Saturday, 31 December 2022

More on Empty Storeroom Shelves

 

Nothing to see here, move along
A metal detectorist, member of a metal detecting forum near you, posted me a while back some material from the forum asking for me to comment on it on my blog. I think they were trying to get me to say something about archaeologists... since I did not use their information, they have started making further accusations that I am involved in a cover-up. That is nonsense, of course. But here's the information that, reportedly, metal detectorists have been seeing from members of their own community. I do not vouch for the truth of anything reported below:
Allectus » Sat Nov 26, 2022 3:29 pm
Just been doing some 'digging' regarding this sorry tale and it's not pretty! [emoticon] The items missing/lost by Lancashire FLO and/or LANCUM alone is staggering........ At least seven hoards (not including Jimmy's) and many, many, valuable single items. One fella who lost a hoard of hammered silver and bronze age items was, when told the bad news, to "keep it quiet"!! [emoticon] Incredibly, the thefts are thought to have been occurring for a period of over a decade and it's all been hushed up! [emoticon]
Well, if there is any truth in that, it is not surprising the PAS is keeping quiet, because if this is true, it is the PAS itself that is under investigation. I am a bit disturbed by that word "alone", and think we are owed some justification why "items missing" becomes "thefts" a few lines down.

I have been given the (to be accurate, alleged) name of the person arrested when some "objects were found". That person, due to their employment history, cannot have been involved in "missings" of objects over a whole decade, which raises a question how many people would be implicated in Allectus's version of events. More to the point, it beggars belief that a "hoard" found a decade ago, let alone seven other ones, should still be in the temporary store after all that time. The Treasure process may be slow, but not to that degree. Also if it is true that one or more hoards went missing "a decade ago, why was the disappearance not detected by the PAS and Treasure registrars earlier? Something is wrong with this story. Another post on the forum goes further in arkie-bashing:
Post by geoman » Sat Nov 26, 2022 3:44 pm
It would appear that the system of keeping quiet has been to protect reputations and perhaps the guilty. Often the explanation has been that items have gone astray and are missing without any hint of them actually stolen by a third party
There have always been hints of malpractice in the academic world with experts allowed to peruse museum store rooms and collection in the pursuit of their research and so on. Naturally some will have had sticky fingers and to preserve reputations cover ups seem to have been the norm.
Proving what has gone on is very difficult as the museum establishment will simply close ranks.
There is some truth in that. In one museum collection I was working on, some Anglo-Saxon coins disappeared from a safe and never returned. In another, half an erotic samian bowl went missing from a store (leaving the other half with some racy scenes) - and since the complete bowl was dug up about a century ago, the publication described it in only coy general terms and there was no drawing. So, yes it happens and yes, museums keep quiet about it (was I the first who spotted that only half a vessel is now present in the collection?). It is looking increasingly like there will never be a court case involving the missing Oxyrhynchus papyri from a major university's collection, probably a whole tangle of old school ties is involved in tying up the case allowing the whole thing to be hushed up. Will he same be the case with the Lancashire Artefact disappearances? Or will there be a show trial of the one guy who gets off with a slapped wrist and a fine so any faults there might have been in the whole system of supervision and monitoring of the Treasure process are not exposed? All the more reason for the PAS to come clean and explain their version of what actually is going on.

See also: thePipeLine 'Arrest in Preston Museum Missing Treasure Investigation' December 22, 2022.  



Tuesday, 27 December 2022

"Detectorists" at Christmas


             Detectorists,
             Random trampling of
            important site, pulling
               out loose unplotted finds

Thanks to some computer jiggery-pokery from my friends at Heritage Action (thanks), I managed to watch the eagerly-anticipated Christmas Special last episode of the TV series "Detectorists". A lot of tekkies were very pleased about the re-appearance of this light-hearted romp. I was disappointed. This new episode tried to reproduces the same themes as the previous series, but in my mind failed in several respects. They tried too hard to simply follow the same themes as before as if the intervening few (five?) years had not happened. The passing of time had taken its toll not only on some of the locations (village hall and the cottage) but several of the actors were looking a bit rough and their present appearance did not fit the roles they were forced to maintain in the new episode. Merely throwing in the odd hedgehog and shiny bug pictures and shots of sunlit fields and trees did not really patch things up. Moreover the main plot line is getting hackneyed, weird supernatural sounds, fade into LARP renactments of a battle scene, and then the Last Supper and the Holy Grail (sic) that the hapless duo narrowly miss finding. This has all been done before.

What we see in this episode more clearly in the others is the shady side of detecting. The writers have perhaps been on a couple of forums. There is also a change in the ethos of the "male bonding" that permeates and indeed shapes the first two series. In this episode, the two find an important Anglo-Saxon battlefield site ("ten acres of prime paydirt") and there is a conflict over reporting it. Lance, the runty little guy, wants to hoik out all the artefacts they can find before reporting it to the authorities (21:20 minutes). His detecting buddy (the weasel-like Andy - who'd at some stage trained as an archaeologist before returning to collecting) wants to get the archaeologists - with him at their lead - involved from the beginning. Lance finds gold which on the spur of the moment he hides from Andy. Then he realises that he'll have to report it and Andy will find out he lied, so he then decides to rebury it and pretend to find it again with Andy. But when he does that, he cannot relocate it and other detectorists find it...

Here we see the gap between what detectorists and their supporters say they do do, and what they  actually do. Remember this programme has arguably done a lot to increase the numbers of people going out in the fields with metal detectors, it shows these newbies "how to do it". What we see (20:51 minutes) is that having located an important site with material deposited in a specific pattern (they talk about where they found items in the field and with what 23:49 too) they are sitting under a tree pulling loose items out of a pouch, no individual bags or labels linking individual items with a particular findspot... and there is no GPS visible in their equipment. If Lance had located the findspot and reburial of the gold plate with a GPS, he'd not have the problem he did in relocating it for his friendship-saving stunt. This element of best practice is totally missing from this film.

Also pay attention to how the landowner is treated in the opening scene (00:47- 2:24). They meet on site, urge him to sign a search-and-keep agreement without reading it, fail to define what 'valuable' means (in terms of a 50:50 split). More importantly there is no suggestion that they will meet with the landowner before they leave the property to show what they are taking, let alone getting the landowner to sign off on any documentation that would legitimise these items passing into the finder's hands (as recommended long ago by the Nighthawking Report). When Lance finds gold, instead of reporting it to the landowner (who is the owner, and in the light of the agreement he haplessly signed, still owner of half its value), the finder walks off with the whole lot without even a by-your-leave. Agreement or no agreement, that actually is theft.  Also the nonsense about Andy "having 14 days" to report a copper alloy pommel (19:12) is complete bollocks, the scriptwriters should consult the law if they don't actually know it. The newbie and general public therefore would get from this film no idea of the best practice of establishing the legal situation of archaeological artefacts dug up from private land.

Another aspect that comes out clearly is the fate of the artefacts recovered from archaeological deposits by artefact hunters. The couple find a cup that they at first dismiss, but later realise might have been important, but by this time they have no idea where it is. (1:02:53-1:07:30).

But apart from the objects, what about the archaeology? Lance sees himself and his detecting fellows as "the team" that will "reveal the history" of the important battlefield site... but quite clearly thee is no detailed plotting of finds going on. Indeed the script goes off in the direction of a storied artefact (below) rather than adding any detail on what emerged from a metal detector survey of the battlefield (as a rally). Probably nothing, as the search is shown as being totally unmethodical. 

More to the point, we see Lance digging a pitifully small post-rally trench (aren't they all when metal detector finds are involved?) to investigate the site where the reliquary was found. Yet the irony is that what he is investigating is what is said to be the original findspot - but in fact it is a false findspot as Lance reburied the find in the dark. How many reported findspots in the PAS are equally false?  

