Thursday 30 September 2021

Mexican special crime unit to hunt down illegally trafficked artworks

Mexican president Andres Manuel López Obrador has announced that since so few foreign nations are honouring the UNESCO 1970 Convention and finding and repatriating looted artworks and antiquities, the country will form a special crime unit within the Guardia Nacional dedicated to the task (Elizabeth Mistry, 'Mexican special crime unit to hunt down illegally trafficked artworks Police unit dedicated to repatriation of looted art and antiquities to be founded, Mexico president says' Art Newspaper 1 October 2021).

The announcement was made during the opening of the exhibition La Grandeza de México at the Museo Nacional de Antropología this week following the successful recovery of various archeological pieces due to be sold in Italy. López Obrador said he was inspired by the work of the Italian Tutela Patrimonio Culturale, the unit attached to the Italian police that specialises in recovering stolen art. He also praised the Italian gendarmerie, called the Arma dei Carabinieri, for supporting Mexico in recovering looted pre-Hispanic pieces. “We are already going to follow the Italian example,” he said. “I have already instructed a special team be set up to achieve this purpose.” “Imagine if every country had such a unit and worked together to repatriate works that had been looted or trafficked from their countries of origin,” said the president. Details about the new art crime unit are yet to be released.

Changes at the Top of the NCMD


In the UK, there seems to have been a shakeup in the organization of the moribund National Council for Metal Detecting. The Communications officer, membership secretary and General Secretary have all left, and new appointments have been made within days of each other.   This follows on from the recent appointment of the outgoing membership secretary and Gensec in July this year, and creates a picture of ferment and disorganisation in the ranks of this group following the accusations that were made a few weeks ago that seem not to have been resolved yet. 

Sunday 26 September 2021

Yandex Revelations (Careless Dealers Watch Out)

In a previous post I reported on the disturbing results of some work done by Ancient.Artifacts forum member 'Lodewijk' that revealed the untold part of the collection histories offered by a London dealer. It seems that we have here another case on the antiquities market of artefacts that are claimed to simultaneously be in two places at once, where a dealer says it was, and where documentation says it was. Lodewijk describes its use in the case of other dealers and shows how every collector can do the same. Incidentally, he forgets to mention that every dealer can too. Here's the method described in one of his posts (punctuation edited):

It's even easier than I thought. No need for extensions etc. Let's go "image hunting". And I'm pretty sure some sellers are going to get nervous now. You have Google image search etc. Forget about that one. Best one turns out to be Yandex image search, Russian based. Turns out I overlooked something. Sometimes you get too many results and it would take too long to go through. Hence the extensions I used. I overlooked the option in Yandex that in the top left corner you can adjust the part of the image that Yandex looks for, its a sliding box.

Here is Yandex image search:
All you do is drag the image from the site to the image search field in Yandex (open a second tab) and it searches it Try yourself:
in the bottom right click on the results box so you get to see all results, and and already on the fifth line you already see this one imageview          
Turns out it was on a Russian auction site [sic, it is in fact Ukrainian: PMB], I can't say if the same seller first tried selling it there, or another seller did, or that it was bought there but it's just very awkward.

it's already in the first row of results rpt image view

Take a good look at the search results.....You just uncovered 3 Catawiki artefacts with highly questionable provenance since they show up on Russian sites.

Not only can you use this for trying to spot if it's Russian/Ukranian in origin, in general it will at least tell you a main direction to look for origin. If you can't make an exact match, at least you'll find a load of similar items... and trust me, the second you start looking for 'Medieval' or 'Viking', you'll end up in a  single part of this world... well in 75%..., if it's not fake...

So how good is this easy to use free online tool? It is crazy good. The one below showed up in google images when looking for gold buckles to compare [...]
Simple yandex search view, the exact same one is in the first 10 search results... it leads to a You Tube channel... And when you Google translate the comments under that image you'll see he tells he's the one who found it. And that's why it's also on V-kontakte (Russian Facebook).  Either the auction photo was posted mirrored or the V-Kontakte post.

Now what I actually hope is going to happen is that these auction houses are reading here as well and do the same I just did. Provenances are easy to fake by those who bring in the item to be auctioned and auction houses are easily duped.

Anyone anywhere in the world can do this.

OK. This is indeed the case. So, when will we see dealers asserting that they've searched for the object on the Art Loss Register and Yandex to prove that the story they were told by the person who offered it them would not collapse if it were looked into? Yandex is free. 

Yandex is a Russian multinational corporation providing a number of products and services, including search and information services, e-commerce. Based in Moscow, it was founded in 2000 and its CEO is Arkady Volozh. Obviously it is better for searching material in Russian-based internet resources than our familiar Google. Since it is Russia and Ukraine that are producing a lot of the artefacts that are (illegally) coming onto the market (including some that one may legitimately suspect have been handled by organised criminal groups), it seems especially important to be able to identify this material. 

Another list member has a useful tip for anyone wanting to duplicate this kind of provenance research (Renate, Sep 17 #95667):
Works great, much better than Google Image search indeed! Regarding translating, the most simple method is to install the Chrome browser. Chrome translates on a right mouse click, no need to install an extension. All you need to do is to choose your preferred language, see Chrome help page: Change Chrome languages and translate webpages. Every page you move from the translated one will be translated as well. This is easier than the most common way via and entering an URL there.

Collectors do their own Ancient Artefact Provenance Research

Ring, metal detector find,
 2018 (Live Auctioneers)

Over on the Ancient Artifacts discussion list, amateur collectors of portable antiquities have demonstrated that they have found a way to find out untold parts of the collecting history of the objects on sale through aggregator sites like Catawiki and LiveAuctioneers, where minimal collecting histories (and, it seems from what they found, less than perfect due diligence) are the general rule. The method is set out in a series of highly important posts (follow the links in the originals to see where they lead), starting with:  'Lodewijk', 'How to use image search for comparing artefacts - DIY research' Sep 17 2021, #95665 (the forum allows you to read posts arranged in a thread). 

The whole saga started off with some wearable ancient rings sold online by a prominent London dealer as 'Byzantine' and having some generic "in-the-collection-of-an-X[location]-Y[descriptor]-acquired-before-Z[date]"-type collection histories. Totally inadequate - country (let alone place) of origin not stated, no details of legal excavation or legal export. 

But it gets worse. While the UK seller claims that these objects long ago were out of the ground and in some kind of "old collection" in the west going back many years, in the post, as many as eleven cases are shown (with links and pictures) in which applying a certain search method (see the next post) identifies items that in fact turn up on a site called "" that I have previously discussed in a separate post here.  Many of these records can be traced back to them appearing on the Ukrainian auction site Violity (apparently by metal detectorists that had found them, sometimes the records can be linked also to Russian and Ukrainian metal detecting forums). Yet according to the UK dealer now selling them, these very same items (there is no doubt that they are the same, not just similar)  they have "verified" (really?) that each of these objects were in a private collection outside eastern Europe well before that date (an export licence would be required for these items to legally leave Russia or Ukraine). This casts doubt on the method used to verify the collection history given by the seller. 

But what the collector is primarily worried about is that the London dealer has no idea about the date of these items, as he puts it with the necessary degree of sarcasm:
"What a weird coincidence. Maybe the whole box was mislabelled  Byzantine/ Viking/ Medieval instead of 17th to 20th century? Maybe the English/ Belgian/ German/ London/ West-London collector or gentleman working in the European art market mislabelled it somewhere between 1960 and 2000 while passing it down in descent".

