Monday, 23 May 2022

UK Detectorist: "Only The Pandemic Stopped Me Trespassing"


The BBC reckons it needed to run a story about an artefact hunter explaining why he did it illegally ('Nighthawking: Metal detectorist explains why he broke the law' 21.05.2022)
A metal detectorist has explained why he broke the law to go "nighthawking" on private land in search of buried treasure. Peter, from Southampton, used to go out at night two or three nights a week [...] Peter has been metal detecting for 18 years, and said he only gave up going out at night after a famer gave him permission to search on his land. [...] Peter, 64, said [...] that his finds over the years had not made him rich. "I found a gold ring once, a roman brooch, buckles, but never any gold coins," he said. "I used to keep it but I met a collector and cashed it all in and paid off my rent arrears. Everyone thinks it makes you rich, but it doesn't.
In fact this article does NOT explain why "Pete" "broke the law", or even thought he was entitled to. It lightly passes over the promised meat of the story just to say that he "stopped" when one landowner gave him search-and-take permission. This should have been explained in more detail, a "nighthawk" is just a bloke who'd not got aound to asking?

Then there is the usual. After an object-centred "what if?", Mark Harrison Head of Heritage Crime Strategy at Historic England said illegal artefact hunting was "stealing our past" but "the majority of detectorists were law-abiding and reported their finds". Well, the latter part of that sentence is complete bollocks. The two do not go together at all, and the majority of finds quite clearly are not being reported, no matter how you measure it.

Meanwhile Barely-repentant "Pete" is not reported to be feeling that he should be giving back those artefacts to the landowners he took them from. Neither are teh circumstances that led to him asking for and getting that first "permission" and what any of that had to do with the pandemic.

Sunday, 22 May 2022

Inside the multimillion-dollar illegal trade in artefacts from the Middle East

 Inside the multimillion-dollar illegal trade in artefacts from the Middle East UAE-based The National investigates "what is being done to prevent the illegal trade of artefacts in the Middle East" (here: Yemen, Iraq, Egypt) "and return them to their nation of origin" (article by Nada El Sawy, Sinan Mahmoud, Mina Aldroubi).

Hmm. The image at the top is from a Welayat Nineveh video of April 2015, showing ISIL activists destroying reliefs in the ancient Assyrian city of Nimrud in northern Iraq rather than anything directly concerning the antiquities trade. The whole article is confused and confusing and has a markedly dated look, as if it was cobbled together from a sheath of mixed papers found overlooked in a drawer in the editorial office. It was composed just recently (reference to Alaa Hassanein sentencing as "last month"), so it serves to show how little headway we have actually been making with this problem in the public sphere over the last decade or so. And all the time, the emphasis is on "repatriation" of loose decontextualised objects, rather than on fighting the destruction of evidence getting them onto the market causes.

Saturday, 21 May 2022

Ialysos Ring Returned to Greece

Ialysos Ring

A Mycenaean-era gold ring has been returned to Greece decades after it was stolen from a museum during the Second World War ('This ancient, stolen ring is back home after a wild ride CBC News May 20, 2022) The ring, decorated with two facing sphinxes, had been discovered in fieldwork in 1927 in a Mycenaean grave near the ancient city of Ialysos on Rhodes (which at that time belonged to Italy). It was placed in the museum there, but was stolen during the second World War along with other pieces of jewellery and coins that remain missing. Not long after that,
it was brought to the U.S. during the 1950s or 1960s by Georg von Bekesy, a biophysicist and art collector whose collection was donated to the Nobel Foundation after his 1972 death and from there distributed to several museums [...] The Stockholm museum had initially identified the ring from Ialysos in 1975 and contacted Greek authorities, the ministry said. "But it remained in Stockholm for reasons that are not clear from existing archives," Friday's statement said. The artwork will now be displayed in a museum on Rhodes.

UK Cosplay Detectorist: Indy Made Me Do It.

            Cosplay shots supplied by
             Mr Ridgeway to BBC

After some two decades of artefact hunting, a butcher from Ashbocking in Suffolk has found a 1st century AD hoard with the latest coin being an aureus (?) of Claudius* near his home (Anon,'Indiana Jones fan's Suffolk treasure find 'largest' Claudius reign hoard' BBC East 21 May 2022): 
Lifelong fan of fictional film archaeologist and adventurer Indiana Jones, George Ridgway, 31, found 748 Roman and Iron Age gold and silver coins near Ipswich in 2019. He said he was "stunned" by the find [...] "awesome and amazing", but stressed he did this for "the love of history-hunting" rather than for monetary gain.
The article describes his fascination with Harrison Ford's film character, Indiana Jones as an "obsession",
"as a child he dressed as "Indy", and on many occasions, still does, sporting the fedora hat and the occasional whip [...] He said his childhood dream of being a real-life Indiana Jones seemed to be coming true. "I wanted to be like him - something resonated with me from a very early age - locating mystic relics - he's such an iconic figure ".
The article explains that the hoard was found by targeting a site with "an unusual crop marking in a Suffolk field [that he found] while tracing Roman roads on Google Earth". So, not a random find.
"After about two hours, I had found 180 coins - I was stunned, really." He went on to find parts of a broken pot and further coins, which he believes had been buried together as one stash. "My dad slept at the site for the first two nights to protect it," Mr Ridgway said. It took about three months, working with archaeologists, to uncover the rest - a total of 748 coins - although Mr Ridgway said he had found others, since.
So, that recovery was not done very thoroughly then. What else did the hapless archaeologists not record? 
"Further finds at the Suffolk site have led Mr Ridgway to believe there is evidence of a previously unknown Roman settlement, which he hopes to explore further with county archaeologists",
 what does this hide? That archaeologists will be out there documenting what he disturbs as he scoops the collectables into his finds pouch and carrying out an intensive gridded fieldwalking survey of this field and adjacent ones in conditions of good visibility with full pickup? Or does this phrase merely mean that he'll trot along to the Museum/County Archaeologist on a rainy day from time to time with a carrier bag full of selected little metal objects? There is a world of difference between the information yield from the two.

