Sunday, 26 March 2023

Academics Represent Artefact Hunting as "Citizen Science" and Looting as "Citizen Participation"

Arguments for the Finlandisation of archaeological heritage exploitation continue to be presented:

Anna Wessman, Suzie Thomas, Pieterjan Deckers, Andres S. Dobat, Stijn Heeren and Michael Lewis (2023): Hobby Metal-detecting as Citizen Science. Background, Challenges and Opportunities of Collaborative Archeological Finds Recording Schemes, Heritage and Society, DOI: 10.1080/2159032X.2022.2098654

This paper discusses five digital archeological finds recording schemes from England and Wales, Denmark, Finland, Flanders (Belgium), and the Netherlands; countries and areas where members of the public can search for archeological material, usually by metal-detecting. These schemes are a part of the European Public Finds Recording Network. The authors argue that citizen science approaches to recording discoveries made by the public present important opportunities for enriching both research and possibilities for widening participation with archeological heritage. These schemes work within specific legal and social frameworks, and the paper scrutinizes each scheme in the context of citizen participation. The paper also discusses the challenges concerning sharing open data connected to crowdsourced archeological information, and the limitations and prospects offered by the different national and regional frameworks within which the schemes operate. 

Representing: University of Helsinki, Finland; University of Bergen, Norway; Aarhus Universitet, Denmark; Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, Netherlands; British Museum, London, UK. 

Note the repeated spelling of the word archaeology here. 

There is nothing much new here, the authors are largely just regurgitating information already published by them elsewhere, with a few shallow buzzwords thrown in ("Caring means sharing").

When it comes to the specifics, much is made for example of the verification of PAS records, but anyone who's actually gone through a large number of their records (I have) will know that this is in reality by now dead in the water, and a lot of descriptions and inconsistencies that should have been picked up by those 'verifiers' have slipped through and form part of the public record, thus reducing their value as 'data' - still less 'scientific data'.

Also with regard to the article's title and subject matter, the PAS is no longer as "collaborative" as it was, a lot of it is being compiled by (anonymous) karaoke recorders and the PAS FLO staff are also now anonymised in the public record to obscure who is responsible for what.

The record instead exploits artefact hunters who bring in material to bulk it out, and get no individual public recognition of their contribution. This is a colonial model of science where 'natives' are exploited to serve an academic elite who in turn then act as gatekeepers (see the content and mood of the social media output of PAS staff members). [see also - PACHI 16 July 2022, ' Fish-in-Barrel "Archaeology", Metal Detecting as Imagined "Citizen Science" in the Czech Republic' - a 'collaborative' European recording scheme that funnily enough is not mentioned here].

Allegedly: "the paper scrutinizes each scheme in the context of citizen participation". This promise however is not met. In the UK there are an estimated (by PAS) 40 000 artefact hunting metal detectorists actively stripping the archaeological record of collectable artefacts and therefore information. In this paper however there is not only no mention of this figure, but no mention of the degree of participation of these heritage strippers to the academics' pet "citizen science" project. That aspect - of mitigating the damage done to science by artefact hunting with metal detectorists under the noses of these academics - is completely ignored. In fact, participation is very low in the metal detecting communities of England and Wales (despite the definition in the Code of Best Practice of "responsible detecting" that is automatically, but falsely,  applied to "the majority" of them). 

Anyway, the authors have their grant money extended, their nice offices and conference fees paid, and as long as they can spin a nice story with the right buzzwords about "participation" of a pars-pro-toto minority (and attack colleagues like Sam Hardy that raise some issues they'd rather not talk about), the stripping goes on unchecked - and indeed unrecorded.

Artefact hunting and artefact collecting are not "citizen science", they are knowledge theft, they are erosion of the archaeological record. Academics who, regardless, write about it as anything else are just living parasitically on the results of this destruction.

Vignette: Not "citizen science", just the tip of the iceberg of selfish exploitation, note undeclared "silver" finds right under the PAS noses while their staff write such academic verbiage.

Collector With Attitude: No Database, No Bother

 Ancient Coin collector on a public forum: " [...] so long as the coin is genuine and has not been stolen (ie on a stolen property database), I couldn't care less about the provenance".

Git yer Own Affens Owl Tet 'ere, Good Investment, First Come, First Served: "The Parliament Collection"

"Located in the heart of Hong Kong's Central Financial District (Des Voeux Road Central, Central, Hong Kong), LPM is one of Asia's largest and most trusted Precious Metal Retailers. Now celebrating 10 years in business LPM understands the needs of Gold and Silver investors". Some of the collectors' items they sell are a real eye-opener. People buy this stuff? But there are no prizes for guessing where these coins are probably from (Concealed 2018 Konya Hoard)....
Athenian Owl Silver Tetradrachm
Athenian Owls
Struck sometime between 440 and 404 B.C., this Greek Silver Tetradrachm was minted in Athens, the capital city of Attica, a region of the Greek empire. It features perhaps the most iconic and instantly recognizable designs found on ancient coinage: the Athenian Owl, flanked by the crescent moon, olive branch, and monogram of its city of origin. The obverse features the goddess Athena herself, protected by her beautifully designed helmet.

Part of what makes these coins so iconic is that they are the first mass-circulated coin ever produced! In fact, many of the skilled laborers and soldiers who were paid with these coins simply had no idea what a coin was,* resulting in many coins being marked with knives or other instruments used to cut into their surface and confirm their contents.

These coins were minted in large quantities in order to restore the Acropolis and build the Parthenon in Athens. Because of our connections in the numismatic world, we were able to get our pick of the nicest looking coins from this hoard. These selected pieces make up the Parliament Collection - a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to acquire such high-quality Athena Owl coins.

It's the largest hoard of its kind we've ever seen, with coins in this offering graded by the Numismatic Guaranty Corporation (NGC). These coins have received the extra designation of being a part of The Parliament Collection. Don’t let these historic, museum-quality coins disappear!

Ancient History You Can Hold in Your Hands
Each coin is approximately 2,400 years old from a time when Athens was a cultural center of the world and the heart of ancient Greece. Athens was a key city-state that laid the foundations for Western civilization. When one thinks of ancient Athens, images of the Acropolis, the Parthenon and the Temple of Zeus come to mind. Now you can hold an actual piece of that history in your hands!

Each Coin Struck by Hand
Your Athenian Owl Silver Tetradrachm was carefully struck by ancient artisans more than two millennia ago. Because of this, no two coins are exactly alike!

Athenian Owls
Comes with Special Pedigreed Label and FREE Book. Each coin will come sonically sealed in an acrylic coin holder and encapsulated with a special Parliament Collection label. A parliament refers to a gathering of owls and a fitting label for a coin from this important coin discovery.

Historic Designs that Influenced Modern Coinage
These Owls proved very wise. Athena was the goddess of wisdom and warfare and the patron goddess of Athens. In Greek mythology, she was the daughter of Zeus. The owl is Athena’s familiar and, according to legend, she sometimes took the form of her owl. President Teddy Roosevelt was said to have carried an Athenian Owl coin in his pocket, which in turn inspired him to order the redesign of U.S. coins in the early 1900s.

