Wednesday 30 June 2021

Donald Rumsfeld Dies

Former US defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, one of the main architects of the Iraq war, has died. George Packer, 'How Rumsfeld Deserves to Be Remembered, America’s worst secretary of defense never expressed a quiver of regret' The Atlantic 30th June 2021.
Rumsfeld was the chief advocate of every disaster in the years after September 11. Wherever the United States government contemplated a wrong turn, Rumsfeld was there first with his hard smile—squinting, mocking the cautious, shoving his country deeper into a hole. [...] He believed in regime change but not in nation building, and he thought that a few tens of thousands of troops would be enough to win in Iraq. He thought that the quick overthrow of Saddam’s regime meant mission accomplished. He responded to the looting of Baghdad by saying “Freedom’s untidy,” as if the chaos was just a giddy display of democracy—as if it would not devastate Iraq and become America’s problem, too.
and later the rest of us.

No Shake Up at the BM, Then?

              Imperial loot              

Charlotte Higgins on former Chancellor George Osborne’s appointment as chair of the British Museum trustees ( How did Osborne, king of cuts, become the British Museum’s fundraiser-in-chief?', Guardian Tue 29 Jun 2021)
His appointment [...] relates to a narrow understanding of what sort of person might be qualified to undertake a major cultural trusteeship; the actual reality of so doing [..] and a kind of institutional conservatism that can overtake a group of people, though they may be individually progressive.[...] On it goes. It is tentacular, incestuous. It is also, complicatedly, public-spirited; no one is forcing these wealthy people to volunteer their energies to public organisations. There is some poetic justice in the fact that Osborne will be judged on his ability to raise millions of pounds, perhaps hundreds of millions, for the British Museum. Between gritted teeth, and for the museum’s sake, I suppose I hope he manages it.

Tuesday 29 June 2021

There are ways of looking after excavated metal artefacts and there are "metal detectorists' ways" of trashing excavated metal artefacts


From a metal detecting forum near the PAS, but I doubt they'll be posting anything or contacting the  forum readers who think this is great or even in any way acceptable

I would never ever tumble my goods coins but glad I tried my grots
Post by stubbie » Sat Jun 26, 2021 10:42 pm
Hi all have been debating whether to get a tumbler to try and clean my grots And the coins you could hardly see any detail on. I know, they say don't clean Your coins but these were well gone, and got say early signs are good. As you can see from the pictures, have only done few but I am well pleased how some Have turned out yes there were a lot that were blank and yes you lose the patina But I found a Jetton in there Plus a faint William and Mary Farthing should be interesting to see what else is in there I have a few poor Roman coins but I am too scared to try them I used 2mm to 4mm fish tank grit for 2 hours Would appreciate what your thoughts are 
I suspect he might not appreciate the thoughts of anyone who actually knows how to treat excavated metal items. People like this should not be allowed anywhere near the licence they exercise and entitlement they obviously feel just to selfishly trash the archaeological record and historical environment for a cheap thrill.

Metal Detecting Forum Near You Hiding, Hiding More Hiding

Something tells us that the UK and European Metal Detecting Forum really is not at all happy about coming clean about what actually is happening to the common archaeological heritage at the hands of its 27000 despoiling members. So first of all they hide the threads from you, leaving just the first post (text, no pictures). Now they are even censoring the first post so you cannot see what their particular brand of "responsible detecting" looks like> So, unless you've found a way to get round their information-block, or register, this is what you see:
Metal Detecting Thames - Company Post by no23uk » Mon Jun 28, 2021 7:28 pm
Hi All My name is Damian I'm Polish, I walking with metal detecting for a couple of last months mainly on Thames foreshore, I'm just wondering maybe …login to view the rest of this post
Probably going to be some sparkling conversation there, like how difficult is was getting the permit and sticking to its provisions, no?

Anyway, since most of its members loudly proclaimed that they wanted "out of Europe" and voted in the referendum to leave, why on earth does this British forum not Brexit and just call itself the "Great British Metal Detecting Forum". As Britain is doing with EU nationals in the UK, the MDF to be consequent to the beliefs of its members, could make them reapply and answer perhaps some questions to show they "belong" among the isolationist Brits. Like "what is wrong with this picture"? And how many of the "Britain uber alles" patriots of tekkiedom answer that?  

Monday 28 June 2021

Dealing with Dealers

Pay-to-read text ($25) by Jeremy M. Hutton that looks interesting: Six Palmyrene Portraits Destroyed in Manbij, Syria: A Salvage Reading Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research Volume 377 pp. 71–84
Operatives of the Islamic State reportedly destroyed six Palmyrene funerary busts and statue fragments in Manbij, Syria, on July 2, 2015. This article considers the ethical implications of publishing photographs of antiquities that have been destroyed, arguing that in such dramatic cases as destruction, it is justified to publish readings. Photographs of these antiquities are then analyzed, their physical and iconographic characteristics described, and readings for three of the inscriptions suggested. Finally, the loss of data caused by the items' destruction is measured against the loss of data occasioned by looting.
hat tip: comment by Paul Michael Kurtz 
The comment was sent to a thread on this thought-provoking comment:
Michael Press @MichaelDPress 17 g.
Amazing that this is the full provenance statement for a Palmyrene funerary relief in a reputable academic journal in 2014 -- around the height of the Syrian Civil War.

Michael Press adds: "To be fair, that's not quite it: in the footnote, the author thanks the gallery for permission to publish and for providing photos". Cui bono?

With regard to the Manbij-smashing, it's discussed here (Thursday, 2 July 2015 Confusion over new photos of ISIL Destroying Palmyra statues), and if you read it, there's some details there. Here I stuck my neck out and said I thought that one of them was possibly/probably a fake, so if somebody has a way to legally share Professor Hutton's paper with me, I'd be glad to learn from it what he says. Thanks.

Five people arrested Near Erbil, "for stealing ancient holy books"

They are taking over, spreading out of Turkey now... Dilan Sirwan, 'Five people arrested in Sulaimani for stealing ancient holy books' Rudaw 28.06.2021.

