Tuesday 31 August 2021

UK Police, "Does Reckless Driving Make the Roads Unsafe?"

It seems to me (see here too) that the British police (or the ones that get assigned to rural crime, maybe) just don't get it:
Because I think we can all bet our bottom dollars  that PC Tether is not going to say that all collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record, legal or not, PAS recording or no, is stealing our "past shared history" whatever is meant by that tautological phrase.  And I bet those that bother to go along to listen will be told something like "the majority of metal detector users are responsible, ethical, abstinent, vegan tree-huggers and quite different from a miniscule minority that don't hug trees" - as policemen do. 

UK Xenophobism: Where's the Band of Bruvvers Mentality, eh?


Xeonophobism and ignorance have never been deeply hidden behind the tekkie facade. But this FB post from Paul Howard of Let's Go Digging is a classic example:

The first thing that attracts attention is the irony of someone who's been through the British educational system, yet still cannot manage to complain about people not having good English while themselves being unable to spell "breaking" or "there's" correctly or consistently, and who think that "constant" is an adverb... Secondly, note the division of the metal detecting community into an "Us" and "Them" ("certain nationalities"). 

Sussex Heritage Community's Heritage Protection Guide on Illicit Metal Detecting

In the post below it refers to a tweet where some guy says "Please see my guide on the subject https://davidbexhill.wixsite.com/sussexheritage/security-guides" referring to a document called a "Heritage Protection Guide" on Illicit Metal Detecting. It turns out that the organization is a project by Daryl Holter ("Inspiring communities to enjoy Heritage") who is a police officer in the Rother Police team dealing with rural crime (see here too). That clears up one mystery, about the authorship of the document which is not clear at all from the document itself :"Ownership, Concept, and Interview: Daryl Holter Text, design, and photography (except where stated): David E P Dennis LCGI RAF'). Weird. No date or place of publication given either. 

I'd not bothered to look at this before, but its "owner" having plugged it so many times, thought I'd see what it says. I wish I had not, now. It starts off:
Illicit Metal Detecting [..] the incentive to find and take metal objects, coins, and artifacts for trophy pieces of financial gain [...] Many finds of coins, jewellery, ancient artefacts may not be handed in to the County Finds Officer in accordance with the law on Treasure. This may be a deliberate crime – or it may unfortunately default to crime through ignorance of the law, or ignorance of the value of the discovered metal artefact
Gawd. First of all, many people artefact hunting illegally are not necessarily out to find saleable items. Artefact hunting is about collecting, and a searcher might want to add to their own collection without having to bother about the niceties of where it comes from, or dealing with a landowner is he finds something that the landowner would like financial compensation for if they take it away. This is one of the most common misunderstandings about this facet of the activity. Archaeologists get confused about this too and this is the message they pass on to the public (and police officers).
But there is no excuse for the second. The problem is not "county finds officer" is not there to receive and record Treasure ("in accordance with the law on Treasure "- that's the Coroner). The PAS was set up to deal with non-Treasure finds. PC Holter might have ascertained the facts.

Page 6 (Dennis's text now) says "There is an official code of practice on metal detecting"... and then passes over that (see blow) and starts talking about Treasure (pp 6-8) and the PAS is there to "tell you if something is Treasure". Ummm, no, that is not its primary function.

Then, page 9-10 there is "An Interview with Mr Daryl Holter" as "a leading expert in heritage preservation". It's rather chaotic, and most of it is about unexploded ordnance. It ends (p. 10):
"The majority of hobbyists care deeply about shared heritage and record their finds with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Unfortunately, a small number of detectorists exploit their hobby in order to obtain archaeologically important artefacts and attempt to profit from their illegal activity. The United Kingdom is very fortunate to have a great community of ethical detectorists, together with positive and dynamic working relationships between detectorists, archaeologists and the local police officers and staff we are as one team able to prevent illicit detecting, raise awareness and encourage reporting, this will hopefully result in bringing offenders to justice. and reduce illicit metal detecting. Please consider taking all finds to your local Portable Antiquity Scheme Officer (The Coroner’s Finds Officer) for recording. Provenance, understanding and the historical record are so important, so please do not ignore the value of our shared heritage. Thank you.
This is just fluff.

"The majority of hobbyists record their finds with the Portable Antiquities Scheme", is simply fallacious. Demonstrably, the majority of the 27000 artefact hunters in England and Wales don't care at all about shared heritage, they selfishly keep their finds to themselves and rarely record them with the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Why say otherwise? (I notice it is so often policemen who come out with this mantra.)

What does it mean: "a small number of detectorists exploit their hobby", which depicts artefact hunting as something else than a search for archaeologically/historically important/interesting artefacts to collect and enjoy.

"a great community of ethical detectorists, together with positive and dynamic working relationships between detectorists, archaeologists and the local police officers and staff we are as one team able to prevent illicit detecting" Hooray, but how, actually? Fluff.

"Encouraging reporting" for 25 years has not really made much of an inroad into non-reporting has it? Fluff. And anyway what has that got to do with illegal artefact hunting?

What's this "Coroner’s Finds Officer" reference (outside Norfolk)? 

Page 13, Problems caused by Illicit Metal Detecting [...] "Illicit metal detectin
g can also damage the reputation of responsible metal detecting". That begs the question what reputation people who take spades to archaeological sites to selectively and randomly remove elements of it for their own entertainment should have anyway. In most of Europe and beyond they would be called looters and cursed for destroying that shared heritage and the knowledge these sites and contexts contain. In Britain, a "heritage" organization worries about their reputation. 

There is a confusing series of headings on page 14:
"The National Council for Metal Detecting
The NCMD has a Code of Practice:
Code of Conduct 1. Do not trespass. Obtain permission bef
Yep, that's all. What this disorganised pile of words does not tell the reader is there is a national Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales and it can be found on the PAS website (and is currently not endorse by the NCMD). And this is the one that actually defines what is understood by "responsible metal detecting", the ones whose reputation the text's authors are so worried about preserving.

There is more, but really I've had enough. This document could have been consulted with Rescue but was not, with the PAS but was not. It regurgitates undigested mantras, engages wishful thinking more than facts and really represents all that is wrong with the British apathetic and superficial response to Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record.     

