Saturday 27 May 2023

Bubbly Fields on Merovingian Coins: The 'Peckham Hoard'

Over on social media some coineys were getting excited a while ago about an old report on the small hoard of seventh-century English and Merovingian gold coins from East Peckham, found and hoiked out of an archaeological context by metal detectorists ( Chris Hunter, 'Ancient gold from secret site near East Peckham could be worth more than £10,000 [...] Ancient find declared 'treasure' at inquest' Kent Online 14 July 2022) Oh, how exciting, eh? But their interest was not focused on the "numismatishness" of the find as much as the treasure-hunting aspects. An archaeologist would look at the context and content of the assemblage. I thought the coins figured in the "hooray, well-done-bet-that's-werf-a-lotta-munny" newspaper article looked odd and queried it. Looking at one of the coins shown in the photos I asked 
Why does the field of the design look so rough? Rusty dies? Is this normal in gold coins of the period? Presumably gold content high, so it'd not be a post-deposition differential leaching.
This was answered
Rory Naismith @Rory_Naismith 22 g.
A degree of roughness is normal, and arises from a combination of how dies were made, and the likelihood that they were not used constantly, so could build up rust.
Having seen not a few of these coins myself in a former life, I am not entirely clear what is meant by this being "normal" and why not using a die for (well, how long?) would allegedly lead to rust-pitting. Also "how the dies were made" seems not to be a good explanation to me. The sinking of the lettering and designs into the face of the die would presumably have to be followed by a filing of the face to remove unevenness and burrs at the edge of the depressions, as we can see in another coin from the East Peckham hoard shown in the same article.
Paul Barford @PortantIssues
Hardly "normal" for the coins of this type actually on the market (and we now have lots thanks to detectorists ripping them out of the archaeological record), most of which have perfectly smooth backgrounds. A few obverses have "bubbly" roughness - why? For example here (Coin Archives)  
As the backup to what I was saying about smoothness/roughness see here (coin archives), here (ac search) and here (Sutton Hoo purse). Smoothness would be important to the user of the coin, as in a bullion economy visually judging the colour of the metal would be important for determining purity (Western European gold at this period was initially very pure, becoming more debased throughout the seventh century).

I do not know whether these technical aspects and the periods of use and disuse of the dies are covered in Rory Naismith's forthcoming book 'Making Money in the Early Middle Ages' ('An examination of coined money and its significance to rulers, aristocrats and peasants in early medieval Europe').

It is worth noting that this "Peckham Hoard" (Tonbridge and Malling) was found and recorded as loose individual items, and much of the PAS description is devoted, instead of the archaeology, to whether they "constitute potential Treasure under the stipulations of The Treasure Act 1996". The objects are four gold coins, KENT-687A04KENT-672C14KENT-83554C and KENT-83515A. and two lead weights KENT-689A2D and the similar KENT-688E85 apparently found in association with them. 

