Monday 31 July 2023

Lost and Found, AI Rationalises Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological Record

Reading through the comments on a Polish metal detectorists' petition to liberalise restrictions on their hobby, it struck me that they reflected the usual object-centred fixation of such people, they claim they "recover" artefacts. I wondered what ChatGPT made of it. I forgot to ask them about "being dug up by metal detectorists", but the answer came out almost as if I had. Intriguing.
Are archaeological artefacts in the ground "lost"? What do we lose when they are dug up ("retrieved")?

The term "lost" can be used in different contexts when discussing archaeological artifacts in the ground. Initially, before any excavation takes place, artifacts in the ground could be considered "lost" in the sense that they are buried and hidden from view, waiting to be discovered. Archaeologists often refer to these artifacts as being "in situ," meaning they remain in their original context within the archaeological site.

However, once an archaeological site is discovered and excavations begin, the process of retrieving artifacts from the ground can have both positive and negative implications:

Positive aspects of retrieval:
a. Preservation and study: By carefully retrieving artifacts, archaeologists can preserve and study them in a controlled environment. This allows for detailed analysis, dating techniques, and other scientific investigations that help us understand the past.
b. Reconstruction of history: Unearthing artifacts provides valuable insights into past human civilizations, their technology, culture, social structures, and ways of life.

Negative aspects of retrieval:
a. Context loss: One of the primary concerns with excavating artifacts is the potential loss of context. Context refers to the relationship between artifacts and their surrounding environment, including their spatial and temporal relationships with other artifacts and features. Once an artifact is removed from its original context, a significant amount of information about its historical significance can be lost.
b. Destruction: Excavation involves the removal of layers of earth, which inevitably leads to the destruction of some parts of the site. Although archaeologists try to document everything thoroughly, the act of digging itself can result in some loss of data.
c. Lack of resources: In some cases, artifacts may be retrieved but not properly conserved or studied due to a lack of resources, leading to the loss of valuable information.

To mitigate the negative impact of excavation, archaeologists employ systematic recording methods and strive to document everything thoroughly during the process. They also try to limit the amount of excavation and leave some areas unexcavated for future researchers who may have better technologies and research questions. This approach helps to strike a balance between the need to retrieve and study artifacts and the importance of preserving the archaeological context for future generations.
ChatGPT also speaks Polish, so I thought I'd ask the same question in another language - the reply may come in useful in future debate against the Polish tekkies.
". User
Czy archeologiczne artefakty w ziemi są „zagubione”? Co tracimy, gdy je wykopujemy („wydobywamy”)?

Termin "zagubione" może być używany w różnych kontekstach w odniesieniu do archeologicznych artefaktów w ziemi. Początkowo, przed jakimkolwiek wykopaliskiem, artefakty w ziemi mogą być uznawane za "zagubione" w sensie, że są zakopane i ukryte przed wzrokiem, oczekujące na odkrycie. Archeolodzy często określają te artefakty jako "in situ", co oznacza, że pozostają w swoim pierwotnym kontekście w obrębie stanowiska archeologicznego.

Jednakże, gdy już stanowisko archeologiczne zostaje odkryte, a wykopaliska rozpoczynają się, proces wydobywania artefaktów z ziemi może mieć zarówno pozytywne, jak i negatywne konsekwencje:

Pozytywne aspekty wydobywania:
a. Zachowanie i badanie: Poprzez staranne wydobywanie artefaktów archeolodzy są w stanie zachować i badać je w kontrolowanym środowisku. Pozwala to na szczegółową analizę, techniki datowania i inne badania naukowe, które pomagają nam zrozumieć przeszłość.
b. Rekonstrukcja historii: Wydobycie artefaktów dostarcza cennych informacji o dawnych cywilizacjach ludzkich, ich technologii, kulturze, strukturach społecznych i sposobach życia.

Negatywne aspekty wydobywania:
a. Utrata kontekstu: Jednym z głównych problemów związanych z wykopywaniem artefaktów jest potencjalna utrata kontekstu. Kontekst odnosi się do relacji między artefaktami a ich otoczeniem, w tym relacji przestrzennych i czasowych z innymi artefaktami i cechami stanowiska. Gdy artefakt zostaje usunięty z oryginalnego kontekstu, duża ilość informacji o jego znaczeniu historycznym może zostać utracona.
b. Zniszczenie: Wykopaliska obejmują usunięcie warstw ziemi, co nieuchronnie prowadzi do zniszczenia pewnych części stanowiska. Chociaż archeolodzy starają się dokładnie dokumentować wszystko, sam proces kopania może skutkować utratą danych.
c. Brak zasobów: W niektórych przypadkach artefakty mogą zostać wydobyte, ale nie zostać odpowiednio skonserwowane lub zbadane z powodu braku zasobów, co prowadzi do utraty cennych informacji.

Aby zminimalizować negatywne skutki wykopalisk, archeolodzy stosują systematyczne metody rejestrowania i starają się dokładnie dokumentować wszystko podczas procesu badawczego. Starają się również ograniczyć ilość wykopalisk i pozostawiać niektóre obszary nieodkryte dla przyszłych badaczy, którzy mogą dysponować lepszymi technologiami i pytaniami badawczymi. Taka strategia pomaga zachować równowagę między koniecznością wydobycia i badania artefaktów a ważnością zachowania kontekstu archeologicznego dla przyszłych pokoleń."
In fact all they've done here is regurgitate more or less the same answer in Polish.

Russian Influence behind Polish Antiquities Legislation Changes?

               Fibulae for sale (OLX)                

The ruling PiS party of Poland has recently announced that it will be creating a special body to examine Russian influences in Polish public life. One of the tasks it should undertake is to investigate the place of the Polish antiquities market in the movement of illicit cultural property moving from Russia and Belarus, as well as the Baltic States and Southeast (occupied) Ukraine to western markets. Traditionally this role was once filled by Vienna, but the groups moving this material seem increasingly to be involving Polish contacts and using routes through Poland.

Indeed, is it a coincidence that a group of renegade Polish metal detectorists, unwilling to accept the need for regulation of the hobby through permits and monitoring is manipulating politicians into passing legislation that will allow 'laundering' of artefacts found by metal detecting in (for example) Ukraine and pass them off as resulting from metal detecting searching in Poland under the aegis of the mobile application currently being developed? Indeed, the more exotic and unusual an artefact is for the region, the greater the Treasure reward the importers can expect.  

Trade in "Khazar" Artefacts through Poland

                         Photo: Allegro lokalnie                              

We need to take a close look at the Polish antiquities market and its relationship to the proposed new liberal legislation on metal detecting. Here's a 7th c. nomad type sabre "from an old collection" on sale in Szczecin.  With the proposed changes in the law, a detectorist with such a find does not even have to show they had a search permit or any other kind of documentation how they came by it. But what new Polish law will allow is for the seller to use their phone to "announce" its finding "just now" from totally made-up provenance in the middle of nowhere and even get a finder's reward for doing so.

This sword is said by its seller to be Khazar, the type would fit, though it would also fit a number of other early Medieval steppe groups. The point is that the realm of all of these finished in the middle Dnipr region, and while in a later period swords a bit like these might be found in Poland (and assigned to the "Magyars" by those who like ethnic labels), this particular object was most likely not from a Polish burial ground or metalwork hoard. It has almost certainly been imported from the east. 
                     Photo: Allegro lokalnie                       

Here is another example of this type of 'laundering through passage' by moving an object among metal detecting finds in Poland. This is another nomad type sabre, this one even more desperately in need of conservation. It is not exactly very professionally presented. The seller claims he bought it from someone at an auction (apparently has some kind of paperwork, but you'll only see that after you've bought it, not up-front). Again, the proposed new Polish law supported by the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage will allow items like this to be "found" anywhere.

Of course the PAS in England and Wales affords the same possibility - but cases are either undetected by FLOs (watch this space) or hushed up if suspected or discovered - but rarely publicly discussed.