SuALT (FindSampo) Ends

             SuALT record of sword           

The funding from the Academy of Finland of the Finnish academic project SuALT (FindSampo) concludes at the end of August (Suzie Thomas, 'That’s a wrap!' SuALT blog 24th August 2021). Since no other funding was found to keep it sustainable, the project has come to an end after just 4 years and team members from the University of Helsinki, Aalto University and the Finnish Heritage Agency and other institutions, most of the Ixelles six are here, will be looking for something else to do than getting money for recording metal detecting finds. It seems they did not produce convincing arguments for the academic (or social etc.) value in prolonguing it. The project's PI, Professor Suzie Thomas has now moved on to become Professor of Heritage Studies at the University of Antwerp.
This means the project ends , and although the project is wrapping up there are still some articles in preparation to come, as well as some updates to the FindSampo portal due soon. The project has spawned yet more projects, not least the DeepFIN Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Individual Fellowships programme project led by Dr Eljas Oksanen. [...] Several more project ideas are in application phase, also at the international level, so expect more to come in the future!
Meanwhile, this is what Finland has "lost":
About the project / Projektista
The Finnish Archaeological Finds Recording Linked Open Database (SuALT) is a multidisciplinary project developing innovative solutions to respond to metal detecting and other non-professional encounters with archaeological material, applying semantic computing to “citizen science”. The growing flow of uncovered archaeological material poses challenges to researchers and collections finds data managers. We must support finders with legislative and also archaeological information. Easy to use tools to report finds and provide structured metadata are needed. Leaving finds cataloguing to curators is increasingly unfeasible given the increase in metal detecting. To make use of new data, cultural heritage managers, researchers and the public need search and analysis tools. Since finds are connected to existing collections, we also address cross-collection data interoperability. The methods and Open Source tools developed are also applicable to other cultural heritage citizen science fields.

Suomen arkeologisten löytöjen linkitetty [...]
Here is a list of publications of team members, but by no means are all of them about the project - there is the Ixelles Six's attack on Hardy included for example... some of the ALSO function in a parallel list of publications of the European Recording Network of Helsinki University.

Somehow, I do not see here anything that sets out a detailed assessment of the archaeological significance of this project. And trying to dig deeper makes one wonder. For example, I looked up a few of the objects. I am by no means any fan of the descriptions of the PAS as "prewservation by record" but beside that these SuALT descriptions are positively schoolboyish. There are, anyway, it seems only 3000 of them. They are pretty sketchy, very little description of the object but lots of measurements (which of course can be taken from the photos if they are of good enough quality). No real typological diagnosis, all very fluffy. Moreover the ones I saw have no "context" or even findspot detailed, they are "in the vicility of" type provenances. "Found by a metal detectorists", when, where, how and who is not stated... but then it turns out that some (many?) of them are already in existing records. Like a sword that was apparently found in 2013 (four years before the project began) and is in a museum collection, but listed here too for some reason (metal detector find?). For university archaeologists to give a sword with such a characteristic form a date of "(-0500 – 1300)" is just a joke. It seems there are many more examples of such superficial "records" in this "database". What is the purpose of this whole exercise (apart from getting grant money of course)?

Monday 30 August 2021

For the 878th time: It's not just the nighthawks.

On news that more metal detectorist holes have been spotted in a protected site, somebody over in Bonkers Britain calling themselves (though writing in the first person singular) "Sussex Heritage Community" writes
Please [emoticon] for our historic environment, these actions do *NOT* represent the ethical law abiding Metal Detecting Community. Illicit metaldetecting is theft of our Heritage, a loss to our knowledge, understanding & any artefact's provenance. It's damaging not only to the land and environment but to all ethical law abiding detectorists too. Please see my guide on the subject.
One almost wants to ask them whether they actually believe that it's only "illicit metal detecting" that is a problem? The 27000 others walking around with spades and hoiking stuff out of the archaeological record, much of it clandestinely (because not reported) is not in any way a problem? I would ask, but over on Twitter you'd not get an answer and they'd just block you for trying to discuss what they said.

Part of the problem is we are dealing her with a whole bunch of British archaeologists (as I assume this is) who themselves see the subject as all about finding "things" /objects, to put on a shelf, in a case, or a box and write about (ie show off). This is no different from an artefact collector. So SHC talking about heritage-theft is talking about the object, about losing the ARTEFACT's provenance. There are , however, archaeologists over here who see archaeology as interpreting patterns within and between archaeological contexts, the objects from those contexts are treated holistically, not individually, as part of the evidence that led to the creation of the archaeological record (as a whole) on a site. Numpties with spades pinpointing and blindly digging out random elements of that record destroy that CONTEXT.

That's what they do, and it does not matter is they do it only on Fridays, or wearing pink silken gloves, or what the legal status of the search was. It not about legality here, it's about destruction (yes, the knowledge a site contains is our heritage, we lose knowledge and understanding from) ALL Collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record. All of it. 

And what information about the archaeological context is it that Numpty gives a FLO a grid reference to where he hoiked it from and shows his search agreement with farmer O'Malley? Please somebody reconstruct me an archaeological context for five random individual finds in that 1.5 million-object-containing "database". 

Go on. Give us back the context from which an artefact hunter hoiked BERK-DE69D9 - or any other. 

 And then explain to me: "It's damaging to all ethical law abiding detectorists too".  What "ethics" are we talking about when the hobby itself is damaging? If you are engaged in doing something that is damaging per se, irrespective of how legal it is and how you hoik (filling in all your holes and closing all the gates), what is the ethical thing to do?

Friday 27 August 2021

British Archaeologists Supporting Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record and Smoking

       Metal Detecting is Good for us all: don't believe the sceptics...  
Three weeks ago, a British Archaeologist recently told me on social media "You are of course entitled to your views. I'm of the opinion, however, that substantial progress has been achieved in this field [dealing with metal detectorists] by seeking to help, advise and work with others, and that broadcasting negative assumptions about people without investigation has never been fruitful". Hmm. Heard that so many times before. My 6th August response has gone unanswered. Here it is
Care to enlighten us on those "assumptions" actually made in my post? You may have your opinion, I think that huge damage has been done by current policies on artefact hunting and the unfulfilled hope that "huge progress" will "one day" be made if you all just grit your teeth and wait long enough. As what we can see on the forums and through the blossoming of commercial digging firms, it's just not happening. I see nothing wrong with pointing that out. I see everything wrong with just trying to ignore it, and pointing to a few poster-boy exceptions to the general picture as if they show that the problem is just a matter of waiting a little longer while being as nice as possible to the artefact hunters stripping the fields and hopeful that they'll show us more stuff UK archaeology (PAS etc) is unresourced to deal with.
As I said, archaeologists trot out the mantras, "be nice, they'll come round", "progress is being made" .. and think that simply by saying the palliative words in a self-assured way, they've convinced everyone that the problem has been dealt with. Well, I disagree, but oddly enough, they shrink away from the discussion the moment you try to engage them in discussion about how they can believe one thing while being (surely) aware of other facts that directly contradict in a most obvious manner the validity of the mantras.

It's like the 40-a-day smoker who thinks the health warnings are for wussies and do not apply to him, because he knows of one guy... who... and "lived to be ninety". They listened to the old malboro' ads and all the rest of the propaganda once put out by the tobacco lobby and refuse to acknowledge that their comfy beliefs that they, personally, will be OK (bar a bit of a cough, eh?) is based on false premises and ignores a whole load of stuff.