Gianfranco Adornato on Some Objects Repatriated From Dodgy US Market

             Gianfranco Adornato  il Giornale Dell'Arte 

Gianfranco Adornato is Professor of Greek and Roman Art and Archaeology at the Scuola Normale Superiore, Pisa in Italy. He has recently visited an exhibition of antiquities ("ancient art") repatriated to Italy from America in the so-called 'Museum of Salvaged Art' [Museo dell’Arte salvata] housed in the Baths of Diocletian, part of the National Museum in Rome. He was not impressed (Gianfranco Adornato 'Reperti restituiti dagli Usa: a occhio nudo non tutti sono autentici', il Giornale Dell'Arte 15 May 2023). "Observing some materials, however, it is possible to note that not all the repatriated pieces are of good quality: an impression confirmed by analyzing the list of 60 pieces returned to the Italian state, for a value of over 20 million dollars, presented in Rome on 23 January", the latter was a group of pieces seized over the previous year or so as part of an ongoing collaboration between Italian and United States authorities. The Manhattan district attorney’s office, in particular, has played a key role in the repatriation process. There was a Roman marble bust recovered just before it headed to auction at Christie’s in New York. Another piece was seized from the home of Shelby White, and some others from the collection of Michael Steinhardt. Others had been in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which ultimately returned 21 items. But this is not the subject of Adornato's interest (Google translation): .
"And yet, on closer inspection of these archaeological materials, we realize that a good percentage is made up of easily recognizable fakes. Only by way of example, we can mention the Nicosthenic amphora datable to around 530-500 BC, the black-figure deinos with horsemen from the Archaic age, the cup with big eyes with a mask of Dionysus in the centre (500 BC), the Attic chous (small jug) with red figures with a young man seated on an altar and datable around the middle of the 5th century BC.
Specifically, for example, we can note that the eye cup has a strange pattern of the eyes, devoid of the long lacrinal caruncles, characteristic of the decoration of these vessels; even the Dionysian mask is simplified with cursory and imprecise graffiti, as well as an unconventional foot clumsily attached to the body.
The Attic band-cup type cup with sphinxes on the sides from the second half of the 6th century BC even presents the two side monsters in a totally wrong pose (quadrupedia) and never attested on Greek vases and in Archaic art!
Focusing on the attic deinos, the diagnostic elements in favour of the non-genuineness of the piece are tectonic, technical, and stylistic-iconographic: although it imitates metal prototypes, this vase has a particularly squat support that has no comparison with known vases. Furthermore, from a technical point of view, the forger exaggerates with the graffiti to define the horse's mane, the neck and the belly, the ribs and the muscles; as for the last aspect, there are no representations in the repertoire of Greek ceramics (not only in the Attic one) of the saddle cloth thrown on the rump of the animal on which the naked knight sits. These are elements that testify in favor of a work of a fake and not of a genuine ancient vase".
I have not followed back to attempt to determine from which collections/dealers/museums the cited artefacts came, and what degree there was any information on the objects' documented grounding in a firm archaeological provenance assuring authentiticity. It would be interesting to hear other opinions - including the curators of this display. These objects ended up in Italy by virtue of the fact that they were (the US authorities assert) off the dodgy market. Since we know that one of the main features of this dodgy market is it is full of fakes (and fake /uninformed/ deluded etc. "connoisseurs") so why give any undocumented items from it any credence at all? Adornato concludes:
"While sharing the ethical principles of the repatriation of illegally stolen cultural heritage, the investment of resources and energy in the recovery of fake antiquities purchased on the black market , above all because these supposed works will never be exhibited in Italian museums (hopefully!) and, if kept in museum institutions, they will constitute a real encumbrance within the collections. What will they do?"
Also by being accepted by default into the canons of "ancient art", dodgy artefacts like this are contaminating the body of evidence about the past and having real cognitive effects. For many artefact types, we have more examples known that were first floating around the market with no documentation of origins than we have of items dug up and grounded in real controlled archaeological investigations. 

Crimean Coin Taken by Soviets from Museum Collection Sold for Record Price

A gold stater from Panticapaeum the Greek colony on the Kerch peninsula in Crimea was sold at a Numismatica Ars Classica auction in Zurich last week for more than £4.8m (SFr5.39m with fees) setting a record for the most expensive ancient coin sold at auction (José da Silva, 'Ancient Greek gold coin from Crimea sells for a record-breaking £4.8m' Art Newspaper 26 May 2023). On the obverse the coin, minted around 340BC-325BC, shows the head of a satyr in bold relief, on the other a rather scraggy griffin depicted holding a spear in its mouth. Coineys were most excited about the way the satyr is depicted in three quarters view rather than in profile as is more usual. Another feature making the coin so desirable for a collector seeking that something special is the coin's rarity; it thought to be one of only three of its kind in existence and the only one not in a museum collection.
The stater was once in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg until the early 1930s when the museum sold off many of its treasures to raise money for the Soviet government. At that time, the Hermitage also sold paintings such as Raphael’s The Alba Madonna (around 1511) and Jan van Eyck’s The Annunciation (1434-36), which went on to form the core collection of the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. [...] The stater’s sale last week helped Numismatica Ars Classica make a mint at its spring sales. “The whole auction realised exceptionally high prices totalling over SFr21m, well exceedi resale estimate of SFr11m,” says Arturo Russo, the co-director of Numismatica Ars Classica. “This is a sign the whole market for numismatics is flourishing, and is especially strong for ancients at the moment.”
The 1934 sales were prompted by Stalin’s push to sell works of art to raise foreign currency to fund domestic industrial growth. This was part of the implementation of rapid industrialisation during the Stalinist Five Year Plans (in this case the Second, 1932-37), and this followed on from the Ukrainian Holodomor of 1932-3.The coin was acquired by Charles Gillet, a French industrialist who focused on collecting rare books, furniture, and antiquities, including coins.coin was acquired in 1934 by Charles Gillet, a French industrialist who focused on collecting rare books, furniture, and antiquities, including coins.

Friday 26 May 2023

Faith Stolen/Faith Misplaced: How do Dealers do Due Diligence? (24)

According to the social media site Lost Arts of Nepal @LostArtsofNepal [1,883 Followers] (Faith Stolen – Breaking News May 25):
"This 16th Century Wooden Bhairava Mask, Stolen in the 1980s From Panauti Village, Kavre, Has Been Located in the Christie's Auction Sale, Amsterdam, Netherlands, 2004".
How was the collecting history and therefore legitimacy of this object checked by the vendors, and where is this piece now?