We only have a small cache of these coins, so you'd be wise to order your Athenian Owl Tetradrachm while we still have some available!
Somebody called "®" Corporate Center Curve, Eagan, MN 55121 ("a brand of Asset Marketing Services, LLC (AMS). AMS is a retail distributor of coin and currency issues and is not affiliated with the U.S. government") also has had some of this "Parliament Collection" with exactly the same sales spiel. It looks like they give away a copy of a Wayne sayles book with it (whooppee!). There is a similar sounding offer from, Afford the Extraordinary', 440-404 B.C. Ancient Attica Athens Silver Athena Owl Tetradrachm NGC MS Item#: 50019 Now Only $2,250. 'The Coin Vault', East Union City Pike Winchester, IN 47394 still has them in stock c. 440-404 BC Attica, Athens Owl Silver Tetradrachm NGC Ancients Choice Extra Fine Item# 273754 at $1,199.98 but "The coin will arrive in The Coin Vault's custom certified presentation box and will be accompanied by the 3rd edition 'Money of the Bible' book" (Ha! Athena in the Bible, eh? Novel). Apmex, "Investments you can hold" has had at least one coin from this collection (says it was discovered in 2015).

You could even get them from Walmart: "Athens Ag Tetradrachm Owl (440-404 BC) Ch XF NGC (Parliament Col) $1,040.21" but the one they figure has no nose. Here's one for 1025 USD on VAuctions (you know, the one with a "Code of Ethics" that...). Mynt Collector - Coins Gold Loose Diamonds + New York, NY, USA has one on auction right now - starting price ten dollars. Ask them if they have export paperwork before you bid.

Funnily enough absolutely none of the sales offers includes even basic information abut who put together this "Parliament Collection", where and when and from what. Still less is there any mention of any paperwork related to legal export. Odd that, if the coin was found recently. 


Saturday, 25 March 2023

A Greek Coin Case to Watch? A Munich-Zurich Link

       Coin surfaced on antiquities trade  

In the fallout from the ongoing Beale/Roma Numismatics case a Greek newspaper has printed some details of an old case that appears not to have been abandoned after all (Giannis Papadopoulos Αρχαιοκαπηλία: Το θρίλερ με το χρυσό νόμισμα του Βρούτου [Archaeocapilia: Brutus' Golden Coin Thriller] 23.03.2023). In Google translation it alledges:

The case file in Patras
The auction house involved in this case has also concerned the Greek authorities in the past. In October 2016, his name was mentioned in a security document of Patras, without naming its owner, in the context of the dismantling of a multi-member ring of antiquities. Two years later, the Appellate Council of Patras issued a 2,546-page resolution to refer 47 defendants to trial. The relevant documents analyse the route of ancient objects (mainly coins) from their illegal excavation to their sale, the suspicious role of foreign auction houses in laundering antiquities, as well as techniques for manipulating electronic auctions with virtual "hits". However, no relevant prosecution was brought against representatives of the international houses at the time, as it was judged that there were insufficient indications of guilt. [...] [the documents detail] auction process of an ancient Corinthian cut silver stater by the British house. The specific coin, dated 500-480 BC, weighing 8.65 grams and 19 millimeters in diameter, depicts Pegasus on one side and was allegedly taken from Greek territory by illegal digging. It sold for between €1,500 and appeared at auction in September 2016 with a starting price of £8,000. In the description of the catalogue it was mentioned that the coin comes from a collection before 1920. According to the case file, there is also a reference to the specific coin and its auction in a telephone conversation with a Greek defendant which has been recorded. The case was set to be tried in first instance in October 2020, but after a series of postponements it is unexpectedly expected to start in June 2023.
Uh-oh. Sounds familiar. Those "techniques for manipulating electronic auctions with virtual [bids]" are known as shill bidding, this is illegal, but very commonly applied in the online collectables market, including antiquities, and is just one of the deceptive and lawless practices this unsustainable and exploitative industry functions on.

The case referred to may be found in articles from 2020 (for example 'GCT', 'Five rare ancient silver coins returned to Greece' Greek City News October 6 2020):
The Ministry of Culture and Sports on Monday announced that five rare silver coins dating to the 5th and 4th centuries BC were returned to Greece, before being auctioned off in Munich and Zurich.
Three of them were repatriated on September 30 from Munich: a stater from Lindos (Rhodes) of the first half of the 5th century BC, an octadrachm of Getas, the king of Edonians in Thrace, dated to around 480-460 BC and a stater from Elis dated to around 328 BC. The coins were handed over to the Consulate General of Greece in Munich by Bavarian police, and are now in the care of the Numismatics Museum of Athens, which helped identify them.

Another two silver coins were returned from Zurich to Athens on September 27. They were an Athenian tetradrachm (of the so-called new style), dated to 136 BC, and a tetradrachm of Ptolemy IV Philopator cut in Sidon around the end of the 3rd century BC.

Both coins which are now at the Archaeological Museum of Patras, were confiscated when a criminal ring was dismantled by Patras police in October 2016. The criminals were based in Greece but had an extensive network abroad, where they transferred looted antiquities. "A total of 126 ancient objects and 2,024 coins were confiscated in Greece, while in March 2017 Germany returned 33 Mycenaean vessels, 600 ancient coins and other antiquities of various periods, which were illegally exported by the looters," the Ministry of Culture and Sports added in the statement.
 I also discussed the Patras Bust in earlier posts on this blog: PACHI Wednesday, 5 October 2016, ' More on the Patras Bust - They Have Buyers' Names' and PACHI Wednesday, 5 October 2016, ' Dealers, where - precisely - do those artefacts come from?'. 
"Greek police have busted what they say is a criminal organisation that has been looting antiquities from ancient sites in the country for the past 10 years and smuggling them out to auction houses and private buyers in Germany, Austria, Switzerland and the UK. A spokesman for the Patras police department in western Greece, which led the 14-month investigation, said on Wednesday that more than 50 people were involved in the ring and 26 arrests have been made. [...] Police said the works were sold using fake provenance documents attributing them to private collections in Europe, but that the auction houses involved (which have not been named) knew the coins were illicit property and often helped inflate the final prices paid for them. Officials added that extensive paperwork will help them track down many of the objects that have already been sold. “For very many of the coins we have full documentation, starting from when they were discovered in the earth to the auction at which they were sold,” the police spokesman Haralambos Sfetsos told The Associated Press.

Sadly, very little was released from the ongoing investigations, if it comes to trial in the next few weeks, all that may change, quite dramatically.   Beale may be just the beginning. 

