Wednesday, 24 February 2021

The “Kath Giles” Hoard

     Isle of Man (NASA)   

A collection of Viking Age artefacts discovered on the Isle of Man has been declared Treasure by the Isle of Man Coroner and put on public display as a trophy even though the insurance valuation has not been completed yet ('Viking Hoard Declared Treasure on the Isle of Man' Manx National Heritage Thursday 18th February 2021). The find
consists of a gold arm-ring, a massive silver brooch, at least one silver armband and other associated finds, buried around AD 950. It was discovered in late 2020 by metal detectorist Kath Giles whilst metal detecting on private land.[...] The “Kath Giles” hoard will go on display in the Viking and Medieval Gallery at the Manx Museum on Thursday 18 February prior to valuation and further conservation work. The location of the find and details of the landowner will remain confidential to protect the integrity of the find site. 
"The integrity" of the Viking site Ms Giles blindly dug it out of has already been severely compromised by her blindly digging an unknown number of holes into it at various unknown places, disturbing it and removing random items from its archaeological record. Sjhe's going to get a "reward" for doing it.

Roman legal document recovered in Madrid

Spanish police officers in Madrid have recovered a fragment of a Roman legal document that was spotted while monitoring the internet for stolen antiquities just as it was going to be auctioned  (Rare 2,000-year-old bronze Roman legal document recovered in Madrid Murcia 22/02/2021). It is the record of a decree by the Emperor Tiberius regulating soldiers’ and veterans’ privileges and funding, which was issued immediately after Caesar Augustus’ death.

Investigations began when officers learned that an important Roman item was to be auctioned in Madrid. Initial enquiries revealed that the archaeological piece had been acquired by the owners of an antiques shop in Seville. The shop owner didn’t have any paperwork to prove its legal provenance, and after further enquiries, investigators discovered that it had not been included in the archaeological assets inventory as established by the Historical Heritage Law. The bronze plaque is an important Roman legal document, as such items, of great legal, historical, and archaeological significance, are rarely found on the Spanish mainland. The piece has been confiscated and the Ministry of Culture’s General Office for the Protection of Historical Heritage has been asked to collaborate on studies of the plaque to determine the most suitable location for it.
The most suitable place for it was in the archaeological context in which it had lain for 2000 years before (no doubt) some artefact hunter dug it up.

Tuesday, 23 February 2021

On What is "Reputation" Based, if not by Proper Due Diligence?

Some academic institutions seem to have problems holding onto what's in their teaching and research collections. Yesterday we were discussing Oxford University's custodianship of Egyptian artefacts, now it's Yale. Apparently someone has been selling coins from the Dura-Europos collection at the Yale Museum under the table.

"We believe that these coins are the property of Yale University". They were the property of Syria.    Note the tiny little point that CNG are skating around... how they determined that the person supplying the coins on offer actually had title to sell, that the coins in their auction had been legally sourced. Note the withdrew the whole auction, suggesting that these six coins were not the only ones for which cast-iron documentation of licitness had been supplied at the time the coins were accepted by this "reputable firm" for sale. As professor Erin Thompson observed:
What’s notable here is that the coins pulled from the auction were identifiable as coming from Yale’s collections. So whoever sold them from Yale was not especially covert about it - they trusted that no one would pay enough attention to catch them.
i.e., nobody in the antiquities trade and antiquities collecting worlds really gives a tinker's. 

hat tip, Dorothy King mentioned this yesterday.

Monday, 22 February 2021

A Question of Honour and Integrity (only?)


An interesting thread that, if true, raises a number of questions about morality and honour in Britain today:

Dorothy Lobel King @DLVLK 2 g
Dirk Obbink / papyri / Oxford / EES. I know a lot of people are wondering what’s happening with this, and the answer is simple: nothing. Obbink is retiring from Oxford, and they’re not pushing for charges because they want to brush this whole mess under the carpet and move on.

She suggests that the arrest (or should that be "arrest"?)  last year and the admission by the EES that items from the Oxyrhynchus collection were missing, is because of pressure from the Museum of the Bible. That only because the difficult questions were being asked by and of the Museum of the Bible did the EES admitted the papyri were stolen. Egypt, please take note. Dr King alleges that in the UK, Obbink is off the hook and is going "Scot free". Is that true? I think Oxford University and the local police should issue statements on progress in these investigations and where they see the case going. After all, some of the EES papyri (the ones that did not go to the MOB) are still missing.

Vignette: Fake Gothic of Tom Tower, Christ Church (1681-2)

Silly Turks: Cops Seize Female Statue From Men



Wow, just wow. One wonders about the effort demonstratively expended by the Turkish authorities to "save the cultural heritage of Turkey", but the incessant stream of media publications of examples shows that most Turkish citizens (including its law enforcement officers, the police press department and a whole bunch of Turkish journalists) seem not to have the foggiest idea what it should look like (Turkish Cops Seize Roman Statue From Men Trying To Sell It Illegally - The Tennessee Tribune).
Two people were arrested on Feb. 10 for allegedly trying to sell an ancient Roman statue of a naked woman in Eskisehir, Turkey. The police officials instantly launched an investigation with the anti-smuggling teams on the same date. Investigation revealed that the two suspects were trying to sell the historical artifact. The suspects E.U. and G.K. (full names are yet to be known) were transferred to the courthouse and detained on their way from Seyitgazi to Kirka town in the Turkish Province of Eskisehir. “Activities for the protection of our cultural and natural assets will be continued by the Eskisehir Provincial Gendarmerie Command,” said the police official. “The public has been informed about the same.” The suspected vehicle was seized and a 21-centimeter tall Roman statue was recovered. The statue was taken under protection and delivered to the Eskisehir Museum Directorate.
It's not a "Roman statue", it's not an archaeological artefact at all, it's not even antique. She's got a chip out of her showing the brilliant white material its made from, and casting flaws on the inner thigh that suggests this is resin or a plaster cast. So I am sure the Eskisehir Museum will be glad to have it. It'll end up in the caretaker's cubby hole, together with the belly-dancer posters.

Tip for Turkish police. To avoid looking like complete fools, get somebody who knows to say what the stuff you seize actually is before you go to the newspapers with it. Get their name, and put their name and academic affiliation under the identification. And give these guys back their car. 

 hat tip David Meadows

Tuesday, 16 February 2021

Polish Detectorists Have a Go at Polish Archaeologists

Some metal detectorists in Poland are very similar to the majority in the UK in many ways. Here's a trailer for a film they've created to help smooth the path to closer collaboration and persuade lawmakers to effect detectorist-friendly legislation. The film, Ciemna strona archeobiznesu- cz.1 [the Dark Side of the Archaeobusiness - Part 1] is out, but in Polish, but the trailer gives a flavour of the tone adopted:

Posted on You Tube by Polski Związek Eksploratorów

They are trying to discredit archaeologists and archaeology (and so therefore archaeological resource preservation). This is no more than the usual 'two wrongs' artefact hunters traditionally apply. Let's see where that gets them. I'll review the film for the non-Polish speakers when we get more parts, at the moment it's pretty pathetic (and both detectorists and archaeologists not only committed mistakes here, but showed a hefty dose of ill will). 

