit mention of
- Following any health and safety guidelines or regulations,
- Adherence to the Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales,
- Adherence to the requirements of national laws (such as the Treasure Act), if you don't fill your holes in nicely, you'll get chucked off the dig, pocket a Bronze Age gold bracelet and ... nothing, but "what happens in teh group stays in the group"
There is no mention here of any upper limit to the value of finds you can walk off with without checking with the landowner fiirst, let alone any requirement to show all and anything to the landowner when you leave their property to get documentation of title.
No mention of making available any health situation risk assessments to members before they travel. Although contaminated land figures prominently in the Group Rules, there is no mention of the liability of Sovereign Metal Detecting Rallys taking money from people to place them on such contaminated land to carry out the activity they paid for ('time and effort to us', is not enough, and NCMD insurance does not cover this). So basically, to judge from what can be seen on their public profile, this group with already 1400 members seems to be a total shambles and unprofessional amateurishness.

TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this behaviour, for these are precisely the sort of people the PAS wants to grab more and more millions of public quid to make into the "partners" of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a "policy".  

* It's beginning to look to me like Hardy's estimate of 27000 is now too low, this is a new and small group, and yet one in 19 detectorists already belong to it?

UK Tekkies Blame Illegal Artefact Hunting on the CV-Lockdown

Artefact hunting on pasture
Over on a metal detecting forum just near you  that currently has 12264 members, just under half what is thought to have been the number of metal detectorists in England and Wales they are discussing a sudden increase in numbers. Just look at this:

Am I imaging it or has there been an upsurge in the hobby? by coinhunter2018 (Sun Oct 18, 2020 2:52 pm)

I'm on several other groups besides this forum, social media etc. In the past six months since the virus got loose, there seems to be an upsurge in the number of people new to the hobby. Is it because the virus has limited other hobbies and other activities such as travel abroad? Just seems to be the case from my perspective, some guys at work are interested too, in fact one of them bought a machine two weeks since and he can hardly walk! Baffled me that one.
It seems he's not alone: Phil2401 (Sun Oct 18, 2020 3:02 pm)
Interesting question that - I've also noticed a significant recent upsurge in 'Hi I'm a newbie' posts on this forum alone and also 'thanks for adding me' on various club / pay-to-dig sites... possible COVID effect, possible increase in publicity of hoard finds and wide-eyed potential treasure hunters thinking they'll be the next, a general growth in the industry of manufacturing / advertising metal detectors.... will be interesting to see others' views.
Or 'pay-to-dig' looting. So, who has been doing all this publicity of hoard finds, if not the PAS? Mikeb (Sun Oct 18, 2020 3:08 pm)
I think the hobby has been growing significantly since well before lockdown, over the last two years or so. I never use to see others detecting in fields, or very rarely, and you do now. Just look at the number of newbies saying hello on here. And this is no bad thing apart from over demand for limited permissions.
Too bad though that the number of finds being recorded was not increasing in the same two year period before lockdown, and now in lockdown, it is a trickle - just as these forum members are reporting a rise of new people going out, and needing outreach. MDF Forum member Dave The Slave (Sun Oct 18, 2020 3:10 pm) also think it is PAS publicity that's leading to this:
Think some of it is down to publicity of the Big finds. People thinking it is the norm and a get rich quick scheme [...] The pandemic has highlighted the above, more time on hands due to furlough perhaps or job loss, something to do with a possibility of a few pounds
So, it's just crude Treasure Hunting, or maybe we can call it subsistence looting like some do in the Third World? The UK now has third world economic looters egged on by false folk tales of hidden wealth? Muddyknee (Sun Oct 18, 2020 3:19 pm) is sceptical about their get-rich-quick hopes:
I wonder how many will be around once they realise they need land.
Phil2401 (Sun Oct 18, 2020 3:24 pm) is pragmatic, his observations lead him to suggest that if artefact hunters eager to get their hands on the loot cant get land legally: 
They turn into hawks.....
coinhunter2018 (Sun Oct 18, 2020 3:30 pm) reiterates
I think the last six months has seen a definite increase. Not just on here but on the social media groups too, however I've also seen a few offloading their detectors on those groups after three months. Whether they are buying another detector or selling up is anyone's guess [...]

 So if in 2017, Sam Hardy calculate 27000 site trashing artefact pocketers and 3 full years later observers on the ground are suggesting the numbers are still going up, how many are there now?  

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