Tuesday 27 February 2024

Lost Somewhere Along the Silk Roads

Idanthyrsus is the name of somebody writing on social media on cultural property protection ("Late Antiquity and Silk Road art history obsessive, Cultural heritage law"). The name is that of a Scythian king who (according to Herodotus IV, 127) threatened the Persian king that if he interefered with the ancestors;' graves, he would face retribution. So I was a bit puzzled by a reference they made on Twitter 

Reminder that the US gov't renewed a MOU on cultural heritage with the Chinese gov't last month in blatant contradiction to the statutory requirements of the CCPIA. @HeritageAtState, #CPACommittee and organizations like @CombatLooting that supported the renewal should be ashamed.
As far as I know, there were no procedural irregularities in that renewal under the US's wobbly old 1980s Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA). So I asked in what way renewal of existing measures had been "in blatant contradiction to the statutory requirements of the CCPIA". I really should not have. I get lectured:
A State Party engaged in the intentional destruction of cultural heritage (a crime against humanity), in this case Uyghur heritage (as recognized by the very same State Dept. as part of a genocide) can in no way be found to have met the requirement under Section 303(a)(1)(B).

From the inadequacies of the Act's wording, it seems the CCPIA was written by a team that possibly included several typing chimpanzees, but that is no excuse for Idanthyrsus not knowing what is what.

What does CCPIA "implement"? Well, despite its name, it does NOT implement the whole 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. It implements ONLY its Article 9 (see CCPIA section 303). Article nine of what? Article nine of a Convention that ONLY covers "the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property" (and that's the preventing of it). This is NOT the World Heritage Covention, Venice Charter, Intangible Heritage or any of the others that cover all that whatnot. It is a convention that regulates the movement of PORTABLE antiquities and the like. ONLY. So Article nine  refers to the prevention of the removal of portable objects.

By the same token, the US instrument that imnplements article nine of this Convention is obviously also restricted to portable antiquities. But only within the framework of the 1970 Convention. It is worth reminding colleagues, many of whom it seems rarely read the entire document, that the 1970 Convention above all upholds (Art. 1) the right of each state party to define for itself what is and what is not its cultural property ("property which [...] is specifically designated by each State as being of importance for [....] and which belongs to the following categories"). It DOES NOT have any measure for somebody outside to do that for them, impose their own ideas, or to choose to ignore what the sovereign state has established. That is the whole point of the document!  (What else could it be?)

So, despite the typing chimpanzees not spelling it out for a later dumbdown generation in the 2020s the "measures consistent with the Convention to protect its cultural heritage" are not referring to Uighur and Tibetan or whatever built heritage, intangible heritage or any such thing. The CCPIA asks whether the state party has taken steps to avoid the  "the illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of cultural property" or reduce "jeopardy from pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials" (well, yes, rather drastic ones are already in place in China - includiung the death penalty). And that is the entire scope of any mandate created by the US CCPIA for the US as an outside partner to enquire into the circumstances. It does not, and cannot, challenge Art. 1 - which the US agreed to becoming a state party to the Convention.

We've come across this US "policemean of the World" overeach before. This is the position of the dreadful "Committee for Cultural Policy" which I have called the "Witschonke Premise" after one of the more strident advocates of the position that in cultural heritage management we should all submit to the will and arbitration of an all-powerful USA.

So, pseudonymous Idanthyrsus, the renewal of the China MOU was not (apart from your imagination) "in blatant contradiction to the statutory requirements of the CCPIA". The only thing @HeritageAtState, #CPACommittee and organizations like @CombatLooting "should be ashamed" is that the restrictive CCPIA is still being applied in the US to an issue that for long has requirted the US (one of the biggest markets for antiquities in the world) not applying the 1970 UNESCO Convention in the current fragmentary and partial form, but as a whole. Shame on you, USA.

Monday 26 February 2024

A bit of Honesty and a Comfortable Assumption

 Bronze age hut circles at Shapley common, Dartmoor (Photograph: ASC Photography/Alamy)

This ended interestingly. British archaeologist Mary-Anne Ochota wrote an interesting Guardian article 'Road to ruins: how I discovered the magic of archaeology' with the byline:
"With millennia of history hidden beneath our feet, connecting with the ancient past offers endless fascination, and many ways to get involved".
Readers of this blog will know that if it is British archaeology, that "getting involved" will probably mean.... So quelle surprise as we read on down, we get to the red flag:
"The Portable Antiquities Scheme has a database of more than 1.7m finds made in England and Wales, mostly by metal detectorists. You can see what items have been found in your county, read guides to help identify particular types of artefacts or coins, and get advice on how to metal detect responsibly, and what to do if you find something [but nothing else on the subject of exploiting the archaeological record as a source of private collectables]". 