Here is is for the hardy... Despite the dramatic music and sound effects it's pretty slow-moving and poorly-edited. The first 5 minutes 12 seconds is a ("what we're going to show you") preamble, the actual contents start at 5:13, and the film of the site Niewieścin 36 in 2018... 

Posted on You Tube by Polski Związek Eksploratorów
Told you so.

Grave Finds: Mortuary derived antiquities from England

Adam Daubney, one of the more "thinkier" PAS FLOs before he left the Scheme last year has just had published an Historic England Research report ( Report number: 11/2021) that reflects his recent interest in grave goods:
Grave Finds: Mortuary-derived antiquities from England
Summary The ‘Grave Goods’ project was undertaken between July and September 2020. The aim of the project was to improve the care of mortuary contexts in England through a better understanding of the unique threats posed by the private ownership of grave goods. Research was undertaken to establish broad trends in the public discovery of grave goods, and to understand the scale and implications of their subsequent sale on the antiquities market. Naturally, these data touched on a wider range to ethical and practical issues in public archaeology. Information was collated on the frequency and character of in-situ grave goods (i.e. when found in association with human remains), and unstratified grave goods (i.e. when found in plough soil) reported to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). Further information was gained through a three-month monitoring exercise of internet auction houses.
Available as a pdf here: Adam Daubney, 'Grave Finds: Mortuary-derived antiquities from England' (PDF)

Saturday, 13 February 2021

UK Metal Detectorists Digging up More Ancient Bronze Figurines than Archaeologists?

In the latest rather cringeworthy attempt at an "archaeology-is-relevant" piece, on the day before Valentine's Day, British press is announcing archaeologists have dug up what they say is a torch-carrying "cupid" figurine on a bypass (BBC Cotswolds: Roman Cupid figurine dug up near planned A417 bypass). "The bronze artwork was found along with a bow-shaped brooch and a Roman or early Saxon skeleton".
"It is a rare and exciting find. It will tell us about the lives and beliefs of the small Roman community that lived alongside this road," said Melanie Barge from Historic England. There are fewer than 50 known figurines of this kind found in the UK. It also one of only three found as part of an archaeological dig rather than by metal detectorists.
At least Ms Barge is not claiming that artefact hunters are 'citizen archaeologists'... The excavated examples are included here (see Emma Durham's discussion of the metal detector finds here). 

But over in tekkie circles, that last bit was picked up and reported like some kind of sports game score (John Howland, ' Latest result: Tekkies 47, Arkies 3', Detecting and Collecting February 13, 2021)
Why the discrepancy, one wonders. There could be several answers.
1) On-site thieving by archaeological staff
2) Poor excavation technique
3) High degrees of integrity within the detecting community
Little wonder then, the usual suspects are so desperate to blacken the name of Britain’s Detectorists in an effort to divert attention from, or an investigation into this scandalous inconsistency. 47 to 3 makes a mockery of them and their claptrap. Happy, safe and lucrative hunting
The gentleman in question (a Brexit supporter) did not bother to check out the facts as reported in the media. In fact, the PAS database has only 22 of the alleged 47 metal detecting finds (including examples in lead and not copper alloy), so where are the rest? There was one on eBay yesterday too, and this one from a London dealer.

Spend some time on a few UK metal detecting forums and you'll see that this "them and us" sort of approach to archaeologists is (still after 24 yrs of PAS outreach) quite widespread. It goes back a long way

And how odd that nobody has commented that if "47 out of fifty" known cupid figurines (and an unknown number of unknown ones) have been dug out of the archaeological record by artefact hunters before the site could be properly examined by archaeological methods, it would mean that 94% of this particular type of evidence is being destroyed by this activity. That's Heritage at Risk too, Ms Barge. 

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".  
PS, back to the archaeology:
And by the by: I think the British public deserves more from HE a superficial identification of this bit of metal. Eros/Cupid is usually winged, is this figure winged? And he has a number of attributes, among which a torch sometimes appears. But then so does Harpocrates, and Cautes is always(?) carrying his torch. Why is this one specifically "Cupid" apart from that the archaeologists on that day wanted to please the journalist? In any case, what is that rather misshapen object raised above the head? IS it a "torch" or is it a club? Is this not Hercules, the second most common male figurine discovered in Roman Britain after Mercury according to Emma Durham? 

Nighthawking: British Archaeology's Sin of Omission


         Lots of blobs, but silence on one notorious one 

Referring to a map published earlier this week in the periodical British Archaeology, Heritage Action, 'The missing Staffordshire hoard, abandoned to crooks, not even given a blob' The Heritage Journal 13th February 2021.
Here’s a funny thing. A map by Historic England of scheduled and other sites targeted by nighthawks. But one of the most important is missing. So we’ve added it (in yellow). Does the omission matter, one blob in so many? Actually, it does, for that’s the Staffordshire Hoard field and we’ve posted 22 articles about a number of raids by nighthawks and begging for the inadequate original official searches to be repeated to see if anything is still there. Yet nothing has happened. Will that be the final fate of the Hoard? World famous, and mostly on display in a number of museums, but partly still in a field in Hammerwich and being progressively removed by nocturnal scruffs, and not even accorded a blob?

Read the rest here.

The map published in British Archaeology gives the impression that British heritage professionals are doing their job by keeping an eye on illegal artefact hunting (remember, the illegal artefact hunting they said was a problem that had now been fixed by setting up the PAS and "numbers are falling" - that was 12 ago). David Gill was sceptical, a recent Guardian article from June 2020 was equally scathing. The British Archaeology article admits there is a problem with the guys with metal detectors and spades.  

I think the problem lies elsewhere too. There are 6000 heritage professionals in the UK. Yet this map shows not only no record of the Staffs Hoard field, also Bradwell on Sea (a remote scheduled site in Essex known to be looted) is also missing.  What's going on? 

When, two years ago, I spotted several unpapered gold items on sale on PRECISELY of the nature of the type of stuff that could illegally be coming off the Staffs Hoard field in the situation described by Heritage Action, I immediately reported them to the Treasure Registrar and PAS at the BM. As could any of the 6000 heritage professionals in the UK. I was told that they'd not do anything to determine the circumstances behind the 'surfacing' of those objects, and that "if I liked", I could contact British police and report it myself. Me, living in Warsaw Poland, using my home telephone to place a series, no doubt, of international calls to try and chase down a British bobby that would take it up. Instead of reporting it to an official body in the UK empowered with dealing with portable antiquities and treasure case - who'd take it further in the interests of securing the national heritage from improper handling. Oh no. They carried on drinking their coffee in Bloomsbury.   

As I said, I'm based in Warsaw, where a public official notified of a potential crime that refused to take action is legally culpable. In Britain, it seems no such situation exists.

Nigel Swift and his Heritage Action folk visited the Staffs Hoard field out of curiosity, they saw clear signs that the site was being visited by artefact hunters. They posted it online where not one of 6000 heritage professionals saw their reports and decided to take action.

It seems to me that half the problem with "nighthawking" is that a lot of British archaeologists can't be bothered to do anything at all about it.