In a subsequent message an additional five items are added and the collector remarks:

"This becoming quiet worrying because of the scale. This is going to end up in the dozens, if not hundreds". [...] These are not rings that match in style, all these rings are the exact same rings that show up on a Russian /Ukrainian collection site way before they show up in auction [...]".
One of them was posted on a Russian metal detecting forum in 2018 with the person who probably found it asking for date and value. He was told it was worth there 2000 roubles (= c. 20-23 euros) but the estimate in the UK auction was 600-800 pounds. It seems that not all metal detectorists are in it "not for the money"... As Lodewijk (who seems to be Dutch) notes: 

So a Russian ring dating 17th-19th century, posted on 23-6-2018 at a Russian metal detecting forum shows up at [...] auction 17-5-2019 as a 1300-1500AD Silver medieval crusader ring? And with a provenance of "purchased in the European art market in the 1980's" .

The medievalist in me also is prompted to ask just what the dealer had in mind calling a ring of the 14th to 16th century "Crusader", which "Crusades" did they have in mind?   

Veteran Canadian dealer Robert Kokotailo ventures on the forum:

I see this as proof the provenances on these particular objects are simple made up out of thin air, which may have legal implications at various levels. The one that concerns me the most is for potential buyers if they have to import the objects based on false provenance declarations. It is likely the exporter would face the consequences but you never know for sure if the local authorities don't fully understand what happened, or don't care who is at fault and decide to go after the importer as he is local to them so easier to get to. Keep in mind, while those provenance can be proven false, we don't know for certain if the seller is guilty of creating false provenances, or if the objects are coming to them from consignors/ sellers who are providing those provenance. I am pretty sure if the authorities got involved and wanted to know, figuring that out would not be difficult. Eventually things catch up with people. Just ask [ ] in New York. 
It seems that the seller (and their suppliers) as well as the auction venue (so three groups of people involved in this trade) all have some important questions to answer about how they establish the veracity of the collection histories they pass on to the buyers. How reliable is this information?

Mr Kokotailo is right, the collection history is not just an optional nicety these days, it is fundamental to determining the identity of the object. This affects all collectors now, so there was some enthusiasm on the forum for the method Lodewijk had used to discover these problematic issues. So he decided to do some more
[I] just did a very basic image search through Yandex and look what pops up, and that's without trying. Thing that worries me how this is going to go with other sellers, I am going to do some try outs this weekend.
And that I'll leave to another post. This actually could be quite a game changer.

The "Rings.Guru" Database


Finger rings are a very popular collectable. There is an online database ( with pictures and brief descriptions of large numbers of finger rings that has been in the news recently and it seems worth paying it some attention as it turns out to be quite important from several angles.  

Although the text of this website can be read in a Russian or Ukrainian version, the server seems to be a Russian one. Its main focus is on finger rings in Russian and Ukrainian collections. Part of the items have been posted by the website administrator (Vladimir Belov) but registered members are invited to post their own items, including those that have been found recently by "metal detecting". In many cases the source (Источник) of the image is said to be Violity, a Ukrainian online sales venue that is infamous for the way it is used by so-called "black archaeologists" (looters with metal detectors who are illegally stripping the archaeological record for collectable and saleable items).

This database was set up quite recently. There is no 'about' page setting out its aims and principles. I suspect that this may be an offshoot of a discussion elsewhere, on a collectors' forum, or maybe Вконтакте (a Russian equivalent of Facebook) where there is a Перстень и Печать [ring and seal] group set up  by Sergey Tulupov and Vladimir Belov, together with Anatoly Bablov, Pavel Shevchenko and Boris Shirin (there are also related ring-collector clubs on Telegram and Viber). The site's News page starts with an entry on February 9th, 2020 that seems to indicate that the site was just starting up. The list is moderated, the administrators assign submitted entries to the correct section. Members have personal accounts where they can see their own rings and those that they have 'favourited'. There were promised 'instructions for entering rings on the site' and 'instruction-recommendation for photographing rings', and a section with details on how to support the project. By April 2nd 2020, there were 8000 rings on the database and (it seems) viewer figures of 25000. It was being planned to add a forum (it seems this has not been launched yet). On 5th April, they had their 100th registered member. The chief editor of the site was Vladimir Belov (while Sergey Tulupov, Boris Shirin, Pavel Shevchenko, Valery Agapov and Kirill Polevoy were expert consultants).

The database seems to have been started with material that come from the online catalogues of several official institutions. The abbreviation ГИМ means Государственный исторический музей, The State Historical Museum of Russia, just off Red Square in Moscow. Other material is accredited to a 'Федеральное государственное бюджетное учреждение культуры' [Federal State Budgetary Institution of Culture] and many of those have references to a catalogue entry under accession numbers that begin "ГМИИ КП" which seem to relate to the Pushkin Museum in Moscow [Государственный музей изобразительных искусств имени А.С. Пушкина].

Unfortunately there seems to be no easy way quickly to search the database to isolate those entered by members (eg metal detectorists) from the rest. Opening individual records takes quite a bit of time.

The material in '' is in a variety of states of preservation. Some clearly are metal detected items with soil corrosion layers (patina) still on them. Others are possible metal detected items that have been heavily cleaned (and it seems a few that have been repatinated after this). There are some that may be antiques that have never been buried, while there are also some ancient/old looking rings that may be of modern production for the collectors' market (some of which are actually labelled as such). 

This catalogue currently runs to 198 pages and contains 19764 items. The rings are arranged in groups related to date and ethnic affinities. The earliest are six Upper Palaeolithic bone rings from an official excavation, 114 that are Bronze and early Iron Ages "Ржв [ранний железный век] и Бронзовый век" (but these include for example items from ancient Egypt in Russian collections). There are 785 rings from 'antiquity' [Антика] (some from Violity of dubious authenticity, I would say - and there are some from the collections of institutions). Four rings are assigned to the Migration Period (two, I would say, very dubiously so, one from the Metropolitan Museum in New York and one from eBay).

The main body of the database consists of a series of rings that include many that seem to come mainly from private collections and result from artefact hunting. Most often there is just the bald information what it is, the proposed date, but nothing about where it was found (in many cases the provencnce is given as Violity). 

The chronological spread of these items is of interest, showing what can be found in eastern Europe and what is collected there. There are 635 assigned to "кочевников" the nomad peoples of the steppes and southern Russia (of varying date), 2714 other ones are assigned to the pre-Mongol period [домонгольского периода] that is, roughly "Kievan Rus", 3813 to the period (c 1240-1480+) of the ('Mongol') Horde [ордынского периода]. These are followed by later items, 6005 are dated to the early modern period, 15th to 17th century [раннего нового времени 15-17 век], 3794 to the 'recent' category end of 17th to 19th centuries [Перстни позднего нового времени конец 17-19 век], 774 are deemed nineteenth century, 268 are 20th and 21st century, there is an interesting group of 64 items that are labelled replicas/copies [Реплики и новоделы старинных перстней] which is an interesting, if incomplete, glance at the range of fakes circulating in the region. Another category that might interest collectors is the section showing eight Реставрация и ремонт средневековых перстней, showing repaired and rebuilt medieval rings [though I think not in all cases was the starting point of a fantasy piece actually originally a ring]. A section at the end presents 53 rings that were found in groups (including a hoard of prehistoric gold rings seen on Violity). There is a section on 379 rings "from western auctions" [Перстни с западных аукционов] but actually including twitter etc. This is not much use to us as it's just about types, rather than providing information about the auctions themselves, for example there is the Saffron Walden ring there as #16723.

There are also 372 seal matrices of several types [Печати]. 

The site has a section on the literature of rings and ring collecting (books, catalogues, scientific papers). Some can be bought, some can be downloaded. Members are encouraged to upload items for dowloading (while bearing in mind copyright issues).