There is a very nice photo of Bronze age hut circles at Shapley common, Dartmoor (Photograph: ASC Photography/Alamy) in the article. I am very well aware that the author of the text will think that this oh-so-remote site is safe because it is protected by scheduling and under permanent pasture (and of course, since that is the mantra all British archaeologists absorb with their breakfast cereal, that "the majority of metal detectorists are responsible and law-abiding" - yeah yeah...), but the evocative photo invites us all to reflect on how vulnerable archaeological sites and the information they contain are to just one self-centred bloke with a metal detector, a spade, a few spare hours and deep pockets. And a site like this will have only a few diagnostic metal artefacts and the majority of them just below the surface.  

I could not help the kneejerk reaction, thinking that (like most British archaeologists encountering uncomfortable comments on metal detecting) the author of the text would block me:
Paul Barford · 3h
"Get involved [...] read guides to help identify particular types of artefacts or coins, and get advice on how to metal detect responsibly, and what to do if you find something". That's not archaeology, but object-centred Treasure hunting. Archaeology's not just about "finding old things".
Instead of a ban, this got a response (Mary-Ann Ochota): " No indeed. But clear information on responsible detecting behaviour, and what to do if you *do* find something (however you find it) is key. like the people digging a pond and finding gold coins. or the kid on a school trip. or the farmer spotting a shiny thing in the pigpen". So, really, though she had just agreed that archaeology is not about finding things, she still insists that finding things and telling the arkies about them is "getting involved in archaeology". I decided not to leave it there:
Paul Barford: · So then, if all "done responsibly", is this [link, https://ebay.co.uk/...] "getting involved in Archaeology"? (Labelling of individual artefacts and not flogging it off on eBay are among the things NOT in the PAS "Code of Best Practice...)
I linked to a random eBay-seling metal detectorist ("illnevergetananswernow") who caught my eye due to at least two bits of Anglo-Saxon metalwork - one probably from a cemetery (and the irony of the choice of name for an artefact hunter hoiking stuff out of the archaeological record preventing us from getting any information from it afterwards). I have no idea how "responsibly" he was taking stuff from the record in realtion to British archaeology's piss-poor Code of so-called "Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting in England and Wales". 

In my opinion, merely following this code with their metal detector does not make the ("responsible") artefact hunter a participant in archaeology. In no way. I was interested to hear what Mary-Anne Ochota thought of that. I was surprised but not surprised:
Mary-Ann Ochota 6hReplying to @PortantIssues and @guardian
In absolute honesty, I'm not sure what I think of this. Left in for example plough soil, they'd be lost. so where do they go? I don't think an overwhelmed and poorly indexed archive is necessarily better than ebay. (of course I absolutely appreciate that lots of finds aren't from disturbed contexts).
I'll wager this is the first text by a British archaeologists about the issues surrounding artefact hunting that starts by professing "In absolute honesty". I was also surprised to find a British archaeologist saying outright that the quality of the mitigating record-by-preservation is important, rarely do you hear that from her colleagues, the PAS is there, and that allegedly solves any problems "as long as items are recorded".That of course is totally not true. But most British archaeologists don't think, or don't care to think, these things through. Mary-Ann Ochota seems here to be a refreshing exception. 

Not entirely, though. The old trope gets trotted out: "left in for example plough soil, they'd be lost".  So artefact hunting is a form of "rescue", yeah yeah, we've heard it all before. Many times. Even from the PAS.

But what is rescued are "things" and if the recording is not done properly, loose things. They may have an "x-marks the spot" findspot accurate to the zillionth of a metre, but that, by itself [as all PAS "x-marks the spot" findspots are], is archaeologically virtually meaningless (except as a dot on a Kossinnist distribution map). It does not record where the object was removed from in relation to other types of evidence visible on the site surfgace or in its structure (even if it is a disturbed-surface site). Archaeology is the recovery and methodological interpretation of information, information in context. Again, we come back to the point that merely pulling loose items out of the ground is not "doing archaeolgy". It is actually destroying and discarding the information that is needed to do archaeology. Artefacts lying in situ, in cntext of other information are not "lost", that is the view of a "gimme-gimme" artefact collector. It is not an archaeological concept.

