Saturday 24 September 2022

Interesting Concept

Quite by accident I came across this brief review and thought that it was an interesting key to a way of thinking about fake antiquities, and I post it here for future reference:
Byung-Chul Han, Shanzhai: Deconstruction in Chinese,trans. Philippa Hurd (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2017), 91 pp.
The expression shanzhai, literally “mountain stronghold,” is a modern Chinese neologism meaning “fake.” But this fake is different, genuine, “a genuinely Chinese phenomenon.” Originally the expression applied to forged cell phones sold under names like Nokir and Samsing. These were not crude, indeed hardly inferior; nor do such products set out to deceive. Their ingenuity lies in their drawing attention to how they play with an original. The power of the original is measured by the playful imitation that it instigates. This stance is not a new one in China. A Chinese painting does not come to a standstill, like a finished masterpiece in the West, immortalized by a signature. The more the work is admired, the more its appearance changes, its ample unpainted surface becoming festooned with seals and poetry. Its power to exist is a power to instigate and absorb change. This mode of creativity will elude us until we can perceive shanzhai and not think, fake, phony, counterfeit, plagiarized. Intellectual property is a sticking point in negotiations between East and West. To understand our partner, we could start with shanzhai. Learn to feel the fun of it. Maoism is shanzhai Marxism. Learn to appreciate its optimism: Han dares hope that shanzhai communism may mutate into shanzhai democracy, “especially since the shenzhai movement releases anti-authoritarian, subversive energies.”
—Barry Allen
doi 10.1215/0961754X-789
The book blurb adds some additional information.
Tracing the thread of “decreation” in Chinese thought, from constantly changing classical masterpieces to fake cell phones that are better than the original.

Shanzhai is a Chinese neologism that means “fake,” originally coined to describe knock-off cell phones marketed under such names as Nokir and Samsing. These cell phones were not crude forgeries but multifunctional, stylish, and as good as or better than the originals. Shanzhai has since spread into other parts of Chinese life, with shanzhai books, shanzhai politicians, shanzhai stars. There is a shanzhai Harry Potter: Harry Potter and the Porcelain Doll, in which Harry takes on his nemesis Yandomort. In the West, this would be seen as piracy, or even desecration, but in Chinese culture, originals are continually transformed—deconstructed. In this volume in the Untimely Meditations series, Byung-Chul Han traces the thread of deconstruction, or “decreation,” in Chinese thought, from ancient masterpieces that invite inscription and transcription to Maoism—“a kind a shanzhai Marxism,” Han writes.

Han discusses the Chinese concepts of quan, or law, which literally means the weight that slides back and forth on a scale, radically different from Western notions of absoluteness; zhen ji, or original, determined not by an act of creation but by unending process; xian zhan, or seals of leisure, affixed by collectors and part of the picture's composition; fuzhi, or copy, a replica of equal value to the original; and shanzhai. The Far East, Han writes, is not familiar with such “pre-deconstructive” factors as original or identity. Far Eastern thought begins with deconstruction.

Someone Desperately Wants to Sell me a "Sumarian" Antiquity

Whenever I go to eBay I usually end up 'watching' several antiquities. Usually facetiously or with an intent to later write about them.. Which means I often get notifications from sellers desperate to offload their crap. This is one I received from some dealer with rather high prices for what they're flogging (art-ifact_saleroom, location: Al nud area, Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, on ebay since: Oct 17, 2017):
Because you showed interest in this item, the seller sent you this private offer.
A few other interested buyers also received this offer – it won’t last long. Hurry and take advantage right away!
Offer: $888.80
Discount $222.20
Offer valid 48h

Message from art-ifact_saleroom:
Here's your chance to get this item at a great price!

Near eastern beautiful sumarian stone plaque of a king museum qua...

Item ID: 203914305857
Buy It Now price: $1,111.00
Your offer: $888.80
Offer expires: Sep-26 17:58:06 PDT Seller: art-ifact_saleroom(77)
Well, messers art-ifact_saleroom, a little tip. If you want buyers to trust your judgement and knowledge as sellers of antiquities, at least get the spelling right. It helps not to give the potential customer that you are seli-literate buffoons. So the shopfront information "about us" should have been run through a spellchecker and the writer desirous of doing business worldwide could have learnt to turn 'all caps' off:
Oh, really professional.

Anyway, thogh I cannot speak to all of the "few other interested buyers" that allegedly received the same cut-price-hurry-get-it-now message, the reason why I "showed an interest" in this ugly battered piece of stone is that it looks remarkably like another item on the antiquities market that I wrote several times about. That was a Persepolis relief fragment from Montreal with a long and complicated collection history. Readers will probably not remember (though I do, somewhat painfully) that I considered that it was a fake, made for the market (giving my reasons), but I turned out to be wrong. So, I suppose I should be somewhat more circumspect about opining on this one, but to use the words of asn esteemed colleague let's just say its authenticity is not jumping right out at me, and I am keeping my 888.88$. I would give the same informed but still subjective opinion about all of the rest of this "saleroomm"s stock where it's areas that I'm familiar with (and with the rest I'd say caveat-very-much-emptors). Although some of the items are attractive as decorative pieces, it looks to me like a load of crap as dugup antiquities. First buy the books, second study and verify them, and third, buy the "art". And don't trust dealers that write all in capitals.

