Saturday 31 July 2021

Roman Ritual Found as Excuse for Metal Detecting Find Cluster in Dutch Archaeology


               Archaeology just below the root mat, Aa.                 

There is a lot of coverage of this story from Brabant of discoveries made on the banks of the Aa river in the village of Berlicum. by Dutch metal detectorists Wim and Nico van Schaijk, for example, Anon, 'Roman Coins Found on Riverbank in the Netherlands' Archaeology Magazine Tuesday, July 13, 2021
Metal detectorists reported their 2017 discovery of more than 100 Roman coins along the banks of the Aa River in the southern Netherlands to the Portable Antiquities of the Netherlands. When Liesbeth Claes of Leiden University and her colleagues went to the site to investigate, they recovered two coins and a bronze pendant from a horse harness to add to the four silver denarii, 103 bronze sesterces, and several axes. Claes said that all of the coins were minted between 27 B.C. and A.D. 180, while the pendant dates to between A.D. 120 and 300. None of the coins was very valuable, she explained, and they were found scattered over a wide area. Research revealed a nineteenth-century document indicating that the spot where the coins were found had been used as a ford. The researchers think the coins may have been offered by Romans who crossed the river.
Hmmm. This looks like another case where archaeological collaboration with artefact hunters is justified by making up stories to fit the data. In this case it's accepting the artefact hunters' own natrrativisation. First of all what real detectorists would be just searching blind, first they do the research to find 'productive' sites - find the document about the ford, then go and hoover the site with artefact detection devices to see what they can find and pocket. And yes, if in a landscape scattered with stuff you concentrate a search is a specific area, you find more stuff there than in the places where you did not concentrate your search, quelle surprise yeah? Photos here and here, show this is grassland they are hoiking finds from. Live Science picks up the story and the speculation goes on. 
Many of the coins had military imagery, which may echo the earlier local practice of placing war-related objects, such as axes, swords and helmets, along rivers and other stretches of water, said the report's co-researcher Liesbeth Claes, an assistant professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands. "This could be a pre-Roman custom that continued in the Roman period but in a different way," Claes said in a statement. Deducing that this practice persisted "was an important eureka moment in my academic career."
My commiserations to her. There is actually quite a lot of literature about the topic.. going back quite a way (including in the ethnographic past). As for coins of "military imagery", it would have been good to hear some examples from the pre-Severan coinage and the evidence for their deliberate selection as offerings.   But here's a good bit of public outreach that British militant artefact hunters will be depicting as "ungrateful":
Although the team commended the amateurs for discovering the coins, going forward "It is advised not to allow metal detection in the advisory zone, so that existing coins and other metal finds are not taken out of context without an archaeological investigation," they wrote in the translated report. 

Friday 30 July 2021

One Mancus, Several Questions [Updated: PAS being Pathetic ] [UPDATE Seems like I was right]

Claire Hayhurst, Lorraine King, 'Treasure hunter finds ultra-rare gold coin worth £200,000 with metal detector, Daily Mirror 29 Jul 2021

An Anglo-Saxon coin discovered by a metal detectorist could sell for as much as £200,000 at auction. The Gold Penny, or Mancus of 30 Pence, was unearthed by a treasure hunter at West Dean, on the Wiltshire and Hampshire border, in March 2020. It was struck during the time of Ecgberht, King of the West Saxons between 802 and 839 and experts say it is the only late Anglo-Saxon gold coin in private hands. A total of eight other specimens held in institutions – seven at the British museum. The coin, which weighs 4.82g [sic, PAS says 4.28 g], is expected to fetch between £150,000 and £200,000 at a sale of coins and historical medals by auctioneers Dix Noonan Webb on September 8. [...] Analysis of the coin was performed in June 2021 and show it is made from “high-purity gold”, with small levels of silver and copper, he said. “This composition is consistent with that of natural gold which has been neither refined nor artificially alloyed,” Mr Preston-Morley added.
An anonymous PAS record with a really crappy photo can be found here: HAMP-D05C62 (it was in fact created by Simon Maslin) it says: "Other reference: EMC 2020.0167", but the search engine of the Fitzwilliam is either broken, or this coin figures under other data. Why are these records anonymous, so you cannot see who is the author who is making the statements of fact or opinion that the database contains? Are they unwilling to put their names under what they wrote?

The newspaper article has a much better photo than the PAS record (note, what's the point of documentation by record, if the record is not of the best quality attainable?).  That's pretty pathetic, the Daily Mirror being a source when the PAS fails. 