On an archaeological note, the reliquary shown is completely bonkers. A gold plaque inscribed in Anglo-Saxon GREGORIUS MEC HEHT GEWYRCAN - a rehash of the inscription on the 9th century Alfred Jewel was part of a ('Byzantine'?) reliquary of early 13th century form that incorporates plaques apparently of Limoges enamel (13th century) but apparently lost in a fictional battle that took place in 599 between Ethelbert of Kent and Redwald of East Anglia. Just bonkers. Why, in a country having a Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is mentioned by name prominently IN the film, was opportunity not taken to USE the Scheme and its database (and outreach staff) to produce something more realistic, but instead ignore the archaeological evidence to produce this? Also, where in the iconography of the reliquary is any reference to the Last Supper or "Holy Grail"? So why does the idea that instead of a corporeal relic of a saint  (which most Limoges reliquaries contained), this one had contained the cup of the Last Supper come from? The museum archaeologist is depicted as simply story-telling rather than making a reasoned inference from actual evidence (but apparently the film's scriptwriters see UK archaeologists as doing precisely this).

The best the UK's BBC could do? 

Given the subject of the backstory, I find it incomprehensible why the writers included in this film at the beginning of a rally with a multiethnic makeup a scene of one of the participants delivering "the Blessing" (a tasteless parody mocking the Lord's Prayer) in a Christmas Special (39:00-39:38). This is offensive. It is absolutely out of place, except to show what a lot of godless and disrespectful oafs metal detectorists in the UK are. 

Update 28.12.2022
Re the last point (it's too much to expect we'd get any comment from the UK's detectorist-supporting archies on the archaeological issues raised here), I am lectured on social media by Eva McIntyre ("author, Actor, Storyteller, Anglican Priest") that the mock-blessing parodying the Lord's Prayer is offensive "only for the thin skinned". Yes, perhaps there are some, do they somehow not count as "real Christians" in her reckoning, therefore with no rights? One wonders what her sermons were like as vicar of Stourport on Severn and Wilden in the diocese of Worcester, maybe with jokes for the thick-skinned about lepers, the Flagellation followed by a standup routine parodying the Sermon on the Mount. That'd perhaps have had her congregation rolling in the aisles. I stand by my view that this was offensive. 


 

Sunday, 25 December 2022

Christmas 2022


I hope my readers are enjoying a great Christmas with their families and friends in the safety and warmth of thir homes. Here's a video of Russians attacking with incendiary munitions the Ukrainian town of Maryinka (Pokrovsk Raion, Donetsk Oblast, population: 9,089). Today, millions of people are displaced from their homes by this imperialist War, millions more are having to survive appalling conditions created by a barbarian enemy in an attempt to wipe Ukraine, independent or not, from the face of the earth in the name of - as they claim - "preserving Russian Christian values". In 2022.





Museum Quality Stater Recorded on Public Database Sight Unseen

                    Portable Antiquities Scheme             

This is an interesting find, figuring under the anonymous records of the 14 items on the PAS database, reportedly a metal detecting find coming from near Shobdon in Herefordshire.

COINUnique ID: HESH-1A637B
A complete Iron Age gold hammered stater of the Western Region / Dobunni, dating to the period c.20 BC - AD 40, issued by Comux (c.AD 1-15?), Comuc Tree type. Obverse: Dobunnic tree symbol, pellet at base, on plain field. Reverse: Triple-tailed horse right with six-spoked wheel below, [C]OMV[X] (upside down) above. The coin measures 20mm in diameter and weighs 5.4g. ABC, p. 105, no. 2054; BMC nos. 3061-3063. Notes: The object has been recorded remotely with information and photographs kindly provided by the finder. The FLO has not seen the object. Subsequent actions Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder Grid reference source: From finder Unmasked grid reference accurate to a 1 metre square.
Why does the data field in the public database not say who created this record and when? In the description page it is anonymised, yet from the statistics, we find this record was (reportedly) created by PAS member of staff Ian Bass on Monday 26th September 2022. Why can this information not be available in one place rather than having to chase around for it? Are the authors of these texts somehow ashamed of their work that they are loathe to put their names under these descriptions? 

The FLO, whoever they were, has not verified the object, not held it in their hand, not checked that the photo is a depiction of that coin, that it really looks like this. They also have not checked the paperwork by which the landowner transferred ownership to the finder (establishing that it is not the product of illegal activity). Yet a searchable public record is created that a coin looking like that was "indeed" found by metal detecting at a certain place and at a certain date. Neat. So all a hypothetical bloke with a coin stolen from a private house or museum collection in a burglary needs to do is make a photo and contact any old FLO who will unwittingly (one hopes) certify its legitimacy on this public-funded database. The PAS database used in this way can be used to 'launder' many finds. 

Far be it for me to suggest that any FLOs could be 'in' on such practices, I am sure they are not, but by simply trusting a "finder" and ignoring their obligation to double-check the documentation, this is the same "no-questions-asked" approach that causes so many problems in the antiquities market and antiquities collecting in general. 

The purpose (as Baroness Blackstone said when the Portable Antiquities Scheme was set up) was that the PAS would lead in instilling best practice. Instead we see it dragging its feet over tackling issues of bad practice with antiquities hunting, collecting and commerce, and failing to lead in anything at all. 

Wednesday, 21 December 2022

Doing a Deal on the Leominster Hoard



Two metal detectorists found guilty in November 2019 of not reporting a £3m Viking hoard have now been ordered to pay more than £600,000 each or spend five more years in jail (BBC 'Herefordshire Viking hoard thieves must repay £600k' 21 December 2022). So they can buy their freedom for 120000  quid? As a reminder of this old case:
George Powell and Layton Davies were jailed in 2019 for not declaring their find of coins and jewellery in a field in Herefordshire four years earlier. [...] The hoard, found in a field in Eye, near Leominster, included a 9th Century gold ring, a crystal rock pendant, a dragon's head bracelet and an ingot which have since been recovered. [...] The men, who sold items they found to dealers, were convicted of theft and concealing their find, with Powell, 38, of Newport, jailed for 10 years and Davies, of Pontypridd, 51, for eight-and-a-half. Coin seller Simon Wicks, 56, was also convicted on the concealment charge and jailed for five years. Most of the estimated 300 coins believed to be in the hoard are still missing  Photographs on Davies' mobile phone - later deleted, but recovered by police investigators - showed the larger hoard, still intact, in a freshly-dug hole. [...] When the men were sentenced, the judge [...] rejected their accounts that the items were with other people and an auction house in Austria and said the men deliberately stole items.

The article provides more details:

Judge Nicholas Cartwright told the men he believed about 270 coins are still being deliberately hidden by them. [...]  Thirty coins, which have also been recovered, had a previous estimated worth of between £10,000 and £50,000, but at a proceeds of crime hearing at Worcester Crown Court, the judge said they had been valued by the British Museum at £501,000. The remaining 270 coins were valued at the lowest of £10,000 each. Mr Cartwright reduced the estimate by 10% to account for any possible damage, giving a value for the missing coins of £2.4m.  

The two men must pay the money within three months or spend more time in jail.  

The pricing here is not very well explained to the general public (whose heritage has been robbed) by the BBC. So, the thirty coins they actually have in the hand were first valued as "between £10,000 and £50,000" [I presume it means each], and when they took a closer look, they came up with a total value of £501,000. Half a million divided by thirty is £16700 each. 

So, assuming the missing coins were the same kind of thing as the ones retrieved and assuming that none of them (NB none of those set aside for later sale - just think about that a moment) were worth much more, Judge Cartwright took the figure of £10,000 each, deducted ten percent - because he felt like it, so £9000 each.

