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

Holocaust Remembrance Day

"There is only one thing worse than Auschwitz itself ...
and that is if the world forgets there was such a place
Henry Appel, Auschwitz survivor.

January 27, 2021 we celebrate the 76th anniversary of the liberation of the German Nazi concentration and extermination camp Auschwitz - Birkenau. The United Nations has declared this day the International Holocaust Remembrance Day. One of the biggest problems affecting the site is its preservation. The Auschwitz I camp was converted from a pre-existing pre-War barracks complex and has mostly brick buildings, while Auschwitz II Birkenau was constructed out of mobile prefabricated wooden stable units, erected on poured concrete foundations. The camp was not built to stand for more than a few years and now conservation is a huge, and costly problem (see here and here). There is thought-provoking fundraising brochure available for downloading here (it is not the current version, but lays out the nature of the problem).


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.


Tuesday 26 January 2021

More Dubious Dead Sea Scrolls

Årstein Justnes, Josephine Munch Rasmussen 2021, 'More Dubious Dead Sea Scrolls: Four Pre-2002 Fragments in the Schøyen Collection' DOI:

In the course of the last eighteen years more than 75 new “Dead Sea Scrolls” fragments have surfaced on the antiquities market. These are commonly referred to as post-2002 Dead Sea Scrolls-like fragments. A growing number of scholars regard a substantial part of them as forgeries. In this article, we will discuss four more dubious fragments, but this time from the 20th Century—or at least from pre-2002. Two of the fragments have been known since the late nineties and are published in the DJD series. One was published in Revue de Qumran (2003), and one in Gleanings from the Caves (2016). All four are today accepted as part of the Dead Sea Scrolls dataset even though they are unprovenanced and have made-up—or at least very adaptable—lists of previous owners. In this article, we will critically review their provenance and discuss the lack of proper interest in provenance on the part of the collector who owns them and the scholars who published them.
"In the present article, we revisit four fragments that became known between 1998 and 2001 and interpret them, not primarily as historical objects of unknown origin, but as modern and contemporary additions to the Dead Sea Scrolls historiography". That's an interesting approach and certainly suggests if such an idea catches hold in the case of objects with similarly undocumented origins, the price of such items (and therefore dealers' profits) may be predicted to drop drastically. Perhaps that's a way to get dealers and collectors interested in verifiably documenting collecting histories.

 An important fact is slipped into the text in the final comment:
53 After we submitted this article, an additional element has come up regarding these two fragments. According to the recent scientific report by Art Fraud Insights (“Final Report,” 7), MS 2713 and MS 2861 “bear a striking resemblance to the [fake] MOTB [= Museum of the Bible] fragments.”


Racist-Theory-Touting Theme Park Planned for Blackpool [Updated]

A huge new theme park is opening at Blackpool, UK, inspired by Ancient Alien conspiracy theory books from the 1960s and 70s by Swiss author Erich von Däniken, with an exhibition exploring theories that aliens influenced ancient civilisations (Helen Carter, 'A huge new theme park is opening an hour's drive from Manchester - and it's inspired by a book that says aliens have visited earth', Manchester Evening News, 23 JAN 2021). The 17-acre site is in the town centre, off Central Drive.

Blackpool Council is preparing to use compulsory purchase powers to secure land for a £300m entertainment complex. It means land and property owners within the boundaries of land earmarked for the 'Blackpool Central' project can expect to be forced to sell up so redevelopment can start soon. The main tenant of the redeveloped site will be the Chariots of the Gods Entertainment Park [...] The entertainment complex will be 'based upon unsolved mysteries of the past, such as the pyramids of Egypt and Mexico, ancient cave drawings, the monuments of Easter Island and alien visitors' [...] and an alien-themed diner, as well as a hotel and an events square. [...] It is estimated that the development will draw in 600,000 additional visitors a year with a combined annual spend of £75 million, creating 1,000 jobs.
The council has signed an exclusivity agreement with developer Nikal and Media Invest Entertainment, who own the rights to von Däniken's work. There was once a Von Daniken 'Mystery Park' in Interlaken in Switzerland - a whole theme park devoted to his ideas. It opened in 2003 but soon hit financial problems and controversy, and closed in 2006 after the projected 500,000 guests per year failed to materialise (Closure of Mystery Park is no enigma

It's not clear why Blackpool councillors hit upon this idea when it failed so spectacularly in Switzerland. Nor, given the racist undertones of the whole ancient astronauts construction, is it at all clear why just now such a racist show would be being contemplated in Lancashire, one of the areas involved in the African slave trade  

UPDATE 26th Jan 2021

Andy Brockman @pipelinenews 2 g. Done some work on that headline: "Blackpool Council backs theme park based on racist pseudo history by convicted fraudster."