Friday 23 September 2022

The Garcia Fernandez Collection

In a post above, I discuss the text of a collector who attempts to draw attention to a seller ("Primimitifstuffgallery" in New York state) that disappointed them. The 1000+ items this seller offers do look rather disappointing as a whole. As Erin Thompson says: "let's just say their authenticity is not jumping right out at me". Just to take a random example, my eye was taken by an ORIG $399. PRE COLUMBIAN NAYARIT FIGURE 6" PROV.  Cute, but nothing like anything from the West Mexican shaft tombs of the region, Nicoya or not. This picture screams "amateurish" to me. As for the description (it really is all in upper case):


NEW!!! This last week I bought ABOUT 1000 items from an estate in Miami, FL from a collector of high end tribal antiques - The Garcia Fernandez Estate - collected while living in peru 1950-1980 if you are a collector who wants pre Columbian, tribal art I will be listing all of these unique high end ethnographic items in the coming months. If you have a specific interest in a specific item I have not yet listed please email me and I will let you know if its in the collection. "
It is rather surprising to see a listing in September 2022 referring to a collection bought "this last week [so I've not yet had time to catalogue it all]" yet elsewhere in the Internet, a Maryland dealer, apparently anonymous, using the same spiel about another, equally bad, one in December [20]16, with the same lack of photography skills. Oregon dealer 'Esoteric Stuff' has an object ("Inca mask") reputedly from the "Garcia Fernandez collection" that looks from the photo to have a patina relying on brown shoe-polish, but perhaps I am mistaken. The object looks about the same artistic style as some of the primitifstuffgallery "pre-columbian" objects. Also the suspension holes, how does that function as a 'mask' rather than decorative wall-ornament? (I love the sales spiel of another of their Pre-Columbian artefacts: "A very rare addition to add to your Serious Collector status"). 

These similarities make me wonder if (the late?) Garcia Fernandez had no eye and dodgy suppliers, or are these objects on the secondary market, having been purchased from "Ruby" at "primitifstuffgallery"? We know so little about how objects pass through the antiquities market. What is notable that such a big (we are told) collection only is evidenced online by objects sold by three dealers - two of whom may be reselling pieces acquired within the trade from the other dealer who claims they have "thousands" of items from this source. 

I think it is quite laughable that the dealer assures the buyer that this is good value for money because of "provenance" (see above) and that "items of comparable quality" (using the term loosely) are "sold on eBay" [!] by other dealers for two or three times the price being asked. Yeah, right.

Does anyone reading this know anything more about the Garcia Fernandez Collection? Is there perhaps a catalogue? 

Sunday 18 September 2022

Azerbajan: Cultural Erasure, Destruction of Armenian Monuments

A new report shows that 98% of Armenian cultural heritage sites in Nakhichevan have been destroyed by Azerbaijan. The state has gone to some trouble to "achieve" this. At least 108 Armenian monasteries, churches, and cemeteries in Nakhichevan have been demolished or blown up by the Azerbaijani government, according to the Caucasus Heritage Watch (“Silent Erasure: A Satellite Investigation of the Destruction of Armenian Cultural Heritage in Nakhchivan, Azerbaijan”). 

See also the summary article by Avedis Hadjian, 'US Researchers Confirm 98% of Cultural Armenian Heritage Sites in Nakhichevan Destroyed by Azerbaijan' Hyperallergic 17th September 2022.

This video from 8 years ago sets the background:


The situation is still very much in a state of flux. While Russia is bogged down in Putin's futile imperialist war in Ukraine,  this week Azerbaijan has now invaded part of Armenia.

Izium: Steppe Statues Destroyed

In UIkraine's Izium, apart from the details of Russian crimes against the civilian population, information is also emerging of losses to cultural property. One example is the damage done to a group of early Medieval statues   (probably Polovtsian dating from the IX-XIII centuries), which are preserved on a hillside on mount Kremenets to the south of the city. Such effigies ("stone babas") marked places that were probably for performing the memorial cult of ancestors, not directly related to burials. Many of the effigies in fact depict men with weapons.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s top prosecutor on Sunday said his office has documented 34,000 potential war crimes throughout the ongoing conflict with Russia and is mounting a case on genocide. Bearing in mind the oveall size of the force involved in the invasion, that implicates a disturbingly high proportion of individuals in Putin's army.

Thursday 15 September 2022

While Focus is on Repatriation, Real Issue Ignored

Mexico News Daily, "Over 50 pre-Hispanic artifacts returned to Mexico from abroad" Thursday, September 15, 2022
They include a Zapotec urn from between A.D. 600 and 900 A.D. and a column fragment from a Campeche archaeological site [...]
Meanwhile [because of greedy dealers and collectors], there are at least 9000 holes dug in the archaeological layers of unknown numbers of unknown sites that will prevent them being used to tell the full (or any) story they could have. Let's talk about that also.

The problem with "antiquities" issues today really is that the field, from its beginnings (Clemancy Coggins, Richard Elia and others), has been dominated by US thought patterns. And there, the whole issue is intimately connected with the exertion of state power, and the use of antiquities issues predominantly in soft-power tactics (see the CCPIA). This means the whole discussion is skewed towards the model of the (magnaminious) "us" (graciously) agreeing to "protect" the heritage of a (should-be-grateful) "them" who are deprived of agency, and sometimes "our" state graciously acting to return things taken to their state (hooray, de-rigeur big press event with pre-prepared script) to remind everyone who's boss and what great-hearted folks we are.

Yet, surely, for those recipient nations, the fact that this or that gee-gaw is on display as a loose and eye-catching exhibit in a museum in their country instead of another is just one issue. It is secondary to the main issue that in hoiking it out of an archaeological context in an archaeological site (somewhere, nobody even knows which one, let alone from where on that site) the site itself is trashed. Looting of objects for collection or sale prevents the use of the archaeological context from which they came to tell its part of the history of the region. A loose object in a case alone only tells a part of any story of which, as archaeological evidence, it would have much more to say if it had been preserved in situ. This is why collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is damaging.

"Despite the Cringe, must be Good, it's Got Old Stuff and Metal Detectors in it"?


Professor Howard Williams has produced Archaeodeath Interview number 17 on "Is 'Digging for Treasure' a hit or a flop?" in conversation with Bethany Millburn (@ArchaeoSpook). The video went online overnight. 

Coinciding with the publication of the new edited collection 'The Public Archaeology of Treasure' I interview Newcastle University archaeology student Bethany Millburn regarding episodes 1-3 of the new television series 'Digging up Treasure' on Channel 5.
The first 14 minutes introduces and characterises the show and its construction, admitting for all their enthusiasm for this "fresh" approach that it is a bit "eclectic' and a "mishmash". There is then discussion of the presentation ("too much quipping", "informative content derailed by other participants", "cringe"). This then morphs into a discussion of a feeling of a lack of direction in the narrative. The issue of content is broached. It becomes very clear from what they say that they think that the format and content of this are a rip-off of the successful UK archaeo-reality show "Time Team". They discuss the question of the degree to which the presentation of the events in the programme as "community archaeology" is an accurate reflection of what really was going on (suggesting that it could have been better, citing other examples where this was apparently achieved). The final part of the discussion concerns the "red flag term of Treasure" [that led into a plug of Prof. William's long-awaited book that is freshly out]. Then they go about summarising it. I was a bit irritated by the number of times that in discussing it they preceded comments by "to be fair", suggesting an over-exertion to find something good to say about a programme based on Collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record (because: "metal detecting"). Tellingly, both discutants said they would take part in a potential second series if asked, not seeing anything wrong with the underlying concept, nor seeing any danger of getting their own message derailed by idiotic TV-speak. 