Judge Cartwright (or whoever advised him) then multiplies £9000 by 270 to get  £2,430,000. The missing coins, according to the figures quoted by the BBC have a market value (at 2019 prices?) of two million three hundred and forty pounds. No mention is made in the text of surrendering any of the coins and documentation concerning the find. So all the two imprisoned beep-beep boys have to do is to pay the state £1,200,000 and then find a way to flog off at leisure the rest of the £2,310,000 - worth of the coins? In 2020/21, the average cost of a prison place in England and Wales was 48,162 British pounds a year, so getting these men out and back into the fields four and six years earlier than their sentence saves the state over £500,000. 

And, since the hoard has already been declared a Treasure by an inquest, is this money going to go to the landowners whose property was taken by these Treasure hunters?


Finds recovered in Lancashire Museum Store Investigation



I was really hoping it would turn out that the objects reported as missing from a Lancashire Museum store would turn up in the wrong cupboard and the case was one of muddled paperwork. It seems however that some finds have been turned up in the course of the investigation outside the store. We should be cautious, according to the press release, whether or not they actually have come from inside the store has not yet (it seems) been ascertained. One man has however been arrested in Ludlow, 160 km south of the storeroom in question, as a suspect (rather than just witness) in what is being termed a "theft".  
Press Release by Lancashire Police

Detectives investigating the suspected theft of items from a Lancashire museum have arrested a man.
Earlier this year we received a report of the theft of artefacts from the Lancashire Council Museum Service.
Following further enquiries, Lancashire Police, supported by colleagues from West Mercia Police, executed a warrant in Ludlow on Friday (December 16). Further searches took place in Ludlow and Hereford.
A quantity of suspected stolen property was recovered at the address with one man arrested by officers. If anyone has any information about the alleged thefts or believes that they can help with our enquiries, please call 101 or email forcecontrolroom@lancashire.police.uk, quoting investigation number 04/116599/22.
If you have any enquiries regarding the status of a particular find, such as whether it has been affected by this incident, then please contact the Lancashire Council Museum Service.
A 31-year-old man from Ludlow was arrested on suspicion of theft. He has been released on bail pending further enquiries.
Are the items being examined now from the store, or have the police nabbed a collector or eBay dealer 'on spec' or information received and are just going through their holdings as a matter of routine? Venues like eBay need much closer and more systematic monitoring to look out for suspected illicit/illegal artefacts. Britain, one of the biggest antiquities markets in the world, is doing nothing to achieve this. 

If the person is arrested on suspicion of "theft" rather than "handling", this suspected theft raises all sorts of questions involving the security of a store that someone from such a distance could access. According to a Lancashire museum service insider anxious that the public should know what steps they take to ensure security, a thief would have had to access the secure store through three locked doors, plus know where the associated records were because it seems these were also removed to cover up the disappearance.

Perhaps a burglar was reading about the way certain papyri reportedly recently disappeared from a certain UK university's "secure stores" together with the associated paperwork and then some of them allegedly appearing on the market? If this were the case, somebody perhaps hoped in this way to obliterate the backstory (and even previous existence) of the objects they passed onto the market. It seems archaeological records need better safeguarding than they have had until now.

If this was an outside job, it would require a lot of planning and time, in which case, the fact that it was not detected until the objects were far away is disturbing. It also seems that the objects that so far have been reported missing (by finders and landowners who had deposited them in the museum store and then later found out they were no longer there) other objects may be the tip of the iceberg. Having found a way into the store, like Ali Baba and his brothers, it seems the burglar may have continued to remove items over a period of time in a way that is still difficult to detect. Hence the police attempting to find out if other members of the public have material in the museum that they want peace of mind about its whereabouts. The public has the right to know, how safe are other assets still in that store? 

Wednesday, 14 December 2022

Stolen Iraqi Seals Returned by US Collector

 

Remember the vehement and universal denials by the antiquities trade lobby that any artefacts looted in the US-led Iraq invasion were on the US antiquities market? This shows how much they were worth, the lobbyists were either not telling the truth, or they were spouting off while being ignorant of it:

US returns to Iraq several ancient seals looted from the Iraq Museum in 2003. The pieces were smuggled into the United States and purchased through various galleries and online auctions by a private collector between 2004-2009 ( D.A. Bragg Announces Return of Antiquities Looted from the Iraqi Museum in 2003, Dec 14, 2022).
In March of 2021, one of the stamp seals was listed for sale in an online auction, leading this Office to begin an investigation into its origin and provenance. Our investigation revealed that the consignor of this stamp seal was in possession of six additional seals that were all purchased shortly after the looting of the Iraq Museum and lacked any documentation confirming that they had entered the art market prior to 2003.
These antiquities surfaced after 19 years. What else will be turning up soon? What was online auction where the undocumented piece offered for sale? Who was the seller?

 

Tuesday, 13 December 2022

Biasing the Record

Once upon a time, there used to be a "never mind the quality, feel the width" myth spread in British archaeology about the PAS database. Allegedly, by their coverage, British artefact hunters were recovering artefacts from lots of the archaeological record giving a much wider coverage than the targeted investigations of archaeologists. Possibly some archaeologists swallowed this as an article of faith rather than a closely-reasoned argument, I don't know. Anyway, it has long been clear that this is not how it works, the sites targeted by artefact hunters are not random, the material taken from them is not anything like a representative sample, and what then got reported was also influenced by a whole load of subjective factors. Until there was proper documentation of those biases (and Katherine Robbins 2014, 'The Portable Antiquities Scheme a Guide for researchers' is not it), it should be accepted that the PAS "database' is more a case of "rubbish in, Rubbish out", no matter "how many" artefacts it has got in it. Now this from a metal detecting forum near you, just a mouse-click away:

Not all finds are equal ... By liamnolan » Sun Dec 11, 2022 6:50 pm
At a club meeting a few years back, the FLO and fellow archie went around the finds tables and selected ONLY those finds that they felt needed prioritising for recording. Good or bad?
I had mates upset that their prized roman or hammy had not been taken away for further examination. However, I took the view that at least some missing pieces of the historical jigsaw of Norfolk had been recovered. I feel that will be the way forward now if there are limited PAS hours. Plus a rewriting of the guidelines for finders so as to lower expectations.
Should there be a charge made to finders for the PAS work? To increase paid hours?
An unpaid team of knowledgeable detectorists initially sifting through submitted routine finds, doing basic ID and recording, reserving more interesting finds for the FLO? Food for thought! Liam
Indeed, and some of the best minds in British archaeology are simply ignoring the implications, and not challenging the claptrap that "metal detecting is good for archaeology". Randomly selected loose objects are not "some missing pieces of the historical jigsaw of Norfolk" that have been recovered, they are fragments of evidence that has been destroyed by removing them with no documentation from their contexts and associations (including the objects the picky Norfolk FLO did not pick up and take away to enter on the "record").  Here's another one on the same topic:
geoman » Sun Dec 11, 2022 8:38 pm
To reduce the workload the PAS management some years ago reduced the number of items an FLO could take in from each finder and also instructed them to be more selective in what they recorded [Here, PMB].
There are high priorities placed on Treasure items as it is these items which provide the headline grabbing statistics each year to bleet that there has been another increase in treasure finds made by the public - all to keep the politicians and paymasters happy. They dont care too much if it is junk Treasure just that it is captured by the process.
FLO's are based at various museums and archeological department offices, who as local partners provide 10 % funding of the post in cash or kind. Usually it is a cosy desk in the corner of an office with a variety of admin requirements thrown in. The rest of the salary costs are paid by the PAS Central Unit from the funds allocated to the PAS by the British Museum. It is a common joke that the local partners provided 10 % of the costs ,but want 100% of the FLO's time. In some respects that is true and local managers have other priority tasks for their FLO's that are not about recording public finds. Dont forget all the PAS data is passed onto the HER's.
Local managers also have requirements to add information and detail to support the Regional Research Agendas for their area or county. This influences what the FLO's should record as priority items submitted by finders. For example in some counties rich in Roman remains high priority finds may be those of the Anglo Saxon period.
You can see that this will immediately skew any attempts to analyse these "data" in any way that is not "dots-on-a-map". This is biased towards an archaedology that is about loose artefacts in a landscape rather than the taphonomy and character of the sites they come from (in a landscape). A landcscape that is reduced to scattered and selected objects in blank space, rather than as part of a palimpsest. In other words, no "data" at all, especially when seen on the level of the archaeology of a site, a microregion or a landscape.  