I'm writing at the moment a paper on "metal detecting in Poland", trying to compare and contrast it with the UK. One area of contrast is that in Poland in the last few years alone, over 100 people have been arrested for illegal artefact hunting and illegal sales of material on the internet. In the UK, how many? I think the number in the same period can be counted on your fingers (if we treat Leominster as one case). The blobs on the HE map are cases that were missed, they've not caught anyone looting Bradwell, they've not caught anyone looting the Staffs Hoard field, and my experience suggests that even if a nighthawk were to openly offer bits of the hoard online (without saying "me and my mates dug this up at night near Hammerwich") they'd probably get away with it.

Friday, 12 February 2021

Pseudopasts and Modern Leanings

                 Thin Trump in his Hedjet          

HOPE not hate has highlighted what seems to be the (attempted?) emergence of a bizarre cult that they affirm is piggy-backing on the QAnon conspiracy theory and far right imagery to amass a vast network of followers on 'alt-tech' platforms like Telegram and underlines the dangers posed by conspiracy theories and disinformation (Gregory Davis, 'The Sabmyk Network: How a Mysterious Disinformation Network is Highjacking QAnon', Hope not hate 12/02/2021). It is worth noting the timing of tyhe creation of the portals by which this material is being disseminated, and considering who/what is behind it. What is relevant here is the way this links with re-imaginings of a made-up mythological past:
the real purpose of the channels is to promote the Messianic mythology of Sabmyk and the sword of Shawunuwaz. [...] This narrative, a blend of ancient mythology, New Age spirituality and some entirely new elements, appears to be the creation of an Iranian artist living in Germany who goes by the name Princess Ameli Achaemenes. Achaemenes claims to be a descendant of Persian royalty and to have been given her ancestral sword of Shawunawaz by the billionaire investor George Soros in 1992, before destroying it to prevent it from causing further harm [...]Achamenes’ website, a website devoted to the Sword of Shawunawaz and series of interlinked Facebook pages promoting these fables, were all established in early 2020, although none received much attention at the time. The Shawunawaz website claims to be the work of an organisation called the Shawunawaz Society and lists a street address in Baden Baden, Germany, but has no visible presence elsewhere. The websites and Facebook pages present supposed sketches and references to the sword from prominent historical figures like Picasso and Heraclitus, all of which are forgeries.[...] The myth of Shawunawaz only began to receive wider exposure in December of 2020, when the operation moved to Telegram and adopted the strategy of piggybacking on QAnon and other conspiracy beliefs to draw in unsuspecting users. By this time, the narrative of Shawunawaz as detailed on Achaemenes’ website had been altered with the addition of a Messianic figure called Sabmyk, who is claimed to be preordained ruler of the earth and who came into existence on December 21, 2020.
"Sabmyk" is a name unknown from existing texts on ancient mythology. "Shawunawaz" likewise. The object shown in the drawings is a very improbable form of any kind of "sword" and certainly not one that would be used by "King Gilgamesh" and Alexander the Great. The presentation of the sword jumps from one unsubstantiated statement to another, the Varna Tablets are cited as a valid source on Gilgamesh. One wonders whether this is all an elborate stunt to sell some otherwise uninteresting paintings by an artist attempting to 'do a Banksy'. The same sort of thing however can be found elsewhere, such as the cult of Kek ( Adrià Salvador Palau and Jon Roozenbeek, 'How an ancient Egyptian god spurred the rise of Trump' The Conversation, March 7, 2017).
Pepe the frog and /pol/ first collided with the outside world in June of 2015, when Trump announced his candidacy for president of the united states. Trump, with his aversion to “political correctness” and penchant for flair and showmanship, was /pol/’s immediate candidate of choice. And so, Pepe the frog was edited to wear a “Make America Great Again” hat, and began appearing in hundreds of Trump-supporting forum posts. [...] The word “Kek”, originally a Korean onomatopoeia for a raspy laugh, had long been used on 4chan as a replacement for “lol” (laughing out loud). One day, a /pol/ contributor discovered that Kek is also the name of an ancient Egyptian frog god.
The similarities between Kek and Pepe were striking enough as it was, but Kek also has a female alter ego, or nemesis, that takes the form of a snake. This was quickly taken to symbolise Clinton, a universally reviled character within the /pol/ community. What’s more, to our modern eyes, the hieroglyphs supposedly used to write the name Kek in ancient Egyptian even strongly resemble a man sitting in front of his computer. [...] Historical inaccuracies notwithstanding, this series of coincidences proved too much for the 4chan community to ignore, and the cult of Kek was born. The frog-headed Kek became the father, Pepe the holy spirit, and Trump the son, sent to Earth to fulfil a divine destiny. [...] What this saga means for the future role of the internet in political campaigning isn’t yet clear, but a precedent has been set: no matter how bizarre or misinformed, the collective power of tens of thousands of internet cultists appears to works wonders.
Things like this start raising questions that we should be addressing about the nature of our relationship with "the past" (and "pasts") and the actual dangers of not engendering a more questioning attitude among the public to what they are told about it, such as the manipulative false use of made-up stories of ancient gods, heroes and symbols...

Hat tip for the Pepe/Kek story 'going about my business'

Thursday, 11 February 2021

Christie's and Collecting Histories

Citing staff cuts, ChristiesInc will close access to its vast collection of auction catalogues, housed in London, which dates back to the auction house's very first sale in 1766 and has been an invaluable resource for dealers and academics. They thus indicate their priorities, closing off this archive seems to indicate that establishing collecting histories and maintaining accountability seem not to be among them. Anybody really surprised by that?

Another 1990s fake in the British Museum

BM Britain, Europe and Prehistory Department Accession number 1990,0501.2 1990,0501.2 

Bronze bucket mount with crude ox head. Possible modern copy.
Cultures/periods Iron Age
Findspot Found/Acquired: England (north?)
Purchased from: Lord Alistair McAlpine
Materials copper alloy
Dimensions Length: 34 millimetres
Curator's comments
A group of vessel fittings formerly in the collection of Lord McAlpine were acquired by the British Museum in the late 1980s to early 1990s (1988,1206.1, 1990,0501.1-3, 1990,0602.1). Similar pieces were also acquired from a different source (1990,1006.1-2, 1991,0603.1). Since that time, there has been some debate over the authenticity of some of these pieces.

Rebecca Ellis studied this object in 2021 as part of her PhD, ‘Animals and Humans in La Tène Art in England and Wales’, University of Hull. She comments:

This vessel mount is much narrower and longer in the overall bovine head shape than the other fittings in this group, a feature which can be paralleled in other bovine fittings such as PAS ID IOW-2CAEF7 and HESH-C96C96. However, this item also has identical eyes to 1990,0501.1-2, 1990,1006.1 and 1991,0603.1. The bronze finish is also unusually smooth, with lost definition. The open mouth loop is extremely unusual and is only paralleled by one object, which also happens to parallel the narrowness of the head shape: a vessel fitting discovered at Corbridge, Northumberland (Macgregor 1976, 314). The mouth shape of 1990,1006.2 does not match this totally, however, and is closer to the Ram vessel fitting from Harpenden (Stead 1996, 60; Jope 2000 Pl. 170). The combination of elements from these two finds causes further doubt on the authenticity of this item. Therefore, it is unlikely that this item is a genuine Iron Age/Romano-British find; it is more likely a modern copy inspired by two pre-existing published finds.