As for the location, its not actually any great achievement to "follow the Roman roads" in this region, it is Ivan Margery's (1957, "Roman Roads in Britain') Route 340: Combretovium (a site I once wrote about the cropmarks of) to Clopton Corner [there's a website here]. One wonders how much of a correlation there is between Roman road lines and metal detected sites from which lots of Roman finds came from (a potential thesis there for somebody).  Fieldwork in Ashbocking has previously revealed Roman sites (e.g., in 1950 here p. 206, here on metal-detectorists'-helpmate Suffolk Heritage Explorer)  

* Archaeological caveat, BM experts are hailing this as "the largest precious metal hoard found in Britain dating from the reign of Claudius I" but of course the coin gives only a TPQ.

Archaeological Methodology, Preservation by Documentation and a Strapend


                STRAP END WMID-CD8439         

Dr John Naylor at the Ashmolean Museum, National Finds Adviser for the PAS decided to do some social media public outreach by doing some object-centred 'show and tell' and truiumphant gatekeeping posting a "#finds Friday". he used a picture and link to the PAS description of a metal detected object from Leicestershire, an Early Medieval strapend "which would have adorned a belt or strap. A typical shape, with animal head at one end, the ornate geometric decoration shows careful design on a small but visible dress fitting" sounds like he's offering it for sale. As does the PAS database description to which he links.

There is however a bit of a problem with this record, it does not fully describe the object (the heads of those rivets?) confuses "edge" with "end" (hence terminal), makes reference to some "annulets" that do not exist in the decoration, and in the illustration the section is reversed with respect to the frontal and back views. I commented on the latter:
Paul Barford@PortantIssues 20 maj
Unusual, this one, in having the split to hold the strap at the narrower end. While this is clear from illustration, I'm surprised this isn't mentioned in the rather cut-and-pastey (auction house style) description, was it anonymously recorded by a pro- @findsorguk FLO, or a volunteer?/ Why are the names for the member of @findsorguk staff responsible for the report no longer visible in the public record? Is it to dodge taking responsibility for accuracy and reliability of records created & curated using public funds? "WMID" = 'Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery'

Let's just add to that. There is no comment on the decoration at the other end of the object, nor why the rivets are visible only on the front side (one clearly) and not the rear which raises the question of the actual technology used here. Instead of saying the thing has "a [smooth -PMB] dark green to black coloured surface [sic] patina", the author could have drawn attention to the rather severe pitting filled with light-coloured material. This is not agricultural chemical damage, it is something else. It is also notable that this is more severe towards one end of the object, is this due to varying metal composition? Who knows, because nobody analysed it, this is an eyes only description of the superficial features. Also I would have expected some kind of discussion of the technique of manufacture of this object, was it cast with a split end? Or was it assembled by brazing together two flat plates? If so, are the rivets cast as part of the back plate? 

One might conclude from his response to my original tweet that Dr Naylor is another PAS employee who has no distance to his work and entirely lacking in a sense of humour (experience shows this is many of them):

Dr John Naylor@DrJohnNaylor 15 g.
W odpowiedzi do @PortantIssues @findsorguk i @FloMidlands
The split end is a typical feature on strap ends of this type (belonging to Thomas’s Class A) with the material placed between and riveted through. It’s seen on lots of examples we record as well as in excavated assemblages such as those at Flixborough or Brandon. [...] And it’s an excellent record and image, all clearly describing the object and its identification while also providing some background context.