What I found particularly significant is that although the issue of "protection of the archaeological record" and the damage hoiking individual artefacts out of the context was alluded to, it was quickly sidestepped. Towards the end there is some confusion in the discussion concerning the issue of  "metal detecting licences", concerning permits and landowners' permissions and the issue of preservation of the archaeological records. Also the detectorists' own "we aren't nighthawks, so wot we do i'nt damaging" is trotted out here. Then we get the "heavy ploughing" mantra, followed by the "could be worse - Nazi War Diggers" argument. Disappointing.

Not once do we get any mention in these 55 minutes that archaeology is not an exclusively object-centric discipline. On the contrary. Possibly the PAS has managed to convince many Brits that all archaeologists do is "dig up old things to tell stories about" - but endorsing and disseminating such a picture of what it is to the wider public does no service at all to the discipline.  

Tuesday 13 September 2022

An Oddly Dwarf Crossbow Fibula

The TimeLine Auctions Ancient Art, Antiquities and Coins sale Tuesday 6th September 2022 - 10th September 2022 is over, and some buyer has walked off with an item, one presumes feeling fully informed about what they have received, and happy with their purchase. It's a really odd piece. First let us note the small size, 34 mm. The estimate was GBP (£) 2,000 - 3,000 but the object sold for £2,340 (inc. bp). Here's what the buyer was told. It is not much:

Posted on You Tube By TimeLine Auctions Ltd.

A gold crossbow brooch with three ogival knops to the headplate, square-section bow and U-section rectangular footplate decorated with edge notches; pin and catchplate to reverse. 1 3/8 in. (6.45 grams, 34 mm). 

Ex private European collection.
Acquired by the current owner in 2001.
This lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by AIAD certificate no.11326-189857. 

LITERATURE: Cf. Biscottini, P., Sena Chiesa, G., Costantino, 313 d.C. L'Editto di Milano e il tempo della tolleranza, (Constantine, A.D. 313, the Edict of Milan and the times of the Tolerance), Milano, 2012, the Louvre fibula in fig.163, p.253. 

FOOTNOTES: In the late Roman Empire, the children of Imperial officials and dignitaries, who were part of the Militia Armata and the unarmed Militia, acquired symbols and titles of the father, from whom they usually also inherited their profession. The quality and size of the fibula could link it to the son of a military commander, a vir illustris or vir nobilissimus, and therefore belonging to a puer illustris or nobilissimus.

What? Females also wore them. First of all, note the pompous "gonna-quote-Latin-to-ya-so-you-think-I-must-know-wot-I'm-talking-about" narrativisation. What this misses out is that fibulae like these do seem to have been (at least in part) symbols of rank, and wear worn in a conspicuous place to express that... on an outer garment. Fibulae had a function. So how big is the loop on the underside of the bow, how much of an outer garment could be gathered there to be fastened? What's the gap between the inner edge of the lateral onion knobs and the projecting end of the catchplate, 7mm?  Then the pin, how far does it actually penetrate the catchplate? A few millimetres at the most, yet it is gold (?), a soft metal. This object looks to my eye totally unfunctional. 

"Gold" it says. No analysis is quoted. It has a very odd matted surface. Why? The catchplate is constructed very oddly. When I first saw this, the 3D video had not been added to the website and there was a single photo. When we see the underside and the pin mechanism and catchplate there are a number of odd features. The knops are not "ogival", the term usually used by fibulologists for these is "onion shaped". 

Photo: TimeLine Auctions

Video screenshot: after TimeLine Auctions

Photo: TimeLine Auctions

Photo: TimeLine Auctions

TimeLine (using a random source) quotes a parallel in the Louvre, here is the online catalogue entry for the gilt copper alloy object Bj 948 / Br 2006/ Numéro d'entrée : MND 877, acquired in 1909. Note that this object is not only very different in its proportions and detailing, but also twice as long. Note also the form of the catchplate of the Louvre example.

The collection history of the TimeLine object is a bit bald. It is being sold from an anonymous "private European collection" and it was "acquired by the [anonymous] current owner in 2001" but it is not in the "Interpol Database of stolen works of art ". But, so what? If it was clandestinely dug up by a metal detectorist from a child grave in Crimea, or on the Danube or in deepest Berkshire in 1998, passed to Todor Ograda in Vienna or Munich who sold it on, it would not be in the Interpol database  either, and could quite possibly have (no-questions-asked) reached an anonymous "European collector" by 2001. The stated collection history in no way a guarantee that the object is not looted, nor is is in any way documentation that this object is "grounded" by having been documented as removed from an undoubted closed archaeological context. Is it?

It has the appearance of being cast (there is an odd 'flash' on the left side of the upper face of the foot), but the weight suggests that it is not in fact solid. This remains unclear. I am a great fan of interpreting toolmarks, and find the notches on the upper face of the foot, on the upper face of the lateral arms, and in particular the slot in the catchplate (which looks to be cut) of great interest. There would have involved some very thin needle files, but they were clumsily used. The surface of the gold has some very odd texturing, irregular voids all over them, how did this survive the beating out of the thin sheets that one might suppose were used to create a hollow object? Why is the surface so 'soapy' in appearance? Was this low quality gold alloy that has been 'pickled' in some way to produce these features? If so, how/why and when? Is it my imagination, or is the gold of the knops of a different 'fabric' from the bow and foot? Is there a bubble in the soldering of the left knop to the transverse arm? The knops are also damaged in a way that is not seen elsewhere on the object. Why? 