Just as current attitudes to collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record in British archaeology are based on an entanglement in a set of arguments and justifications and an exclusion of those that do not fit their pre-conceived notions that they have no intention of examining and challenging.    

Thursday 26 August 2021

Michigan US: New Clovis Site Discovered


A Clovis campsite has been discovered and reported by an artefact hunter in Michigan (University of Michigan press release, 'Farm field find rewrites archaeological history in Michigan', August 23, 2021)

Thomas Talbot, a self-taught researcher, found the first Clovis spear point in 2008, in the fields of a farm in early spring. He often walks the fields at this time of year, after the fields have been plowed, searching for Native American spear points. He said there was no mistaking the point’s origin: It was made of a kind of chert preferred by Clovis in this region, and made using the same technological method so distinct to the Clovis people. The stone, called Attica chert, is found in one region in western Indiana and eastern Illinois, 120 miles away from the Belson site. “Paleolithic pieces—not quite this old, but pieces that are similar—have turned up around Michigan, but usually they are pretty scattered, like maybe someone lost it while they were hunting or walking through,” Talbot said. “So although I thought it was really cool, I thought it was a once-in-a-lifetime finding. But other pieces started turning up, and by the end of the spring, it was pretty clear that I had Clovis components at this site.” [...] In all, on his own, Talbot found about nine pieces from the Clovis era — including two pieces of the same spearpoint he found years apart. In 2019, Talbot met Henry Wright, U-M anthropologist and archaeologist, to show him the collection. Wright confirmed Talbot’s suspicions. The following summer, in 2020, U-M researchers led by Nash began the dig at Talbot’s site, now called the Belson Site after the family of farmers who own the land. The Belson site is about 25 meters by 15 meters, similar in size to other Paleoindian camping sites. About 1.5 meters beneath the ground’s surface, the researchers found an intact horizon indicating the campsite. They also found more tools as well as flakes of material that indicate the camp’s inhabitants were making tools on site. [...] To date, the researchers have found more than 20 tools and hundreds of pieces of manufacturing and refurbishment debris..

Posted on YouTube by University of Michigan Aug 23, 2021.

It is interesting that the Clovis material is said to be 1.5m down when the videos and photos show that its on a hilltop and therefore there'd be erosion off the site rather than onto it, and secondly they show trenches les than 50 cm deep. Could it be they are exaggerating the depth to deter trespassers?

It's difficult to know what is going on here. Mr Talbot is called "a self-taught researcher" by the University, but then he talks of showing the archaeologists his "collection". The video shows unlabelled arrowheads arranged by the 'trainspotter types' collectors use to arrange their collections. When is a researcher not a researcher in US scholarship? 

Wednesday 25 August 2021

Josh McDowell: Manuscript Hunting and Mythmaking for Jesus

I sort-of took part in a really interesting webinar today, that I only heard about at the last moment. Dr. Kipp Davis showed the results of a piece of his research that was presented in the form of a film Josh McDowell: Manuscript Hunting and Mythmaking for Jesus . Sort-of because I use one computer for most of my work that has a super-mega firewall that interferes with some webstuff, and one for purely webstuff like online meetings. The problem is that other computer is at times unstable... so when the Zoom meeting started breaking up, it was not clear whether it was my computer that was playing up, or the source signal. Apparently it was a bit of both. Fortunately, the main problems were in the bit that was a presentation of a You Tube video which was the topic of the discussion. So I watched it on You Tube and returned to the Zoom meeting to hear the erudite comments of Dr Roberta Mazza (Manchester papyrologist many times mentioned here) and Dana Ryan Lande, MF Norwegian School of Theology, Religion and Society who is a narrative theoretician. Both made excellent and thought-provoking points. As the blurb says:

Josh McDowell is one of the most recognisable Evangelical apologists of the last half-century, and he is renowned in part for his usage of ancient manuscript studies to fortify a number of his exaggerated claims about the New Testament and Christianity. McDowell is a private manuscript collector in his own right, and he involved himself in the recent controversy surrounding the popularisation of a supposedly first-century manuscript fragment of the Gospel of Mark. This film tracks McDowell’s history with ancient manuscripts parallel to the recent history of controversial biblical manuscript finds and forgeries, and deconstructs how he has manipulated this history to rewrite his own conversion narrative.
McDowell is mentioned quite a lot in this blog, though mainly around 2013, 2014- ish. He has a 15th century torah scroll reputedly from "Lots" on the Polish German border that went missing and surfaced in Israel (he says) after the War. The city is called Łódź and has today a Jewish community. I wrote some other comments about his collection too. He's one of the ones involved in the absolutely disgusting dissolution of cartonnage of uncertain provenance to provide an alibi for the appearance of certain papyri in the increasingly complicated and entangled stories involving papyri, collectors, a certain museum, and academic institutions that have been emerging in recent years.

The film is really  well done (and I think the best way to present the material gathered). Please pay attention to the music, specially written for the piece, and it's a super match. The mummy mask dissolving is discussed at the beginning. 

Posted on you tube by Kipp Davis 25th August 2018

The seminar however focussed on one aspect of McDowell's presentations and that is the story he tells of his own conversion and the way it evolved between the 1970s and the present day.   

Dr Davis tries to show how this story not only changes with time (and where its elements come from) but also the way ancient manuscripts start to get incorporated into it after a certain period, which he correlates with the beginnings of the interests in private ownership of physical fragments of the manuscripts with the Schoyen collection, Scott Carrol's dealings for Van Kampen and the Green collection - but also the announcement of "First Century Mark". He shows that the theme of manuscripts and the revelation "in the library of a small London Museum" first appear in accounts of 2018. Dr Davis explains at the end why it is important to look at these accounts and McDowell's mythologising of himself. [Mention is made of the Ewa Mroczek piece Batshit Stories: New Tales of Discovering Ancient Texts (Marginalia June 22, 2018)].

One thing that I was surprised not to see being brought up by Bible scholars about this narrative (and the session overran due to some technical problems, so I did not raise it). The specific time given Friday evening about 18:30, and then McDowell's insistent repetition each time when he retold it that he said "it is true" three times is a clear parallel to Peter's triple DENIAL of Christ and Repentance after the Crucifixion (the evening of Good Friday) which is mentioned in all four Gospels. In Luke 22:55-60, the denial is made to three people, and in McDowell's post-2018 Conversion narrative "there were only three people there" (in the library).

Several important points were made in the discussion after the film. Dr Mazza pointed out that there is a very clear anti-intellectual/ anti-elite/ anti-authority sentiment behind a lot of the collecting activity and writing of these fundamentalists. Dana Ryan Lande pointed out that the way this narrative was constructed was instrumental in establishing a picture of McDowell's authority and qualifications to make the arguments he does. This is why it is important to establish what in it it true and what is spin (which I think the film does).

