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 Essex dealer Timeline  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. 

Timeline: King Ring Found by Metal Detectorist

       Hawking in Angmering?
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? Did it in fact, or do they just write that pro-forma for everything? 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 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.

Timeline: Nameless "Western Asiatic" Limestone Statue


You see that term "Western Asia" and you already know the British dealer's trying to hide something. It is also a term derived of colonial terminology. Timeline Auctions, 24th November 2020: "Western Asiatic Sumerian Torso of a Worshipper" Circa 3rd millennium BC. Estimate GBP (£) 3,000 - 4,000. As Erin Thompson points out in form (especially the cutout for the feet), this strongly resembles the (much larger, diorite) statues of Gudea of Lachish in the Louvre mostly from Girsu/Tello (the smaller ones of other materials are ungrounded and have "come from the art market" and are dubiously authentic). Except this one is much smaller, and most importantly has no inscription, leaving its function totally unexplained. 

A carved limestone headless figure of a standing male worshipper with hands clasped across chest and wearing a long robe with incised ornament to hems; mounted on a custom-made stand for display. 783 grams total, 21cm including stand (8 1/4"). Fine condition.
From a private collection, acquired in the 1990s; previously in a UK private collection, since 1988.
Well, firstly the person writing that needs to look up the word "torso" in the dictionary. Secondly, that's a totally pathetic collecting history on all counts. First of all, if that is true, they might as well have written: "it seems obvious this was looted, so don't even ask". But then no documentation whatsoever is offered to verify those dates and claims. What kind of careless creep is going to buy this? The antiquities legislation of Iraq goes back well before 1988.  But have a look at the long terms and conditions and find where the buyer is actually guaranteed that the seller has legal title and the object was exported from southern Iraq legally. They, in fact, are not, the terms are long on denying the seller's liability for anything at all, short on saying why, nevertheless, anyone reading that should trust them a centimetre. 

Professor Erin L. Thompson @artcrimeprof · 18 g. notes that the Timeline Auction description of this item exhibits an oddity that they are selling this statue without drawing attention to the resemblance to those of Gudea.
So, why avoid the word "Gudea," especially when you love to write sales copy full of comparisons to demonstrate your knowledge? I don't know for sure, but, if it's a fake, you avoid pointing people to your source image... and if it's genuine but unprovenanced, you avoid alerting the potential source country to the fact that a looted sculpture of a well-known historical figure has surfaced. Either way, it's not a good look
In the discussion on Twitter, @rogueclassicist makes an interesting point explaining why the word Gudea does not appear: 
I see this a fair number of times and I think it's a selling tactic... the idea is that the folks who frequent these auctions have *some* knowledge and by not giving it the Gudea label gives the idea that they're smarter than the dealer and can get a deal because of that, it creates a bidding war condition for something that doesn't deserve it

Personally, I am really not convinced by this object, it looks too much like the pictures of the Gudea statues for that not to be a coincidence, yet what is the purpose of a mini-statue of the king, and especially one where there is no inscription, just a fringe? Also if you look, the figure's right shoulder is higher on front than on the back which suggests to me that it's more likely somebody is trying to reproduce what they see on a flat picture rather than a contemporary trying to represent a three-dimensional person. Also if you look at all the other two dozen ones, they are all properly clean (collectors don't want sand falling on the showcase floor). I am always suspicious of items with lashings of earth (which often looks like it was applied as wet kitty litter) all over them. If they were looted, they'd be cleaned to make it look as if they really were from a nice respectable old collection. If they were fake, the gunk's there to hide the freshness and say to  the buyer "hey, don't ask too many questions, I'm probably looted!" Dirt like this on antiquities is always suspicious. 

Timelines: "Western Asiatic" Tablets-in-matrix, AKA Fired Clay Toast Rack

A block of five D-shaped ceramic tablet documents in a ceramic matrix; cuneiform text visible to the outer edge of each tablet. 789 grams, 10.5cm (4"). Fine condition. [No Reserve] Provenance Ex central London gallery; acquired on the UK art market in 1998; formerly from an old London collection.

"ceramic matrix", eh? So what, part of a stack of documents has been lifted as a block here and not separated? But there is a gap between each of them, like pieces of toast in a toast-rack. So what was between them when they were (allegedly) in the ground? More importantly, what kind of a legitimising collection history is "Ex [undocumented purchase from and anonymous] central London gallery; acquired on the UK art market in 1998 [no documentation, no name given]; formerly from an old London collection [with no documentation, no name given, and date of legal (?) export from Iraq somehow not mentioned]"? Answer: None. Without mention of any documentation backing up these claims - let alone showing it - this, like many other auction houses' collecting histories could equally be a made-up provenance. It's all the more suspicious that this item does not look like the sort of things that came legitimately onto the market or 'grounded' by proper excavation. Not at all. Why are they "D-shaped"? Parallels? Why is the inscription not just extending onto the edge of the tablets from the face (photo too poor to see this characteristic), but actually appears to be on the edge (and they say "to" the edge)? These simply look ridiculous.  

Prof Erin Thompson featured these in her "bad fakes" twitter feed with the comment: "I messed up - I didn't arrange to record reaction videos of my Ancient Near Eastern expert friends clicking on this link" and I admit, I'd not come across these before:

My current theory, by the way, is that the auctioned item is trying (and failing) to be something like this: - a hand-shaped architectural fragment with cuneiform text on the edges of the fingers.

The original excavated in Nimrud - the website does not reveal how the BM got it. Hopefully not from Timeline Auctions.

As part of the BM mission to educate, it would be good if Dr St John Simpson could look through this dealer's "Western Asian" offerings, and alert them and the authorities to everything that (a) has no mention of the documentation required to satisfy the 'Dealing in Cultural Objects (Offences) Act 2003' or (b) looks like an out-and-out fraud. Because while the antiquities legislation of the UK is about as useful as a wet paper bag, fraud is an offence.