What I find particularly astounding is that in several places (see third photo) and despite it having been in a collection for (at least) over 20 years, you can see brown clayey soil adhering to the surface in several places. About ten seconds with a soft cotton bud and deionised water would have sorted that out, but for some reason the object's previous handlers wanted to leave it on. It seems that dealers like to leave the dirt on to make it clear that "this is a dugup", with all that entails. Personally, I think that for an object that is claimed has been above ground and in somebody's (one trusts, well-maintained collection), it's one of the first things that raises my suspicions that there might be something (ahem) "not quite right" about any artefact that ("re"-)surfaces for sale on the secondary market in such a state. [hint: if you are going to remove such gunk from artefacts of uncertain origins yourself, wear gloves and cover the table with something, it is often not "just soil", if you get my meaning. Sometimes however under that superficial gunk layer there might be surprises, sometimes it is there for a reason].*

All in all there are a number of features of this brooch, the bucket-shaped catchplate, the extremely short foot with perfunctory and careless decoration, the apparent inability to use it for what these fibulae were used for, that would have me asking the vendor a whole load of other questions before considering buying it (not least what documentation they have of legal excavation and export). But then, that's just me. 

Of course you can always ask for a "condition report"....

*Moroccan fossils too.   

Hat tip. I'd like to acknowledge the help with this post of fibula-canny collector 'Renate' with whom I discussed a lot more about this than is in this post. Thanks.

Scaly Coat Panel: What to call this?

Another item sold in the TimeLines Auction Ancient Art, Antiquities and Coins sale, Tuesday 6th September 2022 - 10th September 2022 is of potential interest in the current global situation. SCYTHIAN SCALE ARMOUR COAT 6th-5th c BC. Estimate GBP (£) 6,000 - 8,000.  Sold for (Inc. bp): £13,000 (!). According to the vendor:
The front of a scale armour coat composed of over five hundred overlapping bronze scales, each mounted onto a custom-made stand for purposes of display; the scales show [sic] to have formed different series, some having holes only in the upper part, some with three holes in the upper part and two holes to the left, and some showing three upper holes and one central hole. 31 in. (9.6 kg total, 79 cm high including stand).

Acquired 1971-1972.
From the collection of the vendor's father.
Property of a London, UK, collector.
[...] This lot has been checked against the Interpol Database of stolen works of art and is accompanied by AIAD certificate no.11389-192359.
FOOTNOTES:[...] [narrativisation]
Our [sic] scales correspond well to bronze scales found in May 1961 in an accidentally destroyed burial in a barrow, near the village of Nadezhda[,] Sovetsky district. [...]
Not surprisingly there are several different "Sovetsky districts" with variant spelling in the area of the former Soviet Union, including in Donietsk, Krasnodar, Mari, Rostov and other regions. Which one is meant (and does the dealer actually know)? Nadezhda is a common female name but there are settlements of that name in Stavropol, Rostov and Volgograd regions. This one is said to have been "Acquired 1971-1972", presumably therefore FROM the Soviet Union. How? The seller does not say.
Note that this is the same collection history as the Koban Culture fibulae discussed here in another post. 

The description as an "armour coat" is misleading, they, uh... "show to have formed different series" and have characteristics that would have allowed the coat to have been reconstructed if properly recorded instead of being hoiked by artefact hunters in or before (we are told) the 1970s.

This is being sold as a "Scythian Scale Armour Coat". Scale armour it probably is. Some of the individual pieces have believable dug-up corrosion on them. Some appear to have plant matter incorporated in the corrosion. Others are scratched and battered. But other scales have a darker smoother corrosion of apparently different origin (lying in the base of a burial under a decaying corpse?). Are these pieces from one or more burials, or is this a composite of scattered scales picked up from the site of some skirmish?

It is also being sold as a "coat" of armour. Hmm. They do not actually give proper dimensions of the object itself, but to my eye, if the whole object on the stand is "79 cm" tall, then the panel of scales is something like 46x35cm in dimensions. That's hardly enough to cover the front of a kiddie's T-shirt. That's not a "coat", but a made-up panel. After all, there is no guarantee that the scales were from the armour of a person (as opposed for example a horse).

"Scythian" sounds exciting. But apart from noting a single "looks like" parallel, I'd suggest - given the wide use of scale armour right across Europe and Asia over a wide time-span, we'd need a lot more than a "I-found-this-picture-in-a-random-book-that-looks-like-this" potential parallel. In the absence of a context of deposition (and discovery), and information on associations, I'd at least have hoped for a metal and technological analysis to try and link it to the raw material and techniques of manufacture of excavated examples. Is not the 13000 quid worth earning by putting a little more effort into it on the side of the consigner and vendor?

What on earth is an "AIAD certificate no.11389-192359"? What does it actually signify? Although there are still a few UK dealers in the AIAD, only one of them (TimeLine) uses the certification process, and nobody anywhere has ever posted one of these certificates online so we can see what it looks like and what it contains (certifies). I harbour a suspicion that it merely says that something has been checked on the ALR.

So what is this lot composed of, where are these items from, and what, in fact, are they - and how can the buyer that shelled out 13k tell? 

My other question concerns what the buyer is expected to do with this thing? A ugly black panel with some (difficult to dust) scaly bits on one side. Hardly very decorative, nor visually interesting, nor having any 'message from the past' in its present form. 

Hiding Your Kobans

Bidding has ended in the TimeLine Auctions, Ancient Art, Antiquities and Coins auction (Tuesday 6th September 2022 - 10th September 2022). Quite a lot of interesting items went under the hammer, some with extremely interesting collection histories. Others are of interest in context of events currently unfolding on the world stage. For example, one of the items sold to a happy collector was LOT 0571 LARGE GREEK BOW BROOCH 8TH-6TH CENTURY B.C. Estimate GBP (£) 200 - 300 [Sold for (Inc. bp): £143]. It has rather a brief description:

A bronze brooch with a round-section, leech-shaped body with herringbone decoration, biconvex collars, integral catch, single coiled integral spring and pin. 3 1/4 in. (74 grams, 82 mm). [No Reserve]

Acquired 1971-1972.
From the collection of the vendor's father.
Property of a London, UK, collector.