Sulaimani’s internal security forces (Asayish) arrested a group of five people suspected of stealing ancient holy books worth tens of thousands of dollars, it said on Monday. According to the statement from Asayish, a copy of which was sent to Rudaw, the five people smuggled a Bible and a Torah from southern Iraq into the city of Sulaimani, and were planning to smuggle it out of the Kurdistan Region. The books are believed to be thousands of years old, made of animal skin and written in gold ink, it added. Video published by Asayish show the stolen books, with Christian symbols seen on the Bible and gems on the Torah. On Friday, Baghdad’s Anti-Crime Directorate announced the arrest of four suspects for stealing an antique Jewish book from Iraq’s national museum.

Well, that's interesting that Golden Brownies are turning up now so far from Turkey. Co-operation between  smugglers, or friendly collaboration betweenh security services?

Friday 25 June 2021

Heritage Action: What’s worse than losing hedgehogs and dormice?


So often, the collection-driven destruction of the archaeological record is discussed as a matter of "collectors' rights" and "dealers' profits" rather than the massive resource conservation problem it actually is, as pointed out this week by Heritage Action (What’s worse than losing hedgehogs and dormice?). So, when we've not totally eradicated the population we can reintroduce species locally in 'reserves' where they were once present, but forced out by environmental change. So in Poland we have reconstructed bison herds, "there are now sea eagles on the South Coast of England for the first time in 240 years", but, Heritage Action point out:

reintroductions are a double-edged sword, distracting from the fact some extinctions are forever. Hence, few people care that an army of detectorists is engaged in removing archaeological artefacts from the fields. Yet those losses, especially when not reported, are the worst, for they're irreversible: not a single unreported archaeological artefact will ever be replaced nor will any archaeological site exhausted in secret. Sadly such losses are both avoidable and unnecessary. They happen only for personal amusement or personal profit, hence toleration of them is largely confined to Britain.

Vignette: The right way to collect bison. acquisitive metal detectorists have got it wrong about how to express an interest in the past by simply wanting to own it.

New Book on Conflict Landscapes


When I came here to Poland nearly 40 years ago, it seemed like I was leaving for the end of the world, such isolation ("recipe for oblivion" one late archaeological mentor warned me). Although that's certainly not how I see it now ([geographical] "centre of Europe" after all)*, old mental habits are hard to break. So when I saw that on Twitter there was a lot of talk of this new book, and it's an archaeological theme that over the past two years I've got more enthusiastic about, my first thought was of a colleague who is trying to raise awareness in Poland about this: "must inform Ania about it", so I pull up the Amazon page... and then see from the contents list that she's in it. (Good in a way, because if I'd written now, I'd have had to explain why at the moment I'm not writing that book review I promised). 

What is interesting is that in a country like Poland where in many areas you can't go for a walk very far before almost tripping over some remains of twentieth century conflict, and where in theory all those remains are automatically covered by heritage protection laws, actual archaeological research on it is so sparse.   Perhaps that is because it is so full of traumatic memories for the entire population, including people that are alive today and were/are affected by it (such as my dear mother-in-law), that archaeological research seems superfluous and still rakes up so many bad emotions and memories. This is something difficult for the average Brit to understand. I had huge problems with this when I came here. 

The growth in popularity of literature on conflict landscapes, so-called 'dark heritage' and the like in the areas to the west is also an interesting social phenomenon that it might be interesting to explore.

* present government and its populist ideologies I trust a temporary phase

Iraqi Security Forces Show off "Holy Book"

ERBIL, Kurdistan Region: Security forces arrest gang accused of stealing antique holy book 

The Iraqi Anti-Crime Directorate announced on Friday the arrest of a gang allegedly involved in stealing antiquities in Baghdad over the theft of a rare book from the Iraqi National Museum. The directorate said in a statement a force from the Baghdad Anti-Crime Directorate arrested four suspects for stealing an antique Jewish holy book written in Hebrew titled “The Star of David.” The gang was ambushed and caught red-handed after they were lured into trying to sell the book for the amount of one million US dollars, according to a statement from the ministry of interior.

It is difficult to see what they are exhibiting here. One notes in the fuzzy photo the golden coloured ink, the pictures portraying symbols and the generally dark brown colour... Did/does the Iraq Museum actually have a Jewish Culture gallery?  But it's nice to see the Iraqis looking after it so well now.  Maybe the Americans will send back the Jewish documents they took after their invasion

Thursday 24 June 2021

Looting in Afrin

In Afrin (NW Syria) it is being reported: New grave violations documented in Afrin: Destruction, sabotage of antiquities, and human trafficking Hawar News Agency 23 Jun 2021.

The Turkish occupation state and its terrorist mercenaries continue their crimes and violations against the residents of the occupied city of Afrin at all levels, such as destroying and looting archaeological sites, spreading religious extremism through building mosques, liquidating patients and trading in their organs, in addition to kidnapping children. The Turkish occupation and the mercenaries of the so-called "Ahrar al-Sharqiya" continue to carry out excavation and bulldozing operations through heavy vehicles, in the hill of the ancient village of "Qurba" in the district of Jandres, with the aim of searching for artifacts and hoards, to steal and sell them on the black and European market. The excavation and bulldozing work uprooted dozens of perennial and fruitful olive trees, in addition to destroying a number of cemeteries for the residents of the same village. In another context, a source from the occupied Janders district reported that settlers and mercenaries searched and excavated the archaeological site of Tal Janders district through primitive tools, with the aim of stealing antiquities. It is noteworthy that the Turkish occupation army turned the site of hill of the district into the largest military base in the region, due to its strategic location in occupied Afrin, in addition to building a concrete wall in the vicinity of the base and placing advanced surveillance cameras in it.
Written of course in a very emotive style, so possibly some of this can be taken with a pinch of salt. It is really quite upsetting that while "we" were fighting ISIL, looting, looting was a constant topic. Now very little social media attention is paid to what's happening to archaeology in Syria. Yet if you go to Google Earth and operate the time-slices and look at this area, in connection with the complex political history, you can see a huge amount of changes in the archaeological sites. Who's working on this? Anyone looking for an undergraduate thesis topic?

I want to do some plotting, but other projects taking up a lot of time. I'll get round to it some time - but to be honest in no great hurry, what had happened to one site I'd worked on before made me feel physically ill. On the one hand an army (not clear whose, it changed hands in several phases) and massive expansion in looting for that "black and European market". 

That phrase is interesting because it acknowledges that the objects are actually circulating in some form in and around Syria before being taken to the European market.
 Hat tip:  @ATHARProject and @AnthroPaulicy

Tuesday 22 June 2021

UK Farmer fined for Ploughing Prehistoric Site.


