Friday 8 April 2022

Dealing With Russia (I) Koban Culture Artefacts on Western Markets

(after A. Sagona 2017)

The "Koban Culture" is centred on the the northern and central Caucasus Mountains area. In terms of modern political geography that covers a lot of the North Caucasian Federal District (Се́веро-Кавка́зский федера́льный о́круг) of federated Russian republics. In detail: all of the Republic of North Ossetia, the best part of the disputed region of South Ossetia, the Karachay-Cherkessia Republic, the Kabardino-Balkaria Republic, the Republic of Ingushetia, the Republic of Chechnia, a bit of the eastern edges of Krasnodar region and a large area in the southwest part of the Stavropol region.   

The figure above is taken from the relevant chapter of the recent book  “The Archaeology of the Caucasus: From Earliest Settlements to the Iron Age” by Antonio Sagona (Smiths, Warriors, and Womenfolk: The Koban Culture of the Northern Caucasus (1400–600 BC) [In] The Archaeology of the Caucasus: From Earliest Settlements to the Iron Age (Cambridge World Archaeology, pp. 423-448). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press (2017). doi:10.1017/9781139061254.011). 

What is of interest is that there are now quite a number of artefacts purportedly of this cultural group, including some that do indeed seem to be  real dugups, appearing online for sale by western dealers. Here (right) we have one spotted by Antiques Where did this come from? What we do, however, note is that this is not being sold as a piece of "ancient art" ("piece of the past in your hand") of a highly interesting transitional Bronze/Iron Age culture in a region that is a "crossroads of civilisations" (as the National Geographic blurb goes), but a "Viking Age" artefact. Is this an attempt to hide where it is from, or is it an attempt to tap into the frisson of contact with Netflix-Vikings? Whatever the reason, assuming this is a Koban culture artefact at all, it misrepresents the date as being 1300+ later than it really should be, giving the buyer and viewer of the auction a totally distorted view of history. That's what the antiquities market "does best" (or worst) of course. 

There is quite a lot of this on eBay at the moment. One seller with quite a range is Ballycastle -based  blueonceagain (feedback 10768, on eBay since Sept 2008) who currently has nine "Koban Culture" objects (nearly all personal ornament) for sale. These are said to be "metal detecting finds". Seller Spantiquities - Svilen Stoyanov, Evesham Worcestershire (feedback 1656, on eBay since Jan 2019) has an "Ancient Koban Culture Bronze Personal Mirror Household Object 600-400 BC for £61.50. Then there is this French lady ( (Feedback 201, on eBay since Feb 2021, based in the village of Marcellaz in Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes) who admits that most of her goods come from Ukraine but who is also selling "Old tweezers koban bronze -1100/-400 avjc-engravings on the body" for Eur EUR 39.00.
Ancienne pince à épiler de culture Koban -1100/-400 siècle avant JC en bronze. Son corps est orné de gravures, des hachures.[...] Provenance : Russie [...] La culture de Koban est une culture de l'âge du bronze final et des débuts de l'âge du fer, dans le Caucase russe et dans l'actuel Ossétie du Sud (Géorgie).
She does not seem to be particularly bothered by that. I suspect that while possibly dugup, this object is not in fact Koban Culture...*

More pricey is an "Acinaces. Pendant. Amulet. Bronze. Koban. Scythians." being sold by kyegorov (Ashburn, Virginia, United States feedback 967) who is asking US $600.00 for it. Not only does this seller have zero idea of punctuation, the rest of this is just nonsense too:
Title: Acinaces Amulet - Pendant. Symbol of the Scythian God of War. Scythians 800BC-300BC. Origin/Tribe: Caucasus region Material: Bronze Dimensions: 103.1 x 25.1 Additional Info: Very Rare large bronze acinaces pendant (symbol of the Scythian God of War). Scythians 800BC-300BC. Excellent condition.
If you ignore the fact that this seems to have very clear chemical patina on it and looks nothing like an akinakes. Kyegorov Rare Coins and Antiques ("With over 10 years on eBay and over 30 years’ experience in collecting and selling early Russian wire coins") in fact has a wider range of artefacts, a large number of which are of types that occur in artefact hunting in the Russian Federation and adjacent areas. Where are they coming from? Into whose pockets is the money for their transportation to the US going? 

As I have pointed out previously, over on Tim Haynes's collectors' forum, among the 1,679 members, only one spends much time looking into the nonsense descriptions of antiquities dealers. "Renate" has a post about "Bronze age / early Iron age dagger pendants sold as "Viking Era Bronze Huge Wearable Warriors Amulet" (Apr 6   ). Here she touches on a number of themes: 
Seller aesnumismatics sell artefacts from Eastern Europe, which they buy from "collectors" (more likely treasure hunters) there. (This includes Roman artefacts, by the way. Those are the only ones they sell with a reasonably correct description.) Much of what Western collectors cannot identify without prior knowledge of Eastern European history is given a fancy Viking story to promote sales. Unfortunately, they are not alone in this. I have noticed dagger-shaped pendants again and again recently (see e.g. Viking Era Bronze Huge Wearable Warriors Amulet shaped as a Sword with a nice Decoration and Lovely Green Natural Patina) that cannot possibly have a Viking origin. Serious information about them is rare, in collectors' forums they are usually offered as "Koban dagger amulets" (see links, and I have attached pictures from these sources). That is more or less correct, so they are about 1500 or more years older than aesnumismatics state.
"Aesnumismatics" is arather a shadowy figure, based in Austria and mainly deals in small artefacts through 'private' sales through Catawiki, where they have operated since 27 May 2016, receiving 3690 reviews in total (560 in last 12 months). If you look at the closed auction that is referred to in the above text, you'll see that absolutely no paperwork is mentioned in the sales offwer.
CULTURE Viking Era, MATERIAL Bronze, OBJECT Huge Wearable Warriors Amulet shaped as a Sword with a nice Decoration and Lovely Green Natural Patina, CENTURY/ TIMEFRAME 9th.-11th. Century AD., CONDITION Intact
What is interesting is that if you search dealers' sites for other archaeological cultures of this region and adjacent areas, there are no artefacts from any of them (the only "Colchis" objects are a few ancient Greek coins minted there). Is Koban trendy because the graves are easier to find, or is the culture mentioned in one of the books popular with amateur past-truth-seekers (Indo-European fantasists maybe)?

What however bothers me is that the precise area these objects are supposedly coming from are the areas where there has been conflict involving the Russians in the recent past. Why are the collectors who buy these items not at all concerned about into whose pockets the money they hand over is going?


* I am missing out here a Moroccan seller who mostly has tat, but also some things he calls "Vikling" (Hmmm) and a bracelet that is of crude wrought - not cast - manufacture and looks entirely recent. He calls it "Koban" but what I suspect has happened is that they've looked on eBay for something that "looks like" (in this case very vaguely) the one they want to sell and just copied what the seller of that other item called theirs. Many "antiquities dealers" have not got a clue.

No comments:

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