The Not-so-Hidden Racist Undertones of Ancient Aliens Conspiracy Theory

The problem with the ancient aliens conspiracy theory is that it denies the various cultures responsible for the allegedly "mysterious" monuments and artefacts used as its basis any kind of agency. Various monuments are assumed to be "too complex" for primitive societies to create unaided. So the "precision" of cutting and laying out of stone blocks by the Inca or ancient Egyptians is a mystery, while the same phenomenon at the Parthenon is by nobody ascribed to "ancient aliens helping". For some reason the ancient Greeks could do it, while the indigenous folk elsewhere could not. Even the erection of earthen mounds was said to be beyond the capabilities of the "savages" of the eastern areas of the expanding USA, and ascribed to a vanished "mound-builder" civilisation wiped out by the Indiansd that the white settlers themselves were to replace and massacre. 

One wonders how British archaeologists will react to the proposal to construct an ancient astronaut theme park in Blackpool. As in the case of their passivity and inaction over artefact hunters, will they react at all? I think if you ask Mr Google who is writing about this, you can see what's going to happen. 

Works on the topic written in the US

At the beginning, much of this addressed the Mound-builder theories, and other areas where Von Daniken et al had attempted to explain pre-Columbian cultural features as the result of ancient alien contact. There were several books published rebutting Von Daniken's ideas (A good example is Ronald Story's 1976 'The space-gods revealed: A close look at the theories of Erich von Danikenpublished by Harper and Row and two years later in the UK by New English Publishers).

Although there were earlier works referring to the racism in the ancient astronaut theory (for example in the introduction of Morgana Sommer's 2012 thesis, "Pseudoarchaeology and the ancient astronaut theory: an analysis of a modern belief system"), texts both on paper and online tend to concentrate on this issue after 2015. It is interesting to speculate on the relationship between that and the empowerment of the Alt-Right by the Trump presidency and increasing awareness raised by the 'Black Lives Matter' movement (that began in June 2013).  Texts appearing in 2015 include:

R. S. Benedict 2015, 'Aliens Didn’t Build The Pyramids, You Racist Fool!' The Hornet 13 June 2015

Christina Killgrove 2015 'What Archaeologists Really Think About Ancient Aliens, Lost Colonies, And Fingerprints Of The Gods' Forbes Sep 3, 2015 

Erik Jensen 2016, 'Racism and Ancient Aliens' Co-Geeking May 30, 2016.

Courtney Graves 2016, ' Racism In 'Ancient Aliens' Could the History Channel hit be a product of internalized racism?' Odyssey Jul 18, 2016

Carl Feagans 2016, 'Open Minds and “High Civilizations” ', Archaeology Review blog September 8, 2016

There are a number of posts on this topic on the Jason Colavito blog (earliest in 2016).

Ramon Glazov 2017, 'Ancient Astronaut Aryans: On the Far Right Obsession with Indo-Europeans The Bizarre Pseudo-Historical Belief System Behind White Nationalism'/'The Quest for Primordial Whiteness' LitHub April 28, 2017 / Overland (Australia) 266 Autumn 2017. 

Christopher Heaney 2017, 'The Racism Behind Alien Mummy Hoaxes Pre-Columbian bodies are once again being used as evidence for extraterrestrial life' The Atlantic August 1st 2017. 

Julien Benoit 2017, Outlandish theories that aliens built the pyramids are rooted in racism/ Racism is behind outlandish theories about Africa’s ancient architecture', Quartz Africa September 18, 2017

Alexander Zaitchik 2018, 'Close encounters of the racist kind', Southern Poverty Law Centre Hatewatch January 02, 2018

Sarah E. Bond, 'Pseudoarchaeology and the Racism Behind Ancient Aliens Where, exactly, the idea of ancient aliens building the pyramids began — and why some academics think racism lies at the heart of many extraterrestrial theories', Hyperallergic, November 13, 2018. This ios one of the more widely-read and quoted articles on this topic.