Silence and Self-Deception in the Dodgy Ancient Coin Market

 As part of the fallout from the Roma Numismatics case, collectors on their forums are beginning to ruminate about other rather dodgy-looking cases they know about:

Tetradogma (Newbie Member) Friday 24/3/23 at 11:37 PM
In regards to Roma selling coins of dubious origin and extraction, I've been thinking quite a bit about the 2018 hoard of 30,000 Owl Tets, from Turkey (we think). Given that pretty much every E-Sale Roma did would usually have about 60 of these coins in, is it fair to say its probably quite likely this constant volume of Tets are from that hoard? Feels like an open secret they were doing this stuff for a while, no?
'Velarfricative' (interesting to see antiquities collecting linked to linguistics in that name) added:
I mean, not just Roma E-Sales, those owls hit every major auction house for years (and continue to do so, I presume)
It is worth noting Tetradogma's reply (Friday 19 hours ago):
Absolutely true - sorry, was just because this thread was about Roma. That seems to correlate with the reporting in those Greek newspapers about a syndicate of dealers and looters working together that have established a multi national network of illegal extraction, falsifying provenance and market manipulation. I feel like this is a huge story but we are only seeing the tip of the icebergs, whispered asides at coin fairs, its from a Swiss Collection wink, wink etc. All very difficult to prove but given we are in a boom period of over inflated prices this story is really pertinent as it underpins how those mega prices we've been seeing have (and sorry to use this Reganite term) trickled down across all fields of the market. ie have we all been massively over paying for coins for the last ten years?! Ok, I'll take my tin foil hat off now, but still, this all has a very bad whiff coming of it
But most shocking of all is the self-centred reply to that by one 'Kaleun96' [aka 'flipperwaldt' and pssibly other names] that hits the nail on the head and is worth placing on the record where it can be searched and seen:
On the whole, I don't think we've been overpaying for coins even if the alleged practices of bidding-up of coins and "washing" them through auction houses is true and widespread. I say that because the number of coins coming to auction from illegal finds is probably so substantial, it's keeping down the prices more than the dodgy bidding practices might be increasing them.

The hoard of Owl tets is probably the best example of this. While prices haven't bottomed out as much as you might expect for a type with hundreds being sold every week, they're still much cheaper now than they were a decade or so ago. If auction houses only sold coins that were 100% legitimate according to all applicable laws (hypothetically let's pretend this is possible for them to know), I imagine the number of coins coming up for auction each week would be drastically reduced and the current levels of demand for them would send prices even higher than they are currently.

So in that sense I think we probably benefit from lower prices even if these looters/middle-men are bidding up their own coins. Just guessing about this all of course, but that's my impression.
The "even if the alleged practices of bidding-up of coins and "washing" them through auction houses is true and widespread" is just self-delusion, typical of antiquities collectors as a whole. They miss totally the interac tion between "the number of coins coming to auction from illegal finds is probably so substantial, it's keeping down the prices" that actually not only facilitate the expansion of the market that thrives on "the dodgy bidding practices" but actually requires them so that dealers can make the enormous profits that they do. "There's none so blind....". Also with regard some earlier remarks of this same collector (dealer??) the remark "if auction houses only sold coins that were 100% legitimate according to all applicable laws (hypothetically let's pretend this is possible for them to know)" stupidly misses the point. Auction houses should only be handling artefacts not only where they "know" that they are in some way "OK", but where the person they got them from can document it and pass that documentatiopn on to them so the buyers get it. That's not "imp[ossible' its what happens with used cars, animals and plants protected by CITES, pedigree race horses, diamonds and a lot else. Your supermarket sells potatoes that can be traced back to a specific supplier who buys from certain source. If contamination of one of those sources (heavy metals, sewage, nuclear waste spill) is detected, all the potatoes produced on that land can be withdrawn from the market through the cdocuments showing chain of transfer of ownership. At least that's how it works in Poland, and one assumes the EU.

As for "So in that sense I think we probably benefit from lower prices even if these looters/middle-men are bidding up their own coins" me, me, me. Total diregard there for the fact that if the colonialist me-me-me collectors of wherever the pseudonymous Kaleun96 comes from, it is actually at the expense of the cultural heritage (and the archaeological sites telling the story of the territory) of a 'them-them-not-one-of-us' community that these coins were stolen from, by those very looters and middlemen that Kaleun96 is apparently so indulgent as to allow them to make an even bigger profit by doing so. Nice of him/her. All in the name of... what, how would we call it?

I talked about the 2018 Konya hoard here: PACHI Friday, 1 November 2019, 'Concealed 2018 Konya Hoard' and the need for a crackdown on those involved.

Numismatists Confused. Dugup Coins "as a class do, in fact, stand apart"

AmazedAncient ('Rookie Member') of a numismo-forum near you, March 14 [hyperlink added by PMB]:
"I think we all need to step back from the moral judgments about coins and take a minute to read the ANS Cultural Property Statement:
"It is unreasonable to assume that a coin is stolen, illegally exported, or illegally imported merely because the holder cannot establish a chain of custody beyond receipt from a reputable source. Taken together, such considerations argue that within the world of artifacts, coins as a class do, in fact, stand apart"."
Actually, if collectors are responsible and concerned about the hygiene of their collection, they would not be buying artefacts where there is no documented chain of custody going back to legal excavation and legal export. This is for the very simple reason that NO dealer who cannot document the legality of both (and transfer of ownership) can claim that what they have in their stockroom actually is legally-sourced. And if they cannot document that, the artefact has no right to be in their stockroom, because there is no way the dealer can claim all their stock are 100% licit if they have not focused n acquiring only items where this can be established and documented.

This is rather like the Ruritanian Used Car Dealers' Consortium Trading Standards Guarantee:
"It is unreasonable to assume that a used car is stolen, illegally exported, or illegally imported merely because the engine and chassis numbers have been filed off or otherwise obscured and there is absolutely none of the original documentation associated with it, beyond a statement asserting previous purchase from a "reputable used car dealer". Taken together, such considerations argue that in the commercial world, used cars as a class do, in fact, stand apart"
Quite simply, the ANS has got this wrong. As an artefact, as an element of the archaeological heritage, coin is no different from a Roman brooch, an Anglo-Saxon strap-end or a Viking sword and (what ever collectors may think) is subject to the same regulations and safeguards.

A Coiney's Claim About another Roma Numismatics Sale

"Our commitment to ethical and responsible provenance: the
consignor affirms that this auction lot is their lawful property to sell,
and where cultural property restrictions may exist, that it meets the
requirements to be legally imported into the United States and Germany
unless specifically stated otherwise".

 Roma Numismatics Ltd
    Metal detector find from Limburg (Roma Numismatics)   

E-Live Auction 6 25 Mar 2023
Lot 176

Estimate: 500 GBP 
Domitian, as Caesar, Æ Sestertius. Rome, AD 80-81. CAES DIVI AVG VESP F DOMITIAN COS VII, laureate head to right / Minerva advancing to right, holding spear and shield; S-C across fields. RIC II.1 295 (Titus); BMCRE 232 (Titus). 15.54g, 32mm, 6h.
Extremely Fine; featuring a expressive portrait and an attractive dark green patina.
From the collection of a Romanophile; Ex Roma Numismatics Ltd., E-Sale 93, 6 January 2022, lot 963 (hammer: £700).
On a coiney forum near you (and potential bidders) someone called " Roerbakmix" said March 13:
They have added this ‘provenance’ to a coin I sold via them last year, which is now for sale again:
curiously enough, they omitted the real provenance which I provided before: find location, year when it was found, and documents of the registration in the numismatic Dutch database…
Interestingly those details were added before the sale today:
From the collection of a Romanophile;
Ex Roma Numismatics Ltd., E-Sale 93, 6 January 2022, lot 963 (hammer: £700);
Ex Classical Numismatic Group, Electronic Auction 484, 27 January 2021, lot 769;
Found in Limburg, the Netherlands in 2010. Registered in NUMIS under ID# 1154746.
It sold for 400 GBP. The "description" failed to note the condition; under the compact patina (how produced? Chemistry?) seems to be a troublesome powdery layer that has led to flaking at the edges of the flan. The inscription looks odd to me in places. The outline of the obverse and reverse images do not match, what is that odd break in one edge?

Metal Detecting: North East Lincolnshire Council gets it!