Tuesday 23 May 2023

Old Maps and Russian State Propaganda

Valery Zorkin, Chairman of the Constitutional Court of Russia had a working meeting with the head of state (President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin). As anyone in such a situation would, he brought along to the meeting an old map he just happened to have in his car and before the meeting, he persuaded the Kremlin staff to lend him a table to lay it out on so the President could see it. Reading from notes on the table, he declaims, gesturing theatrically: 
"I would like to use this occasion to say that we have found a copy of a 17th-century map at the Constitutional Court. It was made by the French during the reign of Louis XIV, and dated back to the middle or the beginning of the second half of the 17th century. Why have I brought it? Why did I bring it?  Vladimir Vladimirowich, there is no Ukraine on that map". 
What a crawling sycophant. There is then a scene where the two old guys stand by the table (and the papers on the table behind them have been cleared away), and the constitutionalist is filmed wringing his hands nervously as the President of the Russian Federation takes it upon himself tto lecture him "of course Soviet rule created Soviet Ukraine, it is a well-known fact, no Ukraine existed in the history of humankind until then".
"No, I can't see it either...."

Leaving aside that comment (which is in fact untrue), I'd like to draw attention to the map on the table. Louis XIV reigned from 1643 until his death in 1715. Now they do not actually show the proof by showing us the map itself, but in a shot of the two of them sagely discussing the words on it, we can see it laid out on the table. Anyway, it has a cartouche in  an elaborate frame in the top left corner and a less elaborate on the right side.   This appears to be a copy of the 1692 map "La Russie Blanche ou Moscovie" [Les Etats du Czaar de la Russie Blanche ou Gran Duche de Moscovie]  of the French mapmaker Nicolas Sanson d'Abbeville (1600-1667) published by Alexis Hubert Jaillot (1632-1712). To my eye, that does not really look like old paper, I suspect its a reprint - like the ones you can get of this map on Amazon. The first thing to note is that on this map, Putin's St. Petersburg, Kexholm and Ladoga belong to the kingdom of Sweden, but there is no talk of that. LIkewise that the Tsar is of Belarus. The third is that on this map is written, literally almost in the middle  "OCRAIN" and just to the side "VKRAINE ou PAYS des COSAQUES". So, not Russians at all. This is on the very map President Putin and his stooge had on the table before them. 

Zorin brought this all the way to Putin, it has Ukraine written on it in two places, can YOU see? (Amazon still stocks them).

There is probably something wrong with the way they teach history in the Russian Federation these days.

Sunday 21 May 2023

Physical Evidence of the 2014-2024 War in Ukraine

BBC: 'Satellite images reveal Russian defences before major assault' 22nd May 2023.

Satellite analysis by BBC Verify has uncovered some of the extensive defences built by Russia as it prepares for a major Ukrainian counter-attack. [...] By examining hundreds of satellite images, the BBC has identified some key points in the significant build-up of trenches and other fortifications in southern Ukraine since October.
The traces of these landscape features will constitute part of the physical evidence left behind for posterity by the Russian invasion that will be confronted with the earlier claims that this was not a revanchist colonial landgrab, but an attempt to 'protect' the Russian Federation and effect some kind of "denazification" and "demilitarisation".   
Original: BBC

Meanwhile distant armchair generals can choose the route they'd attack if they were in charge. I have two... From the layout of fortifications, it is clear that Russia anticipates one of them, but I'm curious to know how feasible the other actually is on the ground... |

The map is a bit of a cheat actually, the main footwork seems to have been done by Brady Africk ('Russian field fortifications in Ukraine" 18th May 2023) and there is a link there to an interactive map that shows the individual satellite photos (incidentally Ukrainian field fortifications also show up here, but mapping them was not the purpose of this exercise. Fortifications were only included if they appeared new, in-use or expanded since the full-scale invasion in February of 2022. For the full interactive map, click here.