Jope, E. M. 2000. Early Celtic Art in the British Isles. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
Stead, I. M. 1996. Celtic Art in Britain before the Roman Conquest. London: British Museum Press.
Location Not on display

Thwe question is, what kind of a respectable institution would be buying from any dealer any object where the only provenence and collectibng history is: "Findspot Found/Acquired: England (north?)".

Six out of Ten are Newbies: Nine out of Ten Ignore the Real Code

Facebook, Fudge's Group (Stephen Llewellyn, Admin), 21st December 2020:

As an admin of the group, when I'm accepting new members, 6 out of 10 are just starting out in the hobby. It's important that you all know the code of conduct, especially in the current climate with new rules about to be added to the treasure act. So if your [sic] a beginner, please watch this video that the NCMD have released. The NCMD Code of Conduct. The National Council of Metal Detecting is committed to publicising the importance of responsible detecting.
The National Council of Metal Detecting is "committed to publicising the importance of responsible detecting", but not enforcing it among its members. This tells you a lot about PAS penetration. It is zero. There is no mention here of the proper 'Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales, only the NCMD's lame excuse code. What are the PAS doing about it after two decades? How are they attempting to reach those six out of ten?  

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Khaled Al-Asaad RIP

The remains of Syrian archaeologist Khaled Al-Asaad have been found near Palmyra today. Al-Asaad was imprisoned and then beheaded at 83 by ISIS in 2015 for being connected with the Syrian regime and refusing to lead them to the locations of Palmyra’s hidden antiquities.

PAS and What the British Public Should be Getting

The Charity Commission Regulatory alert issued to charitable think tanks Published 7 December 2018 "Think tanks have an important role in society helping to educate the public. Society is richer when it is challenged with new ways of thinking and when debate is stimulated". 

It is interesting to reflect how much this applies to the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Unit (neither of which, as we are aware is a charity, but the same principles surely apply):
Understanding the charity’s objects
In general terms the object of most think tanks is to advance education for the public benefit. Therefore any research published or other activity undertaken must:
    have sufficient value in educational terms
    further the charity’s purposes
    be available (either directly or indirectly) to the public,
     or a sufficient section of the public
    present the public with information that permits them to form their own opinions
    be educational in the way understood by charity law

Education does not have to be entirely neutral; it can start from a generally accepted position that something is beneficial. A charity can therefore promote uncontroversial views and perspectives.                     

          Outputs in furtherance of the objects

Our advice
The trustees must ensure that the charity’s outputs (research reports, articles, seminars and so on) are balanced and neutral, and that there are robust processes and procedures in place that can provide assurance on how the charity ensures this is the case.
The Portable Antiquities Scheme is formulated around the notion that information from artefact hunting is archaeologically usefuyl, therefore artefact hunting is not really all that damaging because it provides archaeological information. It does not objectively examine either of those propositions, moreover it very little of any research published on PAS "data" or other activity undertaken can present the public with information that permits them to form their own opinions on portable antiquities issues. The nature of the PAS and its activities (such as its annual conferences and annual reports) pretty closely correspond to the second column in the table above: It is not neutral and presents the individual with biased and selective information in support of a preconceived point of view; The researchers are linked to a particular view or opinion which suggests bias; It is not balanced and only explores one side of the argument; It is designed to promote a specific policy and is really seeking to achieve a political outcome and risks being used as a political vehicle; At events, the audience is only addressed by people with the same views on a topic.

Friday, 5 February 2021

Responsible Collecting: Before You Descend

                    Harrowing of Hell          
Over on a post made almost a year ago ( UK Public using 'PAS Database' to Market Norfolk-dug Artefacts PACHI Monday, 13 April 2020) about the use of the PAS database to facilitate sales of artefacts, a Mr or Ms "Unknown" has ventured a comment, the beginning is noteworthy:

I think that all artefacts, unless unrecognizable or detoriated, should be reported to the PAS. If they ALL should be in a museum, often hidden away from any public... Of course not. I have a private collection which will go to a museum/musea after my descending. It is key that the knowledge accompanying an artefact is preserved and given through to future generations.[...]5 February 2021 at 03:26
This person does not think that "unrecognizable or detoriated (sic) artefacts" should be reported to the PAS. This raises the question of who is to do this "recognition", an artefact hunter, or an archaeologist who knows a good deal more about the archaeological material. On an excavation the poorly-visible items might be subject to radiography before writing them off. Would a metal detectorist do this? Also even shapeless fragments, strips and bindings have their information content, though a collector might not give them a second glance. That is the difference between archaeology and artefact collecting. 

Equally how is an object from the earth not going to be "deteriorated"? Here the artefact hunter is again muddling what is collectable with what produces archaeological information. 

I am not convinced by this mention of having a "private collection that will go to a museum/musea (sic)" after the "descent" (to Hell?) of the detectorist. Will a museum want it? Has this collector contacted the museums in their region to determine whether this collection corresponds to their collection policy? As I pointed out elsewhere (responsible disposal of collections - I wonder if "Unknown" has read it, perhaps referred there by the PAS?) this should have been agreed beforehand with the institution intended as the recipient, and ascertaining what conditions such a donation will be accepted. If not, "descent" may be followed by disappointment.  

British Museum Buys Fake Amulet

The BM online records contain a number of odd things, but I was reminded of this one by a metal detectorist who wished to remain anonymous:
Museum number 1990,0101.1 pendant; amulet; forgery
Pendant; silver: a Thor's hammer with suspension ring with ends riveted together; double-ended hammer shaped pendant with sub-spherical terminal to handle, pierced for suspension; hammer stamped on both faces with triangles containing six pellets; nine stamps on each side; modern forgery.
Found/Acquired: Carlisle (England) (near) Dimensions
Length: 24 millimetres
Width: 19 millimetres
Purchased through: Sotheby's
Acquisition date 1990
Department Britain, Europe and Prehistory
Registration number 1990,0101.1
This item is discussed on Jane Kershaw's "Viking Metal" blog (with a mention of Timelines Auctions and Artemission) Thursday, 9 April 2015 ' A modern fake exposed'. I presume Sotheby's was swindled by a guy claiming to be a metal detectorist.

Thursday, 4 February 2021

The PAS Database, Unvalidated Scraps of Information Compiled by a Broken System: UK Archaeologists are Proud to Support it

I've been studying the PAS database since the 1990s, commenting on it for much of that time. Nevertheless a PAS FLO takes it upon himself to lecture me about the basics of how the PAS database works.
The database is peer-reviewed and produced by a network of individuals; records are often the result of several authors' contributions. The fact that the record is publically [sic] visible means that it has been written or validated by one or more FLOs or finds advisors.
Oh dear. In fact, the PASD search engine tells us that out of 973,708 records records, as many as 657,802 records available to the public are "awaiting validation". That's two thirds of them. So what does the fact that such a large chunk of it comprises anonymous, unvalidated information mean for database reliability? The FLO is again dismissive:
It usually just means they need photos adding or are self-recorder records which need checking prior to publication. No mystery.[...] [T]he workflow flag system, [...] is one of several features (such as findspot protection) which are frequently misunderstood [...]
Patronising. He also misses the point. Daniel Pett @DEJPett (who built the database to the specifications of PAS) adds:
Paul, the volume of records broke the workflow system. The finds advisers could never have coped with validating every record. If I built it again, I'd have simplified the system to quarantine, review, published. I explained the workflow stages here: Workflow stages for content control
I replied:
Thanks, I realise why it is, but it is the validation of the loose records that should be giving the database records the consistency in content and quality that is now so lacking. I get fed up with being told that the scale of artefact hunting in the UK is nothing to be the slightest concerned about because it is producing so much "important archaeological data" by people that totally ignore the actual nature of this database, its limitations, the selectivity of the information in it and the actual value of that information.
These data are of very limited use, and the salvaging of these scraps of information from unregulating looting of the archaeological record for private collectables in no way comprises a justification for avoiding the elephant in the room, which is that the way it is being done in the UK at the moment, collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is simply trashing, unseen, huge quantities of the basic information about many aspects of the past from right under the noses, and often with the tacit approval, of the British archaeological community. The moment you ask them about it, they fob you off with glib soundbites, instead of addressing the issue.