I think she also meant that "left in the soil, the object will disintegrate" - that is the usual argument. Often we get "power harrows: and "artificial fertilisers" added to that...  ("common sense, innit?"). I've addressed this a number of times (see below).  I'm not denying that there is anecdotal evidence (and a couple of case studies) that do show damage is occurring in ploughsoil, I would suggest that it is not as general a phonomenon that is commonly claimed and would like to see better evidence for this justification of supporting artefact hunters. I'll just say that in my view this is just a comfortable assumption to avoid taking any action.

Reading List on "Artefact Loss"

Wednesday 28 October 2015, 'Artefact Hunting, the "Lesser of Two Evils"? More on "Fragmentation"...'

Thursday 29 October 2015, Two Warsaw Chambers of Numismodeath

(while the experiment did disprove the tekkie assertions, the documentation was lost  Friday 27 November 2015,  Artificial Fertiliser (1)Artificial fertiliser (2);  The Artificial Fertiliser Experiment (3) Thursday 6 April 2017, 'The Chambers of Numismodeath')

Wednesday 14 October 2020, 'The Broken Brooch Fallacy', 

Friday 16 October 2020, 'Friday Retrospect: Finds Rescue by Hoiking (a repost with brief introduction relevant here, of a text from a decade ago: Sunday, 24 August 2014, 'The Tekkie Myth of Finds 'Rescue'..'). 


Saturday 24 February 2024

Dodgy Dealings in Antiquities in Iraq Tackled

Dealers and auction houses in the UK and US still sell apparently freshly-surfaced antiquities from Mesopotamia and the Middle East generally, with zero mention of any paperwork. Meanwhile in Iraq two antiquities smuggling networks are broken up in Saladin and Karbala. Is there a connection? Who did you say you got those cunies and cylinder seals from? (Iraqi News Agency, 'two antiquities smuggling networks arrested in Saladin and Karbala' 24.02.2024):
The Federal Intelligence and Investigation Agency announced today [...] that “detachments of the intelligence agency specialized in combating terrorism in Salah al-Din, and through its intelligence deployment, monitored information indicating the existence of a network for trading and smuggling antiquities”. The statement added, "Immediately, an intelligence work team was formed to verify the information and determine their whereabouts. After obtaining proper judicial approvals, the network was raided and one of the accused was arrested in possession of various antiquities".

He continued, “In another separate operation carried out by the detachments of the agency responsible for combating organized crime in Karbala, based on accurate intelligence information, during which it resulted in the arrest of five defendants [who] [...] frankly admitted to smuggling and trading in antiquities
The accused were referred to the competent authorities to receive just punishment. Note the implied connection with terrorism and organised crime here.

Friday 23 February 2024

Olbia Dolphins Seized on Moldavian Frontier Crossing


            Cute, eh? Dolphin shaped coin (Odesa Journal)                       

An attempt to smuggle abroad numismatic material looted in Ukraine abroad was thwarted and the items have been deposited in the local museum (The Odessa Archaeological Museum received treasures that were tried to be illegally exported abroad Odesa Journal 18 Jan, 2023)
Twenty seven dolphin coins of the V-I V centuries. BC will remain in the Odesa Archaeological Museum. They were transferred there for safekeeping, according to the court's decision. The coins were found in a parcel that was being taken to Moldova.[...] The ancient cargo was discovered on the border with Moldova back in 2019. Thirty-three ancient coins, arrowheads, and a patch were found in the package. It turned out that a collector mailed the artifacts. [...] The man admitted his guilt in court. The examination results showed that he tried to take three-bladed Scythian arrowheads, cast coins with the image of dolphins, and other coins from Olbia out of the country. Another coin is a bronze coin from the ancient city of Amis (the modern city of Samsun, Turkey)[...] According to the court's decision, the collector received a one-year suspended sentence. [...] Also, the man has to pay more than UAH 33,000 for examinations.
I am currently writing an article on the dolphin coinage on the antiquities market - it turns out that in the coin assemblage of the site, late coins of Amisos are quite common in the later levels of the site. The dolphin coins are interesting, they are found in large quantities, do seem to have been used as money, but .... we do not understand how. The fat that so many of the extant ones are loose looted finds of unknown grounding does not help much. Collectors have their lore about them, they are popular in collections because 'cute' or 'cool', but when you get them in closed contexts, it tiu=urns out that all the elaborate typologies that antiquitists like to make from their heaps of coins on a table collections are meaningless. The paper is shaping up nicely.