Time perhaps to grasp this particular nettle. 

How Much would a Polish PAS/DIME/MEDEA clone cost?

There are no costings in the public domain about how much will cost the proposed Polish system of online registration of metal detector searches and finds that is being voted on by parliament in two weeks time. The MPs pushing this amendment claim that it does not generate any additional costs. That is a naive and ridiculous claim. First of all there will be a big fat contract to somebody to develop, create and test the application. I wonder who'll get the contract this time? Then running it involves employing and providing office space for a whole new body of people to service it. The actual database as it grows will need more and more maintennce, storage space, backups and other security, not to mention troubleshooting any problems that arise in its use. Also there is the issue of maintaining data entry standsards, so the data are comparable across the whole system. So how much do comparable systems cost? Its authors say it is modelled on the British system (PAS) and the Danish one (DIME). Costings for DIME are not readily available, but it is not cheap - being linked to the Danfae system. We do have information for PAS however.

England and Wales, Number of metal detectorists (PAS estimate) - 37600
England and Wales, number of regional offices - 44 (one per 854 detectorists),
England and Wales, annual cost of central office (public domain) - 1.500,000 GBP (and it is not sufficient for the tasks involved)
England and Wales, estimated annual cost to local government partners of all local offices and equipment (my estimate from dissecting a sample of museum reports): between 2.8 and 3.6 million GBP
Total cost per detectorist if they all used PAS: between 115 and 135 GBP
Poland, Number of metal detectorists (MKiDN estimate) - 100 000
Poland, number of regional offices - 16 WKZ (one per 6200 detectorists - pandemonium),
Poland, annual cost of central office (unknown as yet)
Poland, estimated annual cost to local government partners of all local offices (unknown as yet - but potentially huge)
Total cost per detectorist if they all used it: ???
Well, 115 GBP x 100000 is the equivalent of 11,500,000 GBP. At today's rate that is 59,103,445 Polish Zloty. Annually.
I cannot help but think that funds of this size would be better spent on our health service than servicing metal detectorists that do not want to co-operate by getting permits.

- (

The Articles Ten

This is pretty easy to remember, because they both have the same number and similar content:

Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property.Paris, France14 November 1970
Article 10
The States Parties to this Convention undertake:
(a) To restrict by education, information and vigilance, movement of cultural property illegally removed from any State Party to this Convention and, as appropriate for each country, oblige antique dealers, subject to penal or administrative sanctions, to maintain a register recording the origin of each item of cultural property, names and addresses of the supplier, description and price of each item sold and to inform the purchaser of the cultural property of the export prohibition to which such property may be subject;
(b) To endeavour by educational means to create and develop in the public mind a realization of the value of cultural property and the threat to the cultural heritage created by theft, clandestine excavations and illicit exports.
Convention for the Protection of the Archaeological Heritage of Europe (revised) (Valletta, 1992)
Article 10
Each Party undertakes:
i to arrange for the relevant public authorities and for scientific institutions to pool information on any illicit excavations identified;
ii to inform the competent authorities in the State of origin which is a Party to this Convention of any offer suspected of coming either from illicit excavations or unlawfully from official excavations, and to provide the necessary details thereof;
iii to take such steps as are necessary to ensure that museums and similar institutions whose acquisition policy is under State control do not acquire elements of the archaeological heritage suspected of coming from uncontrolled finds or illicit excavations or unlawfully from official excavations;
iv as regards museums and similar institutions located in the territory of a Party but the acquisition policy of which is not under State control:
    a to convey to them the text of this (revised) Convention;
    b to spare no effort to ensure respect by the said museums and institutions 
    for the  principles set out in paragraph 3 above;
v to restrict, as far as possible, by education, information, vigilance and co-operation, the transfer of elements of the archaeological heritage obtained from uncontrolled finds or illicit excavations or unlawfully from official excavations.
Now, I reckon this blog is doing what it can to get the message out, but this is my hobby. Ask yourselves which of the archaeological organizations you pay for directly (through subscriptions) and indirectly (come out of other pools of money) are actually ACTIVELY doing very much of that education. outereach or whatever they want to call it. Will my Mum back in rural Homeshire hear the truth about metal detecting, the depletion of the archaeological record and the true face of the antiquities market and the harm they are all doing from the local (allegedly public-facing) archaeological organizations of the UK or from her son in far-off Poland? Come on archies, get on with doing something about this.

What Polish Politicians Are Missing, Changing the Law on "Protection" of Archaeological Record by Metal Detecting it Away

In a discussion of proposed new artefact-centred laws on artefact hunting that threaten the integrity of the Polish archaeological record, a radio interview with one of its authors, metal detectorist Jacek Wielgus, has been published that makes interesting listening if you speeky-the-Polish (Ireneusz Prochera rozmaia z Jackiem Wielgusem "o ustawie ułatwiającej życie poszukiwaczom-amatorom" 28.07.2023). 

"Our law, our application is not particularly innovative, we have based it on different countries, Scandinavia, the present Benelux countries, we directly based it on the example from Belgium (sic), there is a special application on which are marked all the places where it is not allowed to go, where you should not go, there is the buffer zone of two metres from an archaeological site, we made ten, with regard to distortions in the GPS, on the telephones. And then we will know where we can go and where we can't, where there are archaeological sites. Moreover, in this application, we will be able to take photos and in fact in real time send to the archaeologist on duty (sic) photos of what we've found and he (sic) will know if what we've found is an archaeological find or not, and the archaeologist on duty (sic) will be able at once to advise "dear colleague (sic) please stop searching there, because here, probably, is an archaeological site, yes? Or he can mark on the photos (sic) that it is nothing, nothing that could interest the conservation services, and we can further continue our searching." 

This is so garbled, and inconsistent with the actual content of the law that is passing through Polish parliamentary system. In the justification of that, the authors claim to be basing their system on the Danish DIME. Here it is unclear why Belgium is mentioned, in Belgium, artefact hunting is only legally undertaken with a permit, like in Poland.  I suspect he means Flanders where there is an online recording scheme MEDEA . 

I'd like to draw attention to a glaring problem with the underlying idea. If there are "100 000 detectorists" in Poland, and on a fine day in June, just half of them decide to spend Saturday afternoon in the countryside and "Register" their intent and start posting photos of what they've found... where are those "archaeologists on duty" going to come from, and who pays for their overtime on a Saturday? More, many artefact hunters in Poland (Wielgus himself admits earlier in this interview) go out at night... are archaeologists goind to sit watching the application at night, and indeed what will they be able to see of the site explored without a night-vision camera on the smartphone? If there is a group of four detecting buddies exploring (exploiting) a site and each of them is in a different area of the forest or field and moving about at random, and posting photos of what they are doing, how is the "archaeologist on duty" going to interpret the distribution and significance of the finds (objects found) in real time? How are they to assess whether this is an archaeological site, or a ploughed out and then overgrown manuring spread? And then if they actually are watching 3100 weekend searches in real time, simultaneously (50 000 tekkies, 16 local WKZ offices) how will they cope? Or rather by how many extra staff would each local office have to be expanded to keep this up all year round? How much would this cost, and would the cost be met by a central budget or local taxpayers?

The definition of a site by the criterion of "three artefacts in a 100 square metres" is simply dotty. What is an "artefact" anyway? If we find a piece of brick with adhering mortar, a piece of roofing slate and an iron window latch in a molehill in the middle of a flattened area on a gentle hillslope covered in pasture - in the eyes of the "investigating" metal detectorist is that one artefact or three? To my eye, it would suggest that there possible was a building there, with the potential of preserved stratigraphy. Would the |"archaeologist on duty" see the flat area in a phone-taken shot in poor light, and would the detectorist show the rubble as well as the metal latch? If they do not, the new law provides no requirement for them to do so, as it allows them to claim ignorance ("I did not think it was anything important/would interest the conservation services"). If they don't show the archaeologist on duty all the information needed, all they have to do is move 11m along the hillside to the next humpy-and-bumpy area and search there and find some more stuff without invoking the "leave it alone" clause.