And of course... "There are high priorities placed on Treasure items ..." is nonsense. As any law-abiding detectorist must know, they are not picked out by FL:Os, it is the finder's responsibility and legal obligation to report any and all potential Treasure items directly to the Coroner. As the Treasure Act is written, the PAS and the FLO have absolutely nothing to do with it.  



Sunday, 11 December 2022

Hobbyist's "Handful of History" is Generated by Trashing Everyone's Past


I stumbled across a post on social media where a metal detectorist has shown off publicly part of their finds (Posted by u/MidlifecyclistUK  3 years ago:A handful of history! My silver hammered coins dug up over the last few years. 

What kind of "History" is this? Serious question. The objects in his hand are merely a tangible illustration of a "history" that is known and knowable from the written sources, both primary and secondary. In the archaeological record, their positions and associations from which this anonymous collector has removed them to make this loose collection of trophies to boast about, carried a great deal of information about the past that will now never be known. Note the total lack in the photo of  any means of labelling the items, associating individual items with their field documentation.

How is a Portable Antiquities Scheme hoping to get through to people like this? What are they doing to reach these areas of the artefact hunting and collecting hobbies? If it is not working, what are they doing to change their approach? Serious question, they've cost us millions. 




British Metal Detectorist: Artefact Recovery Easier After Bulldozing





Metal Detectorist John Doe from North Essex has problems with the difficulty of digging and filling in holes that seems to be a strain on his back, he proposes a solution in the comments to another post here (9 December 2022 at 13:14):
I agree completely with your comments regarding the number of holes dug over a period of time by a metal detectorist. That problem would be solved very quickly were we to use [...] the bulldozer. One pass with lowered scraper blade would more than likely leave most coins and artifacts (sic) on, or near the surface thus obviating the need for unsightly little six-inch deep holes to be dug. Many thanks for drawing my attention to, and my remedy for, a most annoying practice.
This is of course the technique applied in metal detecting in Bulgaria to great effect. This is why we need an archaeological liaiason organization to explain to the less cognitively endowed blokes with metal detectors the difference between responsible behaviour and simple destruction. Quite clearly the existing Portable Antiquities Scheme is totally not up to the task that a nember of the hobby that they have been outreaching to over a quarter of a century can get it into his head to post something like that in the public domain. Either the PAS needs to be scrapped, or artefact hunting with a metal detector subjected to a permit system like in other areas of our continent.

Vignette: What seems to be looting with the use of bulldozers, north of Simferopol, Crimea (Google Earth, for illustrative purposes only) 

Breaking: New Official Estimate of Scale of Collection-Driven Exploitation of Archaeological Record

     rough visualisation of a trend       

 
As repeatedly mentioned on this blog, the public-funded Portable Antiquities Scheme has consistently failed to give the public any official estimate of the number of people exploiting the archaeological record as a source of collectable artefacts. The best they could do, after many years of the question being raised and their refusal to address it, was in August 2014 in their Guide for Researchers (p. 14). Based on previous estimates (including the NCMD, Thomas, Barford and Heritage Action) the PAS said eight years ago: "we estimate that there are around 9,600 metal detector users across England and Wales". Rather low, I would say. As I have written elsewhere, I accept Hardy's (2017) figure of 27000 as much more accurate. Though I have not written this up, I have also in recent months begun to suspect that this number should have been upped to 30000 (blue square in the figure), leaving the PAS' 2014 attempt well behind.

I was therefore very interested and disturbed to see the PAS' new estimate, fresh from the press. This appears in an odd two page document published recently by the PAS 'Managing/Meeting Finder’s Expectations' currently accessible (only) from the website of the National Council for Metal Detecting (why not the PAS website?). Of course, it being the dozy old PAS, they cannot write it clearly in relation to what they actually, themselves, do. Look at this:
There are as many as 40,000 people metal-detecting in the UK, and although PAS is keen to record as many finds as possible, it is not practical for FLOs to record every find made by each detectorist, as well as finds made by the wider public also.
Duh. The PAS and FLOs DO NOT cover the whole UK. They are responsible for recording finds from England and Wales, so why give a total for all detectorists in two other countries for which they are not responsible? On what are these figures based? Of course they do not say. One hopes a paper is already in print backing this up (but really, as a a long-time PAS-watcher, I'm willing to bet that there is not).

By the way, if the population of the UK is 67.33 million, and the number of detector using artefact hunters in the UK is 40,000, it means that one in 1683 citizens is a metal detectorist. That's pretty disturbing.

What can we do with these figures? Let's see. The PAS database (for Saturday 11th December 2021 until Sunday 11th December 2022) contains 43018 records containing information on the findspots of 53312 artefacts. Unfortunately there is no information given on the number of metal detector using finders that represents. Since that total includes items reported by members of the general public too, how many artefact hunters are responsibly coming forward with artefacts from collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record for recording in England and Wales? And how many are not? The NCMD says that there are a number of reasons why 'finders' are not coming forward responsibly with what they have dug up - trying now to shift the blame for falling reporting numbers onto the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

The PAS is a national (UK-wide) organization, so it is worth comparing the situation in Scotland where in the latest Treasure Trove Unit report available online (2019-20) we find that (p. 12) that 1732 Treasure finds were reported by artefact hunters + archaeologists = chance finders, as law requires, all of the finders opted to remain anonymous (report p. 34). Yet Hardy's estimate is that there are 1450 artefact hunters in Scotland (there are other estimates - but they all have the same implications). So in Scotland you can call yourself a "metal detectorist" if all you find is one object a year? By the same token, is a Scottish "angler" a bloke that catches on tiddly perch after a year of sitting on a folding stool silently staring sadly at a body of water? My feeling is that Scottish detectorists are finding more than they report.

So how does the PAS's estimate for detectorists in "the UK" break down to England and Wales? The low (and I would stress that) estimates of Hardy (2017) are as follows: England and Wales 27000, Scotland 1450, Northern Ireland, 225. For the lack of better figures, breaking down the PAS' new estimate of "40000" in the same proportions would give us the following: England and Wales 37600, Scotland 2000, Northern Ireland, 400 (but on what basis would PAS be assessing the number of detectorists in both these regions, anyway?).

Taking this one step further, applying (mainly for consistency with earlier estimates) the figures established by us for the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter,* those 37600 artefact hunters would be finding a nominal 1,137,000 recordable artefacts a year. This is a bit of a problem for the supporters of collaboration with artefact hunters. The PAS database barely has one million records after over quarter of a century of "partnership" when the present figures suggest that this should be the annual growth rate at the potential current pace of erosion.

If the PAS were recording the 80000 items a year it had been achieving in the pre-Pandemic past, according to figures derived from the Scheme's own most recent estimate, the Scheme was recording one in 14.2 hoiked artefacts. One in fourteen, 7.1%. Seven percent. That means ninety three percent of artefact hunted objects hoiked out of the archaeological record have disappeared with neither trace nor record, just leaving a blind-dug hole in its place, a massive obliteration of the archaeological record. That in itself is a massive indictment of the system and the archaeologists that are content to shrug shoulders and turn their backs on destruction of the archaeological record on such a scale. Using 2022's figures, 43018 records, gives an even more scandalous result, one that British archaeologists will snootily ignore. According to PAS' own figures, perhaps just one in 26.44 hoiked objects has been getting reported on the PAS database. That's pretty pathetic and very disturbing.