By the way, the place's name is Odesa, one 's', it's Russians and the supporters of their attempted colonisation of Ukrainian territory that call it "Odessa" in English. And in the time of this War, we should do all we can to avoid normalisation of Russification and colonisation.


Unesco Releases Gaza Strip Cultural Property Damage Assessment Report

Unesco has released a preliminary damage assessment report for cultural properties in the Gaza Strip. According to a 2nd of February 2024 press report, “as of 25 January 2024, UNESCO has verified damage to 22 sites since 7 October 2023 – 5 religious sites, 10 buildings of historical and/or artistic interest, 2 Depositories of movable cultural property, 1 monument, 1 museum, and 3 archeological sites”.

Looking at what they've been doing to the people for the last 141 days, it is difficult to resist the thought that perhaps the Israelis were hoping to get more in their attempt to achieve a Palestinian genocide, a 'final solution' to the 'Palestinian problem'.
Vignette: Reuters

Two Long Bloody Years of Living with "Z"

Today, 24th February, we enter the third year of the War that has followed the Russian Federation's totally unprovoked and infamous attack on its (and our) neighbour on this day. A completely unjustifiable colonialist landgrab attempt bringing so much damage, death, destruction through attacks on civilians, civilian infrastructure and homes and through illegal occupation. As result, alliances have been tested, some found wanting, but all decent people everywhere continue to stand with Ukraine in the spirit of "За нашу і вашу свободу" and unite in supporting the Ukrainian people who will bring down the atavistic, backward-looking, ideology of Putin's "Z" policies. Слава Україні, Героям слава..
Video: Illia Ponomarenko.

[I think this one, posted by Maksym Borodin, is well-done too:


In answer to any criticism that these films somehow glorify war, let us remember this truism:

Wednesday 21 February 2024

Syrian Artefacts in Heilbronn

Police in Baden-Württemberg (SW Germany) are investigating a man  in the city of Heilbronn over a suspicious collection of ancient Middle Eastern artifacts some of which were probably stolen from a Syrian museum  ( German man with ancient Syrian artifacts under investigation Deutsche Welle 21.02.2024)
Investigators [...] believe that the tablet [...] may have been stolen from a museum in Idlib, Syria. The man claimed to have acquired the tablet from an old Bavarian collection as an investment and for possible resale, but investigators found this claim to be false. "Investigations revealed that the artifact had, in fact, probably been illegally imported into Germany ... after being stolen from the museum in Idlib in Syria in 2015," investigators said. Also in the man's collection [...] were a collection of "ushabti" figurines [...] and a second cuneiform tablet, all of which have been seized by police.
The presence of the shabtis suggest he was a collector or dealer. The german polic e press release says the tablets were from 1975 excavations at Ebla, possibly this means they have been identified from photos in the excavation archive. No mention is made of the owner having any paperwork - as now required by German law. Were these artefacts purchased from ISIS?

UK Metal Detectorists and the Company they Keep

I look forward to reading some
so-called 'archaeologists' obits with
 the same fervour these shysters wait to read mine". 

Boorish Dorset Apeman
John Howland Great News! Posted on February 21, 2024 by John Howland Today I read joyous news that I know will gladden the hearts of many.

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Nigel Swift: Friend, Fighter, Legend

Interests: Looking, Aimless Rambling and Rambling Aimlessly.
Conclusions: None
Dislikes: Whiskered Lady Foxhunters, who set him off like a firework
(UPDATE, 17 Feb 2005, the day of the Ban - Hahahahaha!
How d'you like that you witches from Hell!!), and little else.
Likes: Laughing, Red Dwarf, Dylan Thomas, Tiswas (this site, really).
Earliest Recollection: Ascent of Everest by Hilary Benn, 1953.
Latest Recollection: September 1968, a lay-by outside Swindon.
Minders: See Rota".