CONDITION [blank]"
There is a second one in the same auction [Sold for (Inc. bp): £221]:
A bronze brooch with a round-section, leech-shaped body with herringbone decoration, biconvex collars, integral catch, single coiled integral spring and pin. 3 3/4 in. (88 grams, 97 mm). [No Reserve] 

Acquired 1971-1972.
From the collection of the vendor's father.
Property of a London, UK, collector.

I am always a bit suspicious of those "no reserve" items... the term appears rather randomly, mainly in the second and later day auctions, I wonder what that could mean?  

Photos by TimeLine Auctions

 Anyhow, are these brooches in fact Greek? It is true that they both have some similarities with some of those in the classic old work Blinkenberg, C. Fibules grecques et orientales. (Copenhagen, 1926). In particular there are some similarities with types 10-14 of the 'Submycenean fibulae', end of LMIII and beginning of the next period - dated by the author to 1200-1150 BC (Blinkenberg 1926, pp. 67-72; p. 58 for the dating - today LMIII/LHIIIC are dated a bit later 1100-1040 [? - not really my period]). On the other hand, while all the elements are there they 'hang together' in a quite different way, the manner in which the spring is constructed, the catchplate, the shape of the bow and the two collars at either end of it. What is also quite notable about them is their size, one is almost 10cm long, the other eight.

These are part of a wider spread of vaguely-similar brooches that extend across the Greek-Mediterranean areas into the Near East and the Caucasus that relate to common violin bow brooch ancestors (c. 12th-11th century BC), within which the various lineages developed in parallel. While therefore brooches of this wider group are often strikingly similar to each other, they do not really belong to the same line of development.

It seems these brooches belong to a comparatively uncommon type, that more frequently occur in the east of Europe. You can find similar items on the Russian (sorry for sending you there) internet such as here in the electronic catalogue of the State Historical Museum in Moscow, an example from the Koban cemetery dated here to the VIII - VII th centuries BC. Another one from a Russian metal detecting forum [«Домонгол-форум древней культуры и искусства, галерея древностей» "Before-the-Mongols-forum of ancient culture and art, gallery of antiquities" ], found "in Krasnodar krai" (That is quite a big area for a provenance - reflecting how artefact hoiking like that is illegal in Russia).* This one is dated by the forum moderator (who it seems may have been the finder some time before 2009) as "Koban culture, Early, or period of Koban II - the middle of the XII - the turn of the XI-X centuries BC". There is not a lot of literature (unless you go to Russian academic sources which I am not going to do at this moment when their troops are in my neighbour's country) but the book by  Sabine Reinhold (2007) ' Die Spätbronze- und frühe Eisenzeit im Kaukasus. Materielle Kultur, Chronologie und überregionale Beziehungen' Universitätsforschungen zur prähistorischen Archäologie, Bd. 144 Bonn is available online (to TimeLine Auctions' experts too). A number of better parallels to these brooches can be seen on Plates 120-130, especially the Doppelknotenfibeln on plate 125 and the better examples (Sanisugafibeln) on plate 129.

For dot-distribution map fans, that's as shown over to the right here (compiled by the author from Reinhold's volume). 

A while back I wrote about the disturbing appearance of unprovenanced Koban Culture artefacts in online sales, often disguised as something else (' Dealing With Russia (I) Koban Culture Artefacts on Western Markets' PACHI Friday, 8 April 2022). If these objects were acquired by the British vendor's (equally British?) collector- father who'd acquired them in 1971-1972, how did they come onto the market? The dots on the map show these objects are found in what was then several different regions of the Soviet Union.  

There are another two, called "Hallstatt" brooches, but of different collection histories (I am grateful to collector "Renate" for pointing these two out) 

LOT 1504 IRON AGE HALLSTATT TYPE BOW BROOCH 7TH-6TH CENTURY B.C. Estimate GBP (£) 60 - 80 Sold for (Inc. bp): £59
A single coil arched bow brooch with pin and integral catchplate, decorative collars to the slender body. 2 3/8 in. (9.35 grams, 59 mm). [No Reserve]

Acquired Munich, Germany, late 1990s.
Property of an East London gentleman.

Cf. Hattatt, R., Ancient and Romano-British Brooches, Dorset, 1982, fig.13, 1, for type.

Hattatt, ha ha, a book written by a collector about his collection. That's the best their experts can do? Disappointing. The second one, supposedly a dugup artefact, looks a bit odd to me:
Estimate GBP (£) 60 - 80 Sold for (Inc. bp): £72

A bronze bow brooch comprising a round-section bow with segmented outer ends, coil to one end with integral pin, flat rectangular catch to the other end with lip to the outer edge. 2 5/8 in. (12.7 grams, 67 mm). [No Reserve]

Acquired Munich, Germany, late 1990s.
Property of an East London gentleman.

Cf. Beck, H. et al. Fibel und Fibeltracht, Berlin, 2000, item 74(13).

Photos by TimeLine Auctions
The cited work is Volume 8 of the Reallexikon der germanischen Altertumskunde handbook, and is not terribly useful as a reference here as the work concentrates on post-Roman Germanic fibulae. TimeLine was never very good at using the literature, either British or continental, seemingly treating it in a very random, haphazard way in an effort to simulate scholarship.

This "East London gentleman", who could that be? An East End antiquities dealer maybe? (shades of "Albert Square Antiquities Emporium"?). So these two came out of wherever they were dug up and were circulating on the antiquities market of Munich (who could that seller be, hmmm?) in the late 1990s, so just after the collapse of the Soviet Union and then ended up in London. 

It is not entirely clear what they are. If really antiquities, they may be either Koban pieces or of some related culture. But I cannot help with my archaeologist's eye feeling (subjective, I know) there is something odd about these two. 1520 really does give the (again, subjective) impression of being a freshly-manufactured piece, no? Both of them have a very similar patina which consists of a thin powdery green 'bloom' on a smoother thin layer of darker green that unconformably overlies a dark layer (it can be seen at both ends of the bow of 1504 where the upper layer has flaked off). If these are dugup artefacts, I'd love to know the burial conditions that produced this effect. I'd love to get these two under a microscope. 