Duh, he seems to think that archaeologists other than himself and PAS employees have no idea what a strapend is and how it functions. Oddly enough he seems not to consider the possibility that some of us will have written up precisely similar items themselves... so the PAS record gets the Naylor stamp of approval ("excellent"), despite the illustration being wrong. Hmm, so much for PAS 'standards'  (note he dodged the question about anonymity, lack of accountability):

Paul Barford @PortantIssues 11 g. The excellence or otherwise of the anonymous description and image is a subjective opinion. As 'preservation by record' there is a whole lot missing. (where are these "annulets", which is the edge and which the end? Typos 'pf') Text sounds like an auction catalogue description./ "Providing some background context" largely consists of citing the same 20-year old simple typology for all of the items of this type among the 2700 EM strapends in Database. Dealer-style narrativisation to hide lack of anything more archaeological to say than "what type it is". / What do archaeologists mean when we use the word "context"? This "background context" of which you speak is confusingly not the same as a proper archaeological context for a ripped-out piece of collector-pocketed archaeological evidence, is it? Perhaps need different word for it. / Surely this is the kind of methodological discussion and debate that 40 archaeological @findsorguk specialists based in "119 national and local partners", should be leading, not muddling? Where is object-centred archaeology going?

But of course PAS will not be taking part in any such discussion as long as they consider themselves to be the only ones in this world that "know about finds" and the rest of us need to be condescendingly lectured from their 119 ivory towers, when in fact it is to themselves, their employees and the artefact collectors they work with they need to look. 

Friday, 20 May 2022

Caveat, Oh caveat Oh Empies

          Invaluable? Really?         
Who decides? 

One born every minute in Collectaland:
Ihnasiyah Gallery @amery_1 19 maj
Beware, Berners auctions in Ohio USA selling fake ushabtis. A good clue is a) they can't even spell 'ushabti' and b) all figures are photographed laying down at an angle so you can't really see the detail properly. Buyer beware
Egyptian Ushibati 2.5" Long
I think however we can see enough that suggests that this is one of those ridiculous ones that depicts the figure going to work with a socking big winged beetle clasping onto their abdomen. So having decided that this is no older than a modern tourist souk, we might wonder what some enterprising Egyptian seller did to get it look so gunky. My recommendation is to wash your hands after handling and don't let it get it anywhere near food or young children. 

Tuesday, 17 May 2022

Buying the Past in Pieces: World History Seen from Idaho

The Idaho firm Engineered Labs (Tim and Cory Marriott) designs and manufactures "unique science-related gifts", amoung them is
"the Heritage Personal Museum, a collection of fragments from 33 historical artifacts and rare specimens enclosed in an acrylic case, which it sells on its website for $189.99. The collection features fragments of items such as Egyptian mummy beads, a woolly mammoth tusk, and Mayan jade"

 One of the Marriots explained that "the company would only sell fragments “that are already broken in small pieces” for the product", which really begs the question of where on the market one can actually acquire (legally or without regard to antiquities laws) buy such small embeddable pieces? As far as this observer of the trade is concerned this looks to be an extraordinarily difficult task. Unless they are misleading us about not breaking stuff up to sell off piecemeal. Here's the blurb and full list of the current offering (note, the "Mayan (sic) jade" is missing):

 The Heritage Museum is a collection of artifacts from the history of the world. The specimens have been specifically selected and curated for the museum. From meteorites and dinosaur fossils to barbed wire from D-Day, the personal museum includes artifacts from some of the most important events in history. Each artifact is carefully prepared for inclusion. The samples are then professionally cast in acrylic. The museums are polished to a glass-like surface and will last for generations with proper care. [...] Each artifact in the museum is authentic and has inherent historical importance. The artifacts span not only the history of the world but also the history of the universe. The museum dimensions are approximately 4.5" x 6.0" x 1.0" and contain 33 artifact specimens. A microfiber bag and a certificate of authenticity come with every museum. The following list shows the specimens that are included in each museum. We hope that you will find the following artifacts as interesting and intriguing as we do. 

1.     Revolutionary War Lead

2.     USS Constitution Wood

3.    Civil War Bullet

4.   Wright Brothers Flyer Fabric

5.   [Lockheed] SR-71 Titanium

6.   Space Shuttle Insulation

7.   Apollo 11 Command Module Metal

8.   Sand from Pearl Harbor

9.   D-Day Barbed Wire (Utah/Omaha Beaches)

10.           Sand from Iwo Jima

11.           Trinitite (The Manhattan Project)

12.           Berlin Wall

13.           Titanic Coal

14.           Great Wall of China Fragment

15.           Ancient Greek Pottery

16.           Coin from the Roman Empire (c. 300 AD)

17.           Pompeii Ash

18.           Egyptian Mummy Linen (c. 100 BCE)

19.           Woolly Mammoth Hair

20.           Mini Shark Tooth Fossil

21.           Megaolodon Tooth

22.           Petrified Wood from Antarctica

23.           Insect Embedded in Amber

24.           Ankylosaurus Armor

25.           Tyrannosaurus Rex Tooth 

26.           Dinosaur Egg Shell

27.           Dinosaur Coprolite 

28.           Triceratops Brow Horn

29.           Plesiosaurus Bone

30.           Moldavite

31.           Stromatolite

32.           Martian Meteorite

33.           Carbonaceous Chondrite"

It is interesting to note that of these 15 items (Nos 19-33) are geological specimens that can be picked up at most rock and mineral markets. We note that virtually none of them are provenanced (for example what is the registration number of the meteorite specimens used?).