James McGrath 2018, 'Racism, Colonialism, and Ancient Aliens' Religion Prof... Nov 16th 2018 [referring, among other things, to one of my blog posts on an Anderson twitter thread].

David S. Anderson 2018, ' Mysterious Ancient Mysteries And The Problems With Archaeology Made For TV', Forbes Dec 31, 2018. [David S. Anderson writes quite frequently in this topic] 

Hector Osegueda 2019, '“Ancient Aliens”: A Damaging Perspective', The Liberator Feb 28, 2019

University of Texas public session March 2019, 'Aliens, Atlantis, and Aryanism: Fake News in Archaeology and Heritage' Mar 30, 2019. Free and Open to the Public (see Lizzie Wade, ' Beliefs in aliens, Atlantis are on the rise' Science 12 Apr 2019)

Bradley Lepper 2019, 'Archaeology: Bizarre stories on Serpent Mound origin linked to racial bias' Columbus Dispatch May 12, 2019 [Moundbuilders theme]

Shoshi Parks 2019, 'Insanely Incorrect Theories About How Famous Ancient Monuments Were Built' Fodor's Travel October 7, 2019

Meghan O'Keefe, '‘Ancient Aliens’ Needs to Stop Erasing Non-White Cultural Excellence', Decider Jun 16, 2020

Jen Rose Smith, 'The fringe theories long attached to UNESCO sites', CNN 10th July 2020

Cedric Voets, 'Saying Aliens Built Ancient Monuments Isn't Only Crazy, It's Racist' Cracked July 10, 2020

Emily Tain 2020, 'Why Thinking That Aliens Built the Pyramids Is Problematic' Arab America Sept 21, 2020

Patty Hamrick 2020, 'How H.P. Lovecraft Gave Us Ancient Aliens' Mental November 2nd 2020.

Jordan Poss, 'I’m not saying Ancient Aliens is racist…' Jordan M. Poss blog November 06, 2020 (with references to others)

Guy P. Harrison 2020, 'Why Do People Keep Boarding the Chariots of the Gods? Nearly half of all Americans believe alien astronauts visited Earth long ago', Psychology Today Jul 24, 2020

So that's at least 24 informative texts on this subject published in the USA. And how do British archaeologists fare? 

Works on the topic written in the UK

Mr Google seems to be at a loss finding anything at all. 

Perhaps this is why a British local authority at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century sees absolutely no problem in using public money to create a theme park promoting ancient aliens conspiracy theory ideas, nor why they have no doubt that a whole load of information-starved members of the public will go to try and 'learn something about the past' and maybe 'find out for themselves what the truth is' by visiting this exhibition. Will British archaeologists disabuse them of this idea? 

Vignette: Extraordinary Documentary tells us how Ancient Aliens helped build the pyramids of Egypt

Saturday 23 January 2021

Stop the Steal and US Coin Collector Cognition

The hapless numismatic journalist Richard Giedroyć (Numismatic News Jan 19, 2021) tells coin collectors in the US that " UNESCO is Not Your Friend". The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization is the friend of educators, scientists and people of culture all over the world, so why should Giedroyć feels he has to warn coineys about them being "definiitely not on the side of the collector" when the current US President may well be (jolly well should be) seeking to overturn Trump's philistine betrayal of the ideals of that organisation?
The word ‘culture’ is the key for the purpose of this article. UNESCO has impacted a Memorandum of Understanding between the United States and other countries regarding not only the ability to import antiquities, but to import coins from some places as well.
A bit later on, he lets slip that this concerns "undocumented coins" and that Peter Tompa "a Washington attorney who has defended (eh? How? PMB) the coin trade against import restrictions" is involved. And then he launches into the usual coiney standby ("the antiquities market is not worth as much as some say it is: According to a 2020 Rand Organization report, the illicit trade in cultural patrimony is “not likely to be larger than a few hundred million dollars each year”).