This web resource has only limited possibilities for researchers, due to the lack of information that goes beyond the merely artefactual. Even the identification and dating should be treated with a pinch of scepticism. What, however, is its main interest is that it catalogues items as being recent metal detected finds or objects sold through Violity at dates that are well after those dates claimed by some dealers that these very same objects had already been in "old collections" outside Eastern Europe, showing that these collection histories were complete fictions. This database is an important resource for those doing provenance research on items on today's no-questions-asked antiquities market. Interestingly, as will be seen in another post, collectors themselves are now making use of this to pick up cases of apparent  western dealers' fictions. 

Friday 24 September 2021

A Useful Resource for Sharing with Journalists

The Global Investigative Journalism Network has produced a series of guides to help focus investigative journalism. One of the most recent is a well-written text by Donna Yates ('Investigating Antiquities Trafficking' September 20, 2021) Characterising the antiquities trade as a "Grey Market, infiltrated by organised crime", she begins:

The illicit trade in antiquities is a form of transnational crime that connects the theft at heritage sites to the elite world of the global art market, often via a web of organized crime. Because of the beauty and social significance of the remains of the ancient past, there is a strong demand for antiquities within North American, European, and Asian markets.These markets inspire the removal of cultural objects from lower income countries to former colonial powers, and the redefinition of shared heritage as a private commodity. In response, many antiquities-rich countries have criminalized the removal and marketing of antiquities so that cultural heritage can be preserved for the public good. Yet demand causes supply; high demand for newly discovered antiquities coupled with the absence of legitimate pathways for obtaining them has resulted in the development of criminal supply lines.
The final market for trafficked antiquities is open and public. Antiquities buyers are private collectors, usually high net-worth individuals of considerable social standing, or are our most respected cultural institutions and museums. Unlike consumers of, say, illicit drugs or arms, these antiquities buyers must be able to conspicuously consume their purchases without fear of legal reprisal. Antiquities are bought to be displayed. Thus the criminal networks that have developed to supply this market launder the antiquities, cleaning the taint of theft from them, obscuring evidence of crime, and allowing otherwise upstanding buyers to suspend disbelief and engage in what research has shown is a gray market, infiltrated by organized crime.
This text concentrates on the high end of the market, but of course the middle range and low ends of this same market do as much damage. But let's hope enough journalists writing about these issues take a look at this text as it challenges a number of commonly-met stereotypes. And thankfully, the word "terrorist" does not appear, nor does ISIS/ISIL. I wonder how many journalists will notice and start reflecting on why.

Thursday 23 September 2021

US Antiquities Dealers Gonna Squeal

The US Treasury Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN) today issued a notice to solicit public comment on a range of questions related to the implementation of amendments to the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) regarding the trade in antiquities in the light of new anti-money-laundering legislation. I am sure this will provoke widespread squeals of denial in at least one quarter...
The problem here is the phrasing: Section 6110 of the AML Act amended the BSA by including as a type of financial institution a person engaged in the trade of antiquities, including an advisor, consultant, or any other person who engages as a business in the solicitation or the sale of antiquities. [...] The trade in antiquities may be exploited by money launderers and terrorist financiers to evade detection by law enforcement and to launder their illicit funds through the U.S. financial system. Terrorist organizations, transnational criminal networks, and other malign actors may also seek to exploit antiquities to transfer value to acquire new sources of funds, evade detection, and launder proceeds from their illicit activities. Some terrorist groups have generated revenue from permitting or facilitating the illegal extraction or trafficking of antiquities in territories where they operate.
Until the antiquities market can clean itself up, eliminate the cowboys openly selling enormous numbers of unpapered items with minimal collection histories, then there is absolutely no denying that "may be" and protests of "well, I do not!" really have no meaning in the real-world context.

One wonders why the antiquities (sorry, the "respectable antiquities market") does not want to see their industry cleaned up as much as they would want to see other ones cleaned up too. Why do they feel they need to be an exception? 

Archaeological Sites and Objects in Afghanistan

      Mes Aynak (Wikipedia commons)         

"With the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan, the country's archaeological remains face a grim future even if the extremist Islamic group decides not to loot or intentionally destroy them" reports Owen Jarus ('The Taliban may be hunting for Afghanistan's most famous treasure', Live Science 23 Sept 2021). " So far there have been no reports of the Taliban intentionally destroying artifacts, and the Taliban leadership has issued statements saying that they will protect archaeological sites; however, whether the Taliban will actually follow through on their promises is unknown". 

"The situation for culture heritage is not OK, because right now no one is taking care of the sites and monuments," said Khair Muhammad Khairzada, an archaeologist who led excavations at Mes Aynak, a Buddhist city (on what Eurocentrists call 'the Silk Road') that flourished around 1,600 years ago where there are numerous ancient Buddhist monasteries and other ancient Buddhist artifacts.
"All archaeological sites in Afghanistan are [at] risk," said Khairzada, noting that there is "no monitoring, no treatment and no care, all departments in all province [are] closed, without money and other facilities" that are needed to "take care [of] the sites and monuments." Recently, Khairzada was forced to flee to France to escape the Taliban. Khairzada said that all the equipment that they had used for excavation and conservation at Mes Aynak is "gone." China holds mining rights in the nearby areas and even before the Taliban took over archaeologists feared that parts of the site could be destroyed if it were turned into a mine. After the Taliban took over Kabul they announced that they would seek economic support from China, but it is unclear if China intends to build a mine in the area. Julio Bendezu-Sarmiento, who was director of the French Archaeological Delegation to Afghanistan, said that he has learned that the Taliban have visited Mes Aynak but is uncertain why. "It is difficult to say what the immediate objectives of this visit are," Bendezu-Sarmiento said. There had been plans to hold an exhibition of artifacts from Mes Aynak and other Afghanistan sites in France in 2022, but the Taliban captured Kabul before artifacts could be transported.
And of course, if mining begins without the documentation being finished, and somebody involves decides to remove sculptures and place them on the market, dealers and collectors will claim they are "saving" them from destruction by providing that market. [Mr Jarus might note that Mes Ayak abnd Bamiyan are not teh same site, they are 150 km apart].

But over in America, an eye is being kept on things:
Along with his team, Gil Stein, a professor at the University of Chicago's Oriental Institute who leads the Afghan Heritage Mapping Partnership, has been using satellite imagery to map and monitor thousands of archaeological sites in Afghanistan. Stein estimates that they have mapped out the location of about 25,000 archaeological sites in Afghanistan so far. Looting is a long-running problem in Afghanistan, but Stein said that so far he has found no evidence that the Taliban have been supporting it. While the Taliban took control of Kabul and parts of northern Afghanistan recently, they have been in control of parts of southern Afghanistan for several years. Areas in the south that the Taliban have controlled for years don't have the large-scale looting that was seen in territories controlled by the Islamic State group (ISIS or ISIL) in Syria and Iraq, Stein told Live Science. "Basically, the Taliban were not sponsoring looting as a source of income the way [ISIL] was doing," Stein said. However, the team has found many cases in southern Afghanistan where agricultural fields, which often grow opium, were built over archaeological sites. The Taliban "didn't need to sponsor looting because they have been making such an enormous amount of money from the opium trade," Stein said. The northern areas of Afghanistan, which the Taliban has only recently taken over, hold far more archaeological sites than the southern areas. After examining recent satellite imagery of northern Afghanistan, Stein's team saw "battle-related damage" but not new cases of wide-scale looting.
Hmmm. Dr Stein is following along with the US mantra-for-the-masses, as Sam Hardy and others (including this blog) have shown, this simplistic model is wrong. It seems that as UK metal detectorists claiming they are "not-like-the-nighthawks" is legitimation of what they do, here "not-like-ISIL" has the same function.