A reflection I had was that in the eyes of these fundamentalist wannabe US evangelists, it was not the quality of "evidence" that the Bible story was true that matters, but the amount. Thus, as if that mattered, we have grabby collectors destroying mummy masks to get heaps and heaps of scraps of papyrus that include some that are "twenty years older" than somebody else's (but actually might be third century and not 1st century). We see the Greens buying 40 000 'biblical' artefacts in a space of four years, not half a dozen cuneiform tablets for a display but tens of thousands. It does not matter that they have no context or associations, or even findspot, there are "lots of them" as if size matters.


Times are Changing. With Antiquities it Used to be Caveat Emptor, Now Maybe it's Time for 'Caveat Vendor'

In most market countries the laws are such that sellers can sell looted stuff with impunity, and the best hopes for making them pay more attention to market hygiene is to do them for selling the fakes as genuine items, if you can prove they know they are fakes, then they can be done for fraud. In New York: 'He Sold Antiquities for Decades, Many of Them Fake, Investigators Say' New York Times 28.08.2021).
The owner of a Manhattan gallery was charged with grand larceny and other crimes by prosecutors who say he mass-produced objects that he passed off as ancient artifacts.
It's a mystery to all of us who that could be. You'll have to read the article and examine the pictures. If he goes out of business those catalogues will become real collectors' items.
Hat tip, David Knell

Tuesday 24 August 2021

'Tsunami of Afghan Antiquities' or Business as Usual?

   Louvre Abu Dhabi's   
"Bactrian princess" has
 a 2011 accession date,
 where did it come from?    

Louise Shelley*, Michael Gfoeller The Coming Tsunami of Illicit Antiquities from Afghanistan Inkstick Media August 24th, 2021

The Taliban have long thrived on illicit trade. Most known for the drug trade, they have also been long-time smugglers in antiquities, timber, and minerals. Faced with the loss of foreign aid and access to Afghan accounts overseas, they will escalate their trade in drugs and antiquities as a needed revenue source. In other words, we should expect a flood of illicit Afghan antiquities to reach diverse global markets soon. More than a decade ago, a compelling documentary named “Blood Antiques” recorded the supply chain of antiquities from Taliban-controlled territory in Afghanistan to the high-end antique stores of Brussels. Sellers at the annual Maastricht art fair displayed Gandharan sculptures newly looted from Afghanistan with the dirt still apparent in their crevices. Many moveable treasures of Afghanistan have also flowed to wealthy collectors in the Middle East and Asia, generating significant revenues for the Taliban. [...] While Afghanistan’s illegal drug trade has proven extremely profitable for the Taliban, the group will most likely turn to illicit antiquity trading. Archaeological treasures of numerous epochs can now be monetized by the Taliban who will be in desperate need of funds to keep themselves funded and their newly seized military equipment in shape as seized helicopters, planes, and Humvees need spare parts and often expensive repairs. We may see a tsunami of smuggled antiquities out of Afghanistan in the coming months and years [...] Afghanistan has one of the longest and richest histories of civilization of any country in Asia. Its heritage includes the ancient civilization of Bactria, the conquests of Alexander the Great, the Empire of Demetrius the Great, the Kushan Empire, the civilization of Gandhara, and the Greco-Bactrian kingdoms. From the perspective of Afghan and Western historians and archeologists, this rich heritage is something to be treasured and protected.
It remains to see whether this prediction will become true. In fact as many articles in the media as well as (fewer) in academic sources indicate, the looting of Afghanistan has never stopped, many local warlords also tapped into this source of revenue.

It has become almost traditional to see Gandharan art as an index fossil of "Afghan looting", but of course the core of the polity, and where most of the sculpture-producing monasteries are is the Swat valley in neighbouring Pakistan (and many of them leave the region not across the Hindu Kush, but the port of Karachi). Better to look out for Bactrian objects (not so eagerly collected though, apart from the coins). Another question is whether dealers will risk putting freshly looted Afghan material onto the market as the news unfolds and eyes are turned to the region. Unless they can make up a plausible "old collection provenance" for items, they'd do better to let the middlemen keep their stashes underground for now and "surface" the items in a decade or so when other conflicts, other regions are in the media's eye.   

*Louise Shelley works at George Mason University. She has written on Afghan antiquities smuggling in [Chapter 7 of] Dirty Entanglement: Corruption, Crime and Terrorism (Cambridge University Press, 2015) and co-edited the forthcoming (with Layla Hashemi) Antiquities Smuggling in the Real and Virtual World.

Book: "Antiquities Smuggling in the Real and Virtual World"

       Virtual intergalactic smugglers      

Antiquities Smuggling in the Real and Virtual World Edited By Layla Hashemi, Louise Shelley* forthcoming, 2022 (Routledge) 280 Pages 37 B/W Illustrations  GBP £120.00
Book Description
This book examines the illicit trade in antiquities, a trade which has increased massively following the destruction and looting of ancient Near Eastern sites in the Middle East. Focusing on the distribution networks for looted antiquities, especially the routes to the West, the book considers the dealers and facilitators who are key in getting the objects to market, explores the methods used including online marketplaces and social media sites, analyses demand and buyers, revealing that objects are often available at very affordable prices. It outlines the efforts of law enforcement agencies, including the military, and legal systems to contain the trade. Throughout the book highlights the difficulties of putting a stop to this illicit trade, particularly in a conflict region.

I think it is worth emphasising this affordability and what it means. In former decades goods reached customers through elite ('ancient art') dealers with exclusive brick-and-mortar 'galleries' who set the price at what they wanted. Some dinosaur survivals of this market affecting to be populated by erudite connoisseurs still exist. A lot of the sales today have more the form of peer-to-peer sales. This means however that the custom is in much more direct connection with the looters and the middlemen that deal directly with them. And they know it.  For a book whose title suggests a broader scope, the contents are a bit of a mishmash

Table of Contents
Part I: Setting the Context
Introduction Louise Shelley and Layla Hashemi
1. The Looting and Trafficking of Syrian Antiquities Since 2011 Neil Brodie
2. Hobby Lobby, the Museum of the Bible, and the Law: A Case Study of the Looting of Archaeological Artifacts from Iraq Patty Gerstenblith
3. The Hearing Hand: Scribes and Seal Cutters in the Ancient Near East Ira Spar and Antonietta Catanzariti

Part II: The Illicit Antiquities Trade 
4. Antiquities Trafficking from Syria along the Northern Route Mahmut Cengiz
5. The Value of Financial Investigations in the Battle Against Artifact Smuggling Michael Loughnane
6. Working a Case on Looted and Smuggled Ancient Coins as an Expert Witness Nathan Elkins

Part III: Antiquities Trade in the Cyberworld
7. Plenitudinous: An Analysis of Ancient Coin Sales on eBay Ute Wartenberg and Barbora Dmitričenko
8. Investigating the Online Trade of Illicit Antiquities Abi Waddell and Layla Hashemi
I am left wondering whether this "virtual world" is a different one from the real world antiquities market. A large part of the latter functions precisely because it is facilitated by online connections. It seems a bit 1990-ish treating "the cyberworld" (part three) as a separate phenomenon. Its also a shame that none of the papers addresses the trade in pre-Columbian artefacts out of Mesoamerica and South America both with the US as well as the rest of the world to offset the apparent focus here on the Middle East and coins.   