*If bolshy UK metal detectorists think the rules of their forums are restrictive, they may like to read those of one in Putin's Russia for comparison. There are some points of similarity with their own, but some pretty drastic differences.
Рекомендуется придерживаться литературной речи и уважительному отношению друг к другу. [...] Бессмысленные, не информативные посты, не имеющие отношения к тематике форума, могут быть удалены Модератором форума по его усмотрению.
4. Участникам форума рекомендуется избегать "национальных и религиозных вопросов", а также вопросов связанных с "белыми и черными" археологами, их противодействием и разногласиями
[It is recommended to adhere to literary speech and respectful attitude towards each other. [...] Meaningless, non-informative posts that are not related to the topic of the forum may be deleted by the Forum Moderator at his discretion.
4. Forum participants are advised to avoid "national and religious issues", as well as issues related to "white and black" archaeologists, their opposition and disagreements]

Hat tip. I'd like to acknowledge the help with this post of fibula-canny collector 'Renate' who pointed me to these fibulae and also some of the references.

Monday 12 September 2022

Most Popular Websites Since 1993

James Eagle
" Our #DigitalEconomy has experienced several rapid waves of evolution. It began with Dotcom companies, where over exuberance saw fortunes lost when the tech bubble popped. But even before that the search engine emerged. It eventual brought #Google into our daily lives. A few years down the line, just 15 years ago, #socialmedia also exploded into our lives [...]".

James Eagle Most Popular Websites Since 1993 Uploaded to YouTube Jun 14, 2022 26,042 views..

Where does the changing face of antiquities sales fit in here? Note that eBay (founded in 1995) gained a position in the 'top ten' here in the summer of 1999, but started to decline in relative popularity in 2006/7 and then by July 2008 dropped out off the chart, though other services would have been used for commerce (including antiquities) alongside it from this time onwards.   

Similar graphic by Captain Gizmo "Most Popular Websites 1993 - 2020" of May 11, 2020 (1,083,221 views). 

Wednesday 7 September 2022

Kiev Targets Smugglers

I'd like to think that some of this concerns the huge flow of metal detected archaeological artefacts out of the country to European (and possibly Russian?) markets since at least 2016, but I suspect that Kiev has more serious issues to contend with:
SBU's operation targets smugglers. President Volodymyr Zelensky said that 24 Customs Services employees were fired and four foreign nationals, three Russians and a Romanian, lost their Ukrainian citizenship following an investigation by the State Security Service (SBU). The affected individuals had been involved in illegal activities through affiliated structures and tried to maintain influence over customs officials.
But in any case, what about buyers in other parts of Europe that buy these smiuggled goods, and certain auction houses that put them on resale without properly checking their origins, and missing they are handling cultural property stolen from and smugged out of a conflict zone? Should not they be being called-out?

Sunday 4 September 2022

British Archaeologists Caught Out by Cheap Goggle-box Publicity Stunt

A professional man and his female colleagues
Some archaeologists naively thought they'd go on TV and "promote archaeology" through promoting "Responsible Metal Detecting" within the framework of a programme called "Digging for Treasure Tonight". It seems they were not too good at critically reading the fine print of their contracts or the detailed programme synopsis, which has already led to all sorts of ambiguities, issues and problems. It also meant they pretty soon got caught up in the production company's attempts to boost ratings by getting people talking about the show in a most unsophisticated manner.

One of the three co-presenters posted a photo of himself with the two female co-presenters standing in the middle of a field with the text:
Dan Walker @mrdanwalker · 27 sie
Fantastic response to Dogging For Treasure last night and great figures! [...] 😂
See you next Friday at 9 @michaelastracha @Raksha_Digs @dfttc5
At the time, Twitter had no edit button, meaning that everybody else who posts up a text with a typo in it simply deleted the whole text and reposted it in the correct form. Dan Walker did not do that, simply drew attention to it by feigned embarrassment. What is notable is that the two females mentioned in that tweet and labelled "doggers" (one of whom is the President of the Council for British Archaeology) played along with the ribald remark and tried to laugh it off. Over the past few years the treatment of women in British archaeology, including sexism and harrassment, has become an issue that is discussed much more than it used to be. I wonder how may women in the discipline feel that their interests are being served by Raksha Dave responding with a smiley instead of a rebuke and demand that this boorish oaf take down that remark? I wonder how many male and female archaeologists (Andrew Agate, Helen Geake et al) appearing in the programme felt that this cheap publicity stunt demeans the women involved, and themseves? This tweet was made a week ago, I assumed that Dan Walker might have reflected about what he had done and what it meant, but absolutely not. Not only has the original tweet not been deleted (Sept 4th 2022), but he is still jocularly drawing attention to it.

And, as may have been predicted, the social media "discussion" on and following episode two makes zero mention of "responsible metal detecting", but mainly consists of unsophisticated remarks on the "dogging" theme. So what that the arkies produced "guidelines"? That's not what interests the people drawn to this programme. How can the archaeologists involved in this kid themselves that this programme, and they, will be taken seriously when that is the main association most viewers now have about it and their work? 

This episode I think highlights the appalling naivety of those who think that one can communicate archaeological values in this way. I think it also shows the weakness of the professionals that allow themselves to be pushed around, and their professional values pushed aside because some commercial company needs somebody to fill the screen and legitimise what they are doing. It seems the professionals involved did not have the gumption to stand up and say immediately they became aware of this publicity stunt: "I don't give a tinkers what you put on the contract, I'm not going to allow you to treat me in this way!". This implies that equally, they would not have what it takes to get the production company checking there was a licence for a piece of work featured in one episode or sorting out the ambiguities of working with a commercial metal detecting event organizer, or all the other issues this show raises. 

Archaeology really needs to rethink how to work with the media, not for personal aggrandisement, but for the benefit of the discipline we represent on screen. Where is our Code of Practice and professional guidelines on this? (CBA?? CIfA?).

Saturday 3 September 2022

"Citizen/Archaeology for All" in Not-Unicornland


      "Responsible" detectorists in a landscape   
The presence of the CBA president as one of the three presenters of the Channel Five Treasure hunting show "Digging up Treasure" was justified by saying that through its presentation and the "guidelines" accompanying the programme it promotes "Responsible Detecting" in the UK - which is presented as "a good thing". 