It is with great sadness that I announce the passing of my friend, colleague and co-author Nigel Swift, who died peacefully on the night of February 19/20, 2024, after a long and courageous battle with illness. He was surrounded by his loving family, who gave him comfort and joy in his final days.

Nigel Swift graduated in Economics and Politics (University of London) and was a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. He has published articles and lectured at various universities on surveying-related topics. Following his early retirement in 2001, he expanded a keen interest in archaeological conservation issues.

Nigel was a remarkable person, who touched the lives of many with his kindness, generosity, humour, and passion. He was a loyal and supportive friend. He loved nature, especially butterflies, wildlife and landscape photography, was an avid conservationist, and active opponent of fox-hunting and other activities detrimental to the countryside. He also had a keen interest in history and archaeology, and in particular historical sites (especially prehistoric megaliths) in the landscape. Not content to be a passive consumer of heritage, Nigel's two interests intersected in a way that led to him becoming a fierce advocate for the protection of our archaeological heritage. 

This stage of his life began with his contributions to the 'Modern Antiquarian' forum (March 2003 onwards). A spinoff of this was the formation in 2004 of the grassroots goup "Heritage Action" (HA) of which Nigel was one of the founders and later became its long-term Chairman, leading this informal group of amateurs and enthusiasts from all walks of life with energy, dedication and direction. 

The group launched its online journal in blog form in March 2005 as "Heritage Journal". Its aim was to "promote awareness and the conservation of the incomparable but often-threatened heritage sites of Britain, Ireland and beyond".  It was later to transpire that that the seemingly obvious name was chosen without much thought what certain factions across the Atlantic thought a group called "Heritage Action" should be doing, which resulted in the journal being the recipient of texts full of neo-fascist/white supremecist hate and conspiracy theories. Despite this, the Journal continued steadfastly to advocate for the landscape heritage and protection of the archaeological information they contain. In this, Nigel and the group he led were more active and consistent than many professional archaeologists in Britain.

And then there were the metal detectorists.

I am not quite sure precisely when Nigel became concerned about this issue. It was before our first online contacts in (I think) about 2005. At first, he did not want to get the new group Heritage Action involved in the 'detector debate', but after a while found it increasingly impossible to ignore his convictions and remain silent. He began to say on various online platforms what many in the British archaeological establishment avoided saying about the conservation of the archaeological record in the face of mass removal of diagnostic artefacts from surface sites by collectors.

It was about this time that we began our online collaboration. One early product of this (2007) was the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter (the idea and text are Nigel's), but for seventeen years there was participation in online discussions on archaeological and metal detecting forums/discussion lists and work on a number of more formal texts together (not all of which, to my shame, have made it to print, yet).

Nigel was one of the best informed people in the UK on what metal detectorists get up to, and in particular what they say on their forums. Most archaeologists rarely go there, but Nigel considered that the best source for understanding metal detectorists was 'netnography' to observe what they said and did when they thought nobody was watching. Nigel pioneered this kind of work, spending many hours a week documenting his observations. This led to a specific kind of gamesmanship, where detectorists were trying to detect his several accounts and block him from seeing what was going on in the closed groups, and , failing abjectly (to judge from what he was sending me). 

There was a downside to this search for knowledge. His interest in finding out about artefact hunting and writing about it in the public domain led to Nigel's exposure to some exceptionally nasty attention from elements of the UK (and indeed part of the US) metal detecting fraternity. This took a number of forms. There was persistent name-calling, verbal personal attacks, insulting remarks. The metal detecting community produced and circulated (including on the British Museum's PAS forum)* fake homoerotic photos with Nigel's face photoshopped in with another guy. There were threats of physical violence too, an episode of stalking (reported to the police), two episodes of doxing with incitement of fellow detectorists "to pay him a visit", this is behaviour that went on, online and off, for years. Some of this insulting material is still online, but I am not going to link to it. 

In addition to that, the professional archaeological community was less than supportive. A number of detectorists report PAS FLOs telling their detecting "partners" to ignore the issues raised by Nigel. In particular that his Artefact Erosion Counter was mere ranting. Another archaeologist criticised the "logarithm" (sic) behind it. One academic archaeologist for some reason falsely accused him on social media of "harrassing young women" because he'd merely written questioning the position of a FLO who happened not to be a man. The PAS, the CBA and other archaeological bodies constantly sidelined any questions raised by Heritage Action activism. 