How do you assess archaeological damage financially? The BBC is reporting: 'Devon farmer fined for ploughing historical land', 21st June 2021.
A farmer has been fined for ploughing over a site thought to contain protected Iron Age remains. Andrew Cooper admitted defying a stop order after experts found evidence of important archaeological remains. He used heavy ploughing equipment on fields at Baggy Point in north Devon, near other known Iron Age sites. The judge at Exeter Crown Court said it was a "deliberate, flagrant breaching of the law" and ordered him to pay more than £30,000 in a fine and costs [...]. He ordered Cooper to serve five months in prison in default if he did not pay the fine by 21 October.
What seems to be involved here is a case that was in court earlier this year (Court Reporter, 'Braunton farmer admits ploughing up 'semi natural' land', North Devon Gazette April 8, 2021) that is reported as involving something else in fact:
A farmer has admitted breaking an order not to plough or graze animals on protected land which had been designated for conservation by Natural England. Andrew Cooper pleaded guilty at Exeter Crown Court after a judge ruled that he was not able to challenge the legality of the order which prevented him using fields at his North Devon farm in this way. Judge Peter Johnson told him that the only issue was whether he had complied with a stop notice and that he had no viable defence because he [...] admitted breaking a stop notice by grazing animals, partially ploughing, and used lime or other fertilisers on the land. He had been planning to conduct his own defence on the grounds that Natural England’s order was not valid [...] The prosecution at Exeter Crown Court was brought by Natural England, which imposed the stop order on October 20, 2017 [...] to protect what they classified as 'uncultivated, semi-natural areas'. Judge Johnson adjourned sentence until June and asked Cooper to provide a document setting out his mitigation along with any references in advance of the next hearing.
The court appearance reported by the BBC is presumably this sentencing. Perhaps he should have challenged the environmental protection order in a court of law before he started ripping into it rather than presenting the court with a fait accompli. I had a case like that in the days when I worked in the Ministry of Culture here, it did not end well for the farmer there either. 

In the case of the Baggy Point case, it is interesting that both the BBC and at least one other report focus not on the damage to the natural habitat, but the cultural damage caused by disturbing the archaeological remains the disputed area contains. See Paul Greaves, 'Braunton farmer fined for ploughing up historically important field' Devon Live 21st June 2021). Here it gives the impression that a land-user (not the landowner) was challenging archaeological assessments of what his land contained.
Cooper refused to accept evidence of its significance and for the last eight years has been in dispute with Natural England about the use of the fields [...] The court was told the defendant had spent years in dispute with authorities, leading to 'eyewatering' legal costs of a third of a million pounds. Judge Peter Johnson warned him that more legal action would likely be taken if he continued to flout the law. "This was a deliberate and flagrant breach of the law with the defendant knowing exactly what he was doing," he said. "There has been not a jot of remorse on the part of the defendant. [...] Cooper had been a tenant farmer at Croyde Hoe Farm for 30 years. The land itself is owned by the National Trust and falls within an designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Cooper ploughed and planted fields on the land which experts said was archaeologically significant. He was ordered to stop by Natural England in September 2017. Cooper ignored the Stop Notice and continued to plough and lime most of a neighbouring field as well by March 2018. Cooper, who represented himself in court, pleaded guilty to breaching the Stop Notice. He was fined £7,500 with five months’ imprisonment in default of payment and ordered to pay £24,000 costs. He told the judge there were no known features on the land and disputed Natural England's involvement. He said surveys had not found anything very exciting.
So, if this is what was said in court, another member of the public claiming to know more about archaeology than the archaeologists. The two texts referring to the archaeology of the region cannot agree whether it is Iron Age or earlier (see the flint scatters in the NT resource cited below for an explanation of that)... Access to information on a Mesolithic site at Baggy Point is accessible through Heritage Gateway and there is a National Trust site with interactive maps on the archaeology of the region here. 

Let us hope that as pressure on them increase, environmental and heritage watchdogs continue to keep a watch on the constant nibbling away of what remains of Britain's natural and cultural landscapes and where applicable the courts continue to uphold orders issued to protect them. 

Who Vets the Dealers?

 Incunabula @incunabula 6h

I've defended dealers in the past when they were unjustly attacked, but Pax Romana's new auction is disgraceful - multiple lots of unprovenanced papyri and comically poor descriptions - this "Egyptian codex with Coptic text" is an Ethiopian Ge'ez psalter.

I am not sure what "unjustly attacked" would mean in the case of antiquities dealers, but Pax Romana is one I've had my eye on some time...
This auction is on the aggregator ("The world's leading online marketplace for fine art, antiques and collectibles"). The terms and conditions are noteworthy: 
NONE OF INVALUABLE, THIRD-PARTY CONTENT PROVIDERS, AND THEIR RESPECTIVE AGENTS MAKE ANY WARRANTIES OF ANY KIND, EITHER EXPRESS, IMPLIED OR STATUTORY, INCLUDING, WITHOUT LIMITATION, WARRANTIES OF TITLE OR IMPLIED WARRANTIES OF MERCHANTABILITY, FITNESS FOR A PARTICULAR PURPOSE OR NON-INFRINGEMENT, WITH RESPECT TO THE SITES, SERVICES, ANY CONTENT OR ANY PRODUCTS OR SERVICES SOLD THROUGH THE SERVICES. [...] Invaluable makes no claims, representations or warranties with regard to the authenticity of any goods sold on its websites. Accordingly, to the extent permitted by applicable law, we exclude all express or implied warranties, terms and conditions including, but not limited to, implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, and non-infringement. In addition, to the extent permitted by applicable law, Invaluable (including our affiliates, officers, directors, agents and employees) is not liable, and you agree not to hold Invaluable responsible, for any damages or losses (including, but not limited to, loss of money, goodwill or reputation, profits, or other intangible losses or any special, indirect, or consequential damages) resulting directly or indirectly from the items posted for sale on our websites.
So, basically Wild West. Very Caveat emptor.

Who are the Real Looters?

  ATHAR Project @ATHARProject 8 g.

one Belgian collector= 800 stolen antiquities, worth estimated 11 million euros.

one American collector (Steve Green/Hobby Lobby)= 15,000+ stolen antiquities

one Indian dealer (Kapoor)= $100mil+ in stolen antiquities

See a pattern?