Collectors and their Notorious Inability to Profit from Sharing Information

             Bit of a yellow coffin            

Over on Tuppenny Tim's foundering Ancient Artifacts forum, where now only a handful of members form the core of the discourse, a collector has a disturbing question:
Cleaning yellow coffins #egypt
Does anyone know how museums cleaned the so-called 'yellow coffins' from 21st dynasty. I know it is done piece by piece with a cotton swab, but I have no idea what one uses on the cotton swab to By Dikencis Van Bommel · #98543 · May 20
Yes quite a few people have very clear information on this topic. Paul Barford knows, but he's been banned from sharing that information on the list ("notorious" it says). Notorious or not, but he also knows could have said why it is very likely that another collector (doing a proud "I'm better informed than the dealer who sold it to me" show-and-tell), was "had" by that dealer, and thus other buyers on the list could be given an idea what to look for in buying anything similar. Of coure I'd also point out that if you buy an object with zero provenance and zero collection history 'grounding' it, and in addition apparently have next-to-no idea about the ancient technology of making the object you are looking at, you will end up looking a bit of a fool. And if a no-questions-asked buyer has been boasting about how they got one over on the seller that sold them a dodgy "antiquity", they look like a pompous fool. So, possibly best to keep off the forum people that can see through the collector-bluster. That way everyone in the mutual-admiration society is kept in the dark and the dealers can continue to deal the crap.

Saturday 20 May 2023

Bakhmut Museum

Bakhmut (in 1924-2016 - Artemovsk (in Russian) or Artemivsk (in Ukrainian)) is the oldest historical and cultural center of Donetsk Oblast, standing on the banks of the Bakhmutovka River about 65 km northeast of Donetsk. [history -]. Before the Russkiy Mir came: "Located in Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine, Bakhmut is home to an impressive selection of attractions and experiences, making it well worth a visit". Bakhmut·sʹkyy Krayeznavchyy Muzey - Local history museum ( Nezalezhnosti St, 26 Bakhmut Donetsk Oblast, Ukraine)
The Bakhmut state museum of local lore originates from the district historical and local history museum, founded in 1924 by the doctor and naturalist Borys Valkh. It is located in a building built in 1911 by Bakhmut industrialist Veniamin Frantsuzov. In twelve halls there are expositions of the departments of nature, archaeology, folk life, history of the 19th century, the Ukrainian revolution, 1920-1930 years, the Second World War, post-war five-year plans, literature of the native land. The most valuable exhibits: a late Paleolithic flint axe, a collection of Bronze Age weapons, a unique collection of items from the workshops of ancient metallurgists, a Scythian statue of the 6th century BC.
The Bakhmut Museum of Local Lore was completely destroyed by Russian troops during the large-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022.
Video: Shelling of Ukrainian held positions in progress.

Friday 19 May 2023

Native Americans Treated as Wildlife

The National Museum of Natural History is hiring a Repatriation Program Manager. They will perform work related to the inventory, documentation, tribal consultation, & repatriation of Native American ancestors, and archaeological\ethnographic objects
Why are physical remains of Native American communities in a "Natural History museum" anyway? How insulting, displayed among the stuffed birds, pressed flowers and shell collections. In how many US states have the natural history collections not been renamed "Natural History and Indigenous Culture Museum" yet?

Thursday 18 May 2023

Tragic Anniversary: Stalin's Ethnic Cleansing of Crimea in 1944

Today is the 79th anniversary of the night when the deportation in cattle trucks was begun of 191,000 Crimean Tatars from their homes in the autonomous Republic of Crimea to Uzbekistan, deep in the Soviet Union. They had 30 minutes to pack and the deportations were conducted in just three days[background: wikipedia]. Their abandoned properties were given to Russian families who moved into the area soon afterwards. It was only after this forced displacement that Crimea became "Russian" (that is, merely an oblast within the Russian SFSR) for just ten years (1944-1954) before being transferred to the Ukrainian SSR in 1954 - thence to Ukraine after Independence

Sunday 14 May 2023

Archies Trusting Metal Detectorists [updated]

James Bonsall "Challenges of Working with Legacy Data from Detectorists : A Case Study in the Fabrication of Evidence" 01 Sep 2019

[the link is now broken] Bonsell writes:
"In 2016 I attended the fantastic Fields of Conflict Conference at Trinity College Dublin, where I presented work that reassessed an earlier collaboration with metal detectorists in the UK, in light of some new and rather damning evidence. The Proceedings of that Conference have just been published in a peer-reviewed Open Access book Conference Proceedings: Fields of Conflict, 2016; Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland. Essentially, my new paper reveals that my earlier assessment of a metal detection finds archive, published in a 2007 volume of the Journal of Conflict Archaeology, was strongly influenced by what are now understood to have been possible fabrications made by the metal detectorists themselves. As my new publication points out:
“This paper should be considered both a retraction and a brief reassessment of the earlier work in light of new evidence, as well as a cautionary tale to researchers on the use of legacy data. The reader is asked to excuse the slightly autobiographical tone of this paper, as it is one of disappointment, embarrassment and reflection, that needs to be addressed.”
If that piqued your interest, then read on, for it is an Open Access publication and free to all, thanks to the fantastic endeavours of editors Tim Sutherland, Damian Shiels, Gavin Hughes and Simon Sutherland".