Monday 20 September 2021

Auction Cancelled over Pre-Columbian Artefacts


Although last week German authorities allowed the Munich sale of pre-Columbian items including those contested by Mexico to go ahead, the Italians took more positive steps (Natalia Puertas Cavero, 'Auction of stolen Mexican patrimony canceled in Rome' Al Dia September 20, 2021) On Sept. 16, an auction was announced at the Casa Bertolami Fine Arts gallery in Rome gallery including 17 pieces belonging to Mexico's cultural heritage. After the news, Italian police (the Carabinieri Command for the Protection of the Cultural Heritage of Italy), intervened and the auction was cancelled the auction.

Among the goods are anthropomorphic figures and clay pots, whose styles and characteristics belong to different Mesoamerican cultures from different periods.
The Mexican authorities issued a statement and announced that the pieces have been submitted for examination as to their illicit provenance, and if it is confirmed, the objects concerned will be returned to Mexico.

Sunday 19 September 2021

More on the "Atlantis" Pseudoarchaeology Debate [Long Read]

I think the current scrap that is still continuing on social media between a Discovery Channel "archaeology" programme producer and the actual academic community in response to a series that has been produced about (ahem) "Hunting Atlantis" is pretty symptomatic of a whole number of issues that we are not facing about the public reception of our work and communicating archaeological values to the wider audience. It also reiterates some of the things that characterise pseudoarchaeology, particularly in its US incarnation.

I find this morning that said producer has now blocked me from viewing his tweets... which is another link between pseudoarchaeology and metal detecting, so on that slender basis I think worth giving it another post, this time as an archaeologist based in central Europe that also has a lot of dealings with Egyptology.

The whole "Hunting Atlantis" thing should be a programme about philology and textual criticism, because the subject is a passage in a text. Stel Pavlou has no training that I can find out about in Classical philology or Classics at all. Neither does he have any that I can determine in archaeology, or Egyptology. Which normally would be considered rather a hindrance in this endeavour. But it seems today archaeology is seen as something where everybody can 'have a go', metal detectors are all you need for the British press (and the British Museum's press office) to consider you an amateur archaeologist. 

Of course, if one was trying to actually produce knowledge, one could certainly get people who have got archaeological and philiological/textual analysis qualifications and the necessary knowledge of the methodological issues and previous literature involved in and reviewing the development and testing of the "hypothesis" before the "edutainment programme" is even conceived. Mr Pavlou seems not to have done that in any concerted way, merely going through the motions of involving a few archaeologists in the display of his ideas - but apparently not having much of a voice in its assessment on-screen or off. 

So, if the snippets I've seen are anything to go by, what the TV company and the viewers get is a bit of an excited site-visiting jaunt across parts of the ancient world in the middle of a global pandemic (mostly to warm sunny bits of Europe and Turkey it seems) exclaiming "wow" every so often.

The core idea of "Hunting Atlantis" is the "hypothesis" that all the scholars that have applied their minds to the issue of the chronology of ancient Egypt have got it all wrong, and the canny layman Stev Pavlou is better than all of them and proposes an idea that nobody else (we are asked to believe) has thought of that "solves the problem".

The "Problem"
Now the fact is, the "problem" is for all those ("what if?) alternative history diehards (Ignatius Donnelly and Edgar Cayce followers across the Atlantic many of them), is that Plato says the Atlantis that he is writing about created an empire that opposed the city state of Athens at a time that works out at something like over 11300 years BP. 

The problem with that sort of antiquity is that this date is just after the beginning of the Holocene (c. 11,650 cal years before present) where there is no evidence for any of the material culture or social organization supposedly associated with this naval power. Of course devotees try to explain this away (including as some form of "conspiracy" by scholars to "hide the truth" - or involving their lacking in the ability to discern it).

The alternative: that the Atlantis story is not true because there is no unequivocal evidence to uphold it, is rejected by the devotees out of hand. 
Pavlou's Solution
Pavlou gets out of this problem by proposing saying that "Plato's informants" were stupid, uneducated and got it wrong (note the pattern coming out here? EVERYBODY involved in this issue throughout the centuries has to be considered more stupid and less informed that the amateur and his bright ideas, in this case Stev Pavlou. Hmm.). His "hypothesis" runs as follows: 
1) When an Egyptian priest reportedly (in the story) "told Solon" who then passed it on to somebody who "told Criteas" he said that the war between Atlantis and the state of Athens took place about "9000 years" before Criteas's lifetime.

2). But - according to Pavlou - the priest "must have" got it wrong. Pavlou corrects the dead priest of the text. [it is not explained why the priest must have read the records wrong, we are asked to assume he or the authors of those records, or both, were just stupid]
3). The priest of the text "must have" used some kinds of records, and they "must have been" based on the principle of "King Lists", because (Pavlou asserts) that was the "only way Egyptians" measured time. So the "9000 years" "must have been" based on a king list.

4). In the video mentioned below, Pavlou says (here) that Plato asserts that "Solon" sat down with an Egyptian priest and together they allegedly used a king list to date the war with Atlantis.

5). Pavlou's problem is that the contemporary king lists are a bit scant on the ground and demonstrably are incomplete. But there is one surviving document, written down in Hellenistic times by a bloke called Manetho that purports to be a continuous record going back to the beginnings of Egypt and the earliest semi-divine pharaohs and it is based on documents that we do not have available (let's leave aside here for the sake of the argument the issues of that text, its purpose and also fragmentary transmission).

6). Pavlou has written a 65-page paper, currently unpublished, which shows that existing interpretations of Manetho's king list by scholars "are all wrong" and that he with the canny layman's common sense and unencumbered with academic prejudice and groupthink can see what nobody else has seen!

7) Pavlou says that Manetho's kinglist is accurate, but "nobody else" has noticed that it can be shortened because (he says) not all the kings it mentions ruled consecutively, and the timespans for some overlap.

8) By this means he shortens the 9000 year chronology as reported to Criteas "via Solon" to some 4500 years. Somehow. That will be explained in the "paper". Pavlou dates "Atlantis" to 4900 BCE +/- 250.

OK. Ad 3: We actually know that the Egyptians used other means to calculate time. The very fact that they accumulated accurate knowledge from long-term observations of the movements over time of the heavenly bodies tells us (a) there were means of measuring passage of time independent of the King Lists, and (b) if their method of reckoning time was erroneous, none of the records of observations made would make any sense. Ancient Egyptians were not stupid.

Ad 5: That Manetho's text was written down and also was the only one that survived does not make it in any way "more true" or a "more reliable" source for events of a deep prehistory before writing than any of the other records that were lost. So, it seems a bit of a dubious exercise to try and base a whole recalculation of the currently known chronology of ancient Egypt solely on its basis, using it to override other sources. In his efforts to appear cleverer than the many minds engaged in 200 years of Egyptology, Pavlou wants to return to the state of the nineteenth century, which built on Manetho and rejected it as a document of primary value. Does Pavlou's unpublished paper discuss in detail the past history of research on the chronology and critique it, explaining where the principles that underlie it are erroneous? I'd like to see that. 

Ad 6: The continued lack of publication of the arguments behind trashing to such a degree the existing chronology is a severe hindrance in going beyond an amateur's "what if?" and trying to see what it has to offer our understanding of the past. The paper should have been published first before the popular TV show was made on the basis of the "hypothesis" it (apparently) proposes.