A small wealthy few drive a demand that fund conflict and devastates countries.
This Belgian collector, do they have a name? Why don't we hear it? When's the case coming to court? 

Monday 21 June 2021

Detecting Ruckus in Yorkshire


It is being alleged that one of the largest of Britain's commercial metal-detecting-rally organizers ("Looters Grab Artefacts") refused to pay a Yorkshire farmer for access to his land so they could walk off with his artefacts. Apparently this is because they claimed it had been detected before and therefore they were looting a site that was not pristine. The farmer on the other hand, reportedly claimed that gates were left open by the artefact hunters and his cattle escaped. Legal action has been threatened by both sides.

This "escaped cattle" story sounds a bit fishy, no? Can't be true, all RESPONSIBLE metal detectorists "fill there 'oles and shut the gates" don't they? NCMD sez so.

But, like many of my colleagues I expect, if this is true, I hope the legal costs on top of the lost earnings in lockdown mean that the commercial looting business goes to the wall.

Sunday 20 June 2021

Ampleforth Tales (I): Clearing out the Desk

The rain was belting down outside as Dale enter the pub. He turned down his collar as he searched for his colleagues through the fine mist that instantaneously formed on his glasses. Looking over the top of the fogged frames, he spotted them in the corner clustered around Martin's large bulky figure and laughing raucously. Simon spotted him and waved him over. 

"Yours is here, he said, same as usual, OK?" pushing a seat out for him and indicating a tall glass on the table.

"Thanks" said Dale, sitting down on the offered seat and wiping his glasses. "It's good to be back. Bonkers down in London, you would not believe. So, what's been happening on site?" 

"What hasn't been happening on...", guffawed Martin, glancing in the direction of Joanna, the only woman present, but she just gave him a filthy look and he stopped.  

Steven cut in: "On Rob's area there's this really interesting feature...". Rob looked up from his pint and grinned. "About half the trench",  Steve continued, "...was producing this big blob of brown loam with a lot of eighteenth century brick fragments and plaster, and other stuff. At first we wondered if it was garden soil containing midden material, but as we cleaned over it, it seemed to be filling in some kind of a feature, so we sectioned it, decided to take out a segment on the south, weird it was". 

"Why weird?" asked Dale, suspicious that the others were intently watching him, waiting to see what he'd say as Steve continued his tale of what he'd missed.
"Tuesday, Terry found this big bit of bronze, hollow thing, one side broken off. We did not think that much of it, but when it'd been photographed and we took it out, and turned it over, it was a head, a hollow bust with goggly eyes. Roman! A Roman bust". 

Dale looked at him intently to ascertain whether they were pulling his leg. The pre-project survey had not shown there'd be anything Roman anywhere near there. 
"Here", Rob said, pushing some photos across the table towards him. 

Dale picked them up and winced. "Christ, he's ugly. Bigger nose than Harry's"!

Harry made a face as if scowling and then broke into a broad grin, "my imperial nose? What's there not to like, Dale'? Harry's nose was a running joke among the diggers. 

Dale looked again, "Are you sure it's ancient?" 

He looked at the next photo, it was a horse protome, cast in the round. "Cripes, what's that, some kind of vessel mount"? 

"We think it was a key", offered Rob.  

The third photo was horse and rider figure with the hands and feet snapped off. "Did you find the feet? Asked Dale. 

"Nah, we got the metal detector out, but there were huge numbers of nails in there, and other small bits of metal, lots of tiny melted droplets of lead, really difficult to search. Anyway, the feature was modern, you can tell by the other stuff. Blue and white porcelain, modern stoneware, post-medieval window glass and fragments of roofing slate, nineteenth century clay pipe stem fragments. And oddly, a whole lot of badly decayed horn 'lace tags', at least that's what they look like, masses of them". Rob paused.

"Weird," said Dale sipping his pint. Waving his hand at the photos: "what's all this then? Why are we finding it in a nineteenth century deposit"? 

Roman objects from Ampleforth (Findsorguk)

It was then that Nigel chipped in. "Actually Dale, if it's what I think it is, it's quite fascinating, though I don't know if we can use it in the report. While you were away, I was in York arranging the paperwork for the... you know... uh pumps... And when I'd done that, I popped into the archives to see what I could learn. We knew from the pre-project survey that this part of the road passes through the edge of the estate of Wassthorpe Hall. I took a closer look at the estate maps and that 1843 Hobbes' survey that you and I were looking at last year in fact has a bit of shading here that seems to suggest a hollow, or some kid of borrow pit. I think that's what we've found. I was thinking about all the rubble in the infill and what looks like the debris from plaster-and-lathe partition walls and decided to look at the records on the Hall".

He looked around the table, the others nodded him on; they had already heard this story. He continued:  

"It turns out when the old owner, Maurice Byland died in the 1880s, the Hall was in a bit of a state and when his granddaughter inherited the property she did not live there and it was perhaps empty for a while. But her second husband decided to take the old place in hand. So the workmen moved in, they ripped out a lot of the rotten woodwork, did the place up. Redid the gardens, must've got a bit overgrown.  And I think that they dumped some of the debris in features around the estate- including the hollow on our site. That's what I think this rubble and earth is".

"Intriguing", replied Dale. He frowned at the photos lying on the table.

"Ah, but that's not the end," added Nigel. "In one of the folders that the archivist drew my attention to, I found some documents from a court case in the 1830s involving some woman and this Maurice. He seems to have been a bit of a bastard. It turns out that had been sent on the Grand Tour by his dad (that was in 1819 - his dad had died by the time of this court business), but from what we can gather, he did not get much further than Geneva-Lausanne, where he seems to have been more interested in sampling the local hospitality and... uh... female companionship.. you know....  than making the effort to cross over into Italy. It turns out he'd been cheating his old man, and was lying about what he was up to with his dad's money. And to cover up for it, was sending back small consignments of "antiquities" and especially prints he'd bought in locally, so his dad would think he was engaging in more cultural pursuits than getting plastered and... er... bonking the time away".

Terry and Harry sniggered.