So, Mr Wielgus and tekkie mates, how do you propose Polish archaeologists would go about determining if there was an archaeological site (or indeed, what is "an archaeological site") here, Tadmarton, Nr Banbury Oxfordshire (yes, I chose the spot deliberately). What would a remote archaeologist on duty see through the screen of a phone? 

I do think there is an onus on colleagues who play about with "data" from metal detecting to present the results in such a way that the context of what they are doing is better seen by all, including outside observers. If MEDEA is guilty of presenting to foreign history seekers and lawmakers a misleading picture of what the archaeological record is, and what archaeology (not artefactology) is, and how we preserve the archaeological record from being dismembered as a source of collectable trophy finds, then that surely is against professional ethics. Can MEDEA show where they have faced that responsibility?   

Sunday 30 July 2023

The Treasure Act 1996 (as amended in 2023)

Treasure Act changes that  were passed by Parliament and came into law on 30th July 2023. These amendments remove items found on some Church property from the provisions of the Act, and add a new class of Treasure, called ‘significant’ to the existing law. All of the other existing classes of treasure remain unchanged. Here is the legislation.  There is a very useful and clear summary of the ins and outs of the current status of this hacked-about legislation on the  Metal Detectorist UK (Norfolk Suffolk Metal Detecting Group) website that deserves to be made more accessible (have a look at their admirable Risk Assessment page too).

The following finds are Treasure under the Act, if found after 24 September 1997 (or, in the case of category 2, if found after 1 January 2003):

  • Any metallic object, other than a coin, provided that at least 10 per cent by weight of metal is precious metal (that is, gold or silver) and that it is at least 300 years old when found. If the object is of prehistoric date it will be Treasure provided any part of it is precious metal.
  • Any group of two or more metallic objects of any composition of prehistoric date that come from the same find (see note below).
  • Two or more coins from the same find provided they are at least 300 years old when found and contain 10 per cent gold or silver (if the coins contain less than 10 per cent of gold or silver there must be at least ten of them). Only the following groups of coins will normally be regarded as coming from the same find: Hoards that have been deliberately hidden; Smaller groups of coins, such as the contents of purses, that may been dropped or lost; Votive or ritual deposits.
  • Any object, whatever it is made of, that is found in the same place as, or had previously been together with, another object that is Treasure.

Any object that would previously have been treasure trove, but does not fall within the specific categories given above. Only objects that are less than 300 years old, that are made substantially of gold or silver, that have been deliberately hidden with the intention of recovery and whose owners or heirs are unknown will come into this category.

Note: An object or coin is part of the 'same find' as another object or coin if it is found in the same place as, or had previously been together with, the other object. Finds may have become scattered since they were originally deposited in the ground.

If found on or after 30 July 2023, a find may be potential Treasure if it does not meet the above criteria but is made at least partially of metal, is at least 200 years old, and provided exceptional insight into an aspect of national or regional history, archaeology or culture by virtue of one or more of the following:

  • its rarity as an example of its type found in the United Kingdom
  • the location, region or part of the United Kingdom in which it was found, or
  • its connection with a particular person or event

A find may also be Treasure if it does not, on its own, provide such an insight, but is, when found, part of the same find as one or more other objects, and provides such an insight when taken together with those objects.

see also Geoffrey Bennett 'Changes to the Law of Treasure', The Institute of Art and Law, April 14, 2023 


Friday 28 July 2023

Challenging a 50-Year-Old Factoid About the Illegal Antiquities Trade

The assertion that the illicit antiquities trade is “the world’s third largest, second only to arms and narcotics” is unsubstantiated and damaging, argues a new paper looking at Donna Yates & Neil Brodie's useful work on the topic: Morag M. Kersel, 'Challenging a 50-Year-Old Factoid About the Illegal Antiquities Trade' Hyperallergic 27.07.2023.  

Tuesday 25 July 2023

Chat GPT Has a Go.

 Recently with some Polish colleagues I've had a few discussions concerning artefact hunting and archaeology, and got to the stage where I said if the Polish metal detectorists are conducting a hate-campaign against us (archaeologists and archaeology) by short YouTube videos, why are we not responding with an information campaign in the same medium? Why is there not a single You Tube video out there explaining what archaeology is, how we do it and why, and why hoiking artefacts out of the archaeological record is a concern? [that actually goes for the UK too]. The answer was "no money". Sod it I thought, almost everybody has a phone that will take films, computer magazines give away editing software as a freebie... so what's stopping someone doing it for fun? My colleagues were quoting "getting a script" as one expense. Having just finished one dreadfully tedious editing project for the Academy, and unwilling to start the next one today, I decide to ask my AI friend ChatGPT what they thought. I thought I'd share the result.

Write a short film script, "why archaeology is important"


Title: Unearthing the Past

A projector screen displays ancient artifacts as PROFESSOR HARRISON (50s, passionate archaeologist) addresses a group of intrigued STUDENTS.


Good morning, everyone! Today, we shall embark on a journey to discover why archaeology is of paramount importance to humanity.

The students lean in attentively.


Archaeologists delicately unearth artifacts, pottery, and fragments of an ancient civilization.


Archaeology helps us piece together the fragments of history and reconstruct civilizations long gone. Each artifact is a window to our past.


Professor Harrison gestures towards the slide of an ancient city's layout.

Archaeology reveals how our ancestors lived, their social structures, and cultural practices. It helps us understand our roots and the diversity of human experiences across time.


A museum curator arranges ancient artifacts in a captivating exhibit.


Archaeological discoveries enrich museums, allowing the public to connect with history and appreciate our heritage.


Professor Harrison walks around the room, engaging with the students.


Beyond history, archaeology is a puzzle-solving endeavor. It challenges us to analyze evidence, formulate hypotheses, and make connections. It sharpens our critical thinking skills.


An archaeologist carefully brushes dust off a well-preserved skeleton.


By studying ancient remains, we gain insights into diseases, nutrition, and the challenges our ancestors faced. It provides us with lessons for the present and future.


Professor Harrison's enthusiasm fills the room.


Moreover, archaeology fosters international collaboration. Archaeologists from diverse backgrounds work together, transcending borders and promoting cultural understanding.


Archaeologists from different countries exchange knowledge and ideas.


Through conferences and fieldwork, archaeologists unite to unearth the truths of our shared past, eradicating prejudice and promoting peace.


Professor Harrison concludes his lecture, leaving the students inspired.

(in a heartfelt tone)

So, my dear students, remember, archaeology is not just about exploring the past. It's about understanding ourselves, learning from our history, and preserving our cultural heritage for generations to come. Embrace it, for it is a vital key to unlock the mysteries of humanity.

The students applaud, their appreciation for archaeology ignited.


Note how the Indiana Jones stereotype is upheld here. Archaeology is (according to this AI) about  finding "artefacts". Sorry ChatGPT, that was not quite what I had in mind. I decided to give them a second chance:
". User
I was thinking more about a documentary film style, and with less attention to the artefacts, but about the soil layers.

Title: Layers of Time: Unearthing History


Soft piano music plays in the background as DR. EMMA WALKER (40s, passionate archaeologist) stands beside a table covered with soil samples and geological charts.

(looking at the camera)

Welcome to "Layers of Time," a documentary about the fascinating world of archaeology and the crucial role soil layers play in unearthing history.


Shovels break through the earth, and trowels carefully remove layers of soil, revealing a glimpse of the past beneath.


In every archaeological dig, we encounter a time capsule in the form of soil layers. Each stratum tells a unique story, preserving traces of ancient civilizations and ecosystems.


Dr. Walker picks up a soil sample and shows it to the camera.