Ad 7: There is much you can write about this, it quite simply is not true that "nobody else" has recognised that some of Manetho's "dynasties" and the reigns in them in reality overlapped. Among other things, that's in part what the three "Intermediate Periods" were all about. This is what happened in the 18th dynasty in Thebes with the Tuthmosids, the Amarna period and its aftermath, the end of the Ramesside period, the XXI dynasty in Thebes and so on. The phenomenon is known, and there is a huge literature on it, I wonder how much of it is cited in the unpublished paper?

Ad 8: Well, this is the missing bit. Since the radiocarbon dates fix the date by which the Egyptian state came into existence just before 3000 BC, one wonders just what kind of "king lists" spanned the alleged distance of 5000+ years to that "9000 years before your time". For there were no kings, no state, no kingdom. There were social groups of other types, but they were for the most of this period (as far as we know) illiterate. So what "King Lists" does Pavlou postulate lie at the basis of a supposed old chronology going back 9000 years that Manetho allegedly read and wrote down? What is the actual hard evidence of this?

 * * * 

It gets more interesting that somebody drew my attention to a promotional "Explorers Club" video of 3rd August 2021. Here's the blurb:
"The Explorers Club 1.96K subscribers
The myth of the lost civilization of Atlantis has captivated imaginations since Plato memorialized the tale. Like most bits of human lore it likely has a strong basis in truth obscured by centuries of people pushing particular narratives. Stel Pavlou, taken with the legend for decades, undertook data analysis of Egyptian king lists to uncover a likely mistake in the calculation of the date of Solon’s visit with Amasis, which is fundamental to the Atlantis myth. The corrected date places the destruction of Atlantis at 4900 BCE +/- 250, and the likely location in Old Europe. Stel joined forces with geologist, natural disaster expert, and Explorers Club Fellow Jess Phoenix to search for evidence of catastrophes powerful enough to wipe out a hypothetical Atlantis in a single day, and the pair worked with archaeologists, historians, and geologists at eminent institutions (Cambridge, NYU, national archaeological agencies, etc.) to see if the new date for a possible Atlantis-like civilization holds water - as seen on Discovery's new show "Hunting Atlantis" [...]".

Note how the aim of the project is skewed, it is "to see if the new dates for a possible Atlantis-like civilisation holds water". What? What does that even mean? What I think it means is:

9) Pavlou and his co-producer Jess Phoenix  can't find anything that would reflect the very clear content on Plato's text around 11000 (Cal) BP.  Bugger. No TV programme. 

10) Pavlou: "hey, the problem is the date, why don't we see if we can change that date? It shouldn't be too difficult... After all, I am WAY more clever than the people pushing particular narratives and those dullard academics!". "Oh, yeah! What about doing this?" [manipulates Manetho]

11) Pavlou and Phoenix: "OK, we've got a new chronology now, so we'll just jaunt around a bit, visit some places, interview a couple of experts,  pretend we are doing some research of our own and we'll show people sites that we can make look like part of a "possible Atlantis-like civilization" at about the same date as the manipulated Manetho, yeah. That looks like science".   

Basically nothing here therefore actually tests the basic hypothesis of an altered Egyptian chronology that is being proposed. In fact, to do that, they'd have to be filming interviews with Egyptologists in an office back in the States (or in the UK, Germany, Italy, Spain etc). The latter could explain why Manetho cannot be manipulated in the way Pavlou and Phoenix make out. Why did they not do that? Probably because if they did, they'd not be galivanting around the ancient world and visiting cool sites and pretending they are doing cool research during a global pandemic because it would already demonstrate that the methodology (below) is untenable. 

And look at the other bit of manipulation,  Plato's account is taken word-for-word as the truth when it supports the idea of a date that needs shifting. The moment they have to find something dating to c. 4900 BC that actually corresponds to what Plato says, suddenly the notion of Plato's reliability is sacrificed in the search for a "possible Atlantis-like civilisation" somewhere, anywhere. Anywhere EXCEPT where Plato very explicitly stated the city had been (and its remains allegedly in his time still lay, creating a hazard for shipping on that very site)! 

So, what actually are they looking for?  What, in the eyes of Pavlou and Phoenix constitutes evidence of a Neolithic (4900CalBC  is Late Neolithic/Eneolithic in Southern Europe)  "possible Atlantis-like civilisation"? Have a look at the video and see: ..

Hunting Atlantis: A New Investigation of an Old Myth
Posted on You Tube by The Explorers Club on Aug 3, 2021: embedding enabled.

There's a lot of waffle and some pretty incomprehensible (but "technical looking") tables and other illustrations. Sadly they are so fuzzy and the margins cropped off so they are barely legible. But there's enough to get the drift... Here's two screenshots of the "archaeology":

The top one is of the alleged date ranges (I presume Cal) of selected cultures apparently "contemporaneous with the Atlantis Myth (sic, it was not a myth)". They are divided into.... "Old Europe", "Proto-Indo European" and Near East. Creepy. The writing down the side is really fuzzy, but you can pick out enough to tell you, if you'd not guessed earlier, what this is.  The cultures are indeed very select... Look up one of them on Wikipedia (Cucuteni-Tripolye would be a good start) and I think you'll see which circle the information here most probably was drawn from. The (mostly central and E. European) "cultures" given dates for in this slide makes this prehistory look very "Gimbutas/ Wikipedia/ US Indo-European fantasists" in origin (and it is notable where his "paper" will be published, ie. an online journal representing precisely work done in this and related fields). Let's not go just now into how one can say the makers of these pots spoke a dialect of a "Proto-IndoEuropean" language, and other pot makes spoke another kind of language... This is just very loopy. An equally big red flag is the talk of a "genetic bottleneck"... in my experience when you find on the internet passionate amateur discussions of migrations of pot-making cultures (and particularly these ones mentioned in that slide) and then some Blut der Ahnens haplogroups being bandied about, neo-Nazis and Blut und Boden are not far away. As of course has been pointed out is the case with all these pseudoarchaeological attempts to construct alternative histories of "higher civilisations" influencing civilizational development of this or that people.

The image below it is a map purporting to show circular earthworks that we are invited to believe are in some vague way related to this possible Atlantis-like civilisation" (because Plato described Atlantis's city as circular). Somehow the producers have not been able to separate out the ones contemporary with the so-called "Atlantis-myth", and show us ones dated from 6500BC to 3000BC (I presume cal)... So over a period of three thousand years! are they trying to show that the alleged Atlantean Empire was a "Dreitausendjähriges Reich" or it this just carelessness? But, joking aside, what is really striking (apart from the fact that the case of Poland shows that this map is unreliably missing a number of sites - at least a dozen that I can think of off the top of my head) is that these enclosures are not coming from the territories of most of the cultures listed in the previous slide. Regions where there are a lot of them (like over most of the SW and NW of that map) are not shown on that slide of dated cultures. So what is the connection between those dated cultures and this phenomenon of circular enclosures? Perhaps the "paper" will explain in detail.

And then we take a look at the king lists. Ms Pheonix declares that she does not understand the material, and I don't blame her. The whole section from here to here sounds and looks like gobbldygook to me. There is a table and three graphs that merely indicate to me that their author actually knows little about Egyptian chronology. And when you are struggling to understand yourself, you can't present your ideas about it clearly. 

Let's leave aside the whole issue of why on earth he chose to base this on a manipulation of Manetho's account. What a "surprise" that in the dynasties closer to Manetho's time the current thinking on the chronology is similar to what Manetho gleaned from documents. Pavlou once says that he can see this from dyn XXI, another time XXIII. OK, we get the idea that reigns overlapped - that is known and has been used by others, far better equipped than Pavlou, to attempt recalibrations (for example Rohl, to match Egyptian and biblical chronologies). Pavlou does not say here which reigns he's conflated and the detailed argumentation why. 