For me, this has a somewhat distressing context. Few knew at the time that Nigel had been disgnosed with terminal cancer and given the proverbial six months to live before I even met him. He had, however, the luck to find a doctor who managed to choose the right medicines. Because of this managed to live a life that until fairly recently, was from what he said in some of our frequent phone conversations passably decent a lot of the time, but this was interspersed every few months with low points that sapped his energy and seemed to be a harbiger of the end. Yet a number of times he pulled through and carried on as before. In one such inteval he visited the Staffordshire Hoard field and documented the traces of the ongoing speculative nighthawking that professional archaeologists were turning their backs to. One others he visited commercial rallies to see what was going on. Each week, he published a short pithy comment on Heritage Journal addressing an issue connected with current British "policies" (I use the term loosely) on artefact hunting and collecting. 

The series of Farmer Silas Brown posts is notable, through this persona Nigel raised a number of points, though they were lost on some in the detecting community who thought they were 'so clever' to recognise that this was "not a real person, because the public love us". 

As I said, all of this was studiously ignored by the Establisment, if they pretended they did not see what he'd put in the public domain, the jobsworths would not have to address the many issues raised. Yet, though living on borrowed time, he was convinced that there are serious heritage issues that in the public interest should not be allowed to be swept under the carpet. Nigel carried on for nearly two decades (in fact as he proudly told me some two years ago, his survival at that stage of the disease set some kind of a medical record), devoting a lot of his time to trying to get more engagement with the issues. From what I see, it would be hard to find many British archaeologists with that amount of dedication to the conservation of the archaeological resource. But then, Nigel was not, as he often remarked, an archaeologist

Nigel was never invited to any British archaeological conference to comment on policies and their effects, or share his deep knowledge of the UK detecting community. So there are no papers in conference proceedings. He was invited by French archaeologists and wrote a paper 'Fantaises, fictions et faussetés: quelques tristes réalités derrière la coopération metal-detectoristes-archéologues en Grande Bretagne pp. 243-260 [in:] Compagnon, G. (ed) 2010) Halte au pillage !, Paris, Errance, coll. « Les Hespérides ». There is a similar text forthcoming in a collected work in preparation. Of course there is also a large number of pithy remarks in a whole series of posts by Nigel in the Heritage Journal that will repay reading. Some themes repeat, but each text is a unique contribution to a debate that is long overdue. 

Artefact Hunting
All our articles from 2005 onwards on unnecessary exploitation and damage to the buried archaeological resource for recreation or profit – presented as a foil to the shameless pro-detecting public noise from detectorists and PAS…

Nigel was not afraid to speak his mind, challenge the status quo, and stand up for what he believed in. He earned the respect and admiration of many, even some of those who disagreed with him. Nigel will be greatly missed by his family, friends, and fellow heritage enthusiasts. He leaves behind a legacy of activism, inspiration, and friendship. He was a true legend, and we are lucky to have known him. At his request, there will be no formal funeral service, family and invited friends will be meeting on March 9th to celebrate a life exceptionally well lived, but his family add: 

Whilst we would be extremely happy to see you there, please do not feel obliged if your journey is long or if life gets in the way- Nigel would hate the idea of putting anyone out. You can stay at home and remember the twinkly-eyed old rascal just as well, in the sparkling stardust of the night. 

I'd like to end this with one of Nigel's many poems (this one from the Modern Antiquarian) that seems fitting to today's occasion: 


The Ridgeway (Ancient Trackway)   

A mere one thousand years ago,
King Alfred marched this crest of chalk
To fight the Danish foe,
And strained to see that very lark.
In this same Saxon blue.

Just two thousand years ago,
The feet of Rome stamped here and here
Upon this bouncing turf,
And glittering, ravenous conqueror’s eyes
Devoured these seemly, gentle hills.

From here, four thousand years ago,
The men of Bronze surveyed their works
Through eyes as wide as mine,
As wondrous Silbury, virgin white,
Bedazzled in it’s prime.

And here, six thousand years ago
Gazed Neolithic eyes
On wonders older still:
On tombs of Kennet, Avebury Henge
And ancient, ancient Windmill Hill.