Mr Giedrojć shallowly confuses UNESCO with just one of its conventions (1970 Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property ), he confuses that with the US Federal law (the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act) and he confuses the peddlers of undocumented antiquities and potentially looted, stolen and smuggled artefacts with licit activity. 

This is the kind of fuzzy thinking and denial of the truth that QAnon thrives on. Just STOP the steal of other people's cultural property by 'entitled' US collectors. The word "culture" is definitely key, something many US collectors, dealers and their lobbyists claim  to have, but their actions prove otherwise. One of the posters in the vignette reads "to steal is un-American", I'd say the US collectors' market for antiquities seems to me to present a totally different perspective on that. 

Friday 22 January 2021

UK Detectorists: Coronavirus only Affects Other People

In the UK, the NCMD... 11 January at 20:56
We are closely watching the worsening situation on coronavirus infection rates in England and are very conscious that further general restrictions are likely to be imposed this week. That doesn’t mean we are giving up on lobbying for the safe return of our hobby, and further work has been actioned on that task today [...].
So, the infection rates are going up, and everybody else is going to be tightening the measures, but they, because they think themselves a special exception, want the regulations about travel and being outside their own property to be relaxed just for them... Pathetic. But fortunately not everyone thinks that they are: The National Council for Metal Detecting 11 hours ago:
We thought we’d made progress yesterday but today we are no further forward. We are sorry there is no news to report
Note the number of Covid-deniers replying under this text. 

Meanwhile the UK government has launched a new national campaign 'Look into my eyes': UK government launches hard-hitting 'stay at home' video featuring hospital staff and Covid patients urging people to stay at home during the national lockdown. The advert features testimonials from NHS staff and Covid patients from Basingstoke and North Hampshire hospital. UK metal detectorists are apparently too thick to understand what "stay at home" means.

... ambassadors for the hobby....

Sunday 17 January 2021

Ripping up the UK Heritage with the Heritage Alliance

Heritage Alliance 15th January 2021:
The header image for this week's issue, which shows an enthusiast surveying a field with a metal detector, is from the Association of Detectorists - one of our newest members. The Association of Detectorists has been formed on heritage and conservation principles, with the intention of becoming a research and educational Institute of Detectorists. Find out more here
An association of "enthusiasts". The metal detector, whether used "enthusiastically" or not is an artefact hunter's tool. The only connection this has with "heritage" is the Heinrich Schliemann type. And I expect the HerAll very well know this. So why call people engaged in collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological heritage "enthusiasts" and not looters? Who else will they ally themselves with? Leyliners?

Friday 15 January 2021

Professor Michal Lewis Replies to UK Detectorist's Comments about Text on Commercial Artefact Hunting Rallies

I see Mike Lewis the head of the portable antiquities scheme reads John Howland's Detecting and Collecting blog (just kidding, I sent him the link) and has replied to the detectorists remarks in an eye-opening (in many ways) text "Biting the hand that feeds, or, feeding the hand that bites?" there:

Michael Lewis on January 14, 2021 at 6:44 pm said:
Hi John, The evidence for the lack of finds being recorded at rally finds [sic] is there. Over the summer there were several major rallies (as mentioned in the BA article) but hardly anything from them recorded on the PAS database. As I say in the article, attending rallies is really resource intensive for PAS, especially as there are so many of them and often poorly set up for recording finds. I believe metal-detecting can make an immense contribution to archaeology, but only if finders follow best practice and record their finds… I just think organisers need to do more to make that happen.
The blog's author replied disrespectfully:
John Howland on January 14, 2021 at 8:11 pm said:
Hi Michael: Thank you for your getting in touch. It’s greatly appreciated. But I have to say your comments were politically inept and hardly a rallying call for co-operation.

That said, I agree with the overall thrust of your comment. Reporting is absolutely crucial… no ‘ifs’ or ‘buts’. If as you say, the evidence for non-reporting (which is discretional), is there, then I’ll gladly publish that [sic] data on here. It [sic] will be challenged as I expect you understand, especially if it’s airy-fairy Barfordian in content.*

However, as it seems you’ve thrown in your lot with Heyworth and the CBA who are no friends of ours, never have been and never will be, is cause for suspicion. Heyworth for some reason known only to himself has given his tacit approval of the ludicrous AEC, the brainchild of Messrs Swift and Barford.