What he presents is some rather odd-looking (and unexplained) "wiggle matching" exercise. Basically (as I understand from his presentation), he's shortening the timeline of Manetho to match the "wiggles" (whatever they are) of the "conventional Egyptian chronology (CAC)" And when he's done that he still admits he can't explain why all the wiggles don't match. But what is odd is that this timetable shown in the slide ends at the beginning of the first dynasty of Manetho, which by the CEC - confirmed by radiocarbon dating - is placed at around 3100 BC (3218–3035 BC Cal). So... where does this date of "4900BC" come from if it is derived from the manipulation of the king lists as described in this presentation? Pavlou does not really explain. 

We get, however, a sinking feeling on hearing him say that when you replace in the king lists the reign lengths that we actually know (from the CEC) then you "end up with a percentage difference [...] between what a king list says and what reality says. And then you take an Egyptian king list and it ends up being, it's almost like 51% less time was taken, so when you apply that to Plato's 9000 years for Solon (sic) you have a rough idea when 9000 years occurred through an Egyptian king list". Errrr? So basically, "4900" is nothing more than 51% of 9000? 

The logic of this is astoundingly bad. What he's saying is that the dates supplied by Manetho for the dates between c. 950 BC (approximate date for transition between dyn XXI and XXII) back to 3000 BC are hopelessly out (by 51%) so his "dates" - based on totally unknown sources - for the next THREE THOUSAND YEARS of Egyptian prehistory before that can be assumed to be out by the same 51%, no more, no less. But the chronology "9000 to 3000BC" cannot be assumed to have been based on any King Lists (due to the abscence of kings before the first dynasty of kings" (according to the very written record Pavlou is using). So if it was calculated by Manetho's sources at all, it was arrived at by some other means. This means that it is totally overstretching the evidence to simply assume that this record can be manipulated in the same way as its later section. 

Why not just say that Manetho's chronology is crap? In any case, no connection has been established between what Manetho (specifically) wrote and what was known to Plato (living a century earlier) or "Solon" or anyone else. Why not admit that "9000 years" is as likely to be as made up as the alleged shallow shoals in the Atlantic outside the "Pillars of Hercules" in Classical Greek times left by the sinking of Atlantis? Well, then there would be no TV series. 

Mrs Pavlou thinks that archaeologists who criticise this idea are doing so from some ulterior personal motive, not that Mr Pavlou is using extremely tenuous arguments to base a successful TV programme on. Mr Pavlou is so defensive about his "hypothesis" that he blocks people who try to discuss it with him.  We await the full publication of this "paper" to see what it adds to our knowledge of the ancient world and the methodology of Mr Manetho. 

And here's the problem, why don't archaeologists challenge pseudoarchaeology? I think the post above only barely scratches the surface of what (in my view as an archaeologist) is wrong with the construct of writer Stel Pavlou and vulcanologist Jessie Phoenix. Whether or not the issue is well-enough explained to make sense to others, only the reader who's got this far can judge. It's easy to make up crazy (what if?") ideas about the past, but a lot of work to explain (and for the outside observer to read about) how the evidence really does not support such ideas. 

Dealers, Auction Houses and Responsibilities to Clients in the Antiquities Trade

 Dr Tom Flynn, @Artnose

At the heart of the Rybolovlev v Bouvier dispute is a thorny issue affecting the whole art market — the difference between acting as an agent and acting as a principal. That grey area needs clarifying right across the market.
Graham Bowley, 'Prosecutor in Geneva Drops Criminal Inquiry in $2 Billion Art Dispute' NYT 17th September 2021. This is just one of the cases against the dealer involving alleged so-called 'over-invoicing', but it does suggest that the collector is really at the mercy of the moral standards of the dealers here....

The Art Loss Register What Use is it to Trace Illicit Artefacts?

The Art Loss Register (ALR) is all too often cited by antiquities dealers as "proof" that the unpapered items they are flogging off are kosher. Activists have been pointing out for about thirty years that this is as dubious as saying that absence from the "missing persons" register means a petite young lady or boy taken home for sex is over the age of consent. Absence from a single list dedicated to recording one thing does not mean that an act is legal or moral on every count. 

The ALR was initially an offshoot of  The International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR), a not-for-profit organisation based in New York. In an attempt to deter international art theft, IFAR had established an art theft archive in 1976 and began publishing the “Stolen Art Alert”. As the other organisation says in "our History":
The Art Loss Register (ALR) was established in London in 1990. Our founding shareholders included major businesses from the insurance industry and art market. Satellite offices were subsequently opened in New York, Cologne, Amsterdam and Paris to cater to growing client bases in these countries. In January 2010, we consolidated the regional offices in to one central, international office, run from London. 
They go on to claim:
The Art Loss Register (ALR) holds the world’s largest private database of lost, stolen and looted art, antiques and collectibles, currently listing more than 700,000 items. Items are added to this database on behalf of the victims of looting or theft, insurers, police forces and others. Our database is then utilised to offer a due diligence service to clients in the art market who wish to ensure that they are working with items to which no claim will arise. This provides an invaluable risk management tool to our searching clients. Through searching it is also possible to identify stolen items and other claimed works as they move through the art market and to secure their recovery for the claimant. [...] What we do We offer three main areas of services:
Search – Check objects with the ALR database to demonstrate due diligence, to prevent the handling of stolen art and to find out more about an object’s history through our in-house Provenance Research team.
Register – Report the theft or loss of an artwork or valuable item to the ALR database for registration on the database.
Recover – We help lost items of art to be reunited with their owners through the ALR database and our specialist Recoveries team.
It is worth looking over the terms and conditions on the three pages linked to see how effective this is. First of all, the search  "We only search lots above a given threshold value, usually £1,000 / €1,500 / $2,000". Actually, the bulk of the antiquities on the market are low value ones, falling below the ALR threshold, rendering it pretty much useless as a tool for fighting the illicit antiquities trade even if that was its actual goal. The fee for a single search is £70, auction houses can have a subscription for £600 p.a. but it notes "auction house specialising in more complex items (e.g. antiquities, coins, books, musical instruments) which require additional research are charged higher rates", without stating what that is. There is supposed to be a "dedicated page" about antiquities on their webpage, but I cannot find it.

Matters are worse if you have had something stolen, let's say a collection of a few 19th century paintings and 28 knocked off  Gandharan Buddha heads once owned by your Uncle Norman's Great-granddad Willie who might have got them when stationed in the North-West Frontier Province until the 1940s. So, after you've reported the theft to the police and your insurers, off you go to the ALR and pay "a small initial administrative fee" of £15 and fulfil certain conditions to report each object.  So those heads are 420 quid for starters. THEN, if the object is recovered through the use of the ALR, the registering owner has to pay an additional fee of 5% of the sale value of the item to the ALR (and note the police can use the Register for free, so even if the object is recovered by police, by checking with the ALR instead of their own force's cold cases to find out whether it is stolen and from whom, the police are obliging the victim of the theft to pay up to get their property back). And if the ALR is involved in the recovery, the fees go up sharply to 20%.

 A nice little earner then. Apparently, they get 400,000 search requests a year. For a database that only contains 700,000 items, examples of all types of art ("including paintings, drawings, sculpture, antiquities, furniture, jewellery, watches and clocks, musical instruments, silverware, coins and medals, ceramics, religious items, arms and armour, tapestries, classic cars, toys and collectibles'), nota bene, not all of which are registered because they are stolen. 