Nigel ignored them and carried on: "Maurice's double life and deceit were eventually found out and he was forced to return home, or he'd be disowned. But it seems there was one, er.. local lady he could not bear to part with and it seems he brought back this lady with him to live with him in England, and now she was suing him for breach of promise or something. Anyway, after that, it seems he lived the rest of his life as a bit of a recluse at Wassthorpe Hall".

"So that's what we found? Part of his old collection?" Dale asked.

"Yes", Rob joined in, "and those 'lace tags', they are the clue. They were probably from the fastenings of the folders in which he kept those prints of his".

Terry and Harry sniggered again. 

"The court documents from when the lady sued him tell us he had a huge collection of explicit prints, showing all sorts of "acts" - they don't go into any details, but I...", Rob stopped himself as he caught a glance of the expression on Joanna's face.

"...Anyway, it looks like the granddaughter was not very appreciative of the old man's "art collection", and she seems to have just dumped the lot, they went out onto the heaps of rubbish and the bonfires as they burnt the old roofing timber in the courtyard and then loaded up with the rubble from the renovations and dumped in the fields".

"I bet the carters had a good look!" chipped in Harry. Rob looked across the table.

"I suspect that, once they'd been on a bonfire and the rest out in the rain a few days, there'd not be much to look at...." he said scornfully.

"No, I suppose not", Harry smiled ruefully, "still...".

"I think the workmen must have tidied up in a hurry when they finished the work" Rob turned to Dale. "Perhaps it was pissing down then in the 1890s like it has been these past three days". He showed Dale the fourth photo, Dale peered at it intently. 

"See?" Rob said proudly. "Joanna cleaned this up nicely, and we got this photo...", nodding appreciatively to Joanna and then Harry the site photographer, "...just before it started pissing down. Otherwise we'd have had to clean it again, and I'm not sure it would come out so well a second time. See?" 

With his finger, Rob traced out on the photo for Dale the faint edges of a rectangular dark stain in the freshly-cleaned surface of the excavation. 

"See? It looks like it's a workman's bag that somehow got on the cart with the rubble and earth, dumped here, I think you can see here, and here, these long dark patches next to the pocket knife - they look like skeins of string. They'd have been used on site for making a string line. And right in the middle, you can see a Victorian workman lost his brass plumb bob! It's still in good nick. I bet he was annoyed, he could probably never have thought that it would stay buried in the soil untouched all these years and that archaeologists would come along and 'read' the evidence to tell part of his story". Dale's eyes widened appreciatively.  

After a smug grin, Rob suggested, "anyway, Dale, I think it's your round now!"

On the other side of the pub Baz Thugwit the metal detectorist who'd heard the whole thing, scowled, got up, put his cap on and went out into the rain, muttering.

Saturday 19 June 2021

Fraud and Secrecy in the Art Market

Graham Bowley, 'As Money Launderers Buy Dalís, U.S. Looks at Lifting the Veil on Art Sales', New York Times June 19th 2021.
“The variety of frauds in the art world is almost infinite and is facilitated by the fact that the art world operates with a secrecy that no other investor would dream…”
and antiquities buyers are deluded enough to go along with it and vain enough to imagine it does not affect them.

Who is at Fault?

This probably refers also to looting, smuggling and collecting of loose bits of the world's archaeological resources too:

The United States is responsible for 40% of the climate breakdown the world is experiencing today, and the EU is responsible for 29%, according to new research. In total, the Global North is responsible for 92% of excess global carbon emissions 

Friday 18 June 2021

Liverpool's Rachel Pope, her "Dossier" on me and Criminal Harassment Allegation

This ridiculous business drags on. In a social media discussion of commercial artefact hunting rallies a while back, Dr Rachel Pope of the Department of Archaeology Liverpool University made some serious allegations against Nigel Swift and myself. She then revealed that she'd been stalking one of us and created a "dossier" that she could make available, allegedly documenting my ("criminal") behaviour with young females. I am quite used to that kind of bullying and disruptive behaviour in debate on artefact hunting and artefact collecting from metal detectorists, antiquities dealers and collectors. This is the first time I'd met it from a senior (that's what her work title says) British academic, though her motive is quite unclear. So far, this campaigner-for-whatever-in-archaeology has refused to show me what she has in her "dossier" to give me the opportunity to answer her allegations - which I have no doubt are as false as her equally bizarre assertion made at the same time that Nigel Swift and I are in fact the same person, somehow living simultaneously in Poland and the West Midlands. Let us hope that in her archaeological research she draws conclusions on better grounds. This letter, written ten days ago has yet to be even acknowledged by its recipient. I admit, I did expect more of a Classicist:
To; Professor Bruce Gibson M.A., D.Phil., Head of Department of Archaeology, Classics and Egyptology, University of Liverpool,
Warsaw: 09 June 2021

Dear Professor Gibson,

It has been over a month since I wrote to you and Dr Pope (below) on this disturbing matter. The lack of response in that time from either of you leads me to infer that such discourtesy must be part of the work ‘culture’ of the Department of Archaeology of Liverpool University.

I see that for all the fine words, Dr Pope’s employer in reality takes less seriously than mine the kind of serious public accusations that were made by a member of your Department against myself and a second person, or the fact that she has neither subsequently retracted nor substantiated these allegations.

Dr Pope explicitly publicly stated that (for reasons better known to herself) she had been stalking me and compiled a “dossier” on me that can be made available to support her false accusations of ‘criminal harassment of young females’. Since she announced that, I have been asking to see that document so I may have a chance to refute those accusations before they do any real harm.

I would be grateful if you could help resolve this issue with your employee, and if you cannot, please inform me to whom in the University I could turn for assistance. The University presumably has a department responsible for overseeing professional ethics.

Thank you
Yours sincerely
Paul Barford
So does Liverpool University have a body overseeing ethics of its employees that deals with bullying and false accusations?

Also I find it ironic that Dr Pope apparently spends so much time campaigning about "women-in-archaeology-something-or-other", but when somebody takes offence at her male-blaming and writes to her colleagues to help sort out the consequences, it seems her colleagues are just dismissing it, perhaps  as "our Rachel shouting her little mouth off again, let's ignore it". Let her reflect for a while about the implications of the idea of "getting away with it because I am a woman" and what we understand about (real) equality in archaeology. If you say something mean or stupid, expect to be challenged on it, whatever gender you are. 