I am 100% sure that PAS and the great and good of British archaeology, along with their partners the metal detectorists on their forums, will dismiss this post as "wrong". They will point out that their "critics don't know" 25% (or whatever) of detectorists are incompetent oafs who never find anything at all - ignoring the fact that these are already accounted for in the HA algorithm's figures. So PAS and all your supporters, WHAT are the alternative figures?

And while on the topic, in the past few years, PAS has insisted on getting involved with increasing numbers of lowbrow TV shows centred around collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record (Britain's Secret Treasures, Henry Coles, the Michaela Strachan junk) on the grounds that they can promote their message. All that has happened is the number of metal detectorists has gone up, and the amount of recording being done has gone down. Time for any normal organization to reassess its policies. Will the PAS? 


* which since they were collected directly and personally, I prefer to the higher rates established by Hardy 2017


Reference cited
Portable Antiquities Scheme 2022, ‘Managing/Meeting Finder’s Expectations’,
       Pdf document 7 December 2022 2022 online access: https://www.ncmd.co.uk/wp-
       content/uploads/2022/12/Managing-FLO-Expectations-1.pdf


Saturday, 10 December 2022

The Forger’s tale: an insider’s account of corrupting the corpus of Cycladic figures



Christos Tsirogiannis , David W.J. Gill and Christopher Chippindale 2022, The Forger’s tale: an insider’s account of corrupting the corpus of Cycladic figures',   International Journal of Cultural Property  

 Abstract 

Many of the known Cycladic figures – the late prehistoric human-shaped sculptures from the Aegean archipelago – came from twentieth-century illicit excavations, especially in the 1960s and 1970s. It is also known that figures were being faked at the time and perhaps also earlier: a few fakes have been identified, whilst other figures are under suspicion. Interviews with a man who faked Cycladic figures in the 1980s and 1990s give us a first insider’s autobiographical account of the forging business. This article offers, step-by-step, the method that two forgers developed to create fake figures, to treat them so that they appeared ancient, and to sell them on. The forger has identified a few of these forgeries from photographs of figures; his story is consistent with other information and seems to ring true. By verifying various elements in the forger’s testimony – from names of well-known figures in the modern antiquities market to small details and dates – we have been able to evaluate the validity of the narrative; to use it in order to uncover the true paths that fake objects followed into various collections; and to highlight valuable provenance information that no one involved in trading these objects was ever willing to provide.
 

UK Detectorist Accuses "Thieving Archaeologists"


                          Bonhams                               
Metal detectorist John Howland writes about the "rampant double standards and low ethical standards" of archaeologists (Let them who are without sin… etc, etc… ,* Detecting and Collecting Blog, December 5, 2022). He starts with reference to mystery about the fate of some objects allegedly in the care of the PAS and its partner-organization that nobody can seem to trace now (shhhh.....). Howland is sure that some archaeological malpractice is involved and refers to a
"Detectorist who (rightly) complained in an online forum that he’d received an email from the PAS telling him that a hoard of Denarii coins he’d reported and handed over to them had gone missing. Naturally enough, he is somewhat aggrieved. Theft is a serious criminal offence". 
He then goes on to place this (possibly premature) allegation "in perspective” by relating it to  alleged archaeological thefts of the past ("Clearly, despite claims to the contrary, Detectorists don’t have the monopoly of the villainy"). 

For Howland, a key example is "the scandal and allegations that Howard Carter stole artefacts from Tutankhamun’s tomb". Certainly, there does not seem much doubt now that a hundred years ago, several small items from the tomb were indeed not handed to the Egyptian authorities as they should have been under the terms of the excavation permit. 

Howland, however, insists on bolstering his "case" against the discipline and urges his readers to cast their minds back forty years and not to forget: 
about archaeologist Ralph Pinder-Wilson’s sticky fingers, who in 1982 was sentenced to death in Afghanistan for stealing gold coins from a dig in Kabul. He was later reprieved serving a brief term in an Afghan slammer.  

I doubt that Howland actually has much first hand knowledge of this affair (exemplified by him not actually knowing where the coins were from - see below). I remember the matter was dragged up by Peter Tompa and his coiney friends of the ACCG, which may be where Howland heard of it (he cites no sources). 

Ralph Pinder-Wilson (17 January 1919 – 6 October 2008) was a Cambridge-educated British historian of Islamic art and linguist. Though he was involved in digging, I cannot see that he was educated in archaeology. He was formerly curator (and later Deputy Keeper) in the Department of Oriental Antiquities at The British Museum (1948-1976), he then left to become Director of the British Institute of Afghan Studies in Kabul (1976-82). His obituary by David Whitehouse, Journal of Glass Studies; Corning Vol. 51, (2009): 257-258 mentions that his tenure of the Kabul post "ended unhappily. In the aftermath of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the Institute closed in 1982, and Ralph was imprisoned on a trumped-up charge". His situation was mentioned at least once in Hansard. In another contemporary source we read:

Dr Ralph Pinder-Wilson, a 63-year-old British archaeologist, was first sentenced to death, then to ten years' imprisonment, and finally granted a pardon by the Afghan revolutionary government between March and July 1982. Pinder-Wilson, head of the British Institute of Afghan Studies, who had been working in Afghanistan since 1976, was charged with smuggling archaeological finds out of the country; with helping Afghan nationals to leave; and with criticising the government and spreading propaganda against it.
The New York Times reported July 15, 1982:
A British archeologist, Ralph Pinder-Wilson, was released from jail in Afghanistan today after nearly four months. He was flown immediately to India. The frail, 63-year-old director of the British Institute for Afghan Studies was one of the few Westerners to remain in the country after the Soviet intervention began in December 1979. He was jailed on charges of trying to smuggle antique coins out of Afghanistan and helping Afghans leave.
An expert on Islamic antiquity and for many years director of oriental antiquity for the British Museum, Mr. Pinder-Wilson had been in Afghanistan since 1977 as head of a British Institute team studying and cataloging architectural findings from the city of Kandahar. He was reportedly detained in Kabul on March 28.
More information comes from the archives of United Press International July 14, 1982
Distinguished British archaeologist Dr. Ralph Pinder-Wilson, sentenced to 10 years jail in Soviet-occupied Afghanistan last month, has been freed and is on his way home, a colleague said today.

Pinder-Wilson, 63 and in poor health, was released Monday in Kabul and was on his way to London via New Delhi, India, the Foreign Office told Basil Gray, president of the Society of Afghan Studies. Gray said he was 'deeply relieved' at the news because Pinder-Wilson, a former deputy keeper of oriental antiquities at the British Museum, suffered from a chronic stomach complaint and had been held incommunicado for three months by police in Afghanistan on smuggling charges. 'This whole business has been misunderstood and magnified by the Afghans,' Gray said. It is all a terrible mistake'.

Pinder-Wilson, a world authority on Islamic archaeology, went to Kabul in 1976 as Director of the Institute of Afghan studies. He was arrested by police in the Afghan capital in April and was accused of smuggling coins to Britain and encouraging Afghans to leave the country. He was tried by a revolutionary court in Kabul in early June and sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Gray said Pinder-Wilson had been in nominal charge of an archaeological excavation in the 2,000-year-old fortress in the old city of Kandahar, southern Afghanistan, where large numbers of ancient coins were being unearthed. These were being shipped back to London for conservation with the agreement of officials of the Afghan government he said. 'I can only assume that the officials who gave that permission are no longer in power in Afghanistan following the troubles there and that is how this mistake has been made,' he said.
Mr Howland however prefers to side with the version of the Revolutionary court in Soviet-occupied Kabul in his accusations over the coins.

