Wednesday 24 November 2021

Another Yandex Reality Check on the International No-Questions-Asked Antiquities Market


                       Man about to thrash a tree                      
"aesnumismatics" in Austria is an interesting dealer to look at. They sell through Catawiki, where you can find this "Viking Era Bronze Important Ring representing the Mythological scene Odin sacrificing himself under the Tree Yggdrasil9th.-11th Century AD" NO. 52535075. Collecting history vague as vague can be:
Purchased by the current owner in 2016 in Austria, Wien. Collected Since: 1980's. Previous owners history: Old Austrian Private Collection. The Seller can prove that the lot was obtained legally, provenance statement seen by Catawiki.
Interesting. On the Ancient Artifacts Group.IO, Renate has identified where it came from, and it is very much "after the 1980s" (Renate 23rdh Nov 2021 10:21pm #95958)
The origin of the man-and-plant ring [...] is this page: "Comes from an old private collection" is the common wording for "recently purchased from an Ukranian or Russian treasure hunter" on Catawiki and other sites [...] Kudos to the image search!
Rings Guru has been discussed by me here. The website says that it is from the early modern era, 15th-17th century (so pretty far from being 'Viking') and that it was found in Ukraine. The problem with the seller asserting that it was "obtained legally" from what we now know through Yandex would be first admitting that it was not found in "Austria" but was exported in full accordance with their laws on such things from Ukraine. Then to make it legal, that would require having the documentation of legal excavation (so a permit), legal gaining of title to an excavated object, then legal export (permit). Has aesnumismatics got such documentation in this case? Well, they must have something as Catawiki have gone on record to say they've seen these records... oh.... oh. No, what Catawiki actually say "provenance statement seen by Catawiki", what does that actually mean, "provenance statement"? How is the veracity established of such a "statement" that one has "seen" (not even kept on file)?

This object has been vetted for kosherness not only by the seller but also by Catawiki's expert Peter Reynaers. I would say to assess something like this, one would need a pretty good grounding in metalworking techniques, not only theoretical but also practice. I'd like to know whether Mr Reynaers has much experience of using a burin (and on an object of this scale). I presume he knows how they work. So I'd be really interested to hear from him how he thinks that design was carved (apart from "crudely"). 

Looking carefully at the photo, I am interested in the wide flat bottomed recessed fields with the steep sides. How was that done? Serious question. More to the point (and, I would suggest looking at the enlarged photo, not unrelated), I'd like to hear his explanation of the shape of the line making up the figure's right forearm and that of the right calf. Why, in the way this is lit, do they seem to have a rounded cross-section? What ancient hand-tool has made that toolmark, according to him? Because neither of them look like what a burin would do. When he was examining this carefully before recommending to Catawiki that they put it on sale, did he consider as a working hypothesis (among others), that this design could have been made by blocking it out quickly with a tool like a dremel drill, and then going over it with a burin and - in the hollow of the thorax and head with a round-tipped burnishing tool to get rid of the traces of grinding? I am sure, looking at the toolmarks that we can see in the seller's own photo that the possibility must have crossed the mind of the attentive expert. So how was that hypothesis falsified? (because it must have been as the object is offered as a genuine antiquity).

So, what actually are we really looking at? Something found by metal detecting in Austria in 1985 and kept in the finder's collection until sold? Something found by illegal metal detecting in Ukraine? Or something recently knocked up for sale to collectors in the empty workshop of an abandoned kołchoz somewhere in the same region? Whatever it is, as a loose object of unknown origins, does it have any potential to tell us anything at all about the past - given we do not know what it represents?

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