The names of the editors and authors are a bit of a giveaway as to what this is. Layla Hashemi is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Terrorism, Transnational Crime, and Corruption Center (TraCCC) at George Mason University, Washington, DC, Louise Shelley is the Hirst Chair, Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government and Director of the TraCCC at George Mason University, Washington, DC. 

All of the book's authors took part in the TraCCC's US State Department funded project 'Countering Looting of Antiquities from Syria and Iraq' (CLASI), that aimed "to present an overview of what is currently known about the illegal trade in Syrian and Iraqi antiquities and the trade’s links to terrorist financing"  (see their Jan 2019 report here; see my comments on this project here). It's ironic that this book comes out in the aftermath of  last week's US abandonment of Afghanistan as a further stage in the development of US thinking on the so-called "War on Terror", of which the creation of the project behind this book was also a stage.

Let's see what the authors come up with, though the price is a bit offputting for me. 

Nigeria, U.S. to Sign Agreement On Cultural Property Trafficking

The Nigerian Government and the United States of America have agreed to sign a bilateral agreement stopping illicit trafficking in cultural property and artefacts. The Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed disclosed this in Washington DC after a closed door meeting with the U.S. Acting Assistant Secretary of State on Education and Culture, Mr Mathew Lussenhop.The agreement will be signed in Nigeria soon and will expand cooperation between the two countries in the area of cultural property. 

Specifically, the minister said the agreement would prevent stolen artefacts in Nigeria from getting into the U.S. [...] He said the agreement included capacity building for Nigerians and the country was the second in Africa to enter into it with the U.S. after Mali. [...] "The agreement is to prevent artefacts and cultural property that people want to illicitly ship to the U.S.

The question remains why the US feels it needs to have an actual agreement with the brown-skinned folk to stop their collectors and dealers nicking their stuff.  

Monday 23 August 2021

"Operation Fantail", What Took you so Long? Charges in Durham Ceolwulf II Coins Case


   Pillagers in tha villages... 
I first discussed the news here a l-o-o-o-n-g while ago ('UK Knowledge Thieves Lose their Coin Haul', PACHI Thursday, 30 May 2019), the case seemed to be getting nowhere: '"Operation Fantail" and The Eye/Leominster HoardFriday, 4 October 2020; then due to lack of information some confusion and doubts: 'Friday Retrospect: Durham Area Coelwulf Hoard, One Hoard, Two Hoards, Three?', PACHI Friday, 17 April 2020; 'And Maybe they'll Manage to Finish Operation Fantail in 2021?', PACHI Sunday, 3 January 2021;  'Friday Retrospect: Two Years to Prosecute a Case? What Went Wrong?', PACHI Friday, 2 April 2021). Three years it's taken them:

Two men charged after coins from Viking hoard recovered
Durham Constabulary, Thursday 19 August 2021
Two men have been charged after coins from an important Viking hoard were recovered during a police investigation.
Durham Constabulary officers seized a large number of coins and a silver ingot, which have an estimated value of nearly £1 million from properties in County Durham and Lancashire in 2019. It [sic] comes from a Viking hoard and is believed to be of major historical significance.
A 44-year-old man, of Bishop Auckland, and a 73-year-old man, from Loveclough, Lancashire, have both been charged with conspiracy to convert criminal property and possession of criminal property between September 2018 and May 2019.
The 73-year-old man has also been charged with a second count of possession of criminal property. [...] The two men are on unconditional bail and will appear at Newton Aycliffe Magistrates’ Court on Tuesday, September 7.
Apparently "the haul" contains coins of Alfred the Great of Wessex and his less well-known contemporary Ceolwulf II of Mercia (like thWatlington Hoard and the Leominster Hoard). 

The men are named by the BBC. On the 'Searcher' Facebook page, it is being alleged that these men were not the finders of the material, but it is being alleged that they were involved in the dispersal of the missing objects from the Leominster hoard. It is being claimed that these men are not metal detectorists at all, but one of the named men is known as the finderr, and reporter of a 15th century pilgrim badge at Overton, Yorkshire in 2011. 

No Such thing as a "Trivial" Hole in the Archaeological Record

 Hmmm. There are some that would disagree:

The only people who think any meaningful business in non-trivial genuine antiquities is currently conducted on eBay are provenance researchers. I've never come across a dealer or collector who believes this.

Except the dealers that do sell items on ebay, or have until the recent changes. Sands of Time, Edgar Owen or example, Zurquieh, Timeline Auctions (in the past) and all those "professional numismatists" - the ones not on the Coin Forgery Discussion Group's blacklist. The very fact that the latter exists indicates there are collectors that believe there are genuine artefacts to be bought there. 

Friday 20 August 2021

Harwich Museum Opens

            Copyright © 2021 Harwich Museum Ltd        

The Grand Opening of Harwich Museum Ltd (Anglia House, Main Road, Harwich), took place on Saturday 21st August 2021, at 12 noon, by TV presenter Tim Wonnacott. It's just 250 metres from my birthplace and 40 metres from my Mum's. The video shows huddles of irresponsible people none of whom is wearing masks (giving a hint why UK Covid infection figures are today 32000 compared with Poland's current 200 a day).

The Museum's curator is David Whittle of the Harwich Society  (Assistant Curator Steve Delves also of the local historical society), coin expert Chris Wren is the Museum librarian, and Jennifer Monks is Office Manager. The Museum's trustees (and at the same time company directors) are: David Whittle, Steve Delves, Jennifer Monks, Chris Wren, Aaron Hammond, Brett Hammond. “The town museum is well placed to explain the Harwich story and display town heritage assets to future generations" says the blurb by the Harwich Society, who were the group that had gathered some of the artefacts being displayed. According to its annual repots, at least some of the funding for this museum was put up by a well-known local  antiquities trader. 