These soil layers hold secrets, like chapters in a book. By analyzing them, we can piece together the puzzle of our ancestors' lives.


Excited archaeologists brush away soil from various layers and carefully document their findings.


Each layer represents a specific period in history, providing us with a chronological record of human activity, from ancient settlements to cultural shifts.


Dr. Walker stands in front of a projected image of a soil profile.


The study of soil layers, known as stratigraphy, allows us to date artifacts accurately and reconstruct past environments.


Fascinating artifacts emerge from the soil: pottery, tools, and ancient relics.


By combining our knowledge of the soil layers with the artifacts we find, we gain insights into how people lived, traded, and interacted with their surroundings.


Dr. Walker sits with a team of researchers, examining soil samples under microscopes.


We study the composition of each layer, the presence of certain minerals, and even microscopic pollen grains to understand ancient agriculture and plant life.


Aerial shots capture the dig site, revealing the distinct layers of soil.


The soil layers also help us comprehend past natural disasters, climate changes, and their impact on civilizations.


Dr. Walker holds up a chart showing the correlation between soil layers and historical events.


Understanding the patterns within soil layers empowers us to learn from the past, making informed decisions for our future.


The sun sets, and the dig site becomes illuminated with artificial lights, as the team continues their meticulous work.


Archaeology isn't just about unearthing ancient treasures; it's about unearthing knowledge that transforms how we perceive ourselves and our world.


Dr. Walker stands before an attentive audience of students and enthusiasts.


So, as we venture deeper into the layers of time, let us remember that each grain of soil holds a story worth preserving and cherishing.

The camera pans out as the audience applauds, highlighting the significance of archaeology and the profound connection between soil layers and our shared human history.

A lot more dramatic than the archaeology that I had at Uni. As for the artificial lights... I get the feeling that the AI was fudging this a bit, and note how the soil layers are taken OUT of the context to be studied as "artefacts", ChatGPT can't get this out of their little artificial mind. 

So, why is archaeology important if it does not actually bring world peace or empower us to something-or-other?

I think if I am to produce a script, I'd better do it myself.

Sunday 23 July 2023

Russian Museums

Which Russian museums are holding stashes of art and artefacts looted from Ukraine?

Have the complicit Russian museums and their directors been excluded from international museum associations?

Thursday 20 July 2023

Shakeup in the Ministry of Culture and Information Policy in Ukraine

The website of the Ukrainian Minister of Culture and Information Policy of Ukraine is down, but a few moments ago it was announced that President Zelenskyy had asked for the dismissal of Oleksandr Tkachenko, the Minister of Culture, apparently over issues of transparency and budgetary accountability. There has been quite a lot of public pressure for him to go, there was a video review of some of the reasons published two months ago, they include criticism of the way museums were secured from looting in the first weeks of the War, treatment of Russian culture and a number of other things. There have been a number of protests (here at a book fair for example). Sounds ominous.

Further Developments in Case of the Manching Hoard Theft

Police have arrested some men who are accused of stealing a hoard of 483 gold Bohemian Celtic coins of the first and second centuries B.C. from the Kelten Römer Museum in Manching, near Ingolstadt, in November 2022. It was discovered by an archaeological team in 1999 and was the biggest Celtic gold find of the 20th century. The market worth of the coins is about €250,000 [Catherine Hickley, 'Suspects arrested in theft of gold coins from German museum' The Art Newspaper 20 July 2023]

Four men suspected of stealing a trove of Celtic gold coins from a museum north of Munich last year have been arrested, Bavarian police officials said. The men, aged between 42 and 50 years old, were traced to the area surrounding the city of Schwerin in northern Germany and to Halle in North Rhine-Westphalia, and arrested during a police search of 28 residential premises, business premises, a boathouse and vehicles on Tuesday, police said. One of the men was found with lumps of gold of the same composition as the coins in a plastic bag, a police statement said. That suggests the suspects melted down at least a part of the treasure [...] "Seventy of these coins have been irreparably lost," said Markus Blume, the Bavarian art minister. "There is still hope of finding the rest."
Investigators are still searching premises in the Schwerin area and using metal detectors to search large properties with grounds where the remaining coins could have been reburied.
DNA traces link three of the suspects to eight further burglaries dating back to 2014 in Germany and in Austria, involving supermarkets, a casino, petrol stations and a cash dispenser. It is possible that the same team is responsible for many more crimes dating back to the 1990s, officials said. “We are dealing with professional burglars,” said Joachim Herrmann, the Bavarian interior minister. In Manching and in several of the other crimes, fibre optic cables were cut so that alarm systems would not be able to alert police of break-ins by telephone. One of the arrested suspects is employed as a telecommunications engineer, said Nicolas Kaczynski, the Ingolstadt prosecutor.

Wednesday 19 July 2023

Profit from Artefacts Again in UK, Threats Now

          A tray of loose artefacts - few labels visible         
amateur excavations at Welbeck Hill

I see Professor Howard M. R. Williams is having problems with the family of a late Cleethorpes teacher whose activities on an archaeological site in Lincolnshire he commented on [see Welbeck Hill Anglo-Saxon Cemetery (Again) Jul 18, 2023]. The heirs of this digger, instead of donating the finds to the local museum after his passing, put them on the open market. In the end, the museum had to pay to get these finds (presumably in the posession of the digger as a gift from the original landowner - who is not mentioned as getting a penny from the 2020 sale).
In 2019 via this blog, I reflected on a rather disturbing moment in the history of early Anglo-Saxon burial archaeology. You can read about the incident yourself on my blog-post from 9 February 2019: ‘Selling dead bodies and mortuary artefacts in the UK today: Welbeck Hill‘. I had subsequently learned that the collection being sold by Hansons went to auction in the following year: March 2020. I’m writing again now following email communications on this matter with the son of the amateur archaeologist, the late Gordon Taylor, who had excavated the Welbeck Hill. I refer to Geoffrey Taylor who contacted me directly via email on Monday 10 July as follows:
William’s, I suggest that you take down the photographs of my late farther from your web site. And retract the comments you wrote that taylor was incapable of publishing welbeck hill , a.s.a.p. I will give you 14 days then I will contact my solicitor. G Taylor
Rather aggressive, not to mention the spelling. In fact, that photo is already in the public domain plastered all over the Internet (with the disgusting one of the skull from the wardrobe the Taylor family reportedly with huge insensitivity called "Charlie"). The dissemination of this same photo includes those part of the Hanson's press campaign to benefit the family's sale of the items, they are on the BBC report and a Daily Mail one, I wonder whether Geoffrey Taylor has sent them a similar misspelt threatening letter. 

 Certainly, this case deserves discussion, certainly Mr Taylor senior, took on a responsibility, a public trust, in starting to dig up these graves (and then passed it on to his heirs). There is no reason to hide his name or the details of what he did there. I think the photo has a valid part in that discussion about who he was and what his motives might have been

Mr Taylor's solicitor may earn quite a bit explaining to his client why taking Professor Williams to court over an old blog post may prove to have an unsatisfactory outcome. Rather the family should have thought about the reactions that selling the items would provoke, and in particular the way Hanson's decided to market them, using the skull photo and story. Rather, in my opinion, that is what does not put the Taylor family in such a good light.  And I am entitled to have my opinion on the basis of what I read in the extensive media coverage of the sale. 