Then we note that in this encapsulated view of "
not only the history of the world but also the history of the universe" the USA figures very prominently... (nos 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11). One wonders how some of this material was accessed, for example the metal from space vehicles (as I understand it remains like this are property of the US government). For this reason, there is no piece here of space shuttle wreckage, and material from (American) Civil War battlefields. I guess that "Berlin Wall" and "Titanic coal" are also here because of a perceived US connection.  Note that nothing pre- 17776 is there for the entire American continent. This is White American history. 

This basically leaves five items to represent the rest of world history, black and white: 14. Great Wall of China Fragment (protected monument, "obtained by governmental permission from the Badaling Section". This theme will appeal to Trump voters though), 15. Ancient Greek Pottery (unprovenanced, "4th century BC"). 16. Coin from the Roman Empire c. 300 AD ("the ancient coin included in the Heritage Museum comes from this profoundly influential empire", so metal detecting somewhere... The ones pictured seem to have Trier mintmarks), 17. Pompeii Ash, 18. Egyptian Mummy Linen c. 100 BCE (so, actually Coptic: unprovenanced, how and when did it leave Egypt?). So the staple eBay collectables periods, Egypt, Greece, Rome (no "Viking"?) and China.  

This product came to notice because of a silly Tiktok video that featured the deliberate shattering of an Indus Valley pot, apparently in the company's stores. There are other pots of this class type visible, one has a drainage hole and was presumably manufactured as a plant pot. Another has non-canonical decoration. When a fuss blew up about the video, it was explained that the pot was a replica ( Ade Onibada, 'Turns Out That 3,000-Year-Old Artifact That Was Destroyed In A Viral TikTok Was Fake And The Company Has Nobody To Blame But Themselves' BuzzFeed News May 13, 2022):

The short clip that has gone viral and prompted criticism was captioned “this pottery made it 3,000 years without breaking” and ended with the creator tossing the small pot to the ground, where it smashed on impact. In reference to the now-deleted TikTok, Marriott explained that the employee made the decision to incorrectly describe the replica as a 3,000-year-old artifact “to grab attention.” “Obviously, we wouldn't break a pristine cultural artifact just for a TikTok video,” Marriott said in his email.
So, just a stupid marketing stunt to draw attention to themselves.  And yes, most Indus Valley/Harrapa/ Mehrgarh pots and artefacts on the market are fakes.

Metal Detectors Across the Sea


Never mind the "environment", look at my butterflies!

On social media we were alerted by Archaeology Irland Magazine (@Archaeology_Irl) that "an international supermarket chain is selling metal detectors in Ireland for seeking ‘treasure and artefacts’. It is against the law to use metal detectors for this purpose in Ireland without a license", so this is a repeat of the Cadbury's Treasure Hunt fiasco all over again. In response, an individual called "@Dubht1"(who mostly retweets pro-Russian twaddle on the invasion of Ukraine and anti-vax stuff, you get the picture), obviously oblivious to why the law exists as it does (and ignoring the fact that the issue of a licence would have a purpose) asks: So is it better to leave history uncovered??? He seems to be Irish and we assume he means "unrecovered". The usual vacant trope. I decided to address the issue:
Paul Barford @PortantIssues · 5 g.
"Better" than what, @Dubht1 ?

Even in England and Wales where there is a recording Scheme touted as "successful", EIGHT IN NINE "uncovered" artefacts simply vanish into metal detectorists' pockets unrecorded / As far as figures available show, situation in other countries, such as Scotland and Denmark (also claimed by metal-detecting-groupies as "successes") is no better. Artefact hunting everywhere destroys "Uncovered history"! That's why the use of these tools should be restricted.
Seems pretty unequivocal to me, but not if you are an Irish anti-vaxer:
@Dubht1 · 42 min
Is it better than never being found thou? I'm sure there are some unscrupulous people that pocket finds but the majority of detecorists would report important finds to their Flo.
There we go, the usual "minority of unscrupulous people that are not real metal detectorists like me and my mates" bla-bla mantra. Let's just note that in neither part of Ireland is there a FLO....
Paul Barford @PortantIssues · 22 min

Did you actually read what I wrote? As I said, it is very clear that the majority of detectorists just trash sites and assemblages to hoik out artefacts that never get reported. So from the point of view of saving sites from vandalism, better they don't dig holes all over them. [...] It's the same argument with wild orchids and osprey eggs, in the middle of a field or up a tree, nobody will see them, but if some collector collects them, they can show the world what they've got, eh? This is however not what we call "conservation", in Ireland or anywhere else.
Dubht1 replies:
Um, er, yeah I did but I don't agree with you.There are unscrupulous people in every walk of life you shouldn't tar all detecorists with the same brush...Our museum's are full of artifects that detecorists have found.
It is difficult to imagine a conversation with a detectorist that would contain more cliches.
Paul Barford @PortantIssues · 36 min
W odpowiedzi do @Dubht1 @Archaeology_Irl i @32_ireland
You "don't agree" about what? On which evidence? What are your figures and where do they come from? if a minority of Brits love or have dogs it's not "tarring Brits with same brush" to call them a nation of dog lovers, is it? Majority of detectorist finds NOT reported. Ask PAS.
Later, it came as no surprise that although he disagreed with it, "Dove" had not actually read the text to which I linked, and totally unsurprisingly intones the next cliche: " Archaeologists should work with detectorists as one big happy family unearthing history together".