Wednesday 18 August 2021

Representing the Antiquities Trade, Washington Style


Peter Tompa spouting the same old stuff:

Peter Tompa's warped thought-processes obviously see the aim of "archaeologists" to be the persecution of dealers and collectors. He suggests that under the Taliban, archaeologists will enter into a PAS-style "partnership" with the Taliban - who will then as a result institute in Afghanistan a ban on antiquities sales and brutal punishments for looting. Somehow this will give jobs to archaeologists. I wonder if they teach logic in US lawyer schools, and how well Mr Tompa did in that subject. 

Tuesday 17 August 2021

Notes on the "Florent Dalcq Collection"


I really was not going to do any more on this black marble bust of Alexander the Great at the centre of a rich-guy legal battle... but then this post came up showing the dealer's catalogue from what seems to be the sale of this object.  To be honest,  though I like the stone, I was appalled by that head. Other commentators seem to be sure it is fake, I cant make my mind up what I think on that count, but I don't like it. The hair is very crude (and looks awfully greasy - a "Brylcreem Alexander"), the eyes are badly done and crooked, the lips pathetic. More to the point why is this "Alexander"? Compared to other representations all based on the same pattern, the face is the wrong shape, the nose too narrow at the bridge, the mouth is unlike any other... and that hair. Real or fake, I just don't see why it is him. But that's not what caught my eye.

For me, the most important information in any description of an antiquity is of course the collection history. How do we know it is a licit artefact that a responsible collector can buy with a clean conscience? This is by far not the only antiquity on the market at the moment where that information is missing. The catalogue screenshot tells us merely that, according to what the dealer wants us to know, the object "surfaces" (ahem) already in the "Florent Dalcq (1878-1950) Collection, Belgium, acquired in Brussels in the 1930s, with the assistance of the architect Baron Victor Horta" (a bit of serious name-dropping there - I wonder how that was documented). The capital 'C' of 'Collection' is in the original.  Victor Horta (1861 - 1947) [Baron after 1932] is a very well-known architect and designer working in both Art Nouveau and Art Deco style. We will come back to the collector. The latter died, we are told by the seller in 1950, and the object passed "then by descent" when it found its way into another collection: "ex-Dr. L. Collection, Switzerland, since 1950"'. What intrigued me was that "by descent" bit... the guy died and "Dr L." obtained it from his estate, no? What is the significance of "by descent"? So, when in 1950 did the collector die? Mr Google was asked.

Mr Google knows quite a lot about the "Florent Dalcq Collection" and also a "Florent Dalcq de Gilles Collection". Also another Florent Dalcq with different dates - in fact not living very long. There is also an Eugène Florent Dalcq (1886-1955), is that the same guy?  Among the objects from this collection are a lot of shabtis, one now in the Emory Museum has as its collection history: "Thence by descent to Andre Lagneau, Neuchatel, Switzerland. There is also one from Bonhams with the same. Also a LiveAuctioneers one sold on behalf of Artemis gallery. An Arte Primitivo (Howard S. Rose) item's collection history tells us that Florent Dalcq was Andre Lagneau's grandfather. So this would presumably be the Aboutaams' "Dr L" - so why can some dealers give the actual name, others hide it? What is gained by that? 

Although an initial Google search shows the Dalcq collection as dominated by Egyptian items bought in Cairo in 1923, it was rather more eclectic and contained other items. It might be worth looking into it in more detail, what did this private collection made between 1920s and 1950s look like? 

Here is information on André Lagneau, and an object bought from his collection by Phoenix Ancient Art. There are more objects known to Mr Google

ICOM Red List on Afghanistan

 The rapidity of the takeover by Taliban forces in Afghanistan just a few days ago initially took many of us by surprise. The Taliban, who had held power in most of the country for just five years (from 1996 to 2001 ) as the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan, were driven out of most regions two decades ago by the US-led "Operation Enduring Freedom" of Oct/Dec 2001. This had established the regime that has just fallen (15th August 2021). Mindful of what happened to monuments and artefacts under the Taliban in their previous period of power two decades ago, the International Council of Museums (ICOM) has issued a statement informing of "the very real possibility of facing looters" and bringing to attention the ICOM Red List on Afghan Antiquities at Risk of illicit traffic  and the artefacts it describes. Let's hope there are not too many collectors out there downloading it to act as a shopping list. 

Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record: From Helsinki to Rome


Following on from his really thought-provoking paper on Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record in the Balkans, Dr Sam Hardy has produced another piece that fills in the transnational picture (Hardy, S A. 2021: “Organised crime in trafficking of cultural goods in Turkey and interconnections between antiquities trafficking and narcotics trafficking, arms trafficking and political violence”. In Traviglia, A, Milano, L, Tonghini, C and Giovanelli, R (Eds.). Stolen heritage: Multidisciplinary perspectives on illicit trafficking of cultural heritage in the EU and the MENA region, 115-155. Venice: Edizioni Ca’ Foscari. [pdf])


Whether it is because their existence is doubted, because their reality is known or because the evidence is piecemeal, poly-trafficking of cultural goods with other illicit commodities, the involvement of criminal organisations in the illicit trafficking of cultural goods and the involvement of violent political organisations in the illicit trafficking of cultural goods have typically been neglected. By focusing on Turkey, this study seeks to understand how organised cultural property crime has functioned, persisted and expanded to supply markets such as Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States as well; how criminal organisations have been connected with other criminal activity and political violence in Turkey, Cyprus and Syria; and how their connections may reach as far afield as Mexico.

Using open-source research to trace names, connections and activities, it explores organised criminals with political protection; an antiquities mafia that is rooted in Turkey; an antiquities gang that is rooted in Cyprus; a gang in and around the state in Turkey; and connections between organised crime in Mexico, criminally-financed political violence in Turkey and criminally-financed political violence in Syria. Thereby, it demonstrates the existence and functioning of transnational organised cultural property crime that spans West Asia, Europe and North America; it outlines a system of trafficking of narcotics with antiquities from Turkey and money-laundering of drug profits with cultural assets in the United Kingdom; and it documents a relationship between organised crime and state activity that taints markets, undermines the rule of law and endangers societies.

We all remember how a paper of his was of such interest that as many as six European archaeologists banded together in March 2018 to discuss it (I use the term loosely). Since then, the six seem to have passed on and considered the continuation of the lines of thought in Sam's work were no longer worth commenting on. And that is a shame, as they profess to be all for a transnational approach to the issues surrounding Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record, and yet after their initial efforts (and Thomas and Pitblado's rather off-the-mark Antiquity reprimand of us all), they've all gone heads-down over their own national metal detecting communities. Perhaps this is an admission that, after all that bluster and condescension, the issues raised by what some of the rest of us are doing require a rather more different response than the one they encourage in their "networking". 