Tuesday 18 July 2023

More Reported Finds Mysteriously Go Missing

What the actual ***k is going on in the UK? First we have the disappearance of some papyri from a university storeroom, then some treasure finds deposited in a northern Museum were found to have gone missing. There are suspects in both cases, but no charges seem to be be being pressed (like Boris's Partygate jaunts) and here's another for the catalogue of shame (Liam Coleman, 'Mystery as missing Roman hoard coins replaced by more valuable artefacts' Metro 18.07.2023)
Three ancient Roman coins found in Cornwall were taken and bizarrely replaced with artefacts that are more valuable, an inquest has heard. The 56 coins, part of what is now known as the Lanivet Hoard, were discovered during four digs from newly ploughed fields in Lanivet between October 2017 and January 2020. Members of the Mid Cornwall History Hunters group, who were metal detecting with permission from the landowner, made the discovery and reported the haul to Cornwall’s finds officer at the time. A treasure inquest held in Truro yesterday heard how since the coins were initially photographed, three of them had been taken – only to be replaced with different coins that are even more valuable [...] three of the coins from the original find in October 2017 were missing and had not been reported as treasure finds. Instead, they were substituted with other Roman silver coins from the same period that were similar in appearance. Ms Tyacke said the discrepancy arose when the original photographs of the first batch of 23 coins did not match up with the coins that were sent to the British Museum for identification and dating. Ms Tyacke added: ‘The substitute coins looked similar to those found but are actually in a better condition and are more valuable than those they were swapped in for. The substitution does not make sense.’ She told the inquest that the missing coins from the original dig have never been found [...] Ms Tyacke added: ‘The police were involved, who interviewed some of the people involved. But as it was someone’s word against another it was difficult to lead to a conclusion as no further evidence was found. ‘It’s all quite suspect but we couldn’t take it any further.’.
Eh? Taken by whom? Oddly, in the hoard of coins from the timespan of Nero to Caracalla contained "one silver Greek drachma, which was a Roman province at the time, dated to the reign of the Roman Emperor Hadrian was found". That's interesting, but because the PAS has not actually bust a gut getting online its records of coins found between 2017 and 2020 (despite there being a pandemic lockdown in which they could have caught up on such things), the public cannot use the database as intended - to find out about things like this. According to the roundup of gawpworthy metal detected stuff for 2020 in Britannia, "the drachm was of Hadrian (A.D. 117-138) issued in Amisus". Hmm. Amisus is not in "Greece" but on the Pontic coast of what is now Turkey. And it is interesting to see a provincial coin of this date apparently coming from a real archaeological context

 As for who pinched the rest, could be a collector involved somehow in handling these coins that already had a load of other denarii from another hoard (declared or not?) and needed the three from the new find to fill gaps in their own collection, so they swapped them round. The "value" here in neither here nor there. Just a guess, but this hints at the lackadaisical way finds are treated by artefact hunters and others, and in the case of the former, who knows how many times things have been messed about with before they were reported and photographed? Metal detecting finds cannot be trusted as archaeological data.

Monday 17 July 2023

Metal Detecting Holidays with a Difference in Poland Soon?

Just as in England the liberal laws on metal detecting have led to a burgeoning of commercial artefact hunting rallies, firms offering pay-to-dig opportunities all over the country, and metal detecting holidays for would-be artefact hunters from countries like France with different legislation (o the US with a lack of diggable desirable cultural property), so Poland's proposed liberalisation makes all sorts of money-making opportunities available to the entrepreneur. And one cannot fault Poles on their entrepreneurial abilities.  

The key is to find something you have that nobody else does. This something will have to be topical, and with an element of mystery and discovery. And I am sure I am not the only one that can put together a knowledge of what one can find here with a metal detector if you know where to look with a close look at the wording of this proposed new law... They will also be aware of the huge growth in foreign contexts of interest in books like the products of authors like  Heather Morris (The Tattooist of Auschwitz), John Boyne (The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas) and other recent Holocaust fiction, but also the efforts of the Holocaust deniers to get their views across.

It seems to me pretty obvious that among the adventurers who will be drawn to Poland by people wanting to cash in (and how!) on the new laws will be those eager to leaarn for themselves "the truth" of the Holocaust, to experience it for themselves.

There are forest glades that metal detectorists know where an unmapped dirt road led in the 1940s. It was here that in the last phases of the War the Germancs carted cremated and crushed ashes excavated from pits in the camps and scattered them where, they thought, nobody would find them. Standing in these glades, you feel a chill looking at the leaves beneath your feet and the cold damp winds blowing through the trees making them rustle evokes feelings difficult to describe. Driving along the damp muddy forest roads to these spots brings all sorts of reflections... I know from anecdotal evidence that searching these scatters (in which, I am told, such are the soil conditions, there are no visible human remains) produces all sorts of small metal objects that somehow escaped scrutiny before the cremation, small items of personal jewellery and ... gold tooth fillings. Now these are neither the worst or most horrifying of the Dark Heritage sites with which the dark forests of Poland are covered, but unlike some (most? - 75 years after this War, we are still discovering more), these sites are not "evidenced" on any archaeological maps. neither are they "registered" or fall into the definition of a "cemetery". So, through a loophole in the law [written by Polish politicians who've clearly no idea what this is about] these sites are completely unprotected and now available for any kind of exploration/exploitation. Under the old law they would not have been.

                  East-central Europe ghettos 1939-45                
 Map by Nancy Cooey;
More, all over the country, in small towns there were ghettos established by the Nazis between October 1939 and July 1942. Poland's Jewish population of about 3.5 million was driven into them by the Nazi occupiers in order to confine and segregate for the purpose of persecution, terror, and exploitation. Between in early 1942 and August 1944, the ghettos were emptied into the concentration and extermination camps. 

After the liquidation of the ghettos, in some cases the ghetto buildings were then levelled, leaving empty spaces that exists sometimes to today, in other cases the emptied buildings were taken over and occupied and not a few remain in occupation today. The location of the ghettos (and still less the houses from which the Jews had been driven to them) are still not precisely defined from the documentation. This is because a lot of the latter survives fragmentarily. This means that although some ghetto areas and individual historical buildings in them are protected in Poland by one legal system or another, a large number of sites are not. Again, the wording of the new law makes them vulnerable to artefact hunting that is completely legal within the wording of that law.

The significance of this that artefact hunters can go over these abandoned site hoovering out whatever artefacts take their fancy. Some of them are now shielded from prying eyes by tree cover or being behind high fences in the grounds of some other building or institution. There the searcher will find some intriguing objects left by the deported original owners. Indeed, often Jewish families suspecting their imminent deportation, buried precious items (including ritual vessels etc) near their homes. Some of these caches have been found, many no doubt await their discoverer.  

Is it too far-fetched to expect that before long after the passing of the new law (on 1st May 2024), we will see online adverts on the pages of metal detecting interest groups on Facebook or other social media, or in the Dark Web that propose something like this?



Cost: USD 3,320 per person, all inclusive. Plus air fare from your city​.

Find out the truth about the Holocaust, hands-on history, walk the shtetel in the footsteps of a lost community, understand the heritage and find a piece of the past, 

Day One (Tuesday)

Land in Warsaw airport, coach to hotel. Afternoon, bus tour of city, visit Ghetto Wall (Sienna  and Chłodna streets), Umszlagplatz, guided tour of Polin Museum. Evening get-together with Polish-Jewish cuisine. Short optional lecture on Poland and its Jews, the Nazi occupation and the Holocaust. 

Day Two (Wednesday)
Jewish district. Coach to Kraków, check in to hotel in Kazimierz district, sightseeing, old Synagogue, Holocaust memorial, Krakow by night. Film Night (Optional): "Schindler's Ark" 

Day Three (Thursday)
Short coach trip to Plaszów camp (Schindler's Ark), see the house of Amon Goth. Then 50 km Coach trip to Auschwitz and Birkenau camps. Overnight accommodation in apartments or hotel among the buildings of the SS settlement to the north of camp Auschwitz I (!). Lecture and slideshow by expert on Short optional lecture on Poland and its "Righteous Among Nations".  

Day Four (Friday)
Shtetel Day. Coach to the small town of XXXX, exploring the site of the former ghetto. Half-forgotten cobbled streets, the old synagogue, the abandoned Jewish cemetery. Visitors will have an opportunity to explore a site on private grounds where the rubble of vanished Jewish houses and remains in them just under the leaves and grass speak of a vanished way of life. It is a short coach trip from there to the hotel by the river at XXX where there will be a grill with a Jewish klezmer group singing traditional music, and an expert will be at hand to explain your finds.