On the other hand, there is another aspect to be discussed. 8 Oct 2009, Bonhams  London, New Bond Street sold for £ 6,600 in an Islamic and Indian Art auction, 'A STUDY COLLECTION OF GLASS FRAGMENTS OF THE EARLY AND MEDIEVAL ISLAMIC WORLD ASSEMBLED BY RALPH PINDER-WILSON Egypt or Syria, 8th - 13th Centuries [...] Together with excavation drawings by Ralph-Pinder Wilson (115)'. The sales blurb is interesting:
"Provenance: The Collection of the late Ralph Pinder-Wilson (1919-2008).

Ralph Pinder-Wilson was one of the foremost Islamic scholars of his generation, [...] Director of the British Institute of Afghan Studies in Kabul (1976-82). When the Institute was forced to close in 1982 under charges of espionage, Ralph was brought to trial, accused of encouraging Afghans to leave the country, and was given a ten-year prison sentence. He was released later the same year following the intervention of MP George Galloway. He returned to the UK and spent the rest of his life a dedicated, highly-respected and much loved expert in the field of Islamic art.

Ralph had a special interest in Islamic glass and this interesting collection of glass fragments reflects this. Many of the fragments are from Fustat, Egypt, and have parallels to those he published with George Scanlon in Fustat, Glass of the Early Islamid Period. Finds Excavated by the American Research Center in Egypt 1964-1980, London, 2001. Other fragments are labelled as having come from Raqqa, Syria.[...]
So, how did they leave Egypt and Syria? Note Bonhams misses out mention of the aspect of the court case that so interested Mr Howland. There was aso a manuscript miniature.



*With the general level of education of detectorists, one need not be surprised by this exhibition of Biblical illiteracy in misquoting this phrase, totally negating the actual point being made ("Let he").

British Metal Detectorists' Expectations, PAS Scramble to Play Along



Unlike the majority of the archaeologists who are all for collaborating with artefact hunting, Heritage Action follows what's happening in the detectorist's corner of social media. They report (10/12/2022) that: "National Council for Metal Detecting comes up with a fresh excuse for not recording finds! ". Remember, current figures (until the PAS upped the estimated number of detectorists from 27000 to 40000!) suggest that eight out of nine artefacts hoiked out of the ground by English and Welsh artefact hunters are NOT being reported (and the figures for Scottish ones are probably even worse). They report the threats and excuses used by tekkes for withholding information from the public about what they are hoiking and pocketing:
“The recording process” is the 16th bogus excuse NCMD has come up with over the years. Here is the full list:
“Don’t criticise us or we’ll stop reporting”,

“Don’t tell us what to do or we’ll stop reporting”,

“Don’t undertake surveys of nighthawking else we’ll stop reporting”,

“Don’t let PAS dominate us else we’ll stop reporting”

(and later: “Don’t reduce PAS’s funding else we’ll stop reporting”),

“Don’t impose a Code of Responsible Detecting else we’ll stop reporting”,

“Don’t discuss licensing us else we’ll stop reporting”,

“Don’t ban inappropriate rallies else we’ll stop reporting”, “Don’t impose restrictions under stewardship schemes else we’ll stop reporting”, “

Don’t tighten up EBay else we’ll stop reporting”,

“Don’t ever, ever, ever short change us on the Treasure rewards else we’ll stop reporting”,

“Don’t abate our Treasure rewards for not calling an archie out else we’ll stop reporting”,

“Don’t talk of using some of our Treasure rewards to finance proper excavations of our findspots else we’ll stop reporting”,

“Don’t write to farmers without us dictating what is to be said else we’ll stop reporting”

“Don’t extend the items covered by the Treasure Act beyond exactly what we say else we’ll stop reporting.”
And now: “It’s the system that prevents us from recording”.
But never mind, the PAS is jumping to help the poor tekkies out. The National Council for Metal Detecting has persuaded them to help:
"I asked Michael Lewis, Head of PAS, to provide an expectation document so that both sides could be clear as to what the recording process is, what the service levels should be and also, the escalation process if there is an issue. Michael has kindly provided that document, and has given his email address as the escalation part of the process, so any complaints can be directed to him. The good news is, the current system is being upgraded with the launch of a new PAS website, which will undoubtedly help to make things better, but it is likely to be at least 3 years before it is launched, so we will continue to work with the PAS to discuss the issues and to push for changes that could be made in the short term to improve the system for the benefit of all parties".

Reference: 

PORTABLE ANTIQUITIES SCHEME Managing/Meeting Finder’s Expectations
only available on the NCMD website.

Where is the one for archaeologists and heritage professionals and their expectations? 


Friday, 9 December 2022

Missing Objects: UK Detectorists Asked Not to Publicise or Discuss Publicly


Communication sent to metal detector users from the NCMD Thu Dec 08, 2022 10:32 am defining concerns about the floundering Portable Antiquities Scheme

NCMD committee has been highlighting to Michael Lewis, the PAS Advisory Group and the DCMS that in our view, both the current finds recording process and the treasure process in their current form are not fit for purpose and as a result, are making it difficult for our members to record their finds.

Indeed, it seems that some of our members have given up recording altogether and that is a major concern to the NCMD committee. To understand the facts around the processes, including the management of lost items, we have requested a range of information via FOI requests.
[...]
I should also mention at this point that a number treasure of items have gone missing in the NW of England which is being classed as a potential theft. I would emphasise that this is an isolated incident and needs to be viewed as such. There is a police investigation being conducted and we need to react according, so please refrain from making comments on social media until the full facts have been released [...] We will shortly be running a poll in regard to previous lost finds, so we’ll be in touch again in due course.
The message here is a bit confusing, the NCMD on the one hand assures its members that "this is an isolated incident" but on the other hand seems to have been recipient of information from somewhere that suggest there have been other instances. In such a case, one wonders why they make a firm statement (presumably we are invited to assume that they already have factual evidence to bolster that statement), while at the same time the numpties are still trying to muster the factual information that would bolster such a statement. In the latter case, it would seem that to make such a statement is premature. Bonkers, but, hey: "British metal detectorists", eh?  More to the point, where is the public statement of the PAS and its partner institution on this? Anyone seen one?

.

Wednesday, 7 December 2022

"Where have all the Cartwheel Pennies Gone?"



Metal detectors are increasing in sensitivity, more and more detectorists are out there in the UK searching more and more land to pocket artefacts from, and....
Swiss Rolly Thu Dec 01, 2022 11:27 pm "Where Have the Cartwheel Pennies Gone?"
Always nice to dig up, and got 1 or 2 a year (got 25 of them). But in the last 5 years nothing, nada, niente, zip, zero. Just seem to have dried up [...].
The archaeological record is FINITE .. duh

Finds Rate Over 30 years in North Essex. What UK's Pro-Detecting Arkies Prefer Not to Know About




Why do metal detecting forums only allow "approved" viewers to access the information they contain? The clue is what you will see if you sneak past the moderators posing as a diabetic West Indian carpenter from Walminton who just attends the rallies "for the company, great bunch of lads" like I do. You see all sorts of gems that elude the pro-detecting arkies (who NEVER go on such sources of information, as it contrasts with their comfy worldview):

Finds rate survey over 30 years in North Essex.
dragonsteeth71 » Tue Dec 06, 2022 8:30 pm
I've kept a detailed journal over the last thirty years and some of that includes targets dug for and 'interesting bits' recovered as a ratio. Taking away 'new' fields, as they are an unknown quantity, the 'favourites' will give me 25-35 signals an hour of which ten per cent I expect to be worth a second look (coin, buckle, wotnot). I usually go out for three hours at a time and most occasions, certainly in 2022, I'll bring back three silver coins with me of varying ages. Last trip out I got five hammered, a few before that I got a 'goose egg' as the best fields start to grow through. I agree it will depend which region of the country you are searching.