Sceptic that I am, the moment I saw this image, it looks wrong. To my eye there is something wrong with this coin, I can't put my finger on it. The spacing and shape of the letters? I am also a bit puzzled by the colour of this gold as it appears on my screen, and then reference to the purity - both very odd for a ninth century find (English goldwork of the sixth to early seventh century was this pure, analyses show the alloy used became less pure after that as scrap was recycled) . I note the PAS record for some reason cautions that the find is still "under research".  How is this find "grounded"? What else is in that field? 

Daily Mirror (PA) better than the PAS

And of course, it reportedly was found artefact hoiking in pasture (Peter Spencer, Latest news: 'DNW to sell gold mancus for £200,000', Detecting finds July 30, 2021 [uses PAS subquality photo]):
Find It was found near the village of West Dean in March 2020. The unnamed finder, a detectorist of eight years, was searching a pasture when he had a strong signal. Digging down seven inches he unearthed what he thought was a gold-plated button. On feeling the weight of the coin, he realised it was something more significant.  
The coin is already in Wikipedia (again using the PAS photo).

The Pole in me looks at this and sees "Boża Moneta" (God's money), but I see that the moneyer is "Bosa" (which in Polish means barefoot). And, Daily Mirror, the plural of mancus is not "mancuses".

UPDATE 1st August 2021
My snowflake "colleagues" in the PAS block my access to their social media as much as they can. They are too afraid I am going to ask a question that they don't want to talk about as part of their public-funded "public outreach", I guess. Cowards, hiding under their bushel. I find from the Google cache of their nonsense* (yes, we can still see what you are up to guys and gals), that the question of the authenticity of this coin has already been raised in some circles. So I might ask my colleagues, if this is the case, why this find is still displayed on the database while the jury is out on this. Or is Dr Maslin  and the whole of the PAS endorsing the authenticity of this find?   

* True to PAS-dumbdown form, it transpires that they were using this coin as "door 10" of the low-brow show-and-tell "advent calendar" that they do gatekeeping other people's finds, year after year. So predictable. For goodness sake, stop messing about, and do some archaeological outreach for all that public money please... 

UPDATE Updated 2nd August 2021
Dr Maslin (the PAS FLO that made the record) confirms that he had the coin in hand to make that record, and that the PAS weight is the right one (4.28g). 
Dr Simon Maslin @spmaslin 1 sie
Yes I did. The weight, composition and lettering seem correct (it appears to be struck from a known penny die). EMC appear to have removed their record which suggests that, having initially recorded it they may have changed their mind about it.
I still don't like the look of it. I wonder why the Mirror did a news article on it now? Pre-sale publicity maybe?

UPDATE 1.08.2023
I have not been following this, but, it seems I was right. The record is now "unavailable": 
" Unavailable record: HAMP-D05C62, Object type: COIN, Broad period: MODERN Institution responsible: HAMP, Workflow stage: Quarantine Find in quarantine. Relevant FLOs Anne Thom, Alexandra Kendell.
Created: 3 years ago, Last updated: 4 months ago.
This record is currently unavailable to view for your access levels. Please contact the relevant FLO to gain access.

Wednesday 28 July 2021

They are Everywhere?

If in the UK there are there are an estimated 29569 artefact hunters (low estimates from Hardy 2017, p. 23, Tab 10) that's one in 2190 citizens.

Tuesday 27 July 2021

Farmers Get Informed About Market Value of Portable Antiquities

It only took farmers and landowners three decades to learn that those "old bits of metal" detectorists were coming to them and asking if they could look for and take away for free actually have a, not inconsiderable, market value. Possibly Farmer Silas Brown of Grunters Hollow had something to do with it, perhaps it was the door-knockers and forum-advertisers representing the commercial artefact hunting firms that were doing it, but we may well be seeing an end to the free-for-all that has encouraged the growth of the hobby so far. Good.

500 quid a year is offset by finding just thirty objects worth 16 quid each. Perhaps farmers can charge more and the keen tekkies can still afford it.