By Nigel Swift
The Council will not grant permission to speculative metal detecting on their land, they will consider requests for archaeologist or educational projects, for location of underground services or recovery of lost personal objects.”
Bravo! You won’t find that phrase, “speculative metal detecting” used anywhere else by anyone ever yet that’s what 99% of metal detecting consists of! Random and object-centred rather than targeted, scientific and purely in pursuit of knowledge. There is nothing “responsible” about that. That’s why the Council only consider requests for archaeologist or educational projects on their land. They owe it to their ratepayers and the public whose knowledge it is.

I think it’s time the new phrase was adopted by other landowners as well as archaeologists and PAS. Speculative metal detecting: just three words that are owed to the public.

Thursday, 23 March 2023

Eid Mar Aureus Repatriated

It is being reported (Tom Mashberg, 'Rare Coin, Minted by Brutus to Mark Caesar’s Death, Is Returned to Greece Tom Mashberg New York Times March 22, 2023 that Manhattan District Attorney’s officehas returned 29 looted antiquities to Greece, including the Eid Mar aureus seized from indicted coin dealer Richard Beale. This is "thought to have been looted from a field near where an army loyal to Brutus camped during the struggle for control of Rome. Tom Mashburg also reports a new detail, that the Eid Mar coin was
"was given up earlier this year by an unidentified American billionaire who, investigators said, had bought it in good faith in 2020. The British dealer who helped to arrange the sale was arrested in January, and the coin itself was recovered in February, officials said [...] Experts said they believe the coin was likely discovered more than a decade ago in an area of current-day Greece where Brutus and his civil war ally, Gaius Cassius Longinus, were encamped with their army."

The grounds for that belief are not stated. After the defeat of the rebel army by the Triumvirs at the Battle of Philippi in October 42 BC, the soldiers (and more likely officers) who had been paid in these coins would have scattered, probably being pursued, and the coins may have been taken to any place where they sought refuge, so there is no a priori reason why this coin should have been found anywhere near Phillipi or Greece. Once again, we see the effects of the US fixation with "repatriation", at the expense of following back the chain of events that led to it being on the market where seized.

"Viking" Artefacts from North Africa

From an Internet sales platform near you:
A Genuine Rare Ancient Bronze Decorated Viking Amulet Artifact Authentic
Condition: Used
Price: US $51.66
Located in: Fes, Morocco Seller: elhomoh_0

Dear Customers, you will receive exactly the same item which you see on the pictures, not similar or other. This is a lovely item to own or to give as a special gift [...] We strongly urge all of our customers to contact us first if a problem arises. We do our best to ensure that everything goes smoothly, but mistakes can and will happen. We will do everything within our power to solve any issue you have Thank you.
I have a problem with this and I've not even bought it. It is a cast metal lunulate pendant of non-Scandinavian type (looks more like what we get from eastern Europe, but I am sure this one is of modern manufacture). So why (apart from marketing purposes) is it described as "Viking"? Where did it get that odd patina? In the soils of Morocco or out of a bag of chemical fertiliser? Is this a representative artefact from the El Soukskam Culture, like many that have been turning up with increasing frequency from Morocco in recent months? This guy has been trading "Ancient items, oldest items, bronze and brass items with good prices" since Feb 2020. There seems to have been an increase in sellers from Morocco offering what they say are Roman and Viking artefacts in the past five or so years (examples: Barnoussi.10, based in Tangier - from Dec 2018; Antiques-and-artefacts Marrakesh, started Jun 2019; King_of_antique, trading from Sidi Kacem, - Sep 2019; Berbarea, from Marrakesh - Jan 2020; Haskar_4875, Casablanca -Apr 2021; Waazz_84 [= Wolf.Antique] -Oct 2021; Bofirl_0, kenitra - Sep 2022; Aureus.collectibles.coins -Oct 2022; Rare_ancient, based in -Dec 2022; Hasoumo-68 Casablanca [= old_crafted] -Feb 2023). There are many more, they generally sell small personal ornament items, often in a wearable state, and generally in the price range $30 -$75. While some of them are attempts at faking real Viking artefacts (Thor's hammers, axe amulets etc - nothing very elaborate), most are variants of local 'vintage(style) jewellery including 'Berber' and related styles. Rather shocking are some hand-of-Fatima amulets described as 'Viking' (and a brionze tobacco-pipe). Indeed, one wonders whether in some/many cases, the word "Viking" is there, not so much to attract attention of collectors of Viking artefacts (not all of whom are so stupid, surely, to be taken in by this deception), but to deflect attention of local authorities from the export of vintage/historical items from Morocco (on the logic that, like in many other countries, Moroccan law does not protect foreign artefacts in transit through the country). For the record, of the many hundreds of "Viking" artefacts offered from Morocco, not a single one I saw looked like an authentic dugup Viking (whatever you take that to mean) artefact.

* Berber artefacts are very popular with collectors. In the Colonial mindset, the austere lives of the desert-dwelling native populace of Europe's North African colonies led to them being cast as the noble savage belved of the collectors of so-called 'tribal' artefacts and jewellery.

Discussion of a Recent Leu Coins Sale - Too-Shiny Tets.

DonnaML (' Grand Master and Benefactor') of a numismatic forum near you wrote (March 13 (edited))
[...] Dubious - and truly preposterous - "from an old collection" provenances are hardly limited to that company [Roma Numismatics]. On the Facebook ancient coins group, people have been ridiculing the stated provenance of a group of coins up for sale at the current Leu auction. To quote one member a couple of days ago: "Looks like the Leu auction had some decent bargains today so far. That person who formed the 'European collection formed before 2005' had quite the appetite for coins - among their many holdings were 42 shiny late type Lysimachus tets all from the same mint!. Amazing."

The subsequent conversation is entertaining; I've omitted the names of those who posted the comments: [...]
There is another one from the same hoard in the new roma numismatic as well. Will be interesting to see how many of them will pop out
Does anyone really think Leu is any better than Roma? Anyone? [...]
2005 must have been the key year! A Swiss collection, a European collection, a Bavarian collection. So many collections….[...] Someone explains why they picked 2005: 2005 is the year that Switzerland signed on to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Objects with a provenance before that date would be exempt from the Convention as far as Swiss authorities are concerned. How long before isn't the point, just "before"
It ws commented that Leu had sold a group of coins that had apparently previously been labelled the “Harshly Cleaned Collection” by the collecting community. In reality of course this probably refers to one or more hoards that had not reached the proper authorities but ended up being peddled by a dealer that had without scruples just stripped the lot chemically. And collectors were laughing about it. Here is is of note that what collectors say were coins from the same hoard split between at least two dealers, and that more are likely to surface - all of course without any information reaching the authorities or archaeologists. This is nothing but knowledge theft right out in the open.

Wednesday, 22 March 2023

More Skewed Figures in PAS Database [Updated].