And of course, previously buried artefacts that are clandestinely looted, illegally excavated cannot be reported to the ALR because the only trace of the theft is a hole in the ground, how would that be registered?* If a clandestinely, illegally excavated artefact held in secret in some culture criminal's store is smuggled out of the country (with or without somebody being paid off 'not to see' it) then there will be no record. If that looted and smuggled object is flipped from dealer to dealer several times in behind-closed-door deals, to produce a confusingly vague paper trail before "surfacing" on the market (of course "Property of a *** gentleman, acquired on the London market in before *** and thence by descent") it will not be on the ALR record of stolen objects. So any dealer can pay huis 25 quid or whatever, get a certificate that it's not there and claim triumphantly: "oh yes, completely kosher, the ALR says so". Really? You lot think we are all that stupid?  

* and yes, what would happen if 100 countries did document and register an empty hole with a few broken sherds around it and say that there is clear evidence that an artefact of unknown material was looted there before the night of 31st December 2020? Obviously then, the ALR could not issue another certificate for any object clearly or potentially from that country, because there would be no way (unless it was too big to fit in that hole) to certify that an object submitted for a search by dealers Grebkesh and Runn had not come from that hole. 
Vignette: The lure of antiquities. Not reported missing, 19th century engraving. 

Mexico attempts to halt German auction of Pre-Columbian artefacts [UPDATED]


Ceramic figurines from Tlatilco (Mexican Central
 Highlands), if authentic, c. 1500-550 BC, currently 
 being flogged off like potatoes by German dealer 
Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger with an estimate of
€ 3,000  (photo Nachfolger/Art Newspaper)

The Mexican government has stepped up its campaign to end the international sales of its country's pre-Colombian artefacts. The Mexican government has written to the Munich-based seller, Gerhard Hirsch Nachfolger attempting to halt an auction next week of 74 artefacts that the Instituto Nacional de Arqueologia e Historia (INAH) has designated as “national patrimony” belonging to the citizens of Mexico (Art Newspaper). They cite the 1934 Mexican regulation that prohibits the export of objects of archaeological significance and reiterate their determination to seek the return of works suspected of having been excavated illegally or trafficked. The online catalogue shows that the sale includes a range of figures from the areas of Michoacan and Veracruz and estimates/reserves for individual pieces typically range from €3-5000 to €100,000. It is reported that a group of wealthy philanthropists, as well as individuals involved in the nation’s lucrative mining sector, had announced they would be buying the objects so as to return them to Mexico. Francisco Quiroga, Mexico’s ambassador in Germany, stated on social media that, although the gesture was appreciated, it was not an acceptable course of action as it would only allow Nachfolger to profit from selling back to the nation items that they should never have been handling, stolen from it, in the first place, and that it would fuel the further trade in stolen artefacts.

It is usual that the "antiquities" being sold on the antiquities market (as "ancient art") include fakes. This is especially the case with Mesoamerican items (Kelker, Nancy L. and Bruhns, Karen O. 2010, Faking Ancient Mesoamerica, Walnut Creek: Left Coast Press). Quiroga added that INAH has recognized at least one of the items offered by Nachfolger to be a fake, but declined to say which one it was. A representative of this dealer (who, it seems, started out just selling medals, banknotes and coins before seeing the profits that could be made in antiquities) "strongly denied" reports that any of the works are fakes and "stated they’ve all been absolutely authenticated". Well, they all do don't they? But none of them show "how" in the absence of a paperwork chain grounding them in an authentic discovery in a known archaeological context. Oh, and of course the usual dealer-standby: "some individual works had moreover (sic) been checked against The Art Loss Register". Well, all the dealers say the same, despite the caution that we've been expressing since the ALR was set up in 1990 in Margaret Thatcher's times, that the ALR only records items reported by insurers, police forces and others. Somehow, it seems, ‘huaqueros’ and the like don't seem very keen to report their hauls to the ALR so they can be identified when they "surface" on the foreign antiquities market. It's time that antiquities dealers stopped trying to kid us all that merely checking with the ALR is the only due diligence this particular segment of the market needs to do. Of course it is not. 

Also, let us be really clear; a large part (and in some cases like the Mexican figurines, the predominant part) of the objects coming onto the market are items produced for deposition with (and for) the deceased in graves/tombs. Other types (like the ever-popular jewellery) are most easily found by targeting cemeteries and tombs. A lot of the sculpture treated as "ancient art" has also come from tombs. All over the ancient world, the ancient dead are being dug up, their places of repose desecrated to serve this market of self-serving people with no sensitivities for the deeds their acquisitive greed encourages, their declared "respect for culture" cancels out their respect for the people who made that culture. The antiquities market is not only trade in dead people's possessions, it is often a prime cause of grave robbing. This seems a theme worth exploring further. For a starter see Adam Daubney 2019, 'Grave Finds: Mortuary-Derived Antiquities from England and Wales', Public Archaeology Volume 17, 2018 - Issue 4, pp. 156-175. DOI: 10.1080/14655187.2019.1635408.

Update 20.09.21
Dr Donna Yates: 
I believe that some of the objects in the disputed Gerhard Hirsch auction of pre-Columbian antiquities are *fake*. Most experts will agree with me. I think the rest are almost certainly illegally looted and illicitly trafficked. I will not say which of these I believe to be fakes because I think that supports the market for looted antiquities. Buyer beware. See here for more info on why I call out fakes but don't ID them: I see that Mexico has done the same, stating that there are fakes but not saying which ones. They've done this before and I like it.
 I am glad she said that, as my reaction to the Mexican statement on seeing this lot of stuff was "just one of these?". I'm not an expert like Dr Yates, but I see several that even on the titchy one-sided photos GHN supply look pretty suspicious to me and several more that I bet if we had better photos it'd be clearer what we are dealing with. And I think not just for archaeologists, collectors have their own lore and pointers, and the photos simply do not provide into on (for example, those encrustations and manganese spotting). GHN should do better to inform their clients what their experts say is what. 

Dr Yates says "don't tell", so I won't voice my suspicions. I'll draw attention to the toolmarks however on three of the stone items and publicly ask GHN's experts what kind of ancient tool they think made them, and how did it work? Can you spot which three, people? They've all already found a happy buyer who IMO did not caveat enough and quite possibly do not have much experience handling hand tools themselves. Of course, if these experts would actually say what kind of stone each is, we'd be in a better place to judge (by knowing how hard it is) why the toolmarks look as they do. No descriptions of material are given.  Also looking at several of these, it'd be good if they were to give an honest opinion what the surface encrustation on each piece actually is, some of them to me (an archaeologist) IMO do not look very much like they are from soil processes (but admittedly I've never dug in Mexico). 