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

The Guardian Reinvents the Wheel: UK Treasure Figures

There's nothing like up-to-date news, and the Guardian's latest article on UK Treasure numbers is nothing like up-to-date news (Lanre Bakare 'Buried treasure: record UK haul fuelled by rise in metal detectorists' Guardian Wed 3 Feb 2021).
More than 1,300 pieces of treasure were found in the UK during 2019 – the largest haul since records began – as a growing number of keen metal detectorists fuel the finds, according to new government information.
Hm. Mark Brown, Arts correspondent, 'British Museum says metal detectorists found 1,311 treasures last year' Guardian Tue 17 Mar 2020. Ten months ago... Anyway, the good news is that the article finally admits:
There are approximately 20,000 detectorists in England and Wales [...] “The search for buried treasures by budding detectorists has become more popular than ever before and many ancient artefacts now see the light of day in museums’ collections,” said culture minister Caroline Dinenage.
 The headline says that this "record UK haul" was "fuelled by a rise in metal detectorists", on the watch of the PAS. 

Previously, as late as 2014, the PAS was operating under the assumption: "we estimate that there are around 9,600 metal detector users across England and Wales' (K. Robbins, 'Portable Antiquities Scheme: Guide for Researchers, PAS/Leverhulme Trust/ British Museum 2014, p. 14). Now, actually the number of artefact hunters with metal detectors in England and Wales is more like 27000, but it is good to see the official figures admitting there's a problem. And for how long will UK policy treat the archaeological record as an inexhaustible resource?

Negative Emotions about a Counter [Updated]

In reply to something I wrote about in a thread on estimates of the numbers of finds being taken by artefact hunters from the archaeological record and not being recorded on the PAS database, a fellow archaeologist decided to share his thoughts on the idea:
David Connolly @BAJRjobs 21h
Replying to @MattockInHand @HeneryIggins and 3 others
Tell me about it. Was there and have fought tooth and nail with this nasty brutish thug. We have got somewhere. They have not. Bitter, twisted and deluded. These attacks have got to stop. If you want a chat. Or need support . We will be there.
But since he's blocked me, I have to rely on colleagues to let me know what, somewhat unexpectedly, archaeologist David Connolly is posting on a public forum behind my back.  Personally, I would not say that calling a colleague a "thug" and categorising attempts to discuss the treatment of the archaeological record by artefact hunters and their supporters as "attacks" is very professional behaviour. I guess British archaeologists have codes of practice that say one thing, while they do another. It's a shame Mr Connolly seems not to have the balls to unblock me and say it to my face. 

As for the ad hominem, “getting somewhere” is a relative notion. Especially here. Mr Connolly should reflect that “fighting tooth and nail” is not a place to be when you are wrong – and wrong to do so.  I suggest that fighting tooth and nail to avoid doing something about the erosion of the archaeological record by artefact hunters is not going to assure Connolly a place of merit in the history of European archaeology when it is written a generation or two from now.  But for now he's offering cuddles and support to those that still want to believe that artefact hunting is a benign activity with no significant consequences for the archaeological record. 

Another individual who also joined the same discussion is unknown to me, but has some opinions that seem worth discussing:
Joshua James @JoshuaJ28746227 1 lut
W odpowiedzi do @HeneryIggins @PortantIssues i 3 innych użytkowników
Paul Barfords guessing of his own finds record has caused more damage than anything in previous years. He has been called out on it in the past . He could offer no viable answer and blocked the one person who followed him , countering his many untruths
I have no idea who Joshua James is the only information he gives about himself is he is "the hidden truths behind the facade" (sic).*  It's not clear what "guessing of his own finds record" is meant to mean. I helped create the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter when asked, but it is not mine. According to Mr James, estimating the damage done by non-recorded artefact hunting is "causing more damage" than the activity itself. Strange logic. 

As for being "called out on it in the past", no. People have denied it is true, but never have they (a) shown where the alleged error lies nor (b) provided a verifiable alternative number. That's probably the reason why I have offered "no viable answer" to the challenge that has not yet been made. "Blocked the one person who followed him countering many untruths". Mr James sounds like Donald Trump. He'll have to remind us who that "one person" was, and how they actually "countered" what I was saying.     

I really cannot see why the concept of an Artefact Erosion Counter creates so many negative emotions. Can somebody explain to me why that is? 

*the account was begun just a few months ago, has three posts and he's following me and 18 other people (mostly politicians but including FLOs) and nobody is following him. The profile is suggestive of a typical troll-bot.

Update 6th Feb 2021
Heritage Action have followed up on the David Connolly text. They to have in the past borne the brunt of Mr Connolly's unprofessional attacks on behalf of the artefact hunting community. 

Monday, 1 February 2021

Authenticity of A Greek New Testament Papyrus in Question

    Yale University p 50 (Wikipedia)   

Yale University's Papyrus 50 is a Greek New Testament manuscript that was thought to be datable on palaeographic grounds to the 3rd/4th century. It contains bits of the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 8:26-32; 10:26-31). Unfortunately it looks like any scholarship based on it now needs revision: Elijah Hixson Possible Markers of Inauthenticity in a Greek New Testament Papyrus: Genuinely Bad or a Very Good Fake?
In this paper I suggest that a Greek New Testament papyrus might be a modern forgery. While there is no single smoking gun strong enough to prove that the papyrus is a modern production, there are a number of red flags that mark it as suspicious. These include anomalous letterforms, writing that avoids holes in the papyrus (such that the text was certainly written after the papyrus medium had been damaged in some instances), ink bleeding, and a discrepancy between the copyist’s apparent knowledge of literary manuscripts and his or her skill in producing one. Where possible, I give comparisons of these aspects with the same phenomena in known fakes. However, many of these red flags could be explained in such a way that does not de-authenticate the manuscript, and I also give a counter-example of a (genuine) private letter from Alexandria that exhibits some of the same red flags. Still, the number of red flags in the Greek New Testament papyrus is suspicious. I suggest that the papyrus should be subjected to further testing in order to authenticate or de-authenticate it as a genuinely ancient New Testament manuscript.
Note that while the scholar is rather diffident about saying outright that the manuscript is a fake, the evidence he presents seem pretty convincing that it is. P 50 (p. Yale I 3; LDAB 2861) was purchased in Paris by Yale University in 1933 along with other manuscripts of Egyptian provenance. The provenance given was "Egypt". Once again are highlighted the problems of using in research ungrounded and unpapered artefacts that "surfaced" on the antiquities market. Scholars should simply avoid using them.