I still challenge Dr Pope and the colleagues who defend her to produce this alleged "dossier". Put your academic money where your academic's mouth is. Can you? Or is me suggesting that an academic should be able to back up their words in the public forum with actual arguments also "harassment" in a way that those words about a colleague somehow were not ("because I'm a woman")? Ridiculous. 


Wychavon Seal Matrix


Another victim of remote recording, the FLO not having it in her hand, and the finder was in a hurry. 

The PAS record

The object turned up again a few months earlier, this time someone else took the photos:

Lot 64 of :Rare Medieval Seal Matrix of Archbishop
Robert Kilwardby. Circa, 1273-1279 AD*

I came across this, going through old auction records, as one does... 
Od: Paul Barford [mailto: ****.pl] Wysłano: 17 June 2021 20:34
Do: 'S*****'
Temat: Wychavon seal matrix
Good evening Ms Burford,
I hope this finds you well. I wonder if you could help me, it’s about this seal matrix that was written up in WAW (WAW-FDC4E7):
As you are probably aware, a few months later this was later sold in Hansons Feb 2021 Historica sale as lot 64
Which is my interest in it, for something I am writing.

On the PAS webpage it says:
“Created on: Friday 21st August 2020 Last updated: Monday 1st February 2021”
The catalogue of that Hansons sale was put together before 14th January 2021 and the objects may have been gathered from October 2020 (in lockdown). I see that the finder (seller?) sent you the details in August, and you wrote the description on the basis of photos. Then that description was used by Hansons to write their catalogue entry – without acknowledgement of its origins, even though bits of it are your words cut-and-pasted. Hansons has a better photo than the PAS database (maybe he could be persuaded to let you use it to improve the record as the detail is much clearer...). After all, he got a ready-made sales spiel for free (actually at public expense).
Obviously the existence of the PAS record is important in legitimising the object for the seller, and it is interesting to note that it looks as if that information was added to the auction catalogue after the rest of the text was written (character size is different). Can you recall the circumstances of the creation of this PAS record, and in particular what happened to it on 1st February 2021? Was any mention made of the sale when you wrote it?

BTW the PAS entry is not at all clear why you decided it is that particular Archbp., and not one before or after. Nor who “Mackay” is. [Also, I am curious whether Kilwardby had land in the area, how did his seal get there?]
Thanks for your help [obviously any information you give will not be used without your permission, and with full acknowledgement]
Paul Barford
Let's see if this gets an answer.

What I think is bad is that the finder rushed the stuff to the FLO- including a pathetically bad photo - so that she could do the footwork and provide something that could be copied into the sales description. And the PAS had no other alternative but comply and provide its expertise free of charge. I wonder whether the finder said "please do this because I want to sell it, and wanna get the best price possible, OK?" I bet he did not, and if so, the description was obtained buy deceit. 

Another type of knowledge theft. 

The whole matter of the sale of portable antiquities by artefact hunters needs to be covered in the Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales - but at the moment, there's not a word there about what is and is not "best practice". And how is best practice in this regard to be defined if it is not defined anywhere? 

* Image © Hansons Limited, fair use for purposes of comment or criticism for non-profit educational purposes.

Passionately Interested in the PASt, What a UK Detectorist Knows/Thinks About Archaeology

"Treasures of the World"

I was quite tickled by this comment some "Unknown" sent to a post I wrote on a commercial artefact hunting rally (17 June 2021 at 10:18). Spelling, verb use and punctuation, or lack of them, as in original:

Unknown said...
Who's screwing who they charge the farmer exorbitant sums of monies to check out land for a reservoir or a few bits of pot unearthed including food and lodgings for an odd boundary n pot fragments! They use the unemployed free of charge to most of the donkey work, so who's skimming who? In the name of archeology they get voluntary help by those who gagging to get on a dig ... all no cost labour. And vullshit prices to find mostly zip the Detecting Hobby gives up their time free or charge to the farmer they make the Archological system look weak, because, we contribute more than any Acheolog8st dig has in 40 years. You nothing but robbing piss takers in the worst way... your attitude alone will show you that people will no longer contribute to your knowledge of our history by not declaring, because not only do you take the piss financially the museum system takes too long to sort out finds lost missing finds upto 7 years gone by items sold to museums without the finderz or landowners being told. The list is huge under staffed n over paid .... your great finds would not be so great but for detectorists unearthing them your contribution is minimal compared to ours the real treasures of the world
Basically, I think if you are going to pontificate on archaeology, perhaps it would create a better impression to actually learn how to spell it. This is why the PAS approach, based on the idea of educating artefact hunters in "Best practice" is as doomed to failure now as it was 25 years ago. Yet the PAS still keep stubbornly trying.

The Invisible 'Siliqua Hoard'


Going through old auction records, as one does, I came across a very odd thing. This one cites public records of dugup artefacts, that... uh... don't seem to be public records of dugup heritage. Who is at fault here? An auctioneer claiming the PAS has him covered, when they don't, or the PAS claiming to have "so-many-artefacts in our database", when they are in fact invisible records? Anyway, let's see if the DENO FLO can explain without sending me down to ask Bloomsbury again:

Od: Paul Barford [mailto:***.pl]
Wysłano: 17 June 2021 15:49
Do: 'meg***.org' Temat: Re: mysterious siliqua hoard turns up in saleroom
Dear Dr King,
I hope you can help by retrieving some details from the PAS database. This hoard was sold by Hansons in February, and they claim it was all properly recorded by the PAS
3 late Roman Silver Siliquae discovered as a small hoard. Recorded on the PAS database as: DENO-A950E9, DENO-5617D6 & DENO-55E976; Treasure case no. 2019 T419”.
But searching the database for siliquae of this period recorded by DENO, and again under those specific numbers, does not bring up any information about this material. Did Hansons make this up? Or is the database faulty? Or are they for some reason hidden (why)?
If the records really exist, what can you tell us about this hoard, in which county was it found? Were there really just these three coins?
Can you tell me, who made these records and when? For what reason is a hoard recorded as three individual records? Thanks for your help
Paul Barford
A look at the three coins together provokes puzzlement seeing three coins with different corrosion, why actually is it asserted that they were fouund together in the same burial enviornment over 2000 years if they were recorded separately? Presumably if it got a Treasure number, it is the PAS that calls this a hoard, not just a bit of dealer's sales spiel. If the objects are Treasure, has the Treasure process been finished so quickly that within a few months these items were on sale, and sold? What's going on here?