Behave Yourself on Holiday in Iraq, or Just Don't Go


UK Home Office: "Code Red,
        Advise against all travel"       
The trial in Iraq has started of a Briton and a German allegedly found with ancient pottery shards in their luggage who claim ignorance of the law concerning such artefacts. When they were leaving the country, according to statements from customs officers and witnesses, the baggage of one of the men contained about a dozen stone fragments, pieces of pottery or ceramics, while two further pieces were found in a plastic bag in the luggage of the German (AFP, 'Briton, German on trial in Iraq over pottery shards' 15/05/2022):
James Fitton, 66, a retired British geologist, and Volker Waldmann, 60, a Berlin psychologist [...] were arrested March 20 at Baghdad airport [...] The judge told the accused they were charged under a 2002 law which provides for sentences up to the death penalty for those guilty of "intentionally taking or trying to take out of Iraq an antiquity". [...] When the judge asked Fitton why he tried to take the artefacts out of Iraq, he cited his "hobby" and said he did not mean to do anything illegal. "I didn't realise that taking them was against the law," he said, adding that some of the ancient sites were open and unguarded. "I am a retired geologist. My interests still lie in geology and ancient history and archeology," said Fitton, who lives in Malaysia. He added that "most of the pieces were really small".
Reportedly, the fragments came from the Eridu archaeological site in southern Iraq. The trial is to continue on May 22.

Publicity around this trial will undoubtably make people think twice about visiting Iraq, at a time when teh country is hoping to achieve the regrowth of tourism, among which one key point is to encourage international visitors to tour its many archaeological sites (many of which are anyway pockmarked with unsightly looters' holes). Even if they do not intend to gather a few sherds from the ground surface as souvenirs, this case suggests that there is no telling what other harsh penalties exist in Iraq for a traveller carelessly behaving as they would at home. The UK Home Office and US State Department still both advise not going to Iraq at all due to terrorism, kidnapping, armed conflict, civil unrest, and limited capacity of diplomats there to provide support to its country's citizens.

Saturday, 14 May 2022

UK Forum Admits to More Irresponsible Metal Detecting in their Ranks [Updated]

On a metal detecting forum near you, just a mouse click away, you can see a telling indicator of the attitude of entitlement exhibited by many British detectorists. In a forum thread started by newbie "freti" (Fri May 13, 2022) on "Permissions and finds?" in the responses, you will see how they refer to landowners:  Some want to see everything and take their pick of the goodies, others just aren’t interested and are happy for you to take everything. No prizes for guessing which group the grasping muddy-boot-and-grubby hand brigade prefer to be dealing with, the ones that just let them walk off with the lot. But then if they do that, how will they get the protocols assigning title to the hoiked property that the PAS should be asking for before they handle these objects? Or are the ones who jus' walk off wiv it not the ones that are doing the reporting-to-the-PAS bit of so-called "responsible artefact hunting"? Actually, if they would take a look at the "Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting" they'd see that entering into such a relationship with a landowner is NOT responsible metal detecting:
[III] After you have been metal-detecting
1. Reporting all archaeological finds to the relevant landowner / occupier; and making it clear to the landowner that you wish to record archaeological finds to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, so the information can pass into the local Historic Environment Record [...].
I am surprised that the PAS is not on these forums doing outreach by keeping artefact hunters informed. Fat lot of good it is having a "Code" if nobody concerned remembers what's in it. It's all for show, innit?

Update 15.05.2022
I see farmer Brown is irritated by these attitudes of entitlement too ('Farmer Brown: detectorist claims farmers are uncultured fools' HA 15.05.2022).

Comedy "Detectorists" Back

I have mixed feelings about the announcement that BBC Four's comedy series 'Detectorists' is coming back for a feature-length special (11th May 2022). On the one hand, I really enjoyed the original series as such and the brilliant array of characters portrayed by some excellent actors. On the other, I think its casual treatment and legitimising of the whole issue of exploiting archaeological sites as a source of collectables (together with a culpable lack of public discussion of the issues from the British 'archaeological community' on its back) awfully damaging. That the same series could have been made about some other rural hobby, such as train spotters or clay pigeon shooters, but was not. When the three-series show ended in 2017, the author of the screenplay said he had no plans to return to the topic, it seems he's changed his mind:
Toby Jones and Mackenzie Crook are reuniting in a new Detectorists special The one-off programme will be feature-length at 75 minutes It promises to "bring viewers up to date with the lives of Andy, Lance, Becky and the Danebury Metal Detecting Club" [...] Production on the new special of the triple BAFTA-winner is understood to begin shortly, made by Treasure Trove Productions, Channel X North and Lola TV.
No doubt it will be good TV. No doubt our British colleagues will once again fail to step up to the mark, no doubt a new wave of new people will be out there making their first metal detector purchases and looking for somewhere to use them. And mno doubt an additional few thousand archaeological artefacts will get hoiked out of Britain's already-depleted archaeological record to end up as loose decontextualised pieces of old metal in countless pockets for a while until they get lost. For what?