Archaeologist  Nathalie Cohen writes (21 mar 2023) of
" Day 2 metal detecting survey in Forstal Field @SmallhytheNT - total finds now located = 1400+ - mostly ferrous…"
The site is by the 16th century Smallhythe Place at Tenterden in Kent. This sort of survey puts the (ahem) "achievements" of the object-centric Portable Antiquities Scheme in context in terms of real in-the-ground-archaeology. We need more of this. The statistics of the PAS database containing "1,632,882 objects" reveal that only 6,964 of them (in 4615 records) are ferrous, so how representative is what is being recorded of what is being taken out of sites and the archaeological record by 40000 greedy artefact collectors from under archaeologists' noses in England and Wales? (spoiler alert - it ain't at all). The PAS database is not anything like a record of the archaeolgical evidence removed from archaeological sites during artefact hunting. It is not mitigation of the damage done and the vast amounts of information lost (knowledge selfishly stolen) from searched sites - even if we have the hallowed x-marks-the-spot "findspot" beloved of those that support this kind of artefact-hoiking. The "data" there are not evidence of the archaeology of those destroyed sites and assemblages.

And how many coins are there from this survey's 1400+ artefacts? The PAS database is 61% (796409) coins at the expense of other artefact types:
Nathalie Cohen @Nathalie_Cohen 2 min
One 1984 pound coin.
I doubt we'll be seeing any real open and public discussion of the issue of the representativeness and significance of these data that goes much beyond Kossinnist typological mumbo-jumbo and dot distribution maps by the PAS and its FLOs or cultic supporters.

Update: Also note that in subsequent discussion, it emerged that those 1400+ finds in that survey had been located by one bloke, detecting in two days. The figure used in the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter is just over thirty artefacts a year's detecting. If the same bloke goes out artefact hunting on his "own permissions" just a few weekends in the year, at that rate (if they are "productive" sites), he'll be locating ten thousand or more artefacts a year. How many, and what, does he report to PAS a year?

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Revealing Coiney Confusion over the "Applicability of a Country's Export Legislation to Any Americans"

I sometimes forgot how seriously dysfunctional some US ancient coin collectors can be, really. Over on a numismatic forum, the members are taking exception to me writing about the Beale/Roma Numismatics case and looking over their shoulder at what they are writing about it. So one of them comes out with something that happened some 15 years ago that I had forgotten, but apparently he cannot let go.  Phil Davis (Mentor, Benefactor), 'Interesting thread on reddit about Roma Numismatics and the apparent arrest of Richard Beale' posted March 9 2023 decided to drag it up again, apparently in order to 'discredit' me in the eyes of like-minded coiney forum members. 

He starts off by quoting what another forum member had said about looking over my shoulder here, and then launches into his grudge from the past:
On 3/9/2023 at 7:04 AM, DonnaML said: Note also that Paul Barford -- no friend of the collecting community, to put it mildly! -- has apparently been reading this thread: see
Once upon a time, I engaged fairly intensely with Barford over a period of months; I think I made his blog by name: "noted coin-fondler Phil Davis..." Something like that. I wrote him off completely and forever when he trashed a group of teenage American Jewish girls on a "heritage" trip to Poland, who encountered an antique Torah scroll gathering dust in a Polish junk store. Understandably appalled, they pooled their funds, purchased the scroll and brought it home for display in their temple. A bittersweet feel-good story for most of us, but unbelievably, Barford went on and on about this "crime" against the Polish national heritage. A new low, even for him. He truly is one of the worst people in the world.
Mr Davis of course is not telling it quite right. This whole matter is discussed in a post here from 6th May 2009 and concerns the Solomon Schechter School of Westchester (The Leffell School), a private school in New York ("preparing the next generation of leaders to live thoughtful, values-based Jewish lives in the ever-evolving modern world"). Not very much thoughtful or value based in the story told (PACHI Wednesday, 6 May 2009, 'A Torah from Warsaw, Would it be Too Much Just to Ask Before “Adopting” it?' - based on an old story from the New York Times of 2007).  First of all, we were not discussing a "group of teenage American Jewish girls" as such, gender was not one of the issues. Not that it matters. However it is the case that this was no "junk shop" and no "gathering dust" was involved, but they were in a well-known antiques and collectables shop, slap-bang in the middle of the most touristy area of Warsaw's Old Town. I know it very well. It sells all kinds of things including Judaica (both real and fake). If anything was in there for any length of time enough to get dusty, it was due to the rip-off prices they are also infamous for. One other thing, however, that is still there.... is the big notice in the front explaining Polish export laws to anyone it might concern. You walk past it going in.

The question is not where these visitors to my country got the funds from, but how the scroll left the country - it was described by Mr Davis at the time, I recall a big winter coat was involved. However Phil Davis wants to represent what that party of visitors did, in actual fact that's what we call "smuggling", pure and simple. As for the notion these "heritage tourists" who were guests of my country "[took] it home for display (sic) in their temple" (sic), Mr Davis has it all wrong. Home is where that scroll was made and used and that's not somewhere across the Atlantic, but here in Poland. This country lost so much of the Jewish heritage in the Second World War to the Nazis and later to the Soviet-puppet government of the 1940s-1980s, without some entitled colonialist American tourists thinking they can now just walk in and help themselves to what they fancy to "display" back home like some trophy from Darkest Africa. There is an export procedure to follow, hiding artefacts under big coats are not part of it. 

Davis comes over here as a US-based coiney that thinks US tourists showing disrespect for the laws of the countries they visit and stealing stuff are mere trifles, and that anyone who thinks otherwise is the "one of the worst people in the world". It seems that there are other coineys who think the same. So we find DonnaML (Grand Master, Benefactor) joining in and adding her thoughts on the incident I described in my 2009 post (March 9 2023)
"[...] How repulsive. What a moron. Polish national heritage my Jewish foot. Suddenly Jewish Poles were just "Poles" after everything that happened, and their stolen possessions have to remain in Poland? He actually lives in Warsaw; maybe he should pull his head out of his rear end and learn some real history, not propaganda from the unfortunate current Polish government. He probably collects those ubiquitous "lucky Jew" dolls so popular there".
Eh? It is unclear to me whether DonnaML had first actually read with her own eyes the text that Davis mentions (it would be difficult as no link was given by the coiney). She seems to have an odd view of the events of 1939-45 in this part of Europe. It may have escaped this person's attention but "what happened there" was due to the fact the country she's talking about was no longer sovereign, but occupied by the Nazis. Perhaps she too believes in the "Polish concentration Camps" slur that Americans seem to find so attractive  as a xenophobic 'anti-Polak' rhetorical device. If so, she is rather the one that needs to "learn some real history, not propaganda from [wherever she'd be getting this Anti-Polish smear campaign from]".* What's this next bit about?
Suddenly Jewish Poles were just "Poles" after everything that happened, and their stolen possessions have to remain in Poland? 
Jewish Poles or Polish Jews? In the case of the native pre-1939 inhabitants of the Republic of Poland, their citizenship - quite obviously - was Polish. There was no time they "became just Poles" if they were born and lived here, that is who they were. DonnaML blithely claims that that any property (like this scroll) still in the Republic of Poland today must be "stolen" (and therefore these tourists taking it is the second wrong that in her eyes makes a "right"), but cites no proof of that in this or any other case. There actually is a Jewish community in Poland today, a group of people that actually own private property of their own - I doubt they'd much appreciate DonnaML intimating that whatever is "Jewish" and "in Poland" must be stolen from Holocaust victims. I also suspect the shopkeeper who sold the item will not be too happy either (he is still in business). 