Day Five (Saturday)
Forgotten ashes. A visit to the former site one of the less-known sub-camps of Operation Reinhard and a short coach ride to the forests in the vicinity where you will be able to see how the Nazis tried to hide the evidence. A local expert detectorist will point out places of interest. Back to hotel. Short optional presentation on "Holocaust Denial, followed by a discussion session on "what do you think on the basis of what you have seen"?

Day Six (Sunday)
Coach to Warsaw, and the airport.

[Groups will normally consist of 7 to 12 persons. An application fee and deposit of $500.00 per person is required to hold your spot on a trip. Deposits are non-refundable if you cancel within 90 days of the trip start date. Trip cancellation insurance is highly recommended. For those wanting immerse themselves deeper on days four and five, help will be provided to go through the formalities of filling in the Polish Ministry website registering your research - See Terms and Conditions]. 
So, in this fictional example, if the 'notification to search' required by the proposed law is made mid-day on Friday before the afternoon search, the applicants will receive an automated response and will be able to begin searching, even if the conservator wanted to visit the search site, the distance to be covered would make that impossible, the same goes for a notification made on a Saturday morning. By the time the conservator, through the system issues a decision on Mondday about any finds made, the finders and the objects will have already left the country. And the tour operator is not mentioned on the search notification (and in any case is registered in Luton, UK, outside the EU).

Friday 14 July 2023

Populist Politicians Create Archaeological Heritage Disaster in Poland

In Poland last week there was a huge scandal as the Polish parliament voted in changes to the existing law on archaeological preservation that were written only for the metal detectorists (the government thinks there are 100 000 of the darlings, Sam Hardy deduced it was half that, my own work leads me to believe that it's actually less than 30 000). This was only done because government sees a potential "100k votes" from grateful metal detectorists, to whom they've granted the free-for-all ability to trash archaeological sites at will. Of course they've hedged it round by fine words like "access to/participation in the heritage" and othe such crap, and promosed that "one day" there will be a phone app for tekkies to share their finds, especially the ones that will now be eligable for a reward. This seems an open invitation to initiate a eriod of looting for financioal gain (and you don't pay taxes on rewards), but also detecting tourism from abroad, where countries still have legislation requiring the buried heritage to be treated with more respect than Poland now proposes. This proposal abandons the current system linking metal detecting with regional conservation programmes (much like Denmark's) to an anarchistic free-for-all. I wrote a breakdown in English (with Polish bits) on the earlier version, I will be working next week on a shorter breakdown of the new one, the one that was actually voted in.All in all, a disaster created by politicians who've not a clue about heritage management, no desire to learn - so this project was created and not conslted with the archaeological community, just the ones trapped in the ministerial system (appointed the same government that is interested in passing this law in double-quick time).

Not all Polish archaeologists are sitting back letting this happen. I was involved in a small way all last week with a group following closely the progress of this legislation, debating its consequences, preparing a very powerful (we hope) lobby against this act getting any further (first the Senate and then to the President). I think there are other action groups working in the same way. One official could not agree to abandon their principles, and spoke out publicly about this, putting their own job on the line. Others may follow suit. There is a petition from the Scientific Association of Polish Archaeologists against these thoughtless changes in Poland's already fragmented and clunky heritage laws. You might like to consider signing it, to show this is not just affecting Poland's heritage, but this is a European concern. Of course, being Poland, the page is not very transparent especially if you do not speeky-the-Polish, try putting the link [] into Google Translator. There's some well-known names there already, and I harbour a suspicion that the several blocks of anonymous ones could hide employees of the state service for the protection of historical monuments who will not be so keen to have their names shown on a peition criticising the proposals of politicians associated weith the ruling coalition. If their names becioome known, they could face consequences. Poland deserves better.

Some Clarity on the Reasons for Secrecy Surrounding Contentious Record in Public-Funded Database

I was looking up something the other day when something unrelated to it caught my eye. Serendipity. I wish now I'd put two and two together when I was one of those trying to puzzle out the real story behind the PAS recording an item on their database when it was actually at the time in the Hansons' saleroom. Apart from a series of posts on this blog, David Gill and I wrote an article on it (Gill, David W JBarford, Paul (2022) A Harness Fitting from Buckinghamshire on the UK Market. Journal of Art Crime, 27 . pp. 17-30. ISSN 1947-5934). There is also an important text by Andy Brockman (Antiques Woad Show: Auctioneer sells rare Iron Age Brooch Which [Almost] Wasn't Reported to the PAS The Pipeline February 25, 2021)

One of the most puzzling features was that it was entered onto the PAS database [DENO-2BAD49] by one Michell Ray,  (yeah, PAS have hidden that information, but there is a way round their obscurantism) on a "Sunday, 21st February 2021". I was concerned to find out more, but: Ms Ray's supervisor, FLO  Meghan King; the head of the PAS, Professor Mike  Lewis; the director of the Derby museum where the FLO is based, Tony Butler; and several other people involved, all failed to answer some pretty basic questions about the events surrounding the creation of this record by this individual attached to the PAS. All very odd, after all, what is there to hide? Why was this record made on a Sunday, out of the blue a few days before the auction, why was the official PAS record mainly compiled from the auction catalogue? What was also unexplained is why the PAS recorder had a fairly full set of the auctioneer's photos of the object that were mysteriously (with no acknowledgement of source) incorporated into the PAS database record ("Rights Holder: The Portable Antiquities Scheme"). Who had asked her and why? Was it her supervisor the FLO, Derby Museum, the British Museum - Dr Farley for example? That was never cleared up, and this raised not a few questions. Are the PAS and Derby Museums hiding something? 


The Facebook page of a metal detectorist holds a clue. The well-known detectorist Adam Staples knows a Michelle Ray, in fact they now seem to be a couple. Their acquaintance, if not relationship, goes back quite a while. On 1st September 2020 they were on a metal detecting rally together. In June 2021 they were on another rally, in Sudbury. At the end of 2021, they posted a Christmas greetings photo apparently as a couple.  The lady's Facebook page (links on Mr Staples') is additional evidence, and we can put a face to the name. It also confirms that she was/is a metal detectorist. So on a Sunday between  the above references,  Ms Ray created the record in the PAS database. She was sharing a memory on FB with Mr Staples just a week before the record was made. 

The problem with this is that Adam Staples was not just another metal detectorist and hoard finder. At the time this record was made, Mr Staples worked as a consultant for Hansons, the auction house selling the object in question. Adam Staples was the author of the Hansons catalogue entry, the text of which we may remember, was copied almost verbatim into the PAS database record. Now we have a better chance to understand the source of the record's photos. 

So is it in fact the case that the PAS record consists of a text passed onto it by virtue of the fact that PAS were allowing a metal detectorist free and unsupervised - on a Sunday - access to the database? That she used that opportunity to post there commercially useful material on behalf of her friend, or boyfriend, in the antiquities trade, one of those deeply involved in the sale? Could the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Derby Museums please enlighten us whether or not that is the case and this is why, in a blatant example of institutional lack of transparency)  they did not answer the earlier  perfectly justifiable questions? Do they do this sort of thing often, how are their volunteers vetted, and what steps are they taking to make sure nothing like this could ever happen? 

The PAS should by now have set up a system that protects them from any connection with Britain's antiquities trade. This cases calls into question how effective that has been. 

Polish Parliament and the Heritage-Trashing Vote


I'm not very good at this yet. This one is unbalanced, I wanted to get the earthworks in the foreground in. The bottom one is too cluttered.