Kids Go A-Looting North of the Border With Hello Halo TV

Hello Halo TV is a Glasgow-based independent television production company that claims to "make fresh, ambitious popular factual series and formats for UK and international broadcasters", here are some examples. They also produce "original and standout children’s content for both British and International Broadcasters and in all genres [...] Our aim is to create innovative child led content that engages and inspires our young audience". Inspires them to do what

From the clips, what it seems is what it takes is to be diminutive, sweet, with a lisp and an endurance for being talked down to. British archaeology has been doing its usual sterling work communicating archaeological values and the importance of the preservation of the historical record from looting for "cool things to find".

This time, though, the TV company is outside the area covered by the Pretty Antiquities Scheme. North of the border the Treasure Unit does not even pretend to be archaeological outreach to the public I think. So who is? Neither does the Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales apply north of the border. There is still no Scottish equivalent. 

I think we can all think of ways to make kids' TV about the historical environment that does not involve trashing it. Just off the top of my head: like looking at centuries-old hedged field boundaries (species count, and discussing them as a habitat, link in the field with old maps), lynchets, ridge and furrow landscapes, old fishpond earthworks, old trackways (Roman road following), spotting building materials in old walls (Roman tile, slag, reused architectural fragments), standing in a field of cropmarks and then flying a drone over them and trying to relate what's on the ground where they are standing with the pattern it shows. Do the same with an old abandoned garden with geometric planning. I know of an 18th century estate map done in watercolours where you can still stand under many of the trees shown in watercolour as an aerial view and find the foundations of the stable block in a clump of tall nettles ("growing there because of the poo"). There are a hundred and one non-destructive things that with a bit of imagination you could do to make kids watching the programme aware, give them a new perspective (ahem, PAS, "engage with archaeology"), give them an insight into the time-depth of the landscape around them, provoke curiosity. None of them particularly expensive and all with  the same focus on landscape as in teh "Detectorists" comedy series. Yet, all the time, out come the metal detectors. Because it's easier and needs no creativity to execute. Easy money.   

Hat tip: Alan Simkins (HA)

Monday 16 August 2021

Frustrating Doing Antiquities Deals


Paul Peachey, 'Qatari sheikh loses battle over $5.2m ‘fake’ ancient artefacts' The National Aug 10, 2021
A member of Qatar's ruling family has lost a legal claim against a fine arts company after paying $5.2 million for two ancient statues that he later claimed to be worthless modern fakes. A company run by Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, a cousin of the emir and a well-known international collector, bought a marble bust for $3m from a Swiss dealer. The bust was said to be Alexander the Great portrayed as Heracles, the son of Zeus, king of the Greek gods. The 30 centimetre-high bust was described as being more than 2,000 years old. But four years after buying the statue, the Qataris concluded that it was a modern piece and "more or less worthless", according to London’s High Court. The Doha-based Qatar Investment and Projects Holding Company (Qipco) also said that another reputed 1,600-year-old piece bought a year earlier from the same company for $2.2m – a statuette of the Greek goddess of victory, Nike – was also a modern remake and worth a tiny fraction of the price paid. The sellers, Geneva-based Phoenix Ancient Arts, maintained that the two pieces were genuine but negotiated a deal to ensure the future goodwill of Qipco and its chief executive, Sheikh Hamad, in the exclusive market for high-value antiquities. They agreed to exchange the two pieces for six other items amounting to a similar value. But the deal was never concluded after five of the replacements that were to be shipped from the US were held there by customs officers because of an undisclosed breach of export rules.
Awkward. That having failed, negotiations between the two parties continued, but when no agreement was reached, Qipco launched legal action in London's High Court. The case seems to have been thrown out because Qipco and Sheikh Hamad had "failed to grasp the nettle of what had to be done in the time permitted". An appeal was rejected. It seems time is of the essence, as is reported here, it seems that the buyers took four years to think over the purchase and decided that the bust and statuette weren't quite what they were looking for and try to get their money back. When they did they reportedly could not put the court case together in time. How do you "prove" something's a fake? If there is no material evidence (and no paperwork0, the style is "wrong"? Who is to say?

Sheikh Al Thani has had this problem before, he was so sure of what he was buying from Ariadne Galleries in December 2013 and July 2014 when he bought two ancient mosaics worth almost £300,000 which he later claimed were fakes (Tristan Kirk, Sheikh who entertained Queen sues gallery over ‘forged’ mosaics' News of teh World 3rd September 2020):

Legal papers lodged reveal the art firm — which has galleries in Mayfair and New York — is being sued for alleged breach of contract and misrepresentation over the sales. The claim concerns the sale of mosaics named Cupids At The Grape Harvest and Eros Hunting With A Stag. The writ states: “Both mosaics are inauthentic and/or forgeries. They were purchased for $200,000 and $150,000 respectively, equating to a total purchase price of $350,000.”
The sheikh, a cousin of the Emir of Qatar, is a prodigious art collector and chief executive of the Qatar Investment and Projects Development Holding Company (Qipco). His family’s base in London is Dudley House in Park Lane, where they have played host to the Queen and Prince Charles. READ MORE

Sunday 15 August 2021

Taliban Take Control

As Kabul passes into the control of the Taliban, the National Museum of Afghanistan in Kabul puts out an urgent warning appealing to all parties—including the Taliban—to ensure looters and smugglers do not target the institution's collection.

As major Afghan cities have passed into their control, the insurgents now oversee tens of thousands of artefacts and ancient sites. Andrew Lawler asks 'The Taliban destroyed Afghanistan's ancient treasures. Will history repeat itself?' (National Geographic, August 15th 2021).

Meanwhile, Donna Yates has an important reminder that I wholeheartedly endorse:
"I will inevitably be retweeting soon-to-be articles about threats to Afghanistan's cultural heritage. Don't interpret any of those retweets as me implying things are more important than people. They aren't. I urge folks writing those articles to remember that".

Saturday 14 August 2021

Afghanistan: Three more major cities are under Taliban control, as the government’s forces near collapse.


        Map of Afghanistan: Taliban-controlled areas  
 in orange
, Kabul in enclave on the east

In Afghanistan, three more major cities are under Taliban control, as the government’s forces near collapse. The Taliban now control large parts of the north, south and west of the country. Afghanistan's Western-backed government is now confined to the centre and east as well as the capital, Kabul, and as the Taliban start closing in on these cities, Western countries scrambled to evacuate their citizens from the capital.  Kabul and Jalalabad, in eastern Afghanistan, are now the only big cities not in Taliban hands  ( U.S. sending more troops to evacuate Kabul of personnel as Taliban sweep through Afghanistan CBC 14th August 2021).