But yes, cultural property in Poland that falls into the groups defined by the current legislation, whether or not it was sold, found or inherited, can only leave Poland legally by following the proper procedures relating to that specific situation, and that was the case in 2007 and 2009. That is the law here, whether judgemental foreigners like Phil Davis and DonnaML agree or approve (funnily enough, nobody's going to ask them for their approval, Poland is a sovereign country).   

I really do not understand their logic. Is not Chinese pottery used by nineteenth Chinese workers on the railways found on sites on state owned land in the western USA protected by US law as cultural property? What about a lost nineteenth century Chinese amulet or religious artefact dropped in the same circumstances, even if it relates to foreign religious beliefs?  And what if it was a nineteenth century Jewish amulet? The position of these two on what "should apply" in my country, contradicts the reasoning behind the way their own US system works (which is enshrined in US legislation).  What do they think makes American travellers exempt from the law here? 

This is not about sweet Jewish girls, it is about about respecting a country's laws. It is also about a US institution, School or Synagogue agreeing to display stolen goods. Like all countries in Europe, Poland has laws. There are laws about a lot of things, property, driving, drinking, sexual relations with minors and animals, propagating fascism, prostitution, sale and use of narcotics, and smuggling of cultural property etc., etc.. It may upset or even surprise Mr Davis and Ms Donna ML, but while they are on Polish territory, those laws apply to even Jewish girls from America, whatever they think of them, and whatever laws apply to them back home or in any other country. If they come here, they are obliged to obey our laws while here, even if they are from 'exceptionalist' America.

I really do not care what the laws are in the USA about respect to the flag. Let's imagine however that it is against the law in the US to take the Stars and Stripes to the bathroom and wipe your arse with it (it might be an illegal act even in the country priding itself on "freedom of [even offensive] speech" like the US). Let us imagine that a group of Polish teenagers come as tourists, on a "heritage" tour to America (let them be girls, let them be sweet curly-haired girls of Jewish and Romany heritage, why not?) and after a night out clubbing they decide to defecate in Central Park and then wipe their naked butts clean with the Stars and Stripes and wave the soiled flag around in full view. Well, they are Polish, they've never had to swear an oath of allegiance to the US flag, for them its a coloured piece of cloth. They might even see it as a symbol of US imperialism and a racist state with rampant social equality. Phil Davis and DonnaML apparently think that they should be allowed to wander off home unchastised for such disrespect "because US law does not apply to them while they are on US territory as Polish tourists". Yes?
In light of this discussion, it is also quite symptomatic that since  I wrote the original text, these organised "Jewish heritage" tours to Poland have been suspended for the past two years, precisely because of the disrespectful behaviour of the participants of a number of past trips (both the kids, but also organizers). This spoils it all for those visitors of Jewish heritage who genuinely want to use the experience of visiting sites here in the process of learning and reflection, rather than as backdrops for the toxic behaviour that has reportedly been going on during some of these excursions. The good news is that these tours may be starting up again, if the organizers can provide some guarantee that the excesses of past years will be prevented in future. I think that requires a rethinking of the attitudes of these visitors to the values of the host country - and that will include not stealing from it. 

* [Poland by the way is a democracy, its current government may have its opponents, but Poland in no more "unfortunate" than a country that chose Donald Trump and family, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss]. Also for the record, DonnaML is confused about the figures (her "dolls"), which are not "lucky", she's confusing them with the pictures. I "collect" neither, what a strange idea.

Quant Geek Bought a Cunie: Has No Idea What They've Got

Over on a collectors' forum near you, a member calling themself 'Quant.Geek' has a request for other members: "Would like some help with the following cuneiform tablet"

quant.geek@...Mar 14 #98259
Hi, I would like to know if the following cuneiform tablet is real and what the writings on the tablet are, if possible.
Thanks, QG 
I have some thoughts on the layout of the script and its form, but it's not really my area, so I'll keep them to myself for the moment. However, the elephant in the room on a supposedly "responsible" collectors' forum is that there is no idea where this is from, when and how it got on the market, and where it has been since then, before QG decided it would be ethical and OK to buy it for their collection - while not actully knowing anything about cunies and hw to tell real from fake. That is what concerns them, but apparently whether or not it is looted and smuggled is not something he thinks forum members will be concerned about enough to mention the paperwork they bought with the tablet.

As for the question, there are some online resources that should be of help for people trying to research (or navigate) the antiquities market. There is dealer Bron Lipkin's excellent site (not accessible to everyone, it has some strange antique coding)  there are several useful and hard-hitting pages on Cunies beginning here. Then there is Sara Brumfield's How to Spot Fake Cuneiform Tablets in ASOR News Vol. VI, No. 9 September 2018 with some useful hints (I mentioned this article earlier, Quant Geek probably does not read this blog - their loss). A newer and very useful text is Cécile Michel's, 'Cuneiform Fakes: A Long History from Antiquity to the Present Day' [a chapter in:  Michael Friedrich, Harunaga Isaacson and Jörg B. Quenzer ed] Fakes and Forgeries of Written Artefacts from Ancient Mesopotamia to Modern China, Studies in Manuscript Cultures Volume 20, De Gruyter, pp.25-60, 2020, is useful (the whole volume looks pretty good). In the case of the cunies, pp 39-56 is the bit one needs to see the modern fakes and some really helpful information on how they are made [mirror on Research Gate]. The point made in the first part of the article is reiterated in more popular form in a blog from Universität Hamburg 'Fake antiquities. Were the Mesopotamian scribes already counterfeiters?' 25 February 2018. In an article from May 2020, the British Museum blows its own trumpet 'Fake antiquities made for unsuspecting collectors', but don't tell you how to tell the difference ("because WE are the experts"?). I'd have loved to see this Reddit post from Dec 9th 2018 on the r/Cuneiform group " Please help me stop my dad from buying more fake tablets".

Missing Information from Essex FLO

Looking through the PAS database for 'out of place' artefacts, and found this among the Byzantine coins of the period 641/668-1250. Decided to ask about this one: "Report an error relating to ESS-9516D4"  Recording Institution: ESS - Created: 17 years ago (Updated: 12 years ago):
                                   Smith gold coin (PAS/Colchester museums)                           
Unique ID: ESS-9516D4
Object type certainty: Certain
Workflow status: Published Find published

A highly unusual British find of a gold or electrum hyperpyron (= successor of the solidus) of emperors Andronikos II and Michael IX (the former's son). Constantinople mint, class IIb. P. Grierson, Catalogue of the Byzantine Coins in the Dumbarton Oaks Collection. Vol. 5 Michael VIII to Constantine XI 1258-1453, Washington DC 1999, nos 452-454. [Byzantine coin]
Subsequent actions
Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder [...]
Spatial metadata
Region: Eastern (European Region)
County or Unitary authority: Essex (County)
District: Epping Forest (District)
Parish or ward: Abbess Beauchamp and Berners Roding (Civil Parish)
The dates are 1294-1330/32. My comment.
A "finder" is mentioned, to whom the object was returned, but the entry does not state how this person found the coin (metal detecting/ gardening/dog walking etc). Is this because the finder could not recall, the FLO lost the piece of paper they wrote it on, or because the recording officer has doubts about it actually being a find from British soil (for example an eBay purchase that he was trying to 'launder' through the PAS?). Surely if there is ambiguity, this should be visible in the public record, the public has a right to know. Why are these descriptions being published anonymously, why are the FLOs not signing their work, so we know who is responsible for a record? Thanks. Paul Barford 

The latter is really important if we know that FLO Joe Bloggs knew very littel abut coins , but FLO John Smith did, it allows us to read their respective reports accordingly (and let PAS not try to kid us that they are all of equal "high" quality r even the same layout or use the same keywords).