Saturday 18 September 2021

Treasure Hunter with Magical Machine Finds King John's Treasure - He Says

These Treasure hunters in the UK are a funny lot. Metal detectorist Raymond Kosschuk has found the treasure famously lost by King John in 1216 on a farm in a Lincolnshire village, but is keeping the exact location secret for now (Michael Moran Long-lost English Crown Jewels' found by metal detectorist on Lincolnshire farm Daily Star 18 Sep 2021). King John lost the treasure during an ill fated crossing of The Wash - an estuary that divides Lincolnshire and Norfolk on October 12, 1216. Of course loony loopy treasure hunters have been "almost finding" this treasure for years, every few months it seems. Anyway:
" Raymond Kosschuk, 63, is "100% certain" the 800-year-old artefacts he has uncovered at an undisclosed site belonged to the former King of England. The mechanical engineer has spent the last 12 months conducting tests at the location in Sutton Bridge, Lincs., in a bid to track down the elusive hoard. Raymond is now convinced he has struck gold after his equipment picked up "overwhelming evidence" of the treasure. [...] Raymond and the farmer are hoping to start digging out their findings in the coming weeks before submitting them to archeologists (sic) and Lincolnshire's Finds Officer.
I think it would be better if the archaeologists excavated it properly, we do not have that many 12th century wagons preserved. The story gets loopier, after saying he was on the site on 7th September, we learn that metal detecting produced "a wealth of" metal artefacts in the field:
Using equipment he has designed to pick up anomalies in the readings of magnetic fields, Raymond has received strong signals for high value items. [...] Raymond, of Keighley of West Yorks., said: "I am 100% certain that this it. This is the real thing. "When I gained access, I isolated an area of high value targets and it tested positive for elements of gold, silver, emeralds, sapphires and rubies. "The biggest attraction of this area I detected an is accumulation of silver. "This tells me there is between 60lb-120lb of silver but it could be more. I believe this was the cash box that King John was carrying." Raymond has also had positive tests for gold [...] Finding readings for horse shoes in sets of four, Raymond believes that there 'is no question' that his finds are compelling evidence that this is the treasure. He said: "Those horse shoes are completely damning evidence - there is no question"The field is littered with this kind of find. "I have never seen anything like the field itself. It is phenomenal the amount of readings it is giving off there.
Hmmm. Something tells me that the writer here is not quite clear in his head what this equipment Mr Kosschuk has designed does 'pick up anomalies in the readings of magnetic fields" mans what? This is some kind of a magnetometer? But how is it calibrated to "receive strong signals for high value items"? What does it mean "test positive for emeralds, sapphires and rubies​"? Items like rubies and saphire (red and blue corundum) and emerald (a form of beryl)? What magnetic properties do they have? How can they be teledetected so specifically at all? And "horseshoes in sets of four? I do not believe in this magical black box. As for the finds made by metal detecting... there is this thing called "stratigraphy" that gets in the way of fantasy. The baggage train got not only mired, but sank into the silts of the Welstream estuary (the mouth of - among others - the River Nene). It sank down into it, beyond reach. The estuary silted up (so deposits formed above, and sealing, those containing the lost bits of the baggage train). Then the land was reclaimed and a soil layer formed on top of the marine silts of teh estuary and the finds are in the ploughsoil formed from that later layer. All the finds that Mr Kosschuk has made come from layers much later than the second decade of the 13th century.


Friday 17 September 2021

More on UK Metal Detecting company "Detecting for Veterans" [Updated]


[Edited] Dave Sadler has produced a useful online video interview with former pest-control officer Jason Massey giving the background to his metal detecting company "Detecting for Veterans" setting out some of the background.... The core of the video starts here:  

Posted on You Tube by Peaky Finders Metal Detecting Shop and Rallies on Nov 26, 2020

There is mention by Mr Massey here of the report he is citing written in collaboration with a Norwegian partner (unidentified) that proves the link between "detecting" and mental health. 

UPDATE 17th September 2021
Within a few hours of this post, that video was deleted. [in the original post I unnecessarily wrote rather uncharitably about the video in which the interview was found, for which I apologise to the author]

Thursday 16 September 2021

New Questions About "Detecting for Veterans"


The twitter account for Jason Massey, former 1st Battalion Light Infantry Veteran, now CEO of the organisation "Detecting for Veterans" is down. The crowdfunding appeal page announces: 

Detecting For veterans Community Interest Company (CIC) is a tri service to bring Armed forces veterans together to share awareness of PTSD and other issues from serving in the Armed forces by using Metal detecting as therapy. We have over 5500 supporters on our Facebook page and 3500 are civilians who support our aim. We have helped Veterans who do suffer from PTSD and other issues from serving in the Armed forces by suppling Metal Detecting equipment to use as therapy.[...] The fundraising amount will by x10 set ups to run courses for any Armed forces veterans sent to us by Mental health charities, also a vehicle is needed for my self to get around the UK to organise events and to run courses in the local areas. [...] Also I charge for civilian to come to metal detect and so far raised £14,000 for The Veterans Charity and Talking2minds.
The company was formed in 2017 and claims that "metal detecting has been proven to help war veterans deal with the debilitating issues associated with PTSD". It seems they claim to actually have some kind of a report that 'proves' this claim. It should be noted that this is the same group that was claiming that the Head of the PAS had declared that artefact hunting was "good for archaeology", a claim the person involved denies (see Andy Brockman, 'A second metal detecting rally promoter accused of misrepresnting the views of the PAS, The Pipeline July 4th 2021). As for the claim, I really do not see why this one activity (looting the archaeological record for collectable items to keep) is in any way better suited for this purpose than less archaeologically-destructive hobbies in a way that birdwatching, voluntary work on canals, stamp collecting, gravestone recording, bell ringing, home brewing, gardening and hang gliding etc. don't. Some have seen this claim as a 'front' for just running a business involving pay-to-dig artefact hunting rallies for the benefit of metal detectorists the majority of which are not at all suffering any form of PTSD caused by them formerly being or being a member of the Armed Forces.

The genesis of the idea seems to have come from the company 'Beyond the Bleep' set up with the Veterans' mental health charity - Combat Stress in October 2014 by Derek McLennan [possibly with Minelab involvement]. Among its other activities, the company involved veterans in artefact hunting on mental health benefits grounds. The company is now dissolved. In the US KellyCo metal detectors produced a text in April 2020 'Metal Detecting as a Tool for PTSD Recovery' , and it cites a recent paper by a group of authors, including Helsinki Gang member Andres Dobat.* In the US, artefact hunting was being proposed as a PTSD therapy in 2015 (KPLC 'Local wounded veterans use 'Warrior Detecting' as trauma therapy', Sept 15 2015) and similar claims have been made (Jul 7, 2017) for underwater metal detecting (this one sponsored by Garrett detectors). It is still going on Megan Swift, 'Military veterans benefit from 'therapeutic' archaeological fieldwork at Fort Ligonier' Trib Total Media Aug. 7, 2021.

The DFV commercial artefact hunting rally Detecting For Veterans CIC Summer Rally in Lincolnshire was scheduled for 9th -12th September 2021.
This is a full 3 days detecting on 800 Acres of very historical land once belonging to the Knights Templar.
The land is undetected and it will be a mixture of stubble and disc land.
Trade Stands will be on site, Crawford's, NCMD, Treasure Hunting Magazine, Coin Dealers and other stands will be in attendance.
Tickets are £65 each, that includes camping. Under 16s Detecting are £30 and non- detectorists are £10 each.[...]
At the end of August 2021 it was announed:
Sadly it appears Jason Massey has suffered a stroke and is in hospital. Best wishes for his speedy recovery. Sadly it does appear the event has been postponed until a later date. Check out their Facebook page for the last info though in case there are any further developments
This morning, following on from this, certain unsupported allegations were made about "Detecting for Veterans CIC"  concerning financial governance and transparency. They involve a story of "a team of Private Investigators" and a stakeout of Mr Massey's Taunton home.  No doubt this will be discussed further in the near future. This is following on from earlier reports of irregularities in the NCMD and some more allegations concerning a metal detectorist acting as treasurer for an archaeology group a while back. Of course nobody is in metal detecting for the money, are they?

*Dobat A.S., Wood, S.O., Jensen, B.O., Schmidt, S. and Dobat, A.S. (2020), “I now look forward to the future, by finding things from our past…” Exploring the potential of metal detector archaeology as a source of well-being and happiness for British Armed Forces veterans with mental health impairments', International Journal of Heritage Studies, 26:4, 370-386 .

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