Once sane, abuse-free, orthodox archaeological debate kicks-in, and unless that archaeological aberration, the AEC, is archaeologically condemned out of hand, I cannot see full co-operation progressing to the next level. [...].

I believe the rally scene does need revisiting. Ideally, the NCMD (and Sport England), needs to be the prime movers, but I’m ashamed to say the NCMD has all the potency of harem guards.

The co-operative will is out there. It needs careful cultivation. Heyworth, Barford, and Swift, are out of the equation. We are moving forward to better things… join us.

Regards John
This guy is completely off his rocker. Donald J. Trump-style. He seems to equate himself with the nation's body of detectorists, and if somebody says something about him, Johh Howland, that means the whole detecting community. If he, John Howland, is sceptical of figures about non-recording, then they all must be too. If there is "evidence of non-recording" he demands the authors supply it to HIM for publication on HIS blog, and he "warns" that HE will be the one to challenge it.  Unless HIS demands about getting Barford and Swift (only?) "archaeologically condemned out of hand", there will not be "full co-operation" of the UK metal detecting community "progressing to the next level". Nothing more or less than 100% narcissism.

I don't know whether Mr Howland has any inkling of what the Portable Antiquities Advisory Group is (but I'll guess not much), but Mike Heyworth has been chair of that body for quite a while now, so hardly "throwing in his lot".  

The Portable Antiquities Advisory Group, is - as the name hints - an advisory group, so it is not there to be "politically-ept", nor after coming up to quarter of a century of operation of the PAS should there be any more a need for a "rallying call for co-operation". Either metal detectorists are responsible, or they are not. They should not need asking. Their will for co-operation should not need "careful cultivation".
… join us.

That's just insulting.  

Of course anyone who'd actually read the article of Lewis and Heyworth in British Archaeology would be aware that the number of finds (not) being recorded is only part of what they said. 


 * As I have pointed out many times, but Mr Howland continues to ignore because it conflicts with his world-picture where metal detecting is a victim of "abuse", the PAS has already published its own figures - that broadly coincide with those of Heritage Action. Page 14 here, up on the Internet since August 2014

Tuesday 12 January 2021

Boris's Britain Rejects European Regulations to Reduce Illegal Antiquity Trafficking

       Dirty hands of the British antiquities market  

As part of its post-Brexit trade deal with the European Union, the United Kingdom has rejected new import licensing regulations imposed by the EU designed to safeguard cultural heritage from illegal trafficking, according to the Art Newspaper (Valentina Di Liscia, 'UK Rejects European Union Regulations to Reduce Illegal Antiquity Trafficking' Hyperallergic 11th Jan 2021).  
The regulations were introduced by the European Union in April 2019 and are meant to protect against the illicit trade in cultural property, including terrorist financing and money laundering. The legislation requires import licenses for art, antiques, books, and other artifacts that are more than 250 years old before they can enter any EU country. To acquire the rights, importers must prove that their goods were legally exported from the country of origin. Under the new rules, there are no licensing requirements for importing objects of cultural interest into the UK. [...] The legislation, the first common EU law of its kind concerning imports of cultural property, attempts to control the looting and trafficking of antiquities, a thriving [...] industry that has repercussions far beyond the arts sector. For example, the illegal trade of cultural goods often contributes to funding organized crime, according to Interpol.

So, basically, if you are a responsible antiquities buyer, best from now on to avoid the UK market where dealers are not required by any law to prove that their goods were legally exported from the country of origin. But buy from a law-abiding EU dealer who is. 

If the European art market is Europa on her bull, this is what this move makes the British art market right now. 

Monday 11 January 2021

FLO Selling Antiques? Eh?

Details, Mr Grey?

Stephen Grey
I’ve heard of an antique shop in York kept well stocked by a FLO. So could work both ways but I wouldn’t ask the times to print that.

Saturday 9 January 2021

Shame About the Freedom of Movement: UK Detectorist Interested in Foreign Looting Opportunities

Seymour Pratt (self employed and post in Ministère des Finances) has noted (24th November 2019)
" Areas not under central government control. Metal detecting allowed without permission !"


UK Tekkie Reasoning


This is part of the discussion going on in detecting circles about the Times article on metal detecting rallies. I'm going to leave it with the original punctuation, you work out what the guy wanted to say...