Coiney Confusion Over Provenance

Kaleun96 Proficient Member 3/14/2023 seems not really to have much of a grasp what this is all about:

[...] There's only so much due diligence you can do as a buyer when the provenance is simply "form (sic) a European collection formed prior to 2005" or similar. Does that mean we should not buy a coin when the provenance is such? Or does it mean we need to use our further judgement as to whether we think it's likely the coin came from an old collection or was recently put on the market? Interestingly, if it meant we shouldn't be buying those coins, perhaps it would force auction houses to be more specific in their provenances, or more robust in their guarantees of sufficient provenance for most countries' import laws. Though I don't see this happening unless there was massive heavy-handed enforcement of consistent standards across multiple countries, which would ultimately be terrible for collectors.

1)  "Does that mean we should not buy a coin when the provenance is such?" Quite obviously, if a responsible collector wants to safeguard the hygiene of their collection, there is no way that they should buy that coin or any other antiquity without even the basic information and documentation. 

2) "Does it mean we need to use our further judgement as to whether we think it's likely the coin came from an old collection or was recently put on the market?" The "judgement" of an individual and nameless collector is worth nothing when it comes to transfer of ownership, either by sale or donation to an institution. No documentation, an ephemeral and necessarily ill-informed "judgement" is worthless.

3) "guarantees of sufficient provenance for most countries' import laws". Hmm, looking at that from a self-centred point of view. What however is at issue is the effects on the place the artefacts were taken from (the is the whole point of the 1970 UNESCO Convention - duh) . So not import law, but export.

4) "I don't see this happening unless there was massive heavy-handed enforcement of consistent standards across multiple countries", - yep, because it is 1000% clear from the repetition of this sort of claptrap from ignorant and totally self-obsessed collectors (most often from the US, UK or Germany) that collectors themselves are not going to be the motor of change, they want to stay in the nineteenth century 'stuff-the-Natives' Colonial world.

5) "which would ultimately be terrible for collectors" boo hoo. They had ample reason to sort themselves out, but failed to. 

Finds Recording "One of the Greatest Innovations in World Archaeology"

I was struck by a particularly inane comment on social media from an anonymous account calling itself "Big Heritage" and apparently based in the Chester/Liverpool area in England ("Big ideas for connecting people to the past. Our sites include: @westapproaches , @sicktodeathuk, @discoverdeva, @museumwrens, @howtofixauboat"). In their opinion:

Big Heritage @Big_Heritage 12 mar
W odpowiedzi do @Big_Heritage @spmaslin i 3 innych użytkowników
The PAS is up there with stratigraphic recording as one of the greatest innovations in archaeology.
 Complete bollocks. Do they teach history of archaeology in British universities that this numpty has such a narrow horizon? The recording of accidental finds made by members of the public was instituted in central Europe, in the years around the First World War, so it is hardly any kind of "innovation" when the Brits finally get around to setting up a (pathetically inadequate) "Scheme" to do that in the 1990s, at the same time as the (failed and now dismantled) Florida 'Isolated Finds program' in place between 1994-2005.

It is no "innovation" to have allowed artefact hunting and collecting (called looting in most other countries) to expand to the degree that it has in Britain's crowded land under the (utter) pretence that "responsible reporting" is mitigating the information loss. It absolutely is not, British archaeologists who think this is what is happening (if not simply culpably ignorant) are clearly misleading themselves and the public that they are accountable to. There is no innovation in that.

What do You do if you Want to Study Illicit Antiquities Floating Around the Market Without Raising Comment? Get the Buddhists to Help You.

Dr Allon Left, foreground seals a deal 20 December 2022 

With the support of something called the "Khyentse Foundation", it has been arranged that what is described as "a major collection" of decontextualised ancient Gandhari birch bark Buddhist manuscripts was deposited in December 2022 in the Islamabad Museum, Pakistan ('2,000–year–old Gandhari Buddhist Manuscripts Find Permanent Home in Pakistan' Khyentse Foundation News March 2023). They only need a 'permanent home' because having been dug up by looters, they were circulating on the antiquities market.
This extraordinary collection consists of birch bark scrolls and scroll fragments containing Buddhist texts in the Gandhari language and Kharoshthi script that date from approximately the 1st century BCE to the 2nd century CE. Although the collection is yet to be fully conserved, a rough estimate is that it consists of at least 50 to 60 scrolls or scroll fragments, constituting the largest collection of Gandhari birch scrolls known to date. The manuscripts, which are thought to have originated from northern Pakistan, are of inestimable value to the study of the development of Buddhist thought in South Asia [...] Indeed, these and similar manuscript finds have been referred to as the Dead Sea Scrolls of Buddhism. The conservation, photography, study, and publication of the manuscripts in the collection will be undertaken by the Gandhari Manuscript Project (GMP). This initiative is headed by Mark Allon, University of Sydney, and includes an international team of scholars
Where have we heard that sort of thing before? Of course what these "scholars" are handling and looking at are artefacts that have been ripped out of archaeological contexts, trashing the sites and losing (forever) any other infromation that the context of deposition of these(now-loose) artefacts held.

One notes the range of "scholars" Dr Allon has gathered in his team, reportedly: "scholars with expertise in the Buddhist literature, languages, history, art, archaeology, and epigraphy of ancient Gandhara, as well as in digital humanities and museum governance and curatorship". So, no forensic criminologists, law-enforcement agencies or cultural property lawyers. Nobody engaged to research the recent passage of these artefacts onto and through the antiquities market, to catch and apprehend those responsible, to stop further damage being done to the sites from which the commerce they are involved in is ripping these "priceless" (not really, because they were given a price and sold) artefacts out and selling them to the highest bidder. Indeed the Khyentse Foundation is very well aware that these (ahem) "rescued"* manuscripts are only part of the problem
The Islamabad Museum Gandhari manuscript collection is, in fact, one of several such collections to have surfaced since the early 1990s. These other manuscript collections, all of which must originate from Pakistan or Afghanistan, have found their way onto the antiquities market, with some being donated to major public institutions such as the British Library and others ending up in private collections in Europe, Japan, the USA, and Pakistan. The Islamabad Museum collection is unique in that it has found a permanent home in a major public institution in Pakistan. This agreement sets a precedent for the reversal of the common scenario whereby such materials are taken out of the region as part of the antiquities trade, resulting in a great loss of cultural heritage to Pakistan and Afghanistan. The housing of these Gandhari manuscripts at the Islamabad Museum and their conservation there will form the basis for collaboration with Pakistani scholars and for training Pakistani students in order to promote the conservation and study of such materials and the documentation of Pakistan’s rich Buddhist heritage.
Bla bla. It also effectively 'launders' the items allowing a Sydney University team to research them with a clearer conscience. On their website, we read:
The Gandhari Manuscript Project (GMP) was established in 2019 within the School of Languages and Cultures, Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, at the University of Sydney for the purpose of conserving, photographing, studying, and publishing the Gāndhārī manuscript collection held at the Islamabad Museum, Pakistan. [...] The Islamabad Museum Collection of Gāndhārī Buddhist manuscripts consists of birch bark scrolls and scroll fragments containing Buddhist texts in the Gāndhārī language and Kharoṣṭhī script, with the exception of one scroll that has Gāndhārī/Kharoṣṭhī on one side and Sanskrit/Brāhmī on the other. With the support of the Khyentse Foundation, these manuscripts were donated to the Islamabad Museum, Pakistan, on 26 December 2022.
The timing of this is odd, they were " established in 2019 [...] at the University of Sydney for the purpose of" conserving, photographing, studying, and publishing a collection that the Islamabad Museum, Pakistan did not yet possess. Presumably they knew of these manuscripts.. where? On the market still? At what stage was the purchase of these objects negotiated, by whom and precisely how? How was the problem dealt with that they were illicitly excavated from an unknown source, and smuggled to wherever they were held when the negotiations were taking place? Did the NGO "Khyentse Foundation" do the negotiation or was there an antiquities market go-between acting as their proxy? What was the involvement of the Islamabad authorities in this?