In the course of the three series members of the Danebury Club found a number of metal items, some modern, others older. An 'aestil' (Alfred-Jewel Lookalike) was found by Lance, but its context was never determined, the same with the hoard at the end of the third series. A ship burial was missed. Maybe a detectorist-supporting archaeologist would like to pen a paper about what the fictional artefact hunting we see in the programme would add, in the way we see it being done, to our knowledge of the archaeology/history area where Andy and Lance are searching that goes beyond a trite, triumphant "the Romans/Saxons/Medieval falconers were here too". Yes, we have that 2020 book "Landscapes of Detectorists" but I'd like to see artefact hunting archaeologists take us through the aspects of 'knowledge making' in anything but a narrow sense from collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record using what this programme represents as a starting point of discussion. they won't of course, British arkies also seem to think that archaeology is basically all about just "digging up old things.

Wednesday, 11 May 2022

Iranian Lawmakers and Landowners Want "Optimal Utilization of Dugup Ancient Objects and Treasures"

          Weird Jiroft stuff               

It seems that draft legislation has been submitted to Iran's parliament intended to turn Iran into a “regional centre” for antiquities trade, aiming to prevent the “cheap smuggling of national heritage”. Rather transparent motives there... The proposed law would reduce archaeology to "treasure hunting" and give license to non-professionals to dig anywhere for artefacts for sale. The plan calls for the creation of a regional 'hub' for 'treasures sale'. There are other disquieting details, including a measure that states that after someone requests a permit, if the Ministry doesn't reply within just 3 weeks, their request is automatically approved. Archaeologists and University professors have already protested (Radio Farda, 'Archeologists Concerned Over Bill Turning Iran Into Hub For Antiquities Trade' May 11 2022).

In a letter addressed to parliament speaker Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf, 61 archeology professors called on parliament to scrap the proposal, dubbed the "optimal utilization of ancient objects and treasures," warning it will pave the way for the misuse of historical artifacts and monuments by traffickers and looters. They also said that the bill submitted this week by 46 lawmakers, had been drafted "without any consultation with official archaeological institutions."
(see also ASP, 'Iran archaeologists oppose bill allowing antiquities trade', Al Arabiya news 11 May, 2022). It is disheartening to see that after almost a century of antiquities laws and (sometimes faltering) efforts to preserve the country's rich archaeological heritage, legislators are now regarding cultural heritage and archaeology as a saleable commodity. If passed, this new law would mean that from now on sellers with Amlash, Luristan, Elam, Jiroft and a whole lot of other kinds of artefacts will not have to exert themselves to prove a pre-something export date to claim licitness, they will be able to say brazenly that something was freshly excavated. Name me a collector that would then ask to have a copy of the excavation permit for their collection's paperwork.

Once again, we see the consequences of an ivory-tower archaeology ("they did not sask us first" means they have not established themselves and the discipline as a voice in the public arena) to properly inform lawmakers and the public what archaeoklogy is and has to offer, allowing public discourse to focus on "the things (we have in our museums/ have been taken out of our country/ have been repatriated from dodgy dealers)" and the number (26) of trophy sites inscribed on the World Heritage List. The profs are concerned about one thing, but under their watch the man in the street has come to think the issue is something else. This is exactly the same as is happening in the UK with the PAS and elsewhere. Why do archaeologists everywhere only see the need for proper public outreach in hindsight when a situation like this arises, can the discipline become preeo-active?

Friday, 6 May 2022

More Antiquities Bend Time and Space: Parallel Presence Artefacts


Parallel-Presence Artefacts (Catawiki vs. Violity)

Over dinner today, my companion, a physicist involved in research into anti-matter in CERN told me, I think he was jesting, I could get a Nobel Prize for a certain little discovery I have made. Collectors and dealers will tell you that "holding a piece of the past in your hand" will "bridge the gap between past and present". I think they do much more than that, I think we can show that they really do exist in parallel universes. Look at the St Louis Ka Nefer Nefer mummy mask which this blog showed was in two places at once, according to documentation supplied by the dealer, the mask was on show in a gallery in Belgium, while other documentation seems to show it was in a museum storeroom in Egypt. Then we have the Leutwitz Apollo, which as I have shown is documented as being in the garden of a farmhouse in Saxony at the same time as a scholar saw it in a restorer's workshop. Also we must remember relatively large numbers of auction sales from some major sellers where an item has one collection history and then it turns out that there is the exact same artefact in one of the Medici (etc) polaroids and this can only mean that these artefacts too were in two different places at once. I think there is even more evidence of this elsewhere in the market. 