Gerry Llewellyn
Whatever the out come what ever is said m/d licence i had 1 cause they said i had to have one they tried that more detectors came tried to ban it it didnt work this hobby round world is worth so many millions same in uk so theres no ban on its way to much money being made gov gets big slice of it but he is crying about the missing stuff undeclared from big digs etc we all know it goes on but not every one is of same mind thats life But the farmer i feel sorry for he gets great sum of money thinks he has done well but he is biggest loser sad thing hes lost more than he was paid oh the joys of detecting
So, he asserts that somehow the UK government is getting a big slice of the "millions" made on the hobby. Yet a few dozen words down, he admits that much more could be retrieved by regulating the hobby better. That's tekkie logic for you.

Imagine the conversation with the FLO: "Now Mr Llewellyn, I want you to tell me for our records in your own words what you observed about the archaeological context of that hoard you dug up, its relationship to other evidence in the field, and the mutual interrelationships between the 37 items as they lay in the ground, OK?

I think they should get this guy to write the rebuttal article for "The Times" that they were talking about doing. That'd really set the tone.  

Heritage Action on PAS Turnaround on Commercial Rallies

                    Holes (PAS)            
Heritage Action (At LAST! Britain condemns detecting rallies!, 09/01/2021), note that in the CBA magazine British Archaeology for the first time (I stand to be corrected) Michael Lewis, Head of PAS and Mike Heyworth, previous Head of CBA, have condemned metal detecting rallies:
The tone is far stronger than the current pulling of punches on the PAS website. Well, Hurrah! But for many years we’ve published HUNDREDS of articles begging for that to happen. [...] Anyhow, as a matter of interest, here’s one of our earliest complaints, from nearly 16 years ago. 
Shameful Heritage plunder near Avebury, Sunday 24 April 2005 [...] Those fields, classed as disturbed plough soil – “so it’s legal, innit” are packed with our common history, from palaeolithic scatters onwards. Or at least, they were. As it happened, the 480 people who ‘hoovered’ these 2 fields last Sunday reckoned very little was found. Maybe that’s true, maybe not. How would anyone know? Maybe, as many of them claimed, it was because “those fields were done over” by a similar rally 10 years ago. Whatever the truth, when the full and detailed account of our past is written, those 170 acres in the heart of this vitally archaeologically rich area will forever show up as a blank in the record. Shame on them! And shame on the thinking members of the hobby for tolerating such selfish and ignorant behaviour from the majority. Shame on the management of the Portable Antiquities Scheme. The Scheme’s management must find the moral courage to loudly proclaim what is and isn’t civilised.
[They have now! 16 years later! – Ed.]

And the British Archaeology article (kindly made available by Professor Michael Lewis, Head of PAS one of the authors) contains a figure that makes that point. Each angry red spot on that map is a hole ripped out of the archaeological record.At first sight there do not look to be 546 dots on that map, and 546 is the number of rallies "the PAS is aware of" from its liaison, and does not include the various club events held almost weekly up and down the country for fifteen or more years until the outbreak of the current pandemic.  But when you look closer (apologies for the graininess produced by the resolution of the pdf I received from Bloomsbury), we see there are clusters of heritage destruction running right through the Midlands, 26, 12, 91, 17, 16 and 17 sites at this scale have just blurred (and there's another cluster of 6 sites up North around Carlisle). 

This, too, introduces yet another bias into the PAS database, material recovered from such blanket-stripping of productive areas will differ from the single-finds of individual searching, yet the evidence from rallies is not distributed evenly, it clusters in a specific geographical zone, so if you were using PAS data to study, for example medieval settlement geography, you'd find the data biased to a zone of England that has a specific geographical pattern of settlement and land use in the Middle Ages - which is another reason why PAS data are useless for research of this type (PMB paper coming out early next year on this). 