Any suggestions for some slogans? They need to hit back at the heritage-negligent and wrong-headed and heritage negligent that passed this law without (a) wider consultation in the heritage community and (b) no detailed costings - they are in for a surprise. Total lack of professionalism and responsibility, they just want the metal detectorists' vote. They are in for a surprise there too, they've been misled into thinking that there are several hundred thousand in Poland. My work suggests it is less than 30 000, and as you can see on the forums they are all already from the (often nastier bits of the) right side of the political spectrum. Who goes out metal detecting for Nazi memorabilia? 

You can't get archaeological information out of a site with a metal detector and a blind-dug narrow hoik-hole. All you can do is get some collectable or gawpworthy item, a lot of other little bits you don't understand, and make a hole in the contexts and patterns from which they came. In other words, by taking out a few portable antiquities, you damage the archaeological site as a source of knowledge about the past and that place. This is knowledge theft, it destroys the archaeological record. Until this new amendment, Poland had laws that aimed to reduce this destruction and knowledge loss. Take that away and Poland just creates a looters' paradise. And since most of the artefact hunters search in remote forest areas, they already know, from 30+ years of getting away with it, that their chances of being caught doing something wrong is next to zero. 


Polish 'Sejm' Votes for the Metal Detectorists' Vote


A proposed law liberalising (just) metal detecting has been voted through the Polish Sejm (Parliament), it now goes to the Senate. Here, for the record is the results of the voting, who is responsible for this.

Here's a video of the detectorist behind it Jacek Wielgus with the two politicians that 'fronted' it (but there is, I am told, another story underneath). It does not matter what these people are saying, remember the faces and names. Wikipedia does not give a very full picture of Pawel Kukiz (the haggard talkative one in the middle)  and Jarosław Sahajko (the red tie guy who seems in a hurry to get away from his association with this) is a bit of a second-plane player so far, and after this heritage-trashing move, let him stay there. Polski-speakers can see the political context, elections coming up soon.  .

Posted on You Tube by Polski Związek Eksploratorów 4 hours ago

At least one Polish metal detectorist watching this is not as lemming-like as the rest :
@adamm5 @adamm5 2 hours ago
Nie chcę nic mówić ale z Kukizem wstydził bym się zrobić nagranie. Ten człowiek jest chwiejny niczym chorągiewka na wietrze, nie wspominając o braku kręgosłupa. 😂😂
The rest of them have not thought this through at all and what its consequences are going to be. I'd say in the longer term this is going to be a very good case of being careful what you wish for. Watch this space.


Wednesday 12 July 2023

Aluminium 'Nuggets' Presented as 'Mystery' by Metal Detectorist

Aluminium pieces found by Barrow's coast by metal detectorists. Metal detectorists in Furness want to start an "investigation" into large parts of the fused remains of a crashed alien spaceship that have been washed up on the beaches in Aldingham and areas of the coastal road in Barrow (Filipa Gaspar, 'Aluminium pieces found by Barrow's coast by metal detectorists' The Mail 12.07.2023). These 'large pieces' of aluminium have been washed up around the Furness coast for the past 15 years. Graeme Rushton and Chris Linton, two metal detectorists from Barrow,  now want answers. They say the problem of this mysterious contaminant has 'gradually gotten worst' as more and more of it is washed ashore. Rushton says,

"As detectorists, we searched the beaches for lost keys and jewellery, and then we started discovering large amounts of aluminium [...] This is not just on the wet sand. It is also on the shingles and the stones as well" [...] "Every single time we go we always find washed-up pieces of aluminium. "They are all different sizes. They can be very small to other ones that are the size of your first. Some of them resemble a nugget shape" [...]"I think the majority of aluminium local detectorist find is not from the same source." 

Rushton has raised concerns about the dangers related to aluminium. He said: "I don't think aluminium is a particularly nice metal to have around on the beaches. Indeed, the use of aluminium saucepans has been linked to the development of Alzheimers. Westmorland and Furness Council  really should do something. 

The newspaper reporter responsible for this sensation-seeking report does not mention whether or not the finders have tried talking to the local PAS FLO about their theories. It seems to me that there is a perfectly simple explanation for this, beach parties. This is surely nothing more nor less than ‘campfire aluminium’, produced after the introduction in 1957 of aluminium drink cans by lobbing them into dying fires as people "clean up"... Another source might be household cinders used as a surfacing for a path or hardstanding somewhere on the coast that later got eroded into the sea. Such lumps appeared in the grate full of ash of a coal fire used to burn domestic waste in our childhoods. In that sense these are artefacts like any other. but certainly not related to any mysterious secret processes. 

The aluminium can is directly related to the ringpulls that some artefact hunters (like Lance in the TV comedy series "Detectorists")  can collect. There is also of course a pull-tab archaeology too. 

Hat tip The Vindicator.

Treasure Act changes become law on 30th July 2023

In Britain, on 30th March 2023 the proposed changes to the Treasure Act were passed by Parliament and will become law on 30th July 2023. This change adds a new class of Treasure, called ‘significant’ to the existing law. All of the other existing classes of treasure remain unchanged. Promises have also been made to detectorists to considerably speed items through the Treasure Process, so the landowners will all get their money earlier.

Wednesday 5 July 2023

Got Fed up With Antiquities

The Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins announces an exciting new artistic direction Published on: 21/06/23

Starting Spring 2024: The MACM will become a dedicated venue for Modern & Contemporary Art Exhibitions
The Musée d’Art Classique de Mougins will become THE MUSÉE D’ART CONTEMPORAIN DE MOUGINS
Christian Levett, the founder and owner of the Mougins Museum of Classical Art, is to give the museum a complete facelift, closing it as a classical art museum on 31st August 2023, and reopening as an exhibition museum in spring 2024, displaying rotating shows of modern & contemporary art. [...] Christian Levett said [...] I have been a passionate collector for over a quarter century now, and as my collecting & art research interests matured over the years, I believe that it is now time for the museum to evolve as well. [...]

The Mougins Museum has been open daily to the public for the past 12 years, and up to now has showcased Levett’s visionary curation juxtaposing ancient art from Egypt, Greece & Rome with classically inspired artworks from neoclassical, modern & contemporary periods. [...] Over the last 28 years since Levett started collecting, his interests have interchanged cross-category, and he has put together some of the world’s most impressive modern & contemporary collections in several different fields. Going forward, exhibitions at the museum will feature a mix of works from The Christian Levett Collection, and works on loan from other museums, galleries, foundations and the artists themselves, creating huge flexibilityand significant space for the new rota of expositions.
It is not clear what will happen to his antiquities, it seems he has been selling some of them off.

That Old 'Size of Market' Question Again

Attempt to address a persistent journalist's factoid: Donna Yates and Neil Brodie, The illicit trade in antiquities is not the world's third-largest illicit trade: a critical evaluation of a factoid Antiquity 29 June 2023 Apparently it gous back 50 years:
"The authors find that the claim is not based on any original research or statistics, and it does not originate with any competent authorities. The analysis demonstrates how the uncritical repetition of unsubstantiated ‘facts’ can undermine legitimate efforts to prevent looting, trafficking and illicit sale of antiquities".
What it does is help clueless journalists pad out their texts with some tasty snippet that looks like 'inside knowledge' when, as so often the case, the've not got a clue what they are writing about.

Larry Rothfield comments "Agree completely that people should stop saying this, and that academics should never have said it. But I am not yet convinced that its circulation in the press and use by politicians did more harm than good, since the article does not examine what, if any, good it may have done", which I think is a good point.

.A quibble, is it the "illicit trade in antiquities" or the trade in illict antiquities? The problem is that while antiquities can be licitly traded in country X, while being previously illcitly acquired in foreign country Y.