I totally disagree. Quite apart from the fact that it is now very clear the programme's "presentation" does no such thing, there are unanswered questions about its own ethical issues, and the guidelines are space-filling crap, this simply has not been thought-through.

1) To make artefact hunting and collecting into "archaeology for all" or "citizen archaeology" and not merely looting, there has to be full mitigation of the damage done by taking random collectables out of the archaeological record. And let us say, for the sake of discussion that all this mitigation requires is (as mainstream British archaeology asserts) an x-marks the spot record in the PAS.* 

2) Obviously, this means not promoting artefact hunting to a degree or in a way that produces a lot of new detector users  beyond the number that the Portable Antiquities Scheme with the resources and staff it currently has cannot cope. That seems pretty obvious. No? 

3) Anything beyond this means that archaeological contexts are trashed by collectors, findspots and artefacts go unrecorded or under-recorded, information is lost. This is information that is lost through current policies and approaches to a damaging, erosive and exploitative minority hobby.

4) So what's the magic number? What is the maximum number of artefact hunters that we can expect could be recruited to do "citizen/archaeology for all" in the current situation?

5) Before the pandemic, PAS was recording around 80000 artefacts a year (artefacts, not records). Annual reports say that just over 90% of them (artefacts not records) were generated by "metal detectorists" (artefact hunters and collectors). That's 72000 artefacts (not records) a year, pre-pandemic. Several official statements (for example, here) suggest that more are offered for recording, but the PAS has not the capacity to deal with more  and have to be selective. Those 72000 artefacts are the current upper limit.

6) Netnographic research that Heritage Action did in the early 2000s, together with contemporary sources (including surveys done by detectorists and artefact-hunter-supportive archaeologists) indicated that the statistical-average detectorist was generating just over 30 recordable finds a year (recordable does not mean the finder recognised any obligation to get them recorded). That's the figure that the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter uses. [It is possible that improvements in detectors in the past decade and a half mean that number should be increased]. 

7) If therefore the PAS has its resources stretched mitigating detection by recording 72000 artefacts (not records), it means that the current carrying capacity of the PAS is 72000/30 = 2400 artefact hunters. Anything above that means that information is lost, inadequate mitigation is taking place. 

8) How many artefact hunters were in Britain pre-Covid19-Pandemic? I have elsewhere presented evidence that the figure of 27000 seems a perfectly reasonable one. I am currently inclined to believe that by now an estimate of 30000 is not out of the question. 

9) The difference between 27000 and the PAS carrying capacity of 2400 is pretty stark. 

10) So, in my view, in the real word, as it exists in today's Britain and not some airy-fairy 'sunlit uplands' of  Unicornland, archaeologists promoting artefact hunting as a hobby that everyone can take up to do "archaeology for all" on top of the numbers that do so is extremely myopic and irresponsible

I am prepared to discuss that with any archaeologist who disagrees with me on factual grounds rather than unicorn-lore. 

*This is nonsense of course, the archaeological context of every object hoiked out of a site or assemblage is much more than "where on a map". 

Friday 2 September 2022

Archaeologists: Show-and-Not-Very-Much-Tell

North Worcestershire Archaeology Group @NWAG_Archaeo · 2 g.
This #IronAge gold coin was found in NW #Worcestershire in 2020. Minted in AD c.30-60, it bears the name of Bodvoc, ruler of the Dobunni tribe, as well as one very funky horse! PAS record: #FindsFriday #archaeology #coins #numismatics #WorcestershireHour 

[Found on the Malvern Hills. Odd surface on this]

But as Wheeler once said, we are "digging up people, not things", so what can they actually show us of the everyday life not of any "Bodvoc" but the people that saw those coins in use - just from the same PAS "database"? Archaeology is so much more than glittery old coins with pictures and writing on them, surely.

Here however we see the usual British archaeological tactic of 'gatekeeping', presenting oneself as the expert guardian of arcane knowledge about the past deigning to show the grockles something to interest and entertain (pretending to "educate") them. After all if it's a coin with the picture of a horse and the name BODVOC in capital letters on it, there's little danger of a curious enquiry "how do you know what it is?". So time and time again, archaeology is presented as "looking at something old". And where is the text explaining how they decided it "is" "the Dobunni tribe" and who and when used the term "Dobunni" and why is it specifically a "tribe" (and in what meaning of that word)? How is it known (or is it) that this Bodvoc [was that his real name?] was their ruler, and was it all "Dobunni" or just part of them? In what form was that power/authority exercised?
Why is there a horse there, and why is it disjointed? How do they arrive at the date AD c.30-60 when among the various dates for these coins, the British Museum cites a much earlier one " 5-20 [something]"?

As for public transparency about where it was found and by home, it is zero. That's all hidden close to the chest. From what we are told, it was dug up somewhere within the Malvern Hills district, which spans most of western Worcestershire, and is not coterminous or synonymous with the hill range. So, basically this is an utterly pointless public "record" that hides the actual information from the inhabitant of that village or hamlet that somebody found this just down the road from their home, where they walk the dog, but pocketed it leaving them none the wiser. Making that information public via the PAS (a massive state-funded show-and-tell project) in fact does not make the actual information public, and in this case actually deliberately obscures part of it - because the archaeologists in the record claim they know to within one square meter where it was in fact found. But that arcane knowledge they keep to themselves.

You wonder just what archaeologists posting up a picture of something and a bald 260 character label think they are achieving? Just to show they are there somewhere, that they "educate" the public about their past? Ticking the box that they "do public outreach"? I really would like to know what these show-and-tells are actually about.