Does the Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche, Thubten Chökyi Gyamtso, approve of engagement in the trade of illicit artefacts looted from Pakistan, Afghanistan and adjacent areas? Is that in line with his teachings?. if you look at what his foundation does, it is not at all normally involved in historical research. So why here and now? It seems to me that the clue is in the fact that these trophy artefacts, if they really can be linked to "Northern Pakistan" as the GMP claim - presumably on philological grounds, they are physical reminders of the greatness of Buddhism, spread over much of what is now a Muslim area.

What is interesting is that if you look at the Gandhari Manuscript Project website, you can see that the bibliography alludes to some material published earlier that they now reveal came from this collection before it went to Islamabad. In both cases, there was caginess about where the material being handled actually was:
Allon, Mark. 2019. “A Unique Gāndhārī Monastic Ledger Recording Gifts by Vima Kadphises (Studies in Gāndhārī Manucripts 2).” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 42: 1–46.
Harrison, Paul, Timothy Lenz and Richard Salomon. 2018. “Fragments of a Gāndhārī Manuscript of the Pratyutpannabuddhasaṃmukhāvasthitasamādhisūtra (Studies in Gāndhārī Manuscripts 1).” Journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies 41: 117–43.
This suggests to me that we should take a closer look at this journal of the International Association of Buddhist Studies - what are they up to? See my earlier post (PACHI Monday, 13 May 2019) on 'Crowdfunding for Gandhari manuscripts' ("Images of these two scrolls in their rolled‐up state (like the one you show on your page) were circulated fifteen years ago by a London‐based art dealer looking for a buyer. Are the scrolls with you in Sydney now? Did you buy them?") and in the same context (PACHI Friday, 14 February 2020) "Gonna Tell You Where Data are From Later" indicating a worrying tendency.

* Of course the meaning of the word rescued is that they are acquired and reserved for "them" rather than getting in the hands of Another. 

Monday, 13 March 2023

FLO Explains UK's Medieval Coin Finds: Medieval Fairs

            155449310136 Collection of Medieval hammered coins found                           
metal detecting (eBayUK:  lotsauctions (28890*) Norwich)

Over on social media some brave PAS stalwarts attempt to do some 'outreach'. A brave attempt at generalisation followed the comments of one detector-sceptic archaeologist about the unrepresentatively-huge number of coin records in the PAS "database" (499,031 in the 1,057,185 PASD records) as opposed to what archaeological sites in England and Wales (stripped in the search for collectables) actually contain. He points out that "pottery turns up in large quantities and coins don't. Stratifed coin finds on medieval rural sites are like hen's teeth, yet detectorists seem to find loads in the plough-soil. Why is that? Where are they coming from?". The obvious answer is that UK detectorists do not collect representastive assemblages of the archaeological assemblages that they excploit, but "cherry pick" them for the bits they are interested in, and then they report a fragmenmt of that (selected on unclear criteria- nobody has studied this). The FLO (Dr Simon Maslin) however has another explanation:
A lot of medieval coin losses happen on sites of seasonal fairs and markets, which don't have structural remains. Also middening redistributes coins (along with everything else) on fields. Also: detectorists cover huge areas compared to excavations so there's a probability issue.
Hmm. So, leaving aside those 'fairs', if they cover a large area, they find more coins than archaeolgists. That's what he says. To clarify, let us take five classes of artefacts, A, B, C, D and E. Together they make up the bulk of the material culture of a particular group of communinities (like the one archaelogists conventiomally label 'cultures'). So wherever there is random activity of those communities, that material culture is in use. It follows then that these elements of material culture (the A, B, C etc artefacts) can in these places be lost, left, discarded or depositied. Like in a settlement and its assciated infrastructure. Occasionally the nature of the past activities of these communities - both at such places, or in other ones, will lead to a differential pattern of deposition of artefacts (let's say for example, artefacts C [coins] could be intentionally deposited in hoards or graves). But the PAS-big-data-apologists will say that the extent of detecting and its random, coverall, approach will level this out. So why does the PAS database show a skewed relationship between reported examples of artefact class 'C' [coins] in comparison with artefacts A, B, D, E? [everything else]? The effect is compounded even further in that many medieval coins found by detector-using artefact hunters are reported to other databases, like the ones in the Fitzwilliam Museum or the UKDFD without being in the PAS records. Also at this moment there are (checks) 4,200+ (lots of) hammered medieval British coins on sale by British sellers on eBayUK (some of those will be sold in ten days and replaced by others, in this way upwards of probably about 70 000 of them will pass through eBay each year - the PAS database has 82,970). 

We also have to bear in mind that the majority of English medieval pennies are very thin discs of hammered silver (of a few grams of metal) and comparatively difficult to find with a metal detector when randomly searching for single items over a wide area. Indeed their "tally" of such coins is used by UK detectorists as an index of their own, personal, skill.

So why do the so-called "big data" of the PAS not level up the effects of various deposition processes to produce the same A/B/C/D/E ratios as the excavated material culture of medieval societies? "Middening" is not the answer as Dr Maslin points out: "middening redistributes coins along with everything else on fields", so if everything is going on the midden (and why would "only coins" be going on the midden with the mucked-out cow poo?) you'd still get the same A, B, C, D, E ratios from metal detecting the fields.

This brings us to: "A lot of medieval coin losses happen on sites of seasonal fairs and markets, which don't have structural remains". This builds on the texts of numerous "how to" metal detecting manuals that suggest locating such sites (through written records, maps, field names and folklore) as potentially "productive"  sites to find stuff. It seems that the FLO is suggesting that there were other sites that are unknown from these sources, and that artefact hunters stumble across them and then hoover all the coins out. 

This should be easy to prove statistically by nearest neighbour analysis of surface findspots, a 'lost' market found by reporting metal detectorists exploiting it would be shown by the finding of discrete clusters of coin finds of similar dates and nature. I'd suggest they would be found at communication nodes, places where tracks converge for example, probably in a place where different zones of landuse are in contact. In fact professor Michael Lewis (Head of PAS) and Eljas Oksanen, got a lot of grant money to look at this issue (see here for example). I wrote about it here " Artefact collecting: creating or destroying the archaeological record?" Folia Praehistorica Posnaniensia 25 (2020) 39-91, I did not find the material available to me on this at all convincing (there is also reference in my text to recent work on what British "metal detecting" tells us about medieval coin circulation and use in general).   

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