Saturday 24 July 2021

UK Looting: The PAS and the Elephant in the Room

Heritage Action 'Tick, tick, tick. The country that let its heritage be removed' (24/07/2021)
Our Artefact Erosion Counter recently ticked over 14 million. [...] No doubt most detectorists will seek to rubbish the figure. Let them. They should know that the 14 million figure is based on our original estimate that there were 8,000 active detectorists whereas now there are 27,000.
My updated version here operates on the basis of the same HA figures for finds rate, but compensates for the number of tekkies we now think there are. It takes as its starting point the beginning of the attempt to mitigate this loss by the PAS. According to HA figures the sum of objects removed and pocketed by artefact hunters since this time is a shocking-enough 7,134,019. My counter shows it is more likely to be 9,349,336. Where are all these artefacts coming from? Where are they going? And how much archaeological information about the past of the UK has been simply obliterated by these diggers? And what, pray PAS, have you actually replaced that with? A dot distribution map of Snodling Type 1A thingamyjigs? Please.

In the same period, the PAS has created just 985,289 records of some of these missing finds, just over a tenth of them. Nine in ten of them have disappeared without trace.

Friday 16 July 2021

NCMD Fracture Reported [Updated]

                  Geriatric isolationists              
 Readers of this blog will know there is no love lost between myself and the UK's National Council for Metal Detecting. The latter live in the past, cannot accept that detecting has moved on since the 1980s, and consistently block initiatives for co-operation with heritage professionals (like over the Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting - Petulant NCMD Leaders Won't Follow the Code, "Unworkable" PACHI Monday, 20 April 2020; The NCMD and Institute of Detectorists : Responsible Metal Detecting a "Potential Threat"? PACHI Sunday, 9 August 2020). They constantly see themselves as beseiged by critics and ill-wishers, when in British archaeology nothing could be further from the truth. They seem to me to be just a complete load of wallies. 

Peter D. Spencer has been following some of the internal politics of this group of individuals and discovered some worrying things. He has produced an interesting account of what he has established so far (Is the NCMD falling apart? Detecting Finds blog July 16, 2021). This begins with presenting the rather cumbersome internal 1980s structure of the NCMD. The executive committee is composed of representatives of eight regions: Anglian, Scottish, Yorkshire, North West, Midlands, Western, North East, Southern, plus something called the Central Register. It seems, however, that members were not kept in touch with the split that has developed in this Executive Committee over the past year, apparently exacerbated by the Covid crisis and the necessity to adopt remote working rather than face-to-face meetings. Not only has there has been a significant difference of opinion on a number of points, but also questions of financial transparency. According to Spencer:
Four of the regions, Yorkshire (Syd Hallam), Western (David Rees), Midland (John Wells), Southern (Clive Sinclair), were unhappy with the way in which the NCMD seemed to be heading. They believe that decisions have been made that are outside the rules set down in the Constitution of the NCMD [...] One area that the four opposition regions are particularly concerned about is the finances of the NCMD. There are reports that the NCMD has cash deposits of between £300,000 – £500,000. The problem is, no one seems to know for certain. Members of the Executive Committee have asked several times to view the full NCMD accounts for the last five years. They have not been made available. Every member of the NCMD is entitled to see the accounts, let alone members of the Executive Committee.[...] They also fear that the NCMD could end up as a business run by directors, rather than a body run by experienced and dedicated volunteers.
I know some of these names from previous interactions with the detecting community. Anyway, things are now developing fast according to Mr Spencer:
Breaking News – Opposition region delegates expelled from NCMD Executive Committee
Last night, I was made aware of an Extraordinary Meeting of the NCMD which took place on 12 July 2021. At that meeting, it was decided that the majority of the Executive Committee will no longer recognise Brian Vaughan, David Rees, John Wells, Clive Sinclair, and Sydney Hallam as members of the Executive Committee. The meeting was arranged in haste, with the agenda only being circularised on 10 July 2021. It is not clear what the decision means in practice or whether such a course of action is possible within the constitution of the NCMD. I hope to bring you an update on this breaking news in next Friday’s update.
I note that there are some interesting deletions from the internet records referring to the NCMD that seem to have taken place. Is this material archived somewhere? Are we getting the full story? 

Mr Spencer himself is of the opinion that "metal detecting" is [somehow] "under threat", and "A united front is needed for the NCMD to continue to promote, protect and encourage the hobby of metal detecting". First of all, perhaps this debacle shows that this "body run by experienced and dedicated volunteers" really is unable to cope with actually representing anything. Secondly, with a hobby that has apparently exploded to some 27000 members in England and Wales alone, most of whom do NOT follow the Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales, and most of whom do NOT report anything like the number of artefacts they hoik out of the archaeological record and walk off with, does this exploitive hobby need any more promotion, encouragement and protection? Does not "metal detecting" now need protecting against itself? Certainly the diminishing archaeological record of the British Isles needs protecting against IRRESPONSIBLE (ie not in alignment with the Code in any way) artefact hunting, precisely the type of artefact hunting promoted and encouraged by this NCMD. 