As night fell in Kabul on Saturday, hundreds of people were huddled in tents or in the open in the city, by roadsides or in car parks, a resident said. "You can see the fear in their faces," he said. Many Afghans have fled the provinces for the capital, driven out by fighting and fearful of a return to hardline Islamist rule as resistance from Afghan government forces crumbles. [...] An Afghan government official confirmed on Friday that Kandahar, the biggest city in the south and the heartland of the Taliban, was under the militants' control, as U.S.-led forces complete their withdrawal after 20 years of war launched after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States in 2001. [...] Visa applications at embassies were running in the tens of thousands, officials said, and Washington was asking countries to temporarily house Afghans who worked for the U.S. government.
[...] Hospitals are struggling to cope with the numbers of people wounded in the fighting, with 17,000 treated in July and the first week of August in facilities supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross, the aid agency said. The explosion in fighting has raised fears of a refugee crisis and a rollback of gains in human rights, especially for women. Canada said it would resettle more than 20,000 vulnerable Afghans — including women leaders, human rights workers and reporters — to protect them from Taliban reprisals


In a statement late on Saturday, the Taliban said their gains showed they were popularly accepted by the Afghan people, and they sought to reassure both Afghans and foreigners that they would be safe. The Islamic Emirate (Taliban) "once again assures all its citizens that it will, as always, protect their life, property and honour and create a peaceful and secure environment for its beloved nation. No one should worry about their life," the militant group said, adding that diplomats and aid workers would also face no problems.
Though it is by no means the most important problem now, it is unclear what is happening in the Kabul Museum. Equally unclear is the fate of the site at Mes Aynak in a desert region 25 kilometres southeast of Kabul, where a projected copper mine is threatening a complex of Buddhist monasteries. Bamyan province, in which the site of the Bamiyan Buddhas lies, is still in government hands, but seems likely to pass under Taliban control soon, halting any work being done on teh site of the destruction carried out there on the 6th and 7th century complex of monuments there in March 2001. At the moment there are 1,688 results for "Bactrian" antiquities on eBay.com, many of them (122) coins and fake ancient coins. Let's see what that looks like in a couple of weeks.
Meanwhile the UK callously abandons many of the people that worked to support their presence in the country: Emma Graham-Harrison, ' Afghans linked to British beg: Please help save our lives from Taliban' Guardian. Sun 15 Aug 2021.

Metal Detecting: Laundering by Findspot Misreporting


Heritage Action: 'Metal detecting: laundering by find spot falsification? How come you haven’t heard about that?', 14/08/2021

Detectorists reckon the authorities know if reported find spots are false: “If reported and not found legally then they’d find out pretty fast as they require landowner details and a grid reference of the findspot…” It’s not true. PAS’s database is wide open to falsification and laundering by findspot description and the incentives to do it are massive. If the item has been nighthawked or if there’s less obligation to share with Farmer B than Farmer A you just change a letter or two. Thus a find from Jarrow is suddenly found at Harrow. Job done. A farmer in Jarrow has been stolen from and the PAS database has been falsified.
And, how come that the public, who fund the PAS, and the farmers that could be being ripped off because of it, haven’t heard about this problem? Does not thee PAS have an obligation to tell the British public what is happening to the portable heritage? It would seem that such considerations are far from their priorities today.

Friday 13 August 2021

Online Resources Fuel the Illegal Antiquities Trade in the Balkans

   Balkans means different things to different people

 While the Helsinki Gang up their ivory towers continue to use up grant money and public funds to promote their wishy-washy wouldn't-it-be-nice-ism postulating collaboration with artefact hunters, others are looking at the real effects of the phenomenon. A few years ago six Helsiniki-connected folk attacked a piece of work produced by Sam Hardy, but Hardy has continued to produce high quality research while the former just make lists and dot distribution maps of loose artefacts and bleat about how (allegedly), artefact hunters are misunderstood.

The Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) has a nice piece (David Klein, 'In the Balkans, Online Resources Fuel the Illegal Antiquities Trade', OCCRP.org 12 August 2021 ) on a piece of work Sam Hardy has just diligently completed, about the Balkans. This is an area of Europe neglected by the so-called "European" Public Finds Recording Network, even when metal detectorists in the region decide to set up a recording scheme.
The position of the Balkan states between Middle East conflict zones and Western Europe makes it a natural transit route for traffickers, however, the illegal artifacts that pass through former Yugoslavia don’t just come from outside. There’s no shortage of looting of local sites as well. “It's one of those places where there are archaeological remains from a lot of societies that are interesting to powerful collectors in more powerful countries,” Hardy told the OCCRP. “It’s clear that lots of stuff is coming out of the ground as well as the material which is being funneled through the country.” Archaeologists in the region know that fact well, as they’ve come into conflict with the traffickers in the course of their work. “As elsewhere in the Balkan-Eastern Mediterranean region(s), so in former Yugoslavia, archaeologists are threatened by looters and there have been ‘physical clashes’ between looters and archaeologists,” the study said. “Organised crime groups who also handle drugs and arms, have been involved in cultural property crime in former Yugoslavia for decades.”
Archaeologists around the North Sea busy "collaborating" with the Collectio-Driven Exploitation of the archaeological record may avoid such friction, but at what cost to the archaeological record? Just as the ivory of their towers comes from the depletion of a threatened resource, so do the dots on their distribution maps. The OCCRP article points out that the illegal antiquities trade is a very lubcrative business and also due to the business connections of some believed to be involved, cannot be looked at separately from combating trafficking in drugs and weapons. In the Balkans:
The decade of war which tore the region apart in the 1990s, also gave a boost to the trade. “There is evidence of participation of members or former members of armed forces and paramilitary organisations in theft and looting and members or former members of security agencies and political parties in trafficking of cultural goods during and after the wars in former Yugoslavia,” according to the report. The looting of cultural property from active war zones is considered a war crime under the 1954 Hague Convention. However in comparison to other types of trafficking often performed by the very same groups, law enforcement has been notably lax. “Police officers are notorious as collectors of antiquities and protectors of ‘untouchable’ dealers and looters,” Hardy’s study said. “Meanwhile, politicians, politically-exposed persons and other members of the political/business elite are notorious for assembling private collections of looted antiquities, to launder dirty assets and to accumulate social capital.” While police turn a blind eye, looters and traffickers often hawk their illicit goods almost out in the open on public sites like Facebook, Ebay and Instagram as well as local sites. It’s not unique to the Balkans, but online forums have allowed local criminals to learn from counterparts around the world. “Online communities offer encyclopaedic knowledge, peer-to-peer learning/training, partnerships, supply chains,” Hardy said. “They can constitute real networks/groups and real source-to-market supply chains.”
Hardy makes the point that real solutions require changes in law enforcement not just in source countries but also in the wealthy market countries of western Europe and the US otherwise the "socio-economic harm that is done to source countries by market countries will continue – and will continue to be accompanied by socio-political harm”. Artefact collecting in fact is a form of cultural colonialism, some countries are being stripped of cultural assets in order to satisfy the whims of an affluent exploitative class of people intent on grabbing for their own use these desired objects and trophies, signifiers of their own economic status and power.

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.