Now they are gone, those mighty men,
Those Lords of all they saw,
And only I am left to walk
This high and winding lonely lane,
Whilst all around, on deep-etched hills,
Their proud, immortal marks remain.

What voice commands, what power compels
That such as they should go?
It is the same insistent call
As whispers in my ear:
There is a time for mortal men,
You may not linger here.

Perhaps, like mine, their spirits soared,
Above this magic land,
Perhaps they both rejoiced and cried
At beauty unconfined,
Perhaps this final earthly view
Blazed in dying eyes.

Perhaps that spark has never died,
And essences remain.
For see that joyous soaring lark
And hear it’s blissful cries.
It could not be more free than I,
Nor joyful nor fulfilled:
Perhaps no power, no time, no death
Can take me from these hills.

*That forum has now gone, the photos were one of the reasons why the PAS decided to abandon this as a way of promoting interaction between "finders" and the public. It showed the general public all too clearly what kind of people take up metal detecting.

Monday 19 February 2024

Xi'an airport: Seizure of nearly 500 Smuggled Artefacts

The Xi'an airport customs in Northwest China's Shaanxi Province have recently seized a total of 494 prohibited Chinese cultural relics dating from the Han (206 BC-AD 220) to Qing (1644-1911) dynasties during outbound inspections (Lou Kang, 'Xi'an airport customs seizes 494 illegally exported cultural relics' globaltimes Feb 18, 2024).

According to China Youth Daily on Friday, customs officers at the outbound inspection site noticed an unreported checked baggage while supervising outbound flights. Upon inspection, it was found that the checked baggage contained a total of 672 cultural relics, including glazed bowls, bronze mirrors, and ancient coins, which were not declared to the customs.

After the report by the Shaanxi Provincial Cultural Relics Appraisal Center, it was determined that 494 items were general cultural relics on China's list of items prohibited from being exhibited abroad. These included glazed bowls, bronze mirrors, bronze smoking pots, ancient coins, and blue and white porcelains from various dynasties such as Han, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, and Qing, spanning a wide range of time and categories.
Probably the remaining 178 objects were modern fakes.

Saturday 10 February 2024

Arrested for a Tourist Fake

     Egyptian rip-off tourist crap from Ebay.   


A new slant on the constant stream of stories where the photos show at a glance that over-enthusiastic border guards or police have not the faintest idea what real antiquities look like and they are constantly seizing fakes and then broadcasting their "success" in the international media before the item has been checked (Rebecca Ann Hughes, 'French tourist jailed in Egypt after souvenir mistaken for 4500-year-old antiquity' Yahoo News Fri, 9 February 2024). A French lawyer on a ten-day trip to Egypt was falsely accused of trying to smuggle an antiquity home. A statue she had purchased from the shopping arcade of the Winter Palace Hotel in Luxor for €250 the day before her departure led to her being arrested at airport and held in a police station in a room in Luxor police station with 40 other people for eight days. She was then charged with possession and trafficking of antiquities.
“I was very attracted by this object, a small character dressed in a loincloth, seated, holding his hands on his knees. I had no idea that he would not bring me luck,” she told French paper Le Figaro. [...] Two days later, Nathalie appeared before a French-speaking judge. To demonstrate that the statue was a copy, the gallery owner was called to give the address of the manufacturing workshop where similar models lined the shelves. The judge declared the proceedings halted, but still didn’t give Nathalie a formal dismissal. Eventually, the intervention of the French ambassador in Cairo, Éric Chevallier, ensured she was put on a plane to Paris.
Of course, it is very difficult, isn't it, to find a competant archaeologist in Luxor in February (right in the middle of the digging season) who would be able to say what this item actually was. Experience shows that the vast majority of fakes sold to tourists look nothing at all like real antiquities and can be spotted a mile off. I'll assume that this lady had a very good eye and taste and found one that was much better than the average.

Hat tip: Marc Balcells.

Thursday 1 February 2024

What can one say? Quarter of a Century of PAS and CBA Outreach, and this is where we are in the UK...