The collectables auction site 'Catawiki' has experts to look over the correctness of the descriptions of the items they sell, in the case of archaeological artefacts the vetting is in the hands of people that include Peter Reynaers ("About 30 years of experience, Moderator of several online art research groups, Avid collector, Broad interest and knowledge of art"). As the website says:

"What our experts do: Virtually review submitted objects (Every day sellers submit thousands of objects. Our 240+ in-house experts review and select only the best to auction).
Assist sellers with object presentation (Experts make sure the objects they select provide all the necessary details), Match objects to the perfect auction (Experts make sure special objects are easy to find by placing them in the right auctions)."
Also, all three of the auctions discussed below carries the text:
"The Seller can prove that the lot was obtained legally, provenance statement seen by Catawiki. Important information. The seller guarantees that he is entitled to ship this lot. The seller will take care that any necessary permits will be arranged."
Let us have a look at three more "dual-presence" artefacts, all of them from Catawiki and all sold by the same shadowy seller based in Austria. I did not spot them myself and may have to split the Nobel Prize money with the person who did, an anonymous collector with an interest and real knowledge of ancient brooches/fibulae with the screen name "Renate" who I have mentioned a couple of times on this blog. Regrettably, that's all I know. They posted a longish post on the forum that contains the information about what they found (Apr 30   ). Anyway, the perspicaceous "Renate" found some brooches all sold by one guy ( "aesnumismatics" based in Austria,  Catawiki member since May 27, 2016) that had an unusual characteristic:

1) Catawiki no. 53222963, called a "Early medieval Bronze Extremely Rare Merovingian Zoomorphic Fibula with Raven Heads and Solar Symbols",
Without a pin and one of the ravens slightly bent, otherwise very well preserved with a lovely brownish natural patina and every detail perfectly visible. Extremely Rare Type. Size: 6,2 cm. Purchased by the current owner in 2016 in Austria, Wien (sic). Collected Since: 1980's. Previous owners history: Old Austrian Private Collection.
This had an expert's estimate € 220 - € 350, but as the reserve price was not met, it was not sold.
What is extremely exciting is that although it was purchased over (? note: "since") forty years ago, "Renate" found the very same, identical, object had been sold (33 bids 23.11.2020, 801 грн = 27.23 $) by its finder on the Ukrainian auction site Violity in November 2020 as "Fibula P[enkovska] K[ultura], the seller was located in Poltava Oblast, Ukraine. The Ukrainian metal detectorist is right and Catawiki's expert is totally wrong, this is clearly a Penkovska Culture fibula, with zero connection with the Merovingians. Nothing like anything they created, so much for his "ancient art" training.

2) Catawiki no. 56589917 described (laughably) as: "Ancient Roman Silver Nicely Ornamented Rarer Type Brooch Fibula with a back part (sic) resembling a Legionary Helmet with a nicely engraved ornamentation"
Almost intact with only some small part is missing on the left side, very stable metal and nice old cabinet tone- with its original pin, which is very rare . See Photo Rare type especially in silver. Size: 5,2cm. Purchased by the current owner in 2016 in Austria, Wien (sic). Collected Since: 1990's. Previous owners history: Old Austrian Private Collection.
Here the expert's estimate was € 440 - € 600, but as the reserve price was not met, it was not sold.
But this is fantastic news because it is evidence of the existence of parallel universes, because although this one entered an existing old collection thirty (? note "since") years ago, the absolutely same brooch was also dug up in a field in Ukraine many years later!! We know this because exactly the same identical silver brooch with with two coils appears on sale on Ukrainian online marketplace [Серебряная фибула] in the hands of a seller from Kiev also in November 2020 (Lot sold, 42 bids, 06.12.2020 902 грн = 30.66 $ ). Both fibulae have been tampered with in an identical way, the footplate has been cut down and reshaped. And no Mr Reynaers, that is not "the shape of a legionary's helmet", its not the "back end" and these brooches are not all that rare in silver. Back to ancient art history school for you.

3) Catawiki no. 52857081, "Ancient Roman Silver Exceptionally Well Preserved Cicade Brooch Fibula (shaped as a Fly). Much Rarer in Silver"
Nicely shaped which distinguish the body with it anatomy- the wings and the head of the fly. Almost intact with its own pin which is extremely rare and a nice old cabinet tone. Much rarer in silver. Size: 3 cm. Purchased by the current owner in 2016 in Austria, Wien (sic). Collected Since: 1980's. Previous owners history: Old Austrian Private Collection.
The expert's estimate was € 330 - € 460, but as the reserve price was not met, it was not sold. So the Austrian dealer Aesnumismatics has on his or her hands a precious collection of three dual-presence artefacts, documented as being in two different places at the same time, for this cicada brooch is also to be found on the Ukrainian online looted archaeological artefacts sales portal Фібула цикада, ЧК (Chernikhovo Culture). Now this one CANNOT be the one in Vienna, because the seller clearly indicates: "Пересилка тільки по Україні" (will not ship outside Ukraine - export controls). There is one characteristic however that argues for them being the same object simply in two different universes, this brooch has been clumsily pimped, with the catchplate fixed the wrong way round. This occurs in both of them.