What the FLO "likes"

Over on Twitter, there was a discussion of some of the issues about non-recording, that led into a discussion of whether it was a "minority" of detectorists that do not report finds for reporting by the PAS or whether (as I hold it is) the majority of artefact hunters report only very perfunctorily what they take away from the archaeological record. It went on a bit and a number of people piled in. I was interested to see that the "NWalesFLO" had liked three posts out of that thread. It's pretty telling which ones. Not the ones by fellow archaeologists, not the ones by a concerned conservationist. No. Three posts by metal detectorist Robert Jones (the finder of that lead pig from Rossett a while back)
@robnant21·30 Jan in answer to @ChesterArchSoc @PortantIssues and 8 other users
Its a shame the minority ruin it for others. I just enjoy recovering items and recording them for others to see and learn about the history of the items, also it adds to the local history of the area.
The FLO did not "like" the answers to that, developing the theme, but did "like" the same person's:
Its everyone's duty to report your finds to the flo. I don't go on many large digs the last one I did was digging for veterans where all the finds were recorded on the day. Good finds are hard to come by you mostly dig trash. Any interesting finds i take them to the museum.
Again, she did not "like" the answers... including the fact that the same person's Twitter feed showed that - despite Covid and the lockdown - in 2020 they had found 29+ recordable items . If this is an average, and Mr Jones is not finding ten times as much as anyone else, it cannot be said that the non-recorders are a "minority". If there are 27000 detectorists and the PAS records have about 60000 records (of 80000 finds) each year - it means that only between 2 and 3 finds each in a year for each one is being recorded. The FLO however did not "like" that. She showed her approval of Mr Jones' answer to that:
I didn't come here for an argument im just saying don't tar us all with the same brush.
What he came there for was to spread his fake news glib soundbite "its a minority of irresponsible detectorists that gets us all a bad name [so leave the rest of us alone]". What actually gets UK artefact hunting a bad name is when you look at the overall situation, it is the fact that it quite clearly is the majority of poor recorders that gets the hobby a bad name and is destroying huge amounts of the archaeological record unrecorded. But that, gentle reader, the North Wales FLO did not "like" to read, and would not "like" anyone else reading it either. Which is a shame as it happens to be the truth. 

And before anyone says I am being unfair on the NWales FLO, it's actually what they all do, instead of using social media to publicly discuss what is and what is not "best practice" in artefact hunting. And that is a shame, because it's actually what they (not me) are paid to do.

The Archaeological Values of the PAS Database (XVII): Coin of Menander

Welsh PAS database among the metal detecting finds:

WREX-DD6469 A silver Indo-Greek didrachm of Menander (c.160-145 BC) of the Kabul/Gandhara region (the modern border region of Afghanistan and Pakistan). Obverse: BAΣIΛEΩΣ ΣΩTHPOΣ MENANΔPOY ('Saviour King Menander'), diademed and draped bust right. Reverse: Karosthi inscription (maharajasa tratarasa / heramayasa: 'Saviour King Menander'), Athena Alkidemos standing left, holding horizontal shield on outstretched left arm, hurling thunderbolt with right hand, monogram in right field. As Mitchiner, 1978: nos. 1768-1772; Bopearachchi series 13 (O. Bopearachchi, Monnaies gréco-bactriennes et indo-grecques, Catalogue raisonné, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, 1991).[...] Chronology Broad period: GREEK AND ROMAN PROVINCIAL [...] Method of discovery: Metal detector   

Nowhere does the anonymous author of this record give the reader any idea how this "Greek and Roman provincial coin" reached Denbighshire. As an Iron Age trade good perhaps? Or why it is in the condition that it is. The PAS search engine shows that there are 19 Bactrian and Indo-Greek coins in the database. My suggestion is that their occurrence and distribution has no more significance than being colonial trophies showing where there were people that had contact with individuals returning from the Northwest Frontier (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa) from c. 1835- 1947. Why they figure as "Greek provincial coins" in a database of archaeological finds from England and Wales is less clear. At the time of writing, no mention is made anywhere in the public record that this could be a modern loss.

Speaking Truth to the Self-Deluded Supporters of Artefact Hunting [Updated, ASMB identified]

I see from Twitter that a nameless supporter of metal detecting (who I can't see as for some reason they've blocked me) over there has suggested "unfortunately there is no clear way to work out the true numbers" [of metal detectorists taking selected artefacts out of archaeological contexts]. What I can see of this discussion is that to offset whatever points this individual made, a colleague replies:
Well, both Heritage Action and Paul Barford have expended much effort on the question and arrived at estimates that PAS hasn't disagreed with and which suggest "outreach education" hardly touches the surface.
All of which is true. And it is expressing truths like that which makes people like ASMB ("Anonymous Social Media Blocker"), archaeologists and artefact hunters, not want to talk with people like myself and the Heritage Action conservationists that have gone to that effort and as a result will not accept glib fob-off statements and pseudo-justifications involving unsubstantiated wishy-washy quantifiers such as "most detectorists". How long will this go on? British archaeology can do better. And shame on the Blockers who don't want to take part in discussing the effects of British policies on the archaeological record and public perceptions. Shame on them for shying away from facing up to a discussion of their beliefs. 

Update 1st Feb 2021
I am informed by a colleague who can see the whole discussion that the person concerned is Rebecca Ellis a PhD Researcher in ancient animal pictures at Hill University. 

If that is so, and we go to her tweets (Ms Ellis, you do realise there is a cache?), we can see that here we have another archaeologist whose research is object-focussed. Here we see her actually thanking an artefact hunter for recording the part of the archaeological heritage that interests her and that they have pocketed.  An object has been ripped out of an archaeological context (presumably a surface site) "somewhere in Welton" the "unmasked grid reference is accurate to a 100 metre square" and  "Method of discovery: Metal detector, General landuse: Cultivated land" ("Recording Institution: PUBLIC, Created: 4 years ago"). So, actually bugger all archaeological information there, except "we got this thing from about 'ere". But Ms Ellis is grateful because she can use this "thing" in her research - and hang the site that was damaged to get it for her to "love". 

And this is the problem, there are archaeologists that are chasing their own personal benefits, for some a chance to get hands on some goodies to research, for others to get grants to research them, that they deliberately block out any elements that would suggest this is questionable behaviour. I do not know if they have a 'research ethics' department at Hull University, and what they would say about research based on material deriving from undocumented destruction of archaeological sites - or whether they've even been asked. 

Ms Ellis should be aware that, whether she chooses to ignore it, block out the idea, deny it, there is now a lot of evidence that artefact hunting is destroying huge swathes of the archaeological record without any form of documentation or mitigation. Merely cherry-picking a few "interesting artefacts" for personal benefit and patting artefact collectors on the head is not addressing this problem. I would say the ethics of archaeological research should not permit ignoring it - or even encouraging it. I really do not understand this attitude, why a whole group of archaeologists feel they can simply dismiss the arguments raised (and evidence presented) by others, without showing where that evidence is mistakenly interpreted (if it is).  Just to shrug shoulders and say "unfortunately there is no clear way to work out the true numbers" should not be acceptable as a response to this issue. 