Thursday 17 June 2021

Why is Russia so interested in the Syrian cultural heritage?


Amal Rantisi, Diana Rahima, Ali Darwish 'Why is Russia so interested in the Syrian cultural heritage?' Enab Baladi 17/06/2021

Missing Artefact; Censored Discussion

UK Metal detectorist:

This Viking ring-pin, found by a detectorist, was handed in to a FLO, by the book, 2 years ago. Now it seems to have mysteriously gone missing, just before it was due to be handed back. Does not fill one with confidence in integrity of findsorguk does it !

Kevin Lomas @KevinLo55427454 · 15 g.:

Not surprised about this at all. Disgraceful turn of events. To start with 2 years is far too long anyway and this is exactly the reason why some people are reluctant to record such finds. If this remains lost the powers that be should be made to compensate the finder.
Unearthed (uk) ltd @Unearthedukltd
[...] we are getting some horror stories through from detectorists saying just how how many objects have gone missing over the years, maybe we need FLO watch for some?

Here we have a thread that well illustrates what's going on in the tiny narrow world of the Portable Antiquities Scheme.  Not because of its content, at all. 

I personally have absolutely zero doubts at all about the integrity or dedication of FLOs. That is not in question for me. I can imagine how difficult it is to keep track of the many objects that pass through their hands, especially in a period when the entire team has been working from home, it is not a task I envy them.

However in what seems to be developing in to a long social media thread in which no doubt all sorts of points are being made in real time, I am blocked by many of the participants from seeing what they write. What however is pretty astounding is that it seems these are all FLOs and the PAS/British Museum, while I see all the metal detectorists taking part in the discussion and their points of view as they've not blocked me. 

As a result of this, my (obviously rhetorical) question to the PAS is, whose side are we on? This blog is about an open discussion of portable antiquities collecting and heritage issues from a conservation-based viewpoint. What is it that they are doing that they have to hide? Whatever it is, it is paid for by public money. this blog and its readers are also the public - part of the audience the PAS is paid to outreach to, not just the part that collects artefacts and brings some for them to see. That seems to require more courage and persuasion than the PAS can muster.

UPDATE (22.06.2021)

I gather from what is being said by others about what a FLO said that the pin has now been found, safe and sound.

Monday 14 June 2021



The counter on the dashboard of this blog tells me that this, here, is the 12000th post on this blog. 

started this blog Saturday, 12 July 2008 basically because I thought that most of the existing forums and online media where since December 1999 I had tried to discuss these issues were not really up to it. Archaeological forums (Britarch, PAS forum etc.) got invaded by disruptive metal detectorists the moment any topic related to artefact hunting came up, the same reactions were met on ancient coin collecting forums and so on. So I decided to take my concerns and thoughts to what I consider to be my own private corner of the internet. And here I sit. 

Most years recently I've done about 600 posts a year on various topics. In fact it's interesting that when certain "antiquities" topics are Googled, a page from this blog often appears in the top two pages of search results. That's good, as often the others are saying the exact opposite from my take on it, and at least the curious have an opportunity to see the other side of the antiquities debate. It is bad, because still, thirteen years on, the number of other archaeoblogs in English treating the same area is negligible. Blogs treating related areas can be still counted on the fingers of two hands. so, yes, very much a niche interest, and a rather private corner of the Internet. 

Despite this, the same counter tells me that in that time (and with the blocking cookie turned on preventing my own visits being counted) it's been visited 4,534,911 times (the one in the sidebar has started from zero at least twice in the lifetime of this blog, so the count there is since that last happened - but I forget when that was). That's possibly not very many - if this was about funny cat pictures or celebrity gossip, it'd probably get that many hits a month. But it's a niche area. Archaeologists tend not to read it - especially if they work in the Portable Antiquities Scheme, ancient coin collectors don't read it, if you own a metal detector, it's a badge of honour to assert you don't read this blog (there are forums where members have been ejected for posting a link to this blog). 

That basically means that those 4.5 million visits are by people who are not involved in artefact hunting and collecting - and they are the readers I want. The thesis of this blog is that to protect the archaeological resource, collecting urgently has to lose the public acquiescence to the looting of sites for personal entertainment and profit that it currently enjoys. Sadly, so few archaeologists share this view. 

 Anyhow, at the moment, this blog receives an average of 865 visits a day, 26000 a month, from all over the world. The app I installed to run the counter in the sidebar used to provide a map where this blog was being read... that's gone now. But there were no surprises, most of the readers were in the red zone in the figure above (from: Timothy B. Lee, "40 maps that explain the internet" June 2, 2014), mostly with the same sort of intensity on the west side, but with a lesser tendency in the areas beyond India (SE Asia, Australia and NZ where I do not have that many readers as the map suggests there might be).  

'Detectival 2021': Bringing the Metal Detecting Together, making Money from Trashing the Past

Complex patterns of depletion: data unavailable
 for any future field survey of this region

Another 'Detectival' commercial artefact grabfest took place near Henley on Thames last weekend. Interestingly, most participants were noting that the number of finds was well down on previous year - funny that, if hundreds of tekkies hoover the same sites and same fields several years running, that there should be "less" finds there each time, and not "more", eh? Anyway, Norfolk Button Boy a man with a permanent scowl it seems and with a love for plastering his name everywhere (flags, finds box etc)  has made a film that rather drags out - particularly the selfie scenes, but give a good picture of the whole thing. There was some gold found and he seems happy. There were 27 fields available, 1000's of acres, around 500 detectorists. Each paying lottsa-quid into the pockets of the organiser. 

A post on social media shows that although the PAS stayed away from this purely commercial looting, there was at least one dealer  present (Dixon, Noonan and Webb: "we had a great time at Detectival! [...] We brought along artefacts and coins from the last sale to exhibit in the show case"). 

flogging off the PASt

Just to show participants, if they'd had doubts earlier, how much money they can make from the hobby. 

Sunday 13 June 2021

US returns 27 looted Khmer antiquities

The US has returned 27 Cambodian antiquities – including Angkorian Buddhist and Hindu statues – to Cambodia (Sochan, 'US returns 27 looted Khmer antiquities back to Kingdom', Phnom Penh Post 11 June 2021).

