Sunday 5 June 2022

Dealing With Russia in the UK Antiquities Market (Mordvins)


     Photo TimeLine online catalogue     

I spotted this on the Internet,* being sold in last month's TimeLine Auctions 24th May 2022 LOT 1557

Viking Inspired Omega Brooch Pair
12th-15th century A.D.
A pair of bronze Mordvinian omega-shaped brooches, each composed of a round-section penannular hoop, trapezoidal plates with granulation and free-running pin with coiled attachment loop. 2 1/4 - 2 1/2 in. (32.4 grams total, 56-63 mm). Fine condition. [2, No Reserve]
Acquired on the UK art market, 2000s. Property of an Essex gentleman.
"Viking inspired" what's that even supposed to mean in the case of an object of the High Middle Ages? Bonkers. Which of TimeLine's "eminent specialists" signed off on that one? Also just what does "acquired on the UK art market, 2000s" mean? I think we all agree that it could mean sold in a pub to some bloke from Essex (Billericay Dickie?) from a Russian smuggler three weeks before flipping it through consigning it to TimeLine. No? So, if not (and assuming that TimeLine are not keeping information from potential customers), why are TimeLine accepting for sale something when the consigner is less than forthcoming how this item reached the UK market?

Mordvin... a name to reflect upon. There are a lot of these fibulae on the UK and US markets. Where are they coming from? There is an interesting text The Mysterious “Omega” Brooches on the Internet by "Ásfríðr Úlfvíðardóttir" (Rebecca Lucas) as part of her fascinating "Baltic Knowledge" webpage. She notes (giving references to the literature not cited by TimeLine's "experts") that the elaborately decorated cast omega brooches with granulation (or pseudo-granulation) work on the legs, at earliest, appears to date to the 16th-17th centuries. These objects are from Mordvinia's ethnographic past rather than any nonsense-Vikings.

Administrative districts of western Russia,
Mordvinia in red, Moscow, Black
     (adapted from wikipedia)       

Of course, any collector doing their pre-purchase research and in the course of it looking on a map would immediately question whether any Vikings went anywhere near Mordvinia. Wikipedia would tell them:
The Mordvins, also Mordva, Mordvinians, Mordovians (Erzya: эрзят/erzät, Moksha: мокшет/mokšet, Russian: мордва/mordva), are a people in European Russia, who speak the Mordvinic languages of the Uralic language family and live mainly in the Republic of Mordovia and other parts of the middle Volga River region of Russia.

So, how would an artefact leave the ground in this area? In the case of complete costume fittings, what kind of site would they be coming from? Especially in multiple examples, such as this 'pair'.  It is difficult to rid our mind of the fact that the best place to dig up such items in some numbers would be to loot a cemetery. How would such artefacts be kept from the attention of the local authorities, and how would they then leave the Russian Federation "in the 2000s"?  These are all perfectly justifiable questions to ask the seller of anything like this. Why are no answers found in the published sales description? These items are just being sold like potatoes. 

And note of course that as so-called 'Russian Separatists' and now troops of the regular army of the Russian Federation are involved in unprovoked conflict with Ukraine, there are possibly marketing advantages  in not admitting that these are post-Medieval ornaments of the Mordvin communities of the modern Republic of Mordovia (just south of Nizhny Novgorod Oblast) of the Russian Federation (part of Muscovy since the 1220s or thereabouts), but deflecting attention by referring to "Vikings".

* AncientArtifacts.Groups list member "Renate", also based I believe in central Europe, has independently also written on this piece (it may have been her that alerted me to it a few weeks ago), and come to more or less the same conclusions. 

Timeline Auctions Yesterday (May 2022) Renate May 25 #96636
Timeline Auctions is represented as an antique seller on many sites on the internet. Other sellers see their pages as a reference. That would be perfectly fine if they did their job carefully. They don't, and so the nonsense they write spreads. I would like to briefly discuss here some brooch and amulet examples from yesterday's auction where this is the case. [...] Issue 3: VIKING INSPIRED OMEGA BROOCH PAIR - LOT 1557 [...] This description is one of the most ridiculous I have seen so far [...] The seller finally is aware that this is nonsense, so another reason to put "Viking" was developed, and that even the reference they usually put with these items (Sedov et. al. 1987) is missing is an indication that the seller knows the real story [...] The term “Syulgam” (syulgam -сюлгам or syulgamo сюлгамо, Mordvin for “brooch”) is expected to be mentioned in the text or, much better, in the title.
Dealers should not assume all their clients are as easily-impressed and as thick (and needful of preachy 'enlightenment' from their dealery-expertise) as their promotional material suggests many of them apparently do. In particular they should avoid messing with collectors that actually have taken a book into their hands and actually read what it says (and can actually spell the title and author's name of a certain volume that time and time again, TimeLine's experts, citing it, cannot). A dealer that simply blunders on regardless only gives the impression of amateurishness. 

The UK antiquities market does not operate in a vacuum and the wider the reach of its online advertising, the wider the implications that can be spotted by a broader group of observers.  

[In this vein, another of the items from that past auction mentioned by Renate in that post (an item that is certainly one that she also alerted me to a couple of weeks ago) is certainly of great(er) interest and I will come back to that in a while....  A senior colleague here in Poland has taken an interest...]. 

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