Battered Statue Head Returned to Egypt

Switzerland has returned to Egypt a fragment of a statue of the pharaoh Ramesses II, that had been confiscated in Geneva as part of cantonal criminal proceedings. (Anon, 'Switzerland returns fragment of statue of Ramesses II to Egypt', Swiss, July 4, 2023)
The sculpture of Ramesses II is part of a group statue in which the pharaoh is seated alongside various Egyptian deities, the Federal Office of Culture said in a statement on Monday. The fragment was stolen between the late 1980s and early 1990s from the Temple of Ramesses II in Abydos. It passed through several countries before arriving in Switzerland.
So, how DID a freshly surfaced (stolen) artefact actually manage to circulate through the antiquities markets of "several countries' without any genuine legitimsing paperwork? How? The antiquities market appears to be a murky cesspit in which it seems such things happen all the time. Prove me wrong.

Tuesday 4 July 2023

Blundering Polish Parliamentarians and the Metal Detectorists [Updated]

         Where are these artefacts from? (Allegro)          

I tend not to use this blog to discuss artefact hunting etc. in Poland where I live. Over the past week however a particular matter has been absorbing me and I will share part of it here.

For many years, going back to the first legislation of 1918 and then 1928, the Polish heritage protection system has worked based on certain principles. These have consequences for artefact hunters and collectors. I'll be writing about that elsewhere in the near future. For a long time now metal detectorists have been trying to undermine this system... and archaeologists have been trying to defend it. Just a little while back a colleague sent me a link to a document and asked for a comment. It is the project of an "Act to change the Act on the Preservation and Care of Historical Sites and Monuments" that some parliamentarians had obviously scribbled on a notepad on their knees and are now going to vote in. I spent two days reading this crap, and wrote some comments.

This is a typical piece of law-making by the currently-ruling government, hastily-written, inconsistent, not taking into account the wider legislative context. I also is presented in a fragmentary way, "in art. 33, ust. 3, point 19, add a comma after the word "buildings" and add the following wording.....". It takes ages to get through it (it was 14 pages of this). I've put up my comments here, warning, the basic text is in English but with Polish bits - you'll need an online translator should you decide to tackle it.  Not all the terms translate, which is why I did it this way. [UPDATE: there is now a slightly altered, Polish version that a Polish colleague created for a weekend discussion and helped with].

The Polish parliament will be voting on this, a little birdy says, on Thursday, and because we are governed by buffoons who only seek votes, despite its obvious flaws, it'll probably pass, to general jubilation among the X000 metal detectorists of Poland (and Helsinki will feel vindicated too). The crux of the matter is that the document claims that there are 100,000 metal detectorists that will support the ruling party if they pass this revision of the laws. That's totally at odds with what actually trying to get a number that is not guesswork (it's what we call "research"). Sam Hardy came up with a number half that. I think (for reasons I write about elsewhere) that Sam's figure may be too high. Anyway, to judge from what they write on forums, the bulk of Polish metal detectorists already subscribe to the sort of thing (and "values") the politicians involved here promote.

And the archaeologists? None of them have glued themselves to anything in protest, no paint smeared anywhere, no roads blocked, no topless protests in front of the Parliament buildings. Oh no. They are sitting back quietly, ignoring it. What the archaeologists are doing is organising a "scientific" meeting the day after [Polish titles given here in translation]:
Committee of Pre- and Protohistorical Sciences of the Polish Academy of Sciences invites you to attend the open part of the plenary session, which will be held remotely on July 7, 2023

Agenda of the meeting:
Part I open (13:00 – 15:00)
1/ Dr. Piotr Kotowicz - Lights and shadows. About contacts between the archaeologist and the metal detectorist from the perspective of a local museum;

2/ dr Józef Bednarczyk - Archaeologists and metal detectorists - based on research experience in Kuyavia;

3/ Robert Wyrostkiewicz - An attempt to define the "soul of a detectorist" against the backdrop of 15 years observation of the explorer and the archaeologist. Suggested legal compromise resulting from profit and loss estimates.

Login data [...] We invite you to take part in the meeting.
Chairman of the Committee
Prof. dr hab. Sylwester Czopek
My doctor says I should keep away from such meetings. Kotowicz writes about hoards found and reported by telkkies (some of whom have permits before they started hoiking). Bednarczyk has been wandering around important Iron Age sites in Kuyavia with metal detectorists who find nice coins for him to look at, Wyrostkiewicz is a detectorist. So, how "full" a picture of the detecting community are the participants going to get? This is the same thing as British archaeologists do, they meet a few friendly tekkies who are asked to detect as part of an archaeological project, and then start to tell me that they are "all decent blokes". When you ask how much time they spend on metal detecting forums to see what tekkies talk about (and how) among themselves, the answer is almost always 'none". Here the Polish Academy of Sciences will listen to a tekkie giving a glowing (I have no doubt) picture of "the soul of a detectorist" rather than somebody summarising actual research in the sources provided by two huge open-access forums with an archive going back almost two decades. I think these give a better picture of what Polish tekkies do, what they think (including about "the law", "the establishment" and archaeologists/heritage professionals). I think you can also predict on its basis what is going to happen to the registration scheme the project postualates spending uncounted millions on.

What that scientific session does not cover is what will happen to the legislation if this new law ("compromise") gets passed. Because if truth were told, most academicians, most archaeologists in Poland (and not only) actually have a very foggy idea of, and nearly zero interest in, how the legislation governing historical sites, monuments and artefacts, actually works. This proposal dismantles part of it in a very damaging way, but they'll not talk about that, just witter away on "the soul of the detectorist" and how nice it would be to work together as one big happy cuddly family (but in a way that no longer has the bother of taking into account the conservation aspects).

To set the record straight, I've also been sent two rather poorly-worded "official statements" by archaeologists that are more self-important and unimaginative than persauasive and referring to real concerns. Where are archaeology's activists?

Meanwhile, just look a this, on the eve of Polish parliament voting in new concessions to site looters with metal detectors, how many of these denarii on sale on just one Polish online marketplace, apparently from Roman period sites in Poland were recovered (a) with a detecting permit, and (b) from hoards that weren't reported? There are eighty today (not counting the ones sold for inflated prices by one French dealer who gets his stuff elsewhere) last week there were over a hundred, next week, who knows? How many of them will there be when the proposed legislation introduces a self-registration scheme? My guess just as many, but do you know? The proposed new legislation "somehow" (now there is a coincidence/oversight, no?) removes almost all the existing sanctions on culprits (can'yt call them lawbreakers as the law will have been removed for them).

For the record, the names of the signatories of this disgraceful project, 29 parliamentarians of the PiS Party and two from the Kukiz Party, parliamentarian Grzegorz Braun (Confederation) seems to have dropped out. 
  1. (-) Waldemar Andzel;
  2. (-) Iwona Arent;
  3. (-) Piotr Babinetz;
  4. (-) Barbara Bartuś;
  5. (-) Joanna Borowiak;
  6. (-) Anna Ewa Cicholska;
  7. (-) Krzysztof Czarnecki;
  8. (-) Przemysław Drabek;
  9. (-) Anna Gembicka;
  10. (-) Kazimierz Gwiazdowski;
  11. (-) Marek Kuchciński;
  12. (-) Paweł Lisiecki;
  13. (-) Marek Matuszewski;
  14. (-) Kazimierz Matuszny;
  15. (-) Jan Mosiński;
  16. (-) Aleksander Mrówczyński;
  17. (-) Jacek Osuch;
  18. (-) Anna Paluch;
  19. (-) Jerzy Paul;
  20. (-) Marek Suski;
  21. (-) Andrzej Szlachta;
  22. (-) Stanisław Szwed;
  23. (-) Ewa Szymańska;
  24. (-) Jacek Świat; (-) Robert Telus;
  25. (-) Ryszard Terlecki;
  26. (-) Włodzimierz Tomaszewski;
  27. (-) Grzegorz Wojciechowski;
  28. (-) Grzegorz Adam Woźniak;
  29. (-) Stanisław Żuk


  1. (-) Paweł Kukiz;
  2. (-) Jarosław Sachajko;

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