Tuesday 13 September 2022

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. 

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