In Polish, there is an expression "ręce mi opadają" that has no English equivalent. It expresses the idea that you think something is utterly futile. I think attempting to discuss things with the bulk of UK metal detectorists is pretty futile. From the things they write and say it seems that a huge proportion of them are as thick as the proverbial planks. So it is pretty apposite here. The remarks below are from some metal detectorist (De. William Shephard) writing last night in a comment for some reason to my recent text on self-reflection. It shows an extreme lack of it:

My dear fellow, how are you? I see that bounder Rushton and one of his obnoxious band of detector-wielding sacrilegious scavengers have once again hit the headlines by uncovering a magnificent example of a Medieval Gold Noble. I am so sorry that the finder destroyed the first six inches of strata deemed to be of the utmost importance to the biased bigots posing as serious archaeologists, but after witnessing the wanton destruction caused in uncovering the remains of Richard III, I, and many more serious minded people consider that argument no longer holds water. So, following the legal path, the coin will be subjected to a Coroner's Inquest, then there will be two options available to the Coroner, option one, whether was it a casual loss, or, option two, whether it was deliberately buried to be recovered at a later date. Option one is the obvious answer resulting in the coin being returned to the original finder and then it is up to the landowner/ farmer whether he wants the finder to sell it and split the money or the finder to keep it for himself. I think the first option would be the favourite which would, I assume result in a museum purchasing the coin where it would be put on display to bring untold joy to the great unwashed masses. Or maybe he should have left it where it was in the middle of a cold, damp, field?

A noble is an English gold coin of the 14th and 15th centuries (later replaced by an angel). It was quite a high value coin, so difficult to talk of a "casual loss".  But what attracts attention here is Dr Shephard's ignorance of the Treasure Act. Single gold coins do not undergo a Coroner's inquest, and the Treasure Trove determinations went out with the 1996 Treasure Act so all this cobblers about casual loss/intent to recover is precisely that. Who is this guy's FLO, and what do they do all day, if not educate (outreach to) people like this? 

Pantikapaion Silvery Coin

South East Asian EBay seller Antique Galary plaza  (255 100% positive) located in Bangkok, Thailand has a tempting antiquity for sale: "Greece, Bosporus, Pantikapaion Silver Stater Coin 20mm. - 6.60 grames" for a mere US $299.00 or Best Offer (Free Standard International Shipping)

This silver stater coin from Pantikapaion, dating back to between 450 BC and 100 AD, is a truly remarkable piece of ancient history. With intricate details and a weight of 6.60 grams, this coin is a must-have for any collector of ancient Greek artifacts. The coin was manufactured in Greece and features a beautiful design that captures the essence of that era. This coin can be a great addition to any coin collection or as a gift for history enthusiasts.
Oh yes. The specifications are a little puzzling:
"Historical Period: Greek (450 BC-100 AD)
Cleaned/Uncleaned: Cleaned
Composition: Silver [oh yeah? PMB]
Provenance [sic PMB]: Ownership History Not Available [shame, eh? PMB]
Era: Ancient [sic PMB]
Grade: MS 70 [wot? PMB]
Country/Region of Manufacture: Afghanistan" [uhhhhh....? PMB]

Well, lookie-lookie here, what have we here? First of all, the seller does not attempt to describe it. Does he even know what it shows?
The obverse shows the head of a bearded satyr (Pan) facing three-quarters left, with long dishevelled hair and pointed horse’s ear.
The reverse is a bit disjointed but shows a winger figure something like a lion-griffin standing left on large wheat or barley head, horned head facing, spear in mouth, off foreleg raised, with the inscription Π-A-N.
I think this is supposed to be a hemidrachm of the fourth century BC but that would have a weight of around 2-2.5ish gm. and be smaller.

Far from being from "Greece", this type of coin is from Panticapaeum (Pantikapeion, Panticapaeon or Pantikapaion), in the Tauric Chersonese/Chersonesu/os that is just outside modern Kerch, at the eastern tip of Crimea .... RUSSIAN OCCUPIED Ukraine. So how did it get on the market, eh? Where's the documentation of legal excavation and export?

That's the first thing any collector should ask.

Second thing, any collector should be taking a second and third look at any "antiquity" being sold out of Banghkok. It is not an area of the world that was acquiring antiquities fromn the classical world in the heyday of the "good old days of collecting" (18th/19th century to about the 1920s) but it is an area where today there are LOTS of fakers and dodgy dealers>

Any collector should (in the case of coins) look at the stated weight, and ask themselves if this is (a) silver - does not much look like it to my eye and (b) if this is a struck coin, not cast. Now it has bold crazing, often touted as a sign of genuine old coins