These three items, taken with the other two mentioned above really do indicate that we need to be trawling artefact sales for more examples of artefacts that can actuially be 

Thursday, 5 May 2022

2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine: "Russian Troops Destroying Ancient Tombs"

It is being reported that soldiers of the army of the Russian Federation taking part in the illegal and unprovoked invasion of neighbouring Ukraine are barbarically damaging ancient burial mounds dating back more than 2,200 years by using them as firing positions Ukrainian officials have said (George Grylls 'Russian troops are destroying ancient nomadic tombs' The Times May 04 2022).

Cultural inspectors said that Kurgans, sacred mounds dating to the first millennium BC, were being damaged by Russian forces. The mounds, which can be up to 15 metres high, are being used by Russians as elevated positions to fire artillery in the otherwise flat landscape of the Ukrainian steppe. [...] The Scythians were a nomadic people who roamed the plains of central Asia from 9th century BC to the 2nd century BC. At the height of their power, they controlled territory from northern China to Hungary. Little contemporary writing about their culture survives [...] [but] archaeologists have pieced together the story of Scythian culture [...] everything we know about the Scythians comes from archaeology or chance finds. Nomads generally don’t write, they don’t need to. Writing is the product of the bureaucracies of settled civilisations and cultures. That’s why Scythian archaeology is so important to understanding who they were, what they did, what they made and what they used.
There is a precedent:
Professor Hermann Parzinger, a German historian, said the “unbelievable concentration” of Kurgans in the lower Dnieper had been used as strategic defensive positions during the Second World War. “Soviet and German troops used Kurgans as firing positions in the Second World War because the steppe is very flat. Sometimes the only mountains or elevations are burial grounds. Some are 10 or 15m high.” “It is architecture and not just a heap of earth covering a burial. If you destroy such a mound, there is enormous damage to one of the most important Eurasian cultures.” He warned that Russian troops could destroy the sites to steal valuable objects. “In areas which are not controlled now, I can imagine that many Kurgans are knocked down with bulldozers by people just looking for gold,” he said.
I warned about this a few weeks ago (Artefact Trade and the February 2022 Russian Invasion of Ukraine). In the weeks before the 2022 Russian Invasion and Occupation took place, I was doing some work with satellite photos on rates and extent of site looting of part of the steppe around the Dniepr estuary and think that a few days ago, I recognised in war photography one of 'my' clifftop sites being used as a firing position for a MANPAD (in this case with no visible damage being done to the site). But let us be honest, that whole area is covered by these 'kurgans' - many are ploughed out and appear as cropmarks (both clear and very fuzzy)* and most of those that are still mounds do tend to have one or more holes dug into the middle. Some of that may be WW2 damage mentioned by Dr Parzinger, some certainly does seem to be relatively recent looting activity. While deploring all and any damage to cultural and archaeological assets of any region, and especially those occupied by force, I think we need to be wary of being involved in propaganda and keep away from facile hyperbole when reporting on such events. The rhetoric used by both sides in this war in part involve cultural heritage (and a Russian nostalgia for a past), which means that we need to take a step back from an emotional approach to heritage issues. 

* In part this is due to some of them having been made not by upcast from a ditch like many barrows, but by the cutting of turf from the surrounding areas and carrying them to the mound built of piled sods. The soil of the latter will be similar to that of the topsoil surrounding the mound.  

Who's Watching the UK Antiquities Market?


Who is watching the internet sales sites in the UK? Answer, nobody. Not so everywhere though: Takumi Fujikawa and Kotaro Chigira, Buddhist statue listed on Yahoo auction site very similar to item stolen from Kyoto temple May 2, 2022 An eighteenth century Buddhist wooden statue 50cm tall stolen in June 2021 from Ryuhonji temple in central Kyoto Japan was put up for sale on an online auction site eleven months from the theft.
The statue was offered for sale by an antique dealer in southwest Japan's Oita Prefecture. Kyoto Prefectural Police are investigating this as a case of theft and looking into the circumstances surrounding the sale. [...] On May 1, an antique dealer from the Oita Prefecture city of Yufu offered a Buddhist statue for 1,000 yen (about $7) on Yahoo Japan Corp.'s auction site. In the description field, the seller stated that the statue was in "good condition," in addition to other details such as "47 centimetres high." By the morning of May 2, nine bids had been received, with the highest one coming in at 175,000 yen (about $1,300). The sale was cancelled around noon on May 2. A person who viewed the auction site contacted the temple asking if it was the stolen statue, and this led the temple and the prefectural police to learn of the situation. [...]
It is unclear where the sales offer stated the temple statue had come from and how it came onto the market in the first place. With many thousands of ancient artefacts sold online in the UK, one wonders how many stolen items slip under the radar every day simply because nobody is keeping a watch.

Quick Turnaround

Photo: TimeLine Auctions.

 "A rare British hoard type with associated finds, offered in its entirety [52]". "Found while using a metal detector at Wishanger, Hampshire, UK, 16 March 2021", and already TimeLine Auctions 24th May 2022 Lot 8144. Archaeological context unknown., So, despite what some British treasure hunters say, the Treasure Process can operate quite quickly (when there is no valuation of reward money involved)...

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