Friday 8 January 2021

UK Metal Detecting Rallies in the Times (1)


Metal Detector rallies were discussed in an article in The Times yesterday: Mark Bridge, 'Detectorist Rallies leave pros in a hole' (sic) The Times Thu Jan 07, 2021. It's based on an earlier piece by Mike Lewis and Mike Heyworth in the current number (176) of British Archaeology ('Detecting rallies: Good for new detectorists, businesses and sometimes for charities, but not so much for archaeology'). Neither of them seem to be available for you to read online. It's pretty gratifying to see that after many years of activists like the author of this blog trying to get the PAS and CBA (of which Dr Heyworth was for many years the head) to publicly condemn rallies - precisely due to the damage they do to the archaeological record, as well as their commercialisation of archaeological material - they have done so. Finally. 

On a metal detecting forum near you, tekkies are livid. How dare the archaeologist Michael Lewis (they did not spot Heyworth's name) talk about the archaeological implications of what they do? Eh? Stephen Grey (Anglo Celtic Metal Detecting) from Birkenhead from a self-absorbed and entitled  position writes angrily on Facebook [punctuation added]
Dr Michael Lewis head of The Portable Antiquities Scheme showing his true colours in The Times newspaper. A shocking attack leaning towards untruths attacking the very hobby that keeps him in a well payed (sic) job. I think no matter how learned and respected this man is, he needs to print an apology in The Times and take a demotion for his efforts at least. Shocking behaviour by a man running the PAS, an organisation that would probably not exist if not for the very people he’s attacking. Not only has he done this on a public stage but he’s chosen his stage very carefully. The Times is read by many powerful people who might one day have a say in all this. How can they reach informed decisions if they base them on the likes of this ?

They can inform their decisions reading both sides of the discussion, Mr Grey. Why not open the MDF forum and LGD facebook page to Whitehall and the informed public so they can see the other side of the story if you think that they will find edifying what they see there? Like the offensive comments under Mr Grey's piece here... 

Of course the PAS is there to record public finds, not just those of artefact hunters. I see nothing at all in that text that "leans towards untruths" and I do not see any attack on metal detecting, but on certain practices within that hobby.  Furthermore if Mr Grey were to actually read the text, he'd see that Prof Lewis and Mike Heyworth did not "choose" the Times, but the Times chose to write about their article elsewhere. Tekkies, eh? 

'Old Baldy' writes (Thu Jan 07, 2021 6:23 pm) [punctuation corrected]

[...] I take issue with what he has said to the Times as he appears to be making comments based on hearsay and "rumours" without evidence to back it [them] up. If the PAS cannot get people to events, that is their problem to solve [...]
No, it is the problem of all (truly) responsible detectorists to alleviate. So would Mr Baldy recommend that instead of what he dismisses as 'hearsay' derived from 25 years of liaison with artefact hunters the PAS make a thorough investigation and submit an official report to the relevant government institutions about how much archaeological damage really is being done by all types of artefact hunting? If so, I agree wholeheartedly. PAS should have done this two decades ago and repeated it a decade ago and done an assessment of progress five years ago. But it did not.    

And yes, responsible detectorists would be avoiding commercial artefact hunting rallies. No "perhaps" about it of course - and the "time", Professor Lewis, for the PAS  to tell them (and society) that in no uncertain terms was also more than twenty years ago. 

The Times on Rallies (2)

UK tekkies have announced an intention to bombard the Times and its readers with the reasons why Portable Antiquities Head Mike Lewis (quoted there by the author Mike Bridges) is wrong about commercial metal detecting rallies. One even suggests that Prof. Lewis should be punished "We need to get him in the back of a van and gone" which sounds like a threat to me. 

Anyway, let's have a look. "Metal detector rallies (in general) are causing damage to archaeology". I'd say that was indisputable. That damage is "irreversible", again indisputable. The numbers of hobbyists doing this is "growing" - it would be difficult to contest that. And yes, a prime attraction is access to land where the individual artefact hunter does not need to go asking for access, but somebody does it for them, they have a fresh new search site handed to them on a plate with all the paperwork done. and that's what they pay for. 

Yes, hundreds of rallies are held each year, if we count 'club digs' and all the rest (and let's not forget commercially-organised 'metal detecting holidays'  either). There are now people that make a living organising them as a full-time 'job'.  

 So basically, I cannot see why tekkies have any issues with what is written there by Mr Bridges. Substantive comments welcome below. 