I'd like to draw the attention of Ms Ellis and those of her colleagues that behave in the same manner in defence of their "partnership" with artefact hunters to something else we can see on her own twitter feed: 
She may have blocked me on social media so we now cannot discuss it there. I am perfectly happy for her to come here (comments underneath) and discuss these points here. 

Only Legally Acquired Artefacts Suitable for Study

Interesting press release from Norway:
The Research Council of Norway has allocated NOK 11.7 million to Professor Brent Nongbri's research project EthiCodex. The research project addresses the history of the early codex and aims to develop a new methodology and ethics for manuscript studies. [...] The EthiCodex project will attempt to [...] [create] a comprehensive and sustainable online searchable database of physical features and provenance histories of the earliest Greek and Latin codices. This database will clearly distinguish between books that were legally acquired by current owners and those that are confirmed or suspected of being illegally traded. The project will also increase the number of securely dated early codices by funding radiocarbon analysis of legally acquired codices. Finally, on the basis of this newly acquired data, the project will produce a more nuanced and fact-based discussion of what we can know of the history of the early codex.
Congratulations to Prof Brent Nongbri.

Vignette: STOLEN FRAGMENT Screen capture from 2012 CNN interview showing a papyrus fragment of Romans now known to be stolen. Image source: CNN, “Hobby Lobby president’s rare collection" (

Sunday, 31 January 2021

More Trash Quantifications Versus the Real World

In a comment to a post (What Happens to Old Metal Detecting Finds? PACHI Monday, 27 April 2020) about an artefact that turned up at a carboot sale in the UK, an anonymous "Unknown" ventures (31 January 2021 at 07:57), possibly without even reading the post, and not citing his sources...
Bro most of the metal detectors give their finds to museums
Apart from coming here and calling me "Bro" (!) I am not surprised this person was too embarrassed to write under their real name while peddling trashy fob-off figures.
Storing and curating artefacts is expensive. Many museums will not just accept piles of loose metal objects with no documentation of provenance and legal origins, and experience shows that most metal detectorists (in the UK at least) do not maintain such records of their collections. So where does this person get this "most" from? If an estimated 8.8million recordable finds have been made in the UK since PAS began, what percentage of them have reached a museum collection? And if "most" artefact hunters are "giving" (sic) to museums, where are the tens of thousands of artefacts and coins on sale on eBay coming from?
When, actually, are those attempting to justify collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record going to abandon wishy-washy vague quantifiers and start quoting joined-up real numbers and facts from the real world?

Saturday, 30 January 2021

Rebuke from PAS FLO Reavill: Be Careful What You Wish For

         UK, a long way from the very centre of Europe 

In response to a post from the Chester archaeological society in the UK suggesting that instead of financing yet another object-centric rehash of information from the PAS database, they would do better to finance a study on the long-term effects of artefact hunting since the 1970s on the archaeological record of the area they cover.  A PAS FLO decided to stick his oar in:

Peter Reavill @PeterReavill 49 min   
I'm sure you could apply for the grant to undertake this Paul, it would make a change from shouting from the sidelines and putting some genuine academic research behind your posturing

 Though apparently Peter Reavill cannot see it, there is a solid logistic reason why I am sure that conducting fieldwork on the local metal detecting scene in Cheshire from Warsaw would not be an effective use of society funds. It's called distance - something Mr Reavill needs. There are six thousand archaeologists in the UK who would be better placed to do such research than I, and I presume that I am not the only person that can see the need to do it. 

As for "shouting from the sidelines", that is an odd phrase to use for the author of this blog. If in Britain there was a lively ongoing debate accompanying the growth of the PAS in archaeological periodicals, Archaeological Journal, British Archaeological Review, Journal of Archaeological Science, Journal of Field Archaeology, Archaeological Methodology Studies, Archaeological Resource Management Yearly, all the rest, then a blog that "also" discusses these issues mighty be a sideline to the dozens of other papers. On the other hand, British archaeology is not producing huge amounts of academic literature on this issue that strays beyond love-letters to the PAS and metal detectorists. In that case a blog that consistently questions policy and presents material challenging the prevailing preconceptions is not really a sideline to that debate, it is in fact one of the places over two million people have come to see this side of the issue. Mr Reavill's "PAS doing well here" blog has far fewer readers. 

Mr Reavill pompously exhorts me to put "some genuine academic research behind your posturing". Researching any aspect of portable antiquities issues is difficult and time-consuming. Some of the fruits of what I've found out down the years are here on this blog, not that I'd expect Mr Reavill or anybody that takes the PAS-penny to have read any of it. There are a couple of papers out there already. Again, I would not expect Mr Reavill to have read them. As I have said, the early part of lockdown led to two fairly substantial and closely-argued papers about the PAS that I think are pretty devastating. I'll post the links up when they are available online. Mr Reavill is invited to try his hand at proving those arguments invalid. The entire PAS too, why not? There is also a new book project in progress that I'll be announcing here later, and of course the one I did with Nigel Swift that hit a bad spot, but under lockdown is taking new shape. I think between them, they'll give PAS and the Helsinki Gang a run for their money. Mr Reavill, I suspect, will not by that time - I'll wager - have produced any comparable "genuine academic research" to place behind his own posturing. 

Here (Archaeologist: "A Pragmatic Approach to Artefact Hunting Works and has Benefited the Heritage of the Country Greatly" PACHI Saturday, 11 July 2020 ) PAS FLO Peter Reavill agreed to answer some of the points I had raised, he wanted to hedge it around with conditions, but then pulled out (Communicating Archaeology: FLO Backs Down from Defending Claim PACHI Monday, 20 July 2020). He is quite welcome to change his mind and address those points right now if he likes.

Thursday, 28 January 2021

The MOB's Loot Arrives Back in Egypt

In Photos: 5,000 stolen artefacts returned to Egypt Nevine El-Aref , Wednesday 27 Jan 2021  

A collection of 5,000 artefacts that had been illegally smuggled out Egypt have safely arrived back to the country. The artefacts were in the possession of the Museum of the Bible in Washington. Supervisor General of the Repatriation Department Shaaban Abdel-Gawad said that diplomatic negotiations to recover the artefacts started in 2016 between Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the concerned authorities in the US, including Homeland Security and the State Department. The collection includes coffins, mummies, funerary masks, heads of stone statues, and papyri with hieroglyphic, Coptic and Arabic text. Abdel-Gawad said that the recovered objects, which had been stolen in illegal excavations, will be sent to the Coptic Museum in Old Cairo.

Not convinced by some of these, and why on earth would a "museum of the Bible" be buying broken-up mummy cases and mummy masks?