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.

Thursday, 22 October 2020

Timeline Provenances: Curiouser and Curiouser


Masterpieces of the Ancient World - Capolavori del Mondo Antico  Scythian Gold Stag Shield Ornament. 7th-6th century BC. An exceptional gold ornament representing a galloping stag, legs folded under the body, the erect head is surmounted by voluminous antlers in volutes adjoining the animal's hindquarters, two of the antlers extend forward in an S-shape, the rest unfolding in sinuous waves, the shoulder and the rump are rounded and the surface of the body is carved in a three-dimensional way, the round eye was probably jewel-encrusted originally, one fastener for fixing remains to the rear. This ornament is stylistically very similar to the one discovered in Krasnodar in 1897 by Vesselovsky and preserved in the Hermitage Museum (Kou 1897, 1/1) which adorned the centre of an iron shield.  [bla bla cut]   47.26 grams, 56.5mm (2 1/4").
[collecting history]
Property of a London gentleman;
previously in the Khatibi family collection,
acquired from Naxos Art Gallery, 27 Mount Street, London, W1;
formerly in an important family collection formed before 1970;
accompanied by a copy of the original Naxos Art invoice dated 10 October 1985 and a positive metallurgic analytical result, written by Metallurgist Dr. Peter Northover (ex Department of Materials, Materials Science-Based Archaeology Group & Department of Materials, University of Oxford), number R5506;
this lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by AIAD certificate number no.134261-10020; accompanied by an Art Loss Certificate no. S00157936.

[waffle cut] A video of this lot can be viewed on Timeline Auctions website.
Very fine condition, cleaned and polished, evidence of a recent brooch mount to the reverse. A rare object of exceptional workmanship and iconic in the world of Scythian art.
Provenance [sic!]: TimeLine Auctions Ltd. Antiquities Sale of Jun 02, 2020, lot: 60. Estimate £25,000 - £35,000.
So it was bought by "a London gentleman" FROM "Khatibi family", the Khatibis bought it from Naxos in Oct 1985, yes?  So when did Northover do the report, and for whom, and what purpose does it serve? How did Naxos document its previous history, and does that documentation accompany their invoice?  When was the brooch mount added and when was it removed? How did this object, if real, leave Russia? 

Now look at this other one sold by Timeline... this Sassanian anal single-nippled boar vessel 

Western Asiatic Sassanian Silver-Gilt Wild Boar Vessel
5th century AD
A gilt silver vessel formed as a standing wild boar with exaggerated muscular legs and chest with a bulging gut; detailed facial features including large snout, curled tusks, alert eyes with heavy eyelids, erect ears, the animal's mane running around its face and along its head and back, reaching a tightly-curled tail and detailed buttocks, cheeks highlighted with gilding and a series of small circles, repeated on the underbelly; an oval vessel mouth emerges from the mane, while the spout is formed as a pierced gilt stud at the centre of the boar's chest. 880 grams, 15cm (6"). Fine condition.

Property of a London gentleman; previously with an important central London gallery; formerly in the Khatibi family collection formed before 1970; accompanied by a copy of the original purchase invoice dated 15 October 1986 ($45,000) and two old museum-quality photographs; accompanied by an academic report by Dr Raffaele D'Amato; this lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by AIAD certificate number no.10158-165299.

 [...] discussion and examples of wild boar on other vessels [...]
Footnotes [more superfluous narrativisation]
Here "a London gentleman" bought it from "an important central London gallery" and before that it had been IN "the Khatibi family collection formed before 1970" and there is an invoice FROM someone TO someone "dated 15 October 1986". So a year later than the invoice from Naxos to Khatibi . Odd that. Since the invoice (apparently) forms part of the sale and the sale description, why is it not show to the prospective client so they can judge just what evidential value it has? Where's the transparency? 

Now Dr Raffaele D'Amato is "an experienced Turin-based researcher of the ancient and medieval military worlds" best known for his Osprey books. So at what stage was this object in Turin? And who took it all the way there from London for his opinion, even though he has no known expertise in Sasanian vessels?

In the description of some work by the contemporary  Iranian-Belgian artist Sanam Khatibi (°1976, Tehran) we learn of "Khatibi's family collection, a Wunderkammer-like collection of ethnographic, anthropological and archaeological objects". Is this the collection in question? If so, maybe Timeline can explain how it left Iran, and when? If the collection was "formed before 1970" that would be in the times of Shah Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi. The 1980s sales in London would have taken place at the time of the Iraq-Iran war (1980–1988). But the Scythian stag sales spiel has the family buying the object in London - during that war, the second being sold by them through a London dealer during that war. What's going on here?

Timeline seems to be under the impression that a "proper-looking" sales spiel for antiquities should have a lot of references to academic books that the buyer probably will never have in their hands to check whether the object on sale really does "look like" the one in the book. When I do happen to have found the book (Warsaw libraries currently closed until further notice due to pandemic) the book's cited illustration only vaguely "looks like" the one on sale, when the object is eastern European, I can see that the cited literature is just some random stuff, and often "the wrong book" (so there's a couple of Russian works that should be cited for the Pumbaa-piece but are not). So in trying hard to look "professional", the auctioneer only looks as ridiculous as their spokesman here. All the crap narrativisation of the Pumbaa-piece about a Russian imperial mission totally misses the point about what happened to those objects when they were excavated (unless Mr Hammond is telling us they were later stolen from the Russian imperial collection?). There should be more attention paid to the story of the collection history of the object and not flabby flim-flam stories cut-and-pasted about similar objects generally. 

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.”


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