The next bit, introducing the actual article on which The Times piece is based (and quoting from it), is downright lyrical. I love the imagery of the "darkening fields" reference (instead of Thugwit, the author is citing perhaps Chuzzlewit). Anyway, I think I've found inspiration for a future article on "metal detecting".  "Detector-wielding clients" is exactly who rally organisers are making their money from. And of course the types of "Rambo-wannabe" outdoor clothing favoured by many British artefact hunters is pretty noticeable.  

Moving on. So this is where that nice man from the PAS, that has spent the best part of two decades pandering to artefact hunters, is quoted. "Most detectorists" searching the extensive sites made available by rally organisers "do not report finds with the Scheme". And that leads to "the loss of valuable data" . Digging them out of their context in general leads to a loss of valuable data. Full stop. Anyone who wants to context that is welcome, but please do us all the courtesy of reading why I say that here: Artefact Hunting and Archaeological Responsibility  (sections 1-7)

Do most report what they find at rallies? Well, in the advanced search, it just so happens that this is one of the filters, finds from rallies account for just 17,510 records (out of a total of on the PAS database). Yet PAS has (it says) attended 546 of them between 2005 and 2018 (and a few before and later). That's an average of 32 finds from each rally. That sort of figure does not suggest that many tekkies are coming forward with many of their finds at such events (which may have several hundred participants). But, yes, let's have a decent breakdown of the figures from the PAS.  

The Times on Rallies (3)

Continuing the discussion of the Times article on rallies that UK detectorists got annoyed over (Robin Goodwin "[...] That is disgusting [....] The man [Prof. Mike Lewis] is a disgrace. He should not be in that job. I don’t think I have been this upset about an article in a paper for a long time [emoticon]". Hmm. Perhaps he should read the text in British Archaeology and not a Times journalist's attempt to summarise it. Anyway, there seems nothing contentious about the earlier bits. 

The next section refers to something "metal detectorists" should know something about anyway (it's on the PAS website). 

Then Prof. Lewis refers to why the way these rallies alienate detectorists from landowners is important. I do not see how this can be contested, given how the forums are full of texts (especially around Christmas time) emphasising the links that artefact hunters build up with "their" farmers.  

Likewise, the same forums are full of stories about how in order to keep returning to the same fields rally (and metal detecting holiday) organisers seed sites with artefacts that are later found by clients.  Detectorists talk about this among themselves behind the closed doors of their forums. They are less happy to hear the same stories being told by others about the hobby.

As for the evidence, we have the brooches skillfully spotted by the late David Williams, from a rally (one with a plastic coating and another with numbers written on it). Prompted by that, I was working a while ago on gathering material in the PAS that looks suspiciously like traces of bulk buys of Balkan artefacts scattered in some fields (I must get back to that and finish that article, but there was quite a lot of stuff and a lot of questions to be asked of it). I am sure the PAS has their own suspicions, which is why (anon. pers. comm.)  there are certain commercial operation organizers that the PAS FLOs will not now record finds from their 'digs'. 

In their article Lewis and Heyworth argued... I think it is very difficult if "we collectively" should send a "clear signal" to anybody if the organization involved in liaising over portable antiquities matters is not shouting from the rooftops at every opportunity what the problems are with current policies, instead of pussyfooting around the issues. There are British archaeologists who think everything is hunkydory, and part of the reason for this is that the PAS is telling them, for the most that it is. The public are unaware of the issues, they've seen the comedy series "detectorists" and that's basically (now the Time Team reality show has gone) where they have got their knowledge from. Edutainment (and it may be argued that, in its present form, the PAS is providing little more than precisely that) has replaced education. The public is confused by the very same ambiguity that fills public life in Britain today.   

The Times article is to be welcomed. When will we see the next one like it from the British media? 

Got Orl the Grid Refrences Here

 And what would you use this for, and where did the information come from?

The author simply shouts
Yes, our heritage belongs to everyone, but the archaeological evidence is easily destroyed by the "(self-)chosen few" who simply want to collect cherry-picked bits of it for themselves. 

Interestingly, South Newbold is a frequently cited example of a site where collaboration with artefact hunters has produced archaeologically useful data. I say "so what?", when the people that "work with archaeologists" almost certainly are up to something else when they are not. And here we have a prime case of exactly that. The other side of the coin. I don't though that those archaeologists that want to "network" with artefact hunters will be drawing attention to this. 

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