Between 7.5 and 10.5 artefacts each time he goes out, 75-105 holes dug into a finds-producing site. Say this guy goes out on average once every month, over 30 years that's the equivalent of  900-1260 x 30 = 27000-37800 holes dug, and 90 - 126 x 30 = 2700 - 3780 artefacts taken. One artefact hunter. How many detectorists have similar effect on the archaeological record, and how many making finds at that rate go out more than once a month? Can the detectorist-supporting archaeologists tell us? 

Potable Antiquities Officials Issue Statement

 

          photo uploaded by Susan Massari Lombardi       
The London-based Potable Antiquities Stream has issued a statement concerning allegations in the public domain concerning the reported disappearance of some potable antiquities in their care:

Certain allegations have recently surfaced concerning the location of certain items entrusted to our staff and their local partners. They are being treated with concern and full attention. The police have been invited to participate in the investigations from the outset.

We are sure the matter will be resolved in due course and a full report will be issued and steps taken to remedy any potential issues identified as a result. For obvious reasons, will not comment further prior to this. 

In the meanwhile, we would like to express our full support and confidence in the integrity and professionalism of all out regional partners, and stress that the British public should continue to feel justified in placing its trust in our organisation.

Bravo. This is unlike the similarly-named organization based in Bloomsbury, that weeks after certain allegations emerged, and ongoing discussions in news outlets and social media, have - as far as I can see - failed to address this issue (even with the blandest of generalities) in any public forum, allowing the rumours to swirl and damage to the Scheme's reputation to accumulate. Zero attempts at damage control. One might wonder why that is. Is that a lack of concern, incompetence of leadership, or a hope that if a problem is not talked about it will somehow fade away? 

I wrote to the Scheme almost three weeks days ago when the issue was raised in comments on this blog, from a metal detectorist accusing me of being part of a PAS cover-up (me!). 

I consider it highly unprofessional, of anyone, that twenty days later, I have not even received an acknowledgement of receipt of the original letter from the PAS, two subsequent reminders - let alone any kind of a reply. These people would not last long either in corporate Poland, nor in civil administration archaeology in Poland (14 days limit), no doubt the people responsible are glad they are employed in lackadaisical British archaeology and a smog-blackened museum in a little island off the coast of Europe.


Tuesday, 6 December 2022

A Decontextualised Spearhead "Saved from Rot"?



Diverting from the topic of a former post here on a crap British TV show, Digging For Treasure (PACHI Friday, 19 August 2022) an anonymous person, who I can only assume is a metal detectorist, has a series of comments that illustrates some of the problems arising from the British approach to collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record. They write:
Unknown said...5 December 2022 at 13:47 A very nice Bronze-age spearhead came to light on Graeme Rushton's popular Cumbrian digs, would you have preferred that it remained there and rotted away completely?
This is the usual junk-logic, totally oblivious to what I had written in the text to which they are ostensibly commenting. I replied: "Where is the evidence for the use of the word "rotting"? Presumably it has survived some 3200 years intact without "rotting" why would it start "rotting" only after the invention of the metal detector and in Graeme Rushton's lifetime? Serious question, please provide a link to the PAS database entry so we can see what state it actually is in. What was the soil?" and I added that the latest item found in Cumbria reported to the PAS was this one, which "does not look "rotting" to me". I repeated the challenge to provide information that was "evidence of it being saved from "rotting" and oblivion"? Of course here is the issue, it's not about preserving the artefact, but "me preserving it in MY own collection" that is the real, unspoken, issue. The anonymous commentator writes [hyperlink added]:
Unknown said...6 December 2022 at 06:24
Regarding the PAS database, due to all the suspected illegality surrounding the organization at the moment, and despite many attempts, I have been unable to contact any of the personnel there, resulting in said artifact remaining in my possession. If the facility were available would post a picture for you to see the evidence of corrosion on the socket which, if left would eventually destroy the whole piece. Once again I ask, would you have preferred it to have lain undiscovered until it became undiscoverable?

Unknown said...6 December 2022 at 06:54
Incidentally, regarding your disparaging comments regarding 'Digging for Treasure,' I am in full agreement, as are a great many involved in the metal detecting fraternity. Graeme Rushton, after his appearance, was asked to appear again but due to the frivolous, game-show impression generated by the presenters flatly refused. Even though you find it incomprehensible, we do have our standards.
Yes, the comment section of my blog is not set up to carry photos of "detecting finds". However, with there being some 78+ detecting forums, Facebook pages and uncounted social media accounts out there devoted to British "metal detecting" and other collectors' resources, I find it hard to believe that any detectorist actually wanting to post a photo up in a place that we can all see to demonstrate their point cannot do it.

In my comments about the TV show involving archaeologists, the "gameshow atmosphere" was the least of the problems I wrote about.

The collector does not explain how they and the landowner have obtained (and funded) qualified professional conservation treatment dealing with the "corrosion on the socket" that allegedly "if left would eventually destroy the whole piece" (for this and any other objects in their collection in the same state). Frankly, I doubt that the writer of this comment has any qualifications at all in corrosion science to put them in a position to make such a definitive statement. 

As for the accusation that "despite many attempts" this finder was unable to contact any of the personnel of the PAS database "due to all the suspected illegality surrounding the organization at the moment", I find that a rather puzzling statement. How would that prevent a "responsible detectorist" acting responsibly?
 

Wednesday, 30 November 2022

"I have every confidence in the dealer"


Uh-oh.
quam-antiquum Nov 30 #97668
I bought this piece about a month ago as a Moche vessel. I have every confidence in the dealer I purchased it from and trust that it is indeed ancient, but I can't find any analog for it in Moche art and culture. Could someone help me identify this, or perhaps point me to other examples that I haven't been able to find? Is there a name for vessels of this type?
The dealer is not named, nor (red flag) is any mention made of collection history/documentation. Reply from other forum member:
PeregrineNov 30 #97669 It looks a lot like an African pipe bowl; follow link for examples: https://pipemuseum.nl/en/de-graslanden-van-kameroen
Mmmm. And indeed it is. And not necessarily "ancient". This was an example of a "trusted" dealer that knows his or her stuff, eh? Where do they pluck their cultural attributions from? Thin air? And collectors, do they really know what they are doing, actually? 


"Ancient Art" Conundrum



Estimate: £4,000 - 6,000 (+bp*) Sold for (Inc. bp): £4,680


In a break with their normal practice, it seems that you can now comment below the YouTube videos that TimeLine Auctions uses to display some of their more recent acquisitions. An example is this rather odd-looking ["unbelievable"] relief in ancient Egyptian style (whose collection history only goes back to "[a] French collection, 1990s-early 2000s"). Where is it from?

But there are some comments. Barb in FL 4 days ago wrote: "Shouldn't it be returned to Egypt to a museum? Who stole it in the first place?" [no reply as yet]. I was more interested in its form and iconography.
PortAntissues 19 hours ago
This caught my eye. This is from an external surface (sunken relief) but where and how did it get this extensive wear? You do not say. What was the context it was discovered in (a floor maybe?) that would shed some light on its current condition? "French collection, 1990s-early 2000s" does not tell us much about the collection history or actual origins. How did it leave Egypt, is there any documentation?

What does the back look like? Has it been sawn off a larger block, or was it originally a slab? You do not say.

The iconography is a bit weird isn't it? Did the artist intend to depict him with deformed shoulders and misshapen arms? Also the profile of the "wife" is rather poor, with piggy little eyes.

If this is a seated figure and the horizontal lines are supposed to be their thighs (yes?) why do they look different from other reliefs of this period where a sceptre is shown, where the arm is above the thigh, not resting on it? Anyway, try and put your elbows on the top of your thighs while sitting on a stool. Where are the figure's bottoms? The ancient Egyptians were very fond of bottoms (aren't we all?) and it is odd that this couple were shown in such a bottomless form.