The Problems with Participating in TV "Archaeology" that is Just Artefact Hunting

It seems pretty obvious that, unless something is said to discourage this (like "this, actually damages the archaeological record if you do it in a careless and uninformed manner"), televised artefact hunting is going to exncourage more and more people to have a go. Yet the PAS admits itself to be totally incapable of (a) coping with even a portion of the artefacts found by the current number of detectorists and (b) finding ways to persuade the public purse that they "must" finance the mitigation of this minority hobby ("or else..." - or else what?). So it is pretty annoying to see more archaeologists joining in televised artefact hunting events and smiling as desirable collectables are revealed (maybe even actually dug up and not planted) and shown off before... well what? Where do they go? And then we see on social media:
Digging For Treasure @dfttc5 · 12 g.
Has anyone decided to give detecting a go since tuning in last week? If so show us what you've found ⬇️ All the information you need on how to detect responsibly is pinned on our social media pages. ⏲️ Digging for Treasure is back tomorrow night, 9pm, C5. #DFT #C5 #LookWhatIFound
So I'd like to ask Raksha Dave and the Portable Antiquities Scheme whether the aim of the programme really was to promote artefact hunting, the ripping out of collectables from the archaeological record, randomly trashing sites, so that archaeologists can get to "see what has been found"? Is that it? They say defensively that they give "ALL the information you need on how to detect responsibly". Well, actually no, they do not. Not even a proper beginning. We could start off by agreeing a definition of BEST artefact-hunting and collecting practice for the archaeology.

As one example, the programme shows detecting in the dark, where the finder cannot see the context of what they are blindly pulling-out-at-a-bleep. The guidelines make no mention of looking what you are doing as you remove artefacts from the archaeological record (or making notes). The guidance is a l-o-o-o-n-g way from defining best practice, and second-to-best may be OK in making TV programmes about baking cakes, but is damaging to a finite and fragile resource when it comes to trashing the archaeological record as personal entertaiment and profit.

And it is Friday and another episode of Digging For Treasure is due on.

Thursday 1 September 2022

Mariupol: Alleged Redevelopment of Prehistoric Site

                   Did Mound, photo "Цензор.НЕТ"               

A Ukrainian online newspaper informs its readers that in Mariupol, the Russian occupiers are planning to build on a protohistoric site on the extreme NW outskirts of the city (Anon. Окупанти планують знищити археологічну пам’ятку - курган Дід у Маріуполі, - Андрющенко 31 August 2022)
У захопленому Маріуполі російські окупанти задумали знищити історичну пам’ятку V тис. до н.е. курган Дід. На його місці загарбники планують почати будівництво. Як інформує Цензор.НЕТ, про це на своєму каналі в Telegram повідомив радник законного міського голови Петро Андрющенко. Історична пам'ятка розташована на вулиці Пилипа Орлика. За його словами, лише минулого року влада Маріуполя ухвалила рішення про збереження цієї пам'ятки. Андрющенко наголосив, що спротив передав копії документів, які свідчать про забудову в місці розташування кургану, що повністю його знищить.
[In captured Mariupol, the Russian occupiers planned to destroy a historical monument of the 5th millennium BC. The 'Ded Mound'. In its place, the invaders plan to start construction. As Censor.NET informs, this was reported on his Telegram channel by Petro Andryushchenko, the mayor's legal adviser. The historical monument is located on Pylyp Orlyk street. According to him, only last year the authorities of Mariupol made a decision to preserve this monument. Andryushchenko emphasized that the resistance handed over copies of documents that testify to the development of the mound at the location, which will completely destroy it].
They name the developer as Donat Vsevolodovych Yashchuk from Taganrog (Rostov Oblast). Andryushchenko wrote: "This is another crime against humanity by Russia. This is how the history of Ukraine is being destroyed. This is how the history of the world is being destroyed. Russia's neo-Bolshevik fascism is on the march".

There is a Wikipedia page for this site Курган Дід (Маріуполь) which is sited at 47° 7'21.58"N 37°31'25.85"E. The news article contains some photos, without captions. The one at the top shows the site itself from the ground level, a 6-m tall irregular mound. The one at the bottom, a vertical aerial shot of an area including mainly car parks and waste ground surrounded by a red line. I think it is a fair assessment that this shows the area of the planning permission of the proposed development. The middle photo on the page is a vertical aerial shot, showing the mound, encircled next to a car park. The bottom photo is oddly rotated in relation to it.

Satellite photo of affected area (photo "Цензор.НЕТ" )

Interestingly, this new development will be on the outskirts of a city that currently contains huge vacant plots of bombed buildings. Instead of redeveloping them to revive the destroyed city, the developer had gone for the easier option of taking a vacant site that does not involver rubble clearance. That in itself raises questions, including about the "planning policy" of the occupying authorities.

The whole subject has of course been taken up by social media and it is interesting to see people's reactions. Quite prominent are the amateur searchers of Indo-European origins. Nobody mentions the 1954 Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (of which the Russian Federation and Ukraine are both states party). The problem is it seems nobody is really looking at the site itself and the claim. 

I do not know anything about the geomorphology of the region, the mound (6m tall, lentoid in plan, 60 x 70m at the base) is prominent, higher than other hills in the area, has steep sides, but Google Earth (especially with the enhancement of the relief  turned on) suggests this mound has been much cut-about by various processes. It is not very regular. The Wikipedia article says that it is built of turves (which many Scythian mounds were) but Google Earth shows that where it is eroded, somebody seems to have been driving off-road vehicles over it at some stage, that the core material is light yellowish-orangey-brown (sand or clay?).  There is a hollow on the NW side, this possibly is an eroded ditch (?) but I note that it aligns with the valley cutting the scarp to the Kal'chyk river 800m to the east and also could be natural. We'd need to see some historical mapping. That it was only recognised and protected a year ago also raises some suspicions. Looking at what I could find, I really doubt that this is an artificial mound. It may have been modified in the past. 

I also wonder about how the dating of "fifth millennium BC" was reached. The Neolithic cultures in the 5th millennium BC would be the Dnieper–Donets culture or the Sredny Stog culture, neither of which were the creators of huge burial mounds or other communal monuments. Apparently three Bronze Age  burials were found during road construction on its edge at some time and an excavation of some kind was undertaken somewhere on it by archaeologist V. Kulbak, but the only report I can find cited is in the local newspaper, and there is no indication of what was found. The Wikipedia article is very amateurish and consists mostly of speculation, rather than reporting facts, and cites no useful literature.

Above all, I am puzzled by the discrepancy between the claims made and the third photo showing the area of development. If the boundaries shown are correct, the Kurhan is outside the area of the development shown in the article about the development destroying the mound! The second and third photos do not match up to support this claim. Is that why one of them is rotated to obscure this?

Everything I can see so far suggests this is a fake-news story, trying to exploit the current conflict and capitalise on concern for cultural property to discredit somebody.  

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