Wednesday, 27 January 2021

Israeli Institution Steals Artefacts For International Holocaust Remembrance Day

    Warsaw Ghetto in 1943 showing areas occupied  and position
           of known bunkers (source  Topography of terror)            

There have been a number of cases where Israeli institutions for some reason think themselves above the law and they can steal cultural property when and where it suits them. The examples of the Dead Sea scrolls, various Torah scrolls from Yemen and other countries, the Drohobyć wall paintings form a depressing pattern. Israel has left UNESCO and was never a state party of the 1970 Convention so considers itself above actually working with other states to protect the heritage. They appear to just want to grab what they can. Another example has appeared in the press this week. The news was reported in Israel Hayom under the misleading title "Hidden bunker discovered in Warsaw Ghetto" (article by Hanan Greenwood published on 25th Jan 2021) and it concerns Shem Olam. It begins:
A bunker containing 100-year-old phylacteries hidden from the Nazis in World War II has been discovered in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto. In recent years, Polish authorities have begun to demolish buildings inside the Warsaw Ghetto to turn them into residential buildings in a process of urban renewal. Following one building's demolition, construction workers discovered an entrance to a bunker dug in preparation for the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. One of the Polish construction workers on the site who entered the bunker to clear it out discovered 10 phylacteries that had been hidden behind books and other items. Hearing of the sensational discovery from their local contacts, European emissaries of the Shem Olam Faith and the Holocaust Institute for Education, Documentation, and Research secretly contacted the construction workers. Following lengthy negotiations and a commitment to keep the transaction secret from Polish authorities, the phylacteries were handed over to the emissaries. They recently arrived in Israel, where they were transferred to the institute for disinfection and conservation.

Items found in the bunker unearthed in the ruins of the 
Warsaw Ghetto (Shem Olam Faith and the Holocaust Institute

They were not "transferred", they were smuggled. Polish law clearly states what should happen to finds like this discovered in the course of redevelopment.
According to Shem Olam Director Rabbi Avraham Krieger, "The discovery of 10 phylacteries concentrated in one place testifies to the Jewish lifestyle they maintained in the ghetto. Despite the horrors and the cruel reality in which they lived, they continued to observe the customs and tradition they grew up with. He noted that "the amount of phylacteries points to the underground minyans [prayer quorums of 10 people] they succeeded in holding inside the bunker, underground and under the Nazis' noses. The phylacteries were hidden alongside weapons and hunting tools that served the Warsaw Ghetto rebels, which testifies to their importance in the eyes of the Jews."
Nice story. Is it true? Have not some crafty Polish guys not duped the Israelis with some invented Holocaust backstory? (remember the Youlus 'Save a Torah' scam?). I think this is all fake. As they say in collecting circles: "if it looks almost too good to be true, it probably is". We have an institution that focuses on certain aspects of Jewish life in central Europe, and the group of artefacts described above looks tailor-made just for them. I wonder how much they paid? But I think they were duped. 

The story is that during "urban renewal" an almost intact bunker was discovered ("

in the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto"

) and its existence covered up,
that "one of the Polish construction workers on the site who entered the bunker to clear it out discovered 10 phylacteries that had been hidden behind books and other items" and "alongside weapons and hunting tools that served the Warsaw Ghetto rebels". Allegedly it was the "European emissaries of the Shem Olam Faith and the Holocaust Institute for Education, Documentation, and Research" that "secretly contacted the construction workers", no doubt offering them a lot of cash for... well, what? What happened to the books, other items, weapons and hunting tools (sic) allegedly also found here? Something for the Polish authorities to find out. 
Flattened remains of Warsaw ghetto 1944
                                     (Wikipedia, inverted)                       
First of all, the ghetto was self-ruled by the Judenrat, there were German soldiers posted at the gates in the ghetto wall, but German patrols kept out (the story was the area was isolated allegedly as typhus-infested). So any religious practices here were not "going on [defiantly] under the noses of the Nazis".

Secondly, the ghetto in April/May 1943 after the deportations of 1942 occupied a much smaller area than the one created in 1940 (see map above). 

Thirdly, during and after the Ghetto uprising (and even before the 1944 Warsaw Uprising) almost the entire area of the ghetto was completely demolished, and clearance of the rubble was ongoing in 1944 (using prison camp labour). The whole area is an archaeological site. 

Fourthly, almost the entire area was fully rebuilt on a new plan in the 1950s and 1960s in a huge showpiece redevelopment on the innovative new ideas for urban planning instituted in this period by some very significant architects of the period. It still looks very nice. 

So, actually it is not true that "in recent years, Polish authorities have begun to demolish buildings inside the Warsaw Ghetto to turn them into residential buildings in a process of urban renewal". That's just nonsense, as is the notion that until a few years ago the very centre of the modern city of Warsaw was occupied by the "ruins of the Warsaw ghetto". This sounds to me to veil an accusation that the [demonised] Poles "are not looking after Jewish heritage" (thus justifying the theft of these artefacts). The area in the very city centre was renewed sixty years ago and remains in good condition, and already covered in residential buildings. It is an area I am very familiar with, until the lockdown passed through it daily on my way to work, and the Institute of Archaeology is just on its southern edge. About the only new building going on there was the construction of the Polin museum a decade ago (and I refuse to believe that the discovery of an almost intact Jewish bunker during construction there went unnoticed).

Another factor is this sounds awfully like that old trope of "the Bedouin exploring a cave" beloved of archaeology of the region of Israel/Palestine. 

What we are asked to believe is that the phylacteries pictured, just a bit grubby and musty, were buried for over seventy years in damp Warsaw soil and now only need  a bit of "disinfection and conservation". This is explained away by stating this was an open space with other objects preserved under a standing building (the one that was allegedly being demolished). Excerpt there were very few standing buildings in the area of the 1943 ghetto. Virtually none in fact. In 1945, this was a field of rubble, on which the rain and snow fell, and my feeling is these items would have rotted away. The Ringelbaum archive only survived because it was sealed in metal containers. Also weapons were very scarce in the Ghetto uprising, why were they left "hidden" in this abandoned bunker? No mention is made of human remains being discovered. And why - if this bunker could be so easily entered - were they not found by the work parties clearing the ruins in 1944?  

I think somebody's pulling a fast one. The question is, whether it was the Polish (now more likely Ukrainian or Belarussian) laborer working on a building site or not? My feeling (having encountered quite a few of them) is that actually realising the identity of these items and in particular the significance for the potential purchasers of a group of ten items might be stretching it a bit far for most of them. Also, I have a problem imagining the situation, they find stuff, the emissaries get to hear and go through some process to get the money for them, begin protracted negotiations... Keeping a yawning open bunker in the middle of an active building site secret from workmates is rather difficult. My feeling is the workman/workmen would have got rid of the objects as quickly as possible, not hung onto them (we've recently had a lot of highly-publicised arrests for just such a crime - and now it's a five year prison sentence). What happened to the weapons? If they were in as good condition as the paper and cloth we see in the photos, they would be worth quite a bit (and totally illegal in Polish law for anyone to have without the required permits). Has a "hidden bunker" not known to researchers of the ghetto been "discovered", or is this story an invention of a bunch of guys trying to market some old items they found on a fleamarket? 

Personally, I think the buyers should be asking their "European emissaries" (presumably people much better fitted to understanding the significance of this group of objects) a few more searching questions. Names, dates, how they came to "hear of" this find (from whom, and why). Until they get proper answers, I think they should consider asking for their money back.   

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day:
Shem Olam announced it had the phylacteries in an announcement ahead of a conference it is set to hold to mark International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The virtual conference, which will be open to the public, will include panels on the memory of the Holocaust from an international perspective and will be attended by politicians, spiritual leaders, rabbis, and historians from around the world.
.. who, I would say, should devote some of their time asking Shem Olam about their behaviour and smuggling activities, and how they see the way forward. Or they could just boycot the meeting in protest.

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