This craftsman, whenever he lived was not very good, was he? As "art". it's all a bit gawky and odd looking. Perhaps that is why Mr Tim Wonnacott is so enamoured of it? I wonder who will end up buying it?

No answer to that, either.  

LOT 0028 is dated by eminent TimeLine specialists ("Dr Alberto Maria Pollastrini, Paul Whelan, MA, Peter Clayton, FCILIP, Dip, Arch, FSA, FRNS") to the Ramesside period. Maybe, I am not sure on what evidence. But compare it with - for example - this one of Kha'emweset, son of Ramesses II. There are some differences.

I think it is especially disappointing that the people that put it on the market have disconnected it from the information about its biography. For example was it found redeposied in a later context - like, maybe, used as a paving stone, but face-up. Or is the erosion due to water movement? What was its history? If we postulate that it is from the exterior wall of a tomb chapel, to whom did it belong? We obviously will never know, the passage of this object through the market has ensureed that this information is lost.
 

Tuesday, 29 November 2022

Mr Bonchev's "Fresh-to-Market Well-Provenanced Antiquities"

Apollo Art Auctions Presents Fresh-To-Market Ancient Art and Antiquities of Extraordinary Quality  LuxuryLifestyle.com  

11/29/2022 by Apollo Art Auctions With each successive sale, London's Apollo Art Auctions delights collectors of ancient art and antiquities with a fresh selection of fully authenticated treasures from bygone civilizations. Each rare object – whether valued for its great beauty, historical significance, or both – is offered with the assurance that it has been vetted by top experts working under the direction of Apollo's founder, Dr. Ivan Bonchev (Ph.D., University of Oxford). On October 9th, the London-based firm will conduct yet another outstanding gallery auction of ancient art and antiquities, with worldwide bidding available online through LiveAuctioneers.

The beautifully illustrated catalogue features 499 lots divided into three sections: Classical and Egyptian, Masterpieces of Ancient Asia, and Medieval Antiquities and Ancient Weaponry. The well-provenanced artifacts represent cultures of many significant eras and geographic regions, including Classical Europe, Egypt, the Near East, India and China.[...]

Apollo Art Auctions is located in a newly expanded gallery at 25 Bury Place in the heart of London's Bloomsbury district, opposite The British Museum. Their Oct. 9, 2022 auction will commence at 7 a.m. US ET/12 noon BST. View the fully illustrated auction catalogue and sign up to bid absentee or live online through LiveAuctioneers. Apollo Art Auctions is a member of the British Numismatic Trading Association (BNTA) and the Art Loss Register (AR).


Oscar White Muscarella

Like others in our field,  I was sorry to hear of the passing away of Oscar White Muscarella on November 27 at the age of 91. His important work "The Lie Became Great: The Forgery of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures" (2000), opened the eyes of many to the scale of the distortion of the archaeological record by the functioning of the antiquities market and collecting. Oscar Muscarella was an early courageous voice in the movement to hold museums accountable for their part in the illicit antiquities market. In his career he played a heavy price for his advocacy and his memory deserves to be honored.

Friday, 25 November 2022

When is an Amber Coloured Substance not Amber?



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There is an interesting case concerning when a single misidentification in a sales spiel can change perceptions about the past. In ancient times, there were only a limited number of sources known for amber. The antiquities dealer 'Sands of Time' held a Black Friday Sale (It's here, it's happening, it's the sale you've been waiting for! ❤️): 

MA2217 A rare Sumerian Amber Seal of a Lion ca. 3000 BCE [...] $1,950 USD
sensitively modeled from amber, rendered in the form of a recumbent lion with small vertically drilled eyes, with small alert ears, the legs bent, the underside depicting two felines surrounded by dots. Vertically pierced for attachment. A very rare example in this medium. [...] Provenance:
Property of a Philadelphia collector.
From the property of a London gentleman; thence by descent;
previously in an important private Mayfair, London, UK, collection, acquired after 1970,
accompanied by a paper by Professor W.G. Lambert.[...]

But, an email sent accidentally to a forum reveals what lies behind that dealer-garble:

Hi Sue, I want to inform you about one of the items in your Near Eastern Gallery, the brown Sumerian lion-form stamp seal ca. 3000 BCE. I am the Philadelphia collector who consigned this to Arte Primitivo. The only reason I purchased it from TimeLine Auctions is that it was purportedly amber, as per the note by Lambert, which would make it very rare. I showed it to Max Bernheimer at Christie’s, and he immediately determined that it is definitely not amber, although he thought it was genuine. I then performed a salt water test on it, and it did not float, as amber would, confirming his conclusion. That was the main reason I decided to sell it (at a loss). I agree with Howard Rose’s opinion that it is probably brown agate. I thought you would want to know about this.
Best regards,
Lee Simerman 
Oops, eh? Now actually there is a fair difference in 'heft' (the technical term for specific gravity) between amber and agate,* so just having it in your hand should tell an experienced dealer (or gemstone collector) the difference. Professor Lambert should have known. But here is the rub. Nowhere in the Washington dealer's "provenance" (she means collection history) is there mention of Howard Rose's Arte Primitivo (East 65th Street, New York city) why? And where is TimeLine Auctions mentioned? Is that the "London gentleman"? Presumably in both cases the item would be in the catalogues of both sales, so why is that fact not mentioned? Furthermore, "in an important private Mayfair, London, UK, collection, acquired after 1970" does not place the export before the relevant legislation. So where is the mention of the export papers? Note how this collection history emphasises ownership, but obscures the agency of the antiquities trade in the process of moving it from one place to another. Sue McGovern-Huffman is the President of the "Association of Dealers and Collectors of Ancient and Ethnographic Art".

Oh yes, and let us just mention US amateurs dunking dugup antiquities in "salt water" in the absence of any other more technical way to analyse the artefacts they acquire.

 * as the gemological specialists at "TimeLine Auctions Inc. Gregory, Bottley and Lloyd (Gregorys) Est. 1858" would know: Amber 1.08, Agate 2.60 - 2.65.

UPDATE

On an antiquities collectors' forum near you: Sue McGovern 7:19pm #97664
Hi Lee, Thanks for the heads up, and apologies for the delay in responding, it has been a busy time. It is interesting you raised an issue with this seal because I’ve gone backward and forward on it before thinking it is amber. I’m not convinced it is brown agate because it is very light, and quite transparent without the agate markings. I’ve pulled it from the website to restudy the piece, and given the background you’ve now provided, will have a professional gemologist take a look at it. Will keep you updated,
Again, very much appreciate your input and hope you had a great Thanksgiving weekend.
Whoah. It was up on the dealer's website as "amber" (very rare and significant is it is Sumerian) even though in reality the dealer has "gone backward and forward" on the identification of the raw material, and even though that has happened, at no time before the sale did she contact a proper gemologist, and in both the title and description, the object is stated categorically to be amber. Secondly what does the term "agate markings" mean? I presume it means it is not banded, but then semitranslucent brownish unbanded cryptocrystalline quartz [chalcedony] is called "carnelian" (and if opaque jasper, or if darker in colour sard). All have more or less the dame SG, but McGovern does not quantify the value of her "light". It is an interesting exercise to Google the term ""Sumerian carnelian"", despite all the museum collections that have been digitalised and online, the hits form a very interesting and thought-provoking pattern. Although some entries have been deleted from the internet leaving a very vestigial entry, it does look a little as if the term mainly occurs in the listings of just two dealers, one in the US and one in the UK. If so, these dealers are maybe creating new knowledge about trade relations of southern Mesopotamia between c. 4100-1750 BCE, or maybe they are doing siomething else. Question, how is a "professional gemmologist" going to tell whether the object is an authentic antiquity without any information about the archaeological context it was supposedly found in?


 
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