The 27 artefacts were all recovered by the Manhattan DA’s office and the US Department of Homeland Security. They include several Angkorian Buddhist statues and Hindu statues such as a bronze meditating Buddha on a Naga throne, a Shiva idol and a Buddhist sandstone sculpture of Prajnaparamita. The usual speeches were made.

What was not being discussed in the media is where these items physically were after they entered the US, who imported them, when, and why was nothing done that would prevent it? My guess is that at least some of these are Kapoor material, so potentially in the US a decade or more without anything being done about this dealer before somebody else arrested him. Only when shamed, did the DA act.

What Happened to your FLO? What Happened to the Artefacts?

"Before i bin them...." Post by Superandersao Metal Detecting Forum Fri Jun 11, 2021 4:33 pm
Hi All,
The 3 "artifacts" [sic] below are about to join my huge waste pile. Unless any of you see something I have missed. Are these just scrap?
The large one looked like spurs but they are too tight to fit a foot.
The round one seems to be hand made and was attached to something
The small one seem a part of a knife, but probably a modern one....
Any ideas/thoughts on these?
Thanks a lot
All three are archaeological objects and if no fellow detectorist can persuade him otherwise the know-nothing finder (who sees no collectable value in them) is going to "bin" them. This is the actual fate of the majority of metal items hoiked out of archaeological sites and assemblages all over the UK. The POAS was set up at quite considerable public expense to be there to answer precisely such questions. 

Meanwhile, there is ample evidence - being totally ignored by Britain's jobsworth arkies - that huge ammonts of archaeological material are not only being discarded by British artefact hunters right under their stuck-up noses, but actually destroyed:

UK Metal Detectorists Melt Artefacts PACHI Wednesday, 4 November 2015;
Detecting Under the Microscope 13: Finds or Portable Antiquities? What is Being Thrown Away?  PACHI Monday, 14 November 2011;

STEPHENTAYLORHISTORIAN ' One Man’s Rubbish, Another Man’s Treasure' Stephen Taylor, WW2 Relic Hunter April 15, 2019;

And so on.
For the same problem in France: Lecroere, T (2016) ‘There is none so blind as those who won’t see’: Metal detecting and archaeology in France'. Open Archaeology 2(1): 182–193. 

And this goes for the whole damn British archaeological community that stand right behind the artefact hunting communities pretending it is not seeing their members trash site after site when the reason for that is that they are simply refusing to look.

And of course, because the metal detectorists think that what they do with bits of the common heritage is their, not your, business, they've blocked you from seeing what the finder in the case-study thread referred to above actually did with those artefacts... I suggest imagining the worst - because for every "SuperAnders" that asked, there are pretty much 27000 of the know-next-to-nothing blighters hoiking stuff out and taking arbitrary decisions like this every time they go out artefact hunting.  Those are enormous losses.

But British arkies (6000 of them, who you pay for) and British tekkies (27000 of them that you enable) will not tell you honestly about it.

Saturday 12 June 2021

UK Artefact Hunting Rallies, all about Greed

"Rallies profit and greed" Post by Rosie MDF Thu Jun 10, 2021 12:46 am

Hi lam new to the hobby of metal detecting and want to go on a rallie. I have watched a few tutorials on utube and some of them are really bad. about land that has been done to death. yet they say it’s never been detected on. And some plant coins etc which are pure rubbish. it seems to me like a licence to print money so I think I will give that one a miss and stick to my own permissions 
Of course while she still can. What happens when planted finds are presented by their finders to the PAS for recording? In fact, since the PAS has stopped recording at rallies, is the fact that a presented find came from a pay-to-dig event actually entered onto the PAS record of that object so that researchers can treat any information about it with a pinch of salt?

Pay-to-Dig Artefact Hunting in Texas

These are some of the finds that people got from Sam's Dig. For those interested in seeing what a great campsite this is! Get there before the gettin is gone!  Productive mound/campsite now open for hand digging. Located just north of Leakey, Tx, on the Frio River. You won't be dis-a"pointed" - The camp is west of the hwy 83 bridge, FrioRiverLanding, on the Cooper-Maxwell ranch. 49R, Real County Airport, is also on the ranch, very convenient if you fly-in for digging. Come dig and keep what you find. I hope everyone that does get lucky will thank Mr. Maxwell for his kindness and generosity.
Facebook page

"Johhny" was there: "We brought back hundreds of pieces...broken and whole arrowheads, spear points, knife blades, scrapers, pre-forms, buffalo tooth, drills etc."

 and here's how it looks on the ground:

Stolen heritage: The illegal and rising trade in Yemen’s rare manuscripts

The devastating war in Yemen has been accompanied by the unscrupulous plunder and smuggling of the country's cultural heritage, with illicit trafficking in ancient Islamic and Jewish manuscripts on the rise (Najm aldain Qasem, 'Stolen heritage: The illegal and rising trade in Yemen’s rare manuscripts' The New Arab 10 June, 2021). While the smuggling of Yemeni manuscripts is not new,

it has increased markedly over the last six years since foreign forces have taken control of the country’s ports. [...] The smuggling of stolen manuscripts and other cultural artefacts predominantly takes place across Yemen’s land borders. Before 2017, during a period of Saudi-UAE control over ninety percent of the country’s border crossings, trafficking in such items had occurred via the seaport of Mocha. [...] Frequent smuggling attempts also used to take place across Yemen’s eastern border with Oman [...] It was apparent that some members of the security forces were routinely paid bribes to allow certain packages to go through the crossings unchecked.

Vignette: one of the many manuscripts from Yemen being offered by an Israeli dealer on I wrote about this a while ago, the dealer is still there and doing business.  "It originates from a synagogue", "Please write us if you are interested in any specific Fragment".

Friday 11 June 2021

Detectival is Back: Bigger and More Damaging than Ever


Photo of the event infrastructure (Kerrie Fuller)

Scale of the commercialisation of the exploitation of the UK's archaeological record for entertainment and personal gain. As delta variant fourth wave gets underway...As many as 37 fields will be hoovered for collectable artefacts in the vicinity of Henley on Thames this upcoming weekend, that's the scale of the commercialisation of the exploitation of the UK's archaeological record for entertainment and personal gain. As delta variant fourth wave of Covid gets underway under government mishandling and social irresponsibility...

And it's Bigger and More Damaging than Ever, but I'll bet this is the only archaeoblog where you'll read that this weekend. 

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