Sunday 7 May 2023

Bits of an Afghan Genizah that was not a Genizah, Just a Looted Assemblage, now Exhibited as Trophies by Israeli Collection

"In a few months, with the inauguration of the new building of the National Library of Israel, millennium-old historical documents belonging to the lost Jewish community of Afghanistan will be presented" ( YItzhak Tesler, 'A glimpse into the mysterious Jewish community of Afghanistan', Ynetnews 1st May 2023).

"The rare and important collection was acquired with the support of the William Davidson Foundation and the Haim and Hanna Solomon Fund" [...] "Dr. Finkelman, for understandable reasons, avoids giving straight answers to how exactly library staff acquired the rare documents".
It's supposed to be OK, because if the documents had remained in the source coutry, Ghengiz Khan would have destroyed them, the Library argues.

See also: Nir Hasson, 'From Afghan Cave to Jerusalem, a Treasure Trove of Silk Road Jews Reaches Israelis' Haaretz Sep 15, 2016

Saturday 6 May 2023

Coin Sellers Jailed in UK

  Craig Best and Roger Pilling (Photo: Durham Police)

Two men who tried to sell 44 rare Anglo-Saxon coins worth £766,000 have each been jailed for five years (BBC, Anglo-Saxon coin plotters Craig Best and Roger Pilling jailed' BBC 5th May 2023).
As mentioned earlier, Craig Best, 46, from Bishop Auckland County Durham,  and Roger Pilling, 75, from Lancashire, were caught in a police sting in May 2019. They were accused of trying to sell coins that were part of an undeclared Viking period hoard from near Leominster, Herefordshire, by two different metal detectorists in 2015. In Durham Crown   they were found guilty of conspiring to sell criminal property and both jailed for five years and two months. 
 Prosecutor Matthew Donkin said Best, of South View, Bishop Auckland, and Pilling, of Loveclough, near Rawtensall, were trying to sell the silver coins on the black market to buyers outside the UK and asked for payment in cash, which would mean there would be no record of their existence or whereabouts. [...] HHJ Adkin said Pilling was the "brains behind the operation" and bought the coins on the "black market" in 2016. The judge said he was sure Pilling knew the significance of the coins and that they could not be sold on to a legitimate UK buyer as their importance would quickly be realised and reported. Pilling [...] had "collected precious objects for the whole of his life"

The price he paid the seller of these coins (who, interestingly, is not named in the reports of this case) was not given. In order to monetise his investment, Pilling then: 

contacted Best who had a "chequered past" and American contacts who might buy them, the judge said. Best attempted to sell them to a US-based expert who notified historians at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge with the police ultimately being informed. Best was caught trying to sell the coins to undercover officers in a sting operation at the County Hotel in Durham in May 2019.

and led the investigators to Pilling. There were 44 coins found during the search of the two men's properties, but 

the court heard Pilling had photographed two further coins valued at more than £100,000 whose whereabouts are now unknown. Mr Pilling [...] claimed the fragile coins broke when he dropped and stood on them so they were binned. The judge said [...] he didn't accept the two missing coins had been damaged and believed they had been "hidden away". One of the coins worth £85,000 would have been the most valuable in Pilling's collection and it would have been an "odd coincidence" for that to be one the that was destroyed, the judge added. He also said both men told "many lies" throughout the investigation and trial and described their efforts to cover their tracks as "amateurish".
Best claimed that he had no idea they were criminal property, Durham Crown Court has been told (BBC, Durham man had 'no idea' selling Anglo-Saxon coins was illegal 24 April 2023).
Giving evidence in his defence, Craig Best said he had known co-accused Mr Pilling, 74, for 10 years. They were keen metal detectorists but had no discussion about selling the coins, he said. He claimed Mr Pilling had told him that he had bought the coins before the Treasure Act 1996 was brought into law. [...] Mr Best told the court he would not have got involved had he known the coins were part of a hoard. "I have young children. I wouldn't have taken that risk because dealing with them would have been illegal," he said. "I wasn't one hundred percent sure what they were. I was just trying to get them checked out." He was also asked why he had carried out searches on the internet about previous hoards found. He said: "I'm a detectorist. That's what we do." Asked if at any point he knew or believed the coins to be criminal property, he said "no".
The 46 rare coins of the same narrow timespan and typology just dropped out of the sky, no doubt.
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