And where are the 300+ thousand quid and what are they being used for? Let us recall that a sum of 50000 quid was recently given from public funds to look into setting up an Institute of Detecting (run by detectorists for detectorists) when the NCMD seems from what is reported in Spencer's text to have had the funds to set it up themselves. Is that so? Take, take, take.

UPDATE (17.07.2021):
The NCMD has now issued a statement about these events and their background, which shows some of this in a somewhat different light. We note that though most of the western world has shifted to remote-working, the people recently expelled from the Executive Committee are reported to have had a long-term aversion to online meetings (by Zoom) during lockdown that affected their ability to function, the 330,000 quid "fighting fund" is explained. But I note 
Online banking – The NCMD Exec. Committee unanimously agreed to the Treasurer’s recommendation that we move to online banking at an Ordinary General Meeting (OGM) in February 2020. This allowed greater oversight of our finances and access to live banking activity, as a number of observers could now see all our bank accounts 24/7, minimising risks of irregularities going unnoticed. These 5 individuals objected to this 9 months later.

Could this just be that the Quartet simply distrust computers?
Audit – In January this year, the NCMD Officers proposed a full audit of NCMD accounts to check our accounts and to get expert advice on actions we should be doing to protect your money for the future. The 5 individuals blocked this.
Odd. The very same accounts they say they want to learn more about. There is perhaps more to all this than meets the eye. To be honest knowing the NCMD and the fractious type of people that it attracts and supports, it’s pretty amazing they’ve hung together so long, but this has been achieved mainly by inventing a “common enemy” that “has to be fought or we lose are ‘obby”.

Tuesday 13 July 2021

Sheffield Archaeology Killed


"Colleagues in the Department of Archaeology at the University of Sheffield have today been informed that the University of Sheffield Council has decided to endorse the proposal of the University Executive Board to close our Department. This means the unequivocal end of Archaeology in the University of Sheffield. We received this information in a presentation by the Vice Chancellor, which lasted 13 minutes. There was no ability to engage or respond as our microphones and cameras were kept off the entire time. We condemn in the strongest possible terms the decision taken by the university as well as the rudeness and lack of professionalism of the form of communication chosen by the VC. This is a decision that harms both the University and the City of Sheffield, within which our Department is strongly embedded. Our campaign to oppose this calamitous decision will continue."
Umberto Albarella
Department of Archaeology
University of Sheffield
But the metal detecting goes on.

Monday 12 July 2021

Greco-Roman and Egyptian Antiquities Valuations


Collectors: Got any loose Graeco-Roman or ancient Egyptian "stuff" at home? Wanna know how much it's worth?

"Valuemystuff" seem to miss out questions about collection history and any paperwork you may have for it (as unimportant to value or anything else?)
It is a common misconception that only archaeologists find antiquities and in fact 80% of antiquities are discovered by private collectors who are amazed at the treasures they have uncovered. The category is very closely linked to scholarly research and most associated through stories told by museums who continue to preserve and invest in the remaining rare artefacts that are found. Get an online Ancient Art and Antiquities valuation from our specialist in less than 48 hours! Our Greco-Roman & Egyptian Antiquities Experts
Our expert has been involved in the Antiquities trade since 1989, working for Bonhams; as well as conducting valuations for other organisations, both government and trade. She has been involved with and kept abreast of developments in legislation relating to this field.
Garbled ghost of a PAS press-release there? Its not clear how many experts they have nor why "she" has a beard in the photo.

So, is it true that 80% of the archaeological record (of the UK, presumably) lies in private hands just waiting to be evaluated - though in primarily financial terms, hoping to find a museum that will "invest" by buying them off you?

That's the ones of course where the seller can demonstrate legality of excavation and export and that they therefore have title. Yes, "valuemystuff"?

The Looting And Illicit Trafficking Of Antiquities

The Looting And Illicit Trafficking Of Antiquities
An interesting piece on Soundcloud in which Majdolene Dajani in
terviewing Professor Erin Thompson does a great job summarizing the relevant laws and giving examples:

The looting and illicit trafficking of antiquities is an issue that has gained considerable attention, especially over the last few years due to the impact of several armed conflicts on the tangible cultural heritage of several countries in Western Asia. An interview with professor Erin Thompson provides some insight into the various aspects and complexities of this topic including the sale of looted artifacts in legal art markets, law enforcement, repatriation, and fakes.
I think this is a really cleverly-constructed, well-balanced and interesting piece that covers a lot of different aspects. I was pleased to see the inclusion of Native American artefact looting (and UK "metal detecting") tucked in alongside the classical antiquities that tend to be treated as a separate issue. The emphasis however is very much that of the US. Perhaps some might find the music a bit intrusive (?), but I thought it was perfect for the topic and treatment.

Who'd love to see a UK version produced with the same coverage and panache? I'd not hold your breath though.

Saturday 10 July 2021

"Mystery Find" or Unknown Context?

     PAS pleased as Punch about a buckle
BBC Mystery North Norfolk treasure 'could be sword-related' 10th July 2021

A mystery object found by a metal detector in Norfolk could be linked to a sword, an expert has said. The gilded silver early Anglo-Saxon object was found in Field Dalling in Norfolk last September and declared to be treasure this week. [...] A report sent to the Norfolk coroner said it was reminiscent of a buckle from Proosa in Estonia
So why is this not a left-over from the "seeding" of venue of a long-forgotten commercial metal detecting event 3 decades ago with bulk-buy "partifacts"? A mere "X-marks the spot" findspot in a "database" is not data. What counts is the site context of the find - which the PAS "database" simply does not record.

Friday 9 July 2021

Archaeology Failing to Communicate


hat tip: Dr. David S. Anderson @DSAArchaeology.

From #SaveSheffieldArchaeology

The emeritus professors from the archaeology Department of the University of Sheffield share their thoughts on the closure of the department. #SaveSheffieldArchaeology

Will the mass robbery of Native American graves ever end?

       Part of the Miller collection (FBI)          

A longish and interesting piece on the private collection of artefacts (Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson, 'Will the mass robbery of Native American graves ever end?' The Washington Post 9th July 2021). It is centred around the story of the raid in April 2014 on the Indiana home of collector Don Miller, age 90:
Inside, and squirreled away in outbuildings across his property, was one of the largest personal stores of cultural artifacts in the world, according to the FBI. “In my experience dealing with antiquities cases, a large private collection would have been 100 pieces,” Carpenter says. “Then I walked into Don Miller’s house.” He had more than 42,000 items. In the basement, glass cases and wooden shelves displayed some of what he’d amassed in a makeshift museum. He loved to show off the items that he’d dug out of the ground and gathered over eight decades [...] One archaeologist brought in by the FBI openly wept when he saw the vastness and quality of what Miller had reaped.
This is a huge problem in the US
Amateur archaeology [sic] is a thriving hobby in America, with many types of collectors. Surface hunters gather what has leached from the earth or what may have been churned up by, say, farm or construction equipment. Relic hunters tend to use metal detectors. And then there are those like Miller who employ shovels and picks and, in his case, heavy machinery. [...] Federal land management agencies estimate that more than one-third of Native American sites on federally protected property have been emptied. Many of those sites were graves. To take just one example of the scope of theft: According to a 1997 FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 95% of Native American graves on public land in southwest Virginia have been pillaged. And this doesn’t begin to account for the graves on private property.
This is a trend the US should deal with before they start telling other countries how they should look after their heritage. Let the US sort out their own problems in this regard before dictating to others what they should do.


Thursday 8 July 2021

Swift Awareness Week


Have you spotted some beautiful silhouettes darting and diving in the summer sky? Swifts, Swallows, House Martins and Sand Martins are all summer visitors to both the UK and Poland, and areas between. A common heritage. Here are some ID tips from (another here). Don't take it for granted, the heritage is finite and not for squandering. Although widespread globally, various species of the Hirundinidae are threatened due to habitat loss. 

In case you were wondering...
Swallow: Dymówka/jaskółka dymówka     Hirundo rustica
Swift:   Jerzyk zwyczajny     Apus apus
House Martin:  Oknówka zwyczajna/ jaskółka oknówka    Delichon urbicum
Sand Martin: Brzegówka zwyczajna/jaskółka brzegówka     Riparia riparia

Swift Awareness week 3rd-11th July 2021.

UK: Only in it for the History, History Hunters Looking for King Arthur?


At Glastonbury Abbey yesterday:

"Citizen archaeology". 

Wednesday 7 July 2021

Ancient Glass a "Smash Hit" at Bonhams

A recent "Antiquities" sale (6 Jul 2021) at Bonhams London, New Bond Street contains "Part One of an important American collection of Ancient Glass" (part two will be sold in November).
The collection [...] encompasses the world of ancient glass, from Greek core-formed vessels from the Eastern Mediterranean dating to the 4th-2nd Century B.C. to Late Roman glass of the 5th Century A.D. Head of Bonhams Antiquities Department, Francesca Hickin, said: "With so many shapes, colours and glass-making techniques represented, a collection such as this rarely comes to auction and naturally we are thrilled to be offering it. [...]
This is followed by some trite narrativisation:
At its peak, glass infiltrated every aspect of Roman life. By the 1st century A.D., a glass drinking cup could be bought for a copper coin. Aristocratic women kept scents, cosmetics and oils in flasks and bottles. Jewellers used glass to mimic emeralds, sapphires and amethysts. As tableware, glass became indispensable. It was the staple of any well-dressed Roman dining table, a symbol of prestige that can be seen in many frescos depicting the opulence of the Roman Feast. It is a myth that glass is more fragile than other materials. In fact, its resilience and excellent protective properties makes it perfect for storing and shipping goods, especially food. So good that a glass bottle found at Pompeii still contains the olive oil, now solidified, with which it was filled before the eruption. Curators who have removed the stopper say that even the smell remains.
Highlights from the collection include:
• A Roman blue-green glass lidded cinerary urn circa 1st-2nd Century A.D. Estimate: £8,000-12,000.
• A Roman pale grey-green glass animal-headed rhyton Circa 1st Century A.D. Estimate: £12,000-18,000
• A Roman blue-green glass ribbed bowl circa early 1st century A.D. Estimate: £5,000-7,000
• A Byzantine green glass hexagonal pitcher with Christian Symbols circa 5th-6th Century A.D. Estimate: £3,000-5,000.
• A Roman pale green glass jug with blue looped handle circa late 1st Century A.D. Estimate £1,200-1,800.
and a Roman 'Victory' beaker from the 1st century A.D. made in amber glass, estimate £20,000-30,000. No wonder looters loot... what Bonhams should be stressing is that a "cinerary urn" would have been deposited in a grave with human remains in it. Where did this one come from, if not from a tomb or grave, and how were the contents disposed of? In fact, glass found on settlement sites tends to be in small sherds (because the bigger ones were picked up and removed from where people and animals could tread on them and cut themselves, the same goes for temple sites, marketplaces, public roads, inside Roman villas and their courtyards. Almost everywhere, except graves and tombs. that's where you find complete vessels like the ones in the photo. Digging in the extramural cemeteries around many Roman cities right across Europe will produce them. This American collector was accumulating material that most probably came from the disturbance of very many burials, the desecration of tombs, the disrespectful treatment of human remains. I bet the catalogue does not even give more than a handful of locations (the name of a site) from which this assumed legal extraction took place. Why not? The vessels were part of the history of that site, and part of the history of the person they were buried with.

After the sale we read "Top Glass: Ancient Glass Collection a Smash Hit At Bonhams Antiquities Sale" (Oh yuk) The glass collection made a total of £189,958 doubling its low estimate. The  Roman amber glass 'Victory' beaker sold for £25,250 The "Roman blue-green glass lidded cinerary urn circa 1st-2nd Century A.D. sold for £15,250". Grave robbing pays. Possibly we will see soon a UK dealer offering something like: "From the English Country Churchyard, the Burke N. Hare collection of Medieval and Early Modern funerary and devotional items and coffin fittings". Why not?

Tuesday 6 July 2021

Brits Digging Up the PASt the hard Way


    when you need
one of these

From the Facebook page of the National Council of Metal Detectorists:

The National Council for Metal Detecting are delighted to announce that a Major Finds Excavation Fund is now in a place to help assist our members fortunate enough to uncover a major find. This fund will pay for an accredited, PAS recommended, archaeologist to perform the initial excavation of the findspot. It’ll help to preserve important archaeological information, whist reducing the period of time that the find may be vulnerable. We have been working on this project for a considerable amount time and are quite excited at the prospect of it finally coming to fruition.  This fund has been developed with the full co-operation of the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) and we are pleased to say that emergency out of hours contact numbers for a PAS to assist in organising help quickly are now in place. The exact location of the findspot should only be given to the archaeologist who will attend the site to perform the excavation. The NCMD officer who takes your initial call will not ask you for the exact findspot. The officer will pass on your details to the archaeologist assigned to you, so you can offer [sic] directions.
And with which archaeological body has the PAS consulted this with? What position is the PAS to "recommend" one archaeologist over another? What is an "initial" excavation in methodological terms, and what decisions are taken which important information to preserve during it, and what not (because going beyond the 'initial' aim of getting the artefacts hoiked out)? How does an "initial" investigation of the site of a discovery differ from a proper examination of all te evidence it can produce? Will there be soil samples taken and analysed at the cost of the investor? What archaeologist is going to be working directly for (and receiving payment directly from) the National Council of Metal Detectorists, and who owns the archive of the project? Also how the hell do they expect somebody to set up a project 'blind', not knowing where the site is and what the site conditions are? What's with all the phone numbers? The PAS FLO will be woken up in the middle of the Sunday afternoon nap because some oik has found something, they get an archaeologist and "approve" them, then they get in touch with the NCMD officer who will then sign the contracts, arrange the paperwork with the landowner and transfer the money, before then putting the archaeologist in contact with the finder who will "offer directions". Only then will the archaeologist see what they've let themselves in for. Oh yeah, that's going to so work... Bonkers Britain, never ceases to amaze. Now, if there was a permit system...


A US Take on Turkey's Fight Against Cultural Looting


Why does it seem that some Americans find it so hard to get their heads round some very simple concepts and not lose themselves trying to argue about what they don't understand? Simon Maghakyan describes himself as "a researcher of heritage crime and preservation politics with family roots in the Ottoman Empire's erased Armenian and Assyrian communities" and is currently a "Tufts University visiting scholar and Unversity of Colorado Denver lecturer and expresses some views on "Turkey's Fight Against Cultural Looting Should Start at Home" (Newsweek 5th July 2021). He reckons that "cultural import restrictions can be a double-edged sword". Only if you are based in America trying to tell the rest of the world how to behave. In 1970, UNESCO, an organization to which the US never really accepted and currently does not belong, disseminated a "Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property". My guess is - unless you are US MAGA devotee, most of us see that this is not about exporting mosques, churches and villages. Other types of heritage are covered by other conventions. What Americans don't seem to want to recognise is that this convention is actually all about individual states parties being free to self-determine what comprises their own cultural heritage that they want to preserve, and other nations agree to respect that, without any conditions. That is the function of that Convention. It exists to prevent cultural property imperialism. And what do the US do with it when they finally agree to get around to acknowledging that (as the largest and most voracious of all the antiquities markets of the world) it affects them too? They produce the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA) which does precisely that:
"we consider that all men are created equal, but we aint going to respect any of that guff, except article 9 (if you ask us nicely first) and then only if YOU prove to US that you're doing it right - we will decide for you if you're doing enough and if we decide by committee that you are we'll stop allowing smuggled stuff to pass freely through our borders"
That's not verbatim, but expresses the intent of the Act. It's what I labelled earlier in this blog the "Witschonke Principle" after an early exponent of this twisted view of international collaboration in the modern world. So the hapless Dr Maghakyan, drawing support from such attitudes, blunders on:
The recent  U.S. government publication of restricted cultural property imports originating in Turkey, at the latter's request, has caused mixed reactions, including outrage. While illicit trafficking in antiquities is a grave problem, some specialists fear that Turkey might use the new agreement to further marginalize displaced Indigenous communities by reducing whatever little autonomy they have left over their vanishing heritage. [...] I am unconvinced that Turkey has pursued the U.S.' import ban in good faith. Because if it genuinely cared for its vast cultural patrimony, Turkey would start this protection at home.
Just like the United States does, eh? The article has 1326 words, but nearly 400 of them refer to metal detecting. How odd that in the US we see the measures in the UK (white-skinned people) allowing metal detecting on archaeological sites as something praiseworthy and worthy of emulation elsewhere, yet the very same procedure in Turkey (brown-skinned people) is here attacked and placing the country below a certain civilizational level that dictates that the US need not bother helping t prevent looting and smuggling. 

Another 254 words refer to Armenia and Azerbaijan, two countries that are not Turkey.

Also I think the writer has a problem with reading. He suggests that "conspicuously missing from the import list are the heavily-looted coins of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, dated from the 11th to 14th centuries". Really?
The Agreement between the United States and Turkey includes, but is not limited to, the categories of objects described in the Designated List set forth below. [...] 9. Coins [...] d. Medieval and Islamic coins— Medieval and Islamic coins, in gold, silver, bronze, and copper coins from approximately A.D. 1077–1770, that circulated primarily in Turkey.
The comments under the article at the time of writing consist entirely of Armenian/Azerbaijani/Turkish mudslinging. The author is labelled there: "a professional activist working for an anti-Turkish hate group". On the one hand, while it is a shame that here we have another obvious case of an attempt to force a modern political argument onto the issue of preservation, it is confirmation enough of the role of cultural heritage in modern social life and thus showing the importance of the issues that UNESCO 1970 raises.

it is a shame that the author could not have addressed the issue of the numbers of antiquities from this region that US dealers are offering at this moment that entered the US before the resolution was taken to pay more attention at the borders.

[And by the way, Dr Maghakyan, when will the US have any formal restrictions on objects looted in Azerbaijan and Armenia under this CCPIA?]


Saturday 3 July 2021

Looters flout Facebook ban to sell ancient artefacts

Facebook has banned the sale of antiquities on its platforms, but ‘monuments for sale’ groups continue to thrive (Louise Callaghan, 'Looters flout Facebook ban to sell ancient artefacts' The Sunday Times Saturday July 03 2021)
A year ago, with great fanfare, Facebook banned the sale of ancient artefacts on its platforms. Yet campaigners such as the Athar Project, a US-based organisation that monitors the trade in illegal antiquities, say the ban has been ineffective and the problem is getting worse. “We’ve seen virtually no enforcement of that policy,” said Katie Paul, the co-director of the Athar Project. “In fact, the trade has grown, particularly during the pandemic.” A simple search on the platform in English or Arabic turns up thousands of items advertised in groups with names such as “monuments for sale”. Many members of these groups, and at least one of the administrators, are based in the UK, The Sunday Times has found. The Athar Project said that it was monitoring more than 100 groups in the Middle East — one with nearly half a million members. [...] “Unfortunately we’re seeing a continuous and steady flow of materials from conflict zones like Libya, Syria and Yemen being offered for sale on the platform,” she said. “They’re just being openly trafficked.” [...] In the groups, looters based everywhere from Syria and Egypt to Myanmar, India and the Balkans buy, sell and swap tips on how to find and steal artefacts. “It’s such a difficult crime to prosecute that it’s very easy to operate publicly,” said Sam Hardy, a postdoctoral research fellow in cultural heritage and conflict at the Norwegian Institute in Rome, part of the University of Oslo. [...] Many of the artefacts on sale were fake, but others, according to archaeologists involved in stopping the trade, were real.
"Archaeologists involved in stopping the trade" in the UK can probably be counted on the fingers of two hands. But in the UK, we are proudly told, there are 6000 archaeologists. What are they doing? ATHAR is based in the US. The eaquivalent organization in the UK is called, um... ummm...

Thursday 1 July 2021

Due Diligence Fails

plundered art @plunderedart 30 cze
It is still so surreal to explain to lawmakers and civil servants why provenance research is so necessary to protect objects in collections, uphold due diligence and ethics and educate. Why? it sure feels like groundhog day on constant repeat. Like a bad Warhol film...
Needs explaining to the entire buying public. Who's doing it?

Erotic, or Pornographic Cunies?

In that liminal space where tweets meet obscure academia Dr Gina Konstantopoulos announced that she was doing some final final edits to an article on (mostly) Akkadian love incantations and remarked "I'm reminded once again that they are objectively horrifying texts". I flippantly remarked that as a non-specialist, I was a bit miffed she'd not given some examples... Perhaps we had to wait for the article, but Dr Konstantopoulos replied:
In this instance, thanks to the might of @opencuneiform I can send you a link: with includes all the texts - including the incantations - as an online corpus
and yes, some of the ones I looked through verge on the nasty. I guess that's what happens when you don't train woman scribes (I presume) to give their own less male-macho-dominated view. I must admit that it had never occurred to me that there could be pornographic cuneiform tablets. Does Hobby Lobby know?

A Word for Our British Colleagues

Et voilà ! Ce que fait l’association Happah n’est pas bien difficile. C’est à la portée de tout le monde. Seulement personne ne se préoccupe vraiment de la provenance des objets.

La "bonne foi"...

Detectophage orchidoclaste: La "bonne foi"... la "bonne foi" est l'expression la plus utilisée pour expliquer qu'ils se foutent en général totalement de la provenance réelle des objets qu'on leur demande de vendre./ Ça commence à faire pas mal d’affaires de ventes où le caractère douteux voire illicite de la provenance des objets est enfantin à trouver. Le dire, c’est remettre leur système en cause. CF le psychodrame des Rouillac pour Tavers./ Vous savez bien que pour beaucoup la seule procédure qu'ils respectent est de vérifier si les objets proposés sont dans la base de données des objets culturels volés... pourquoi être plus précautionneux quand on peut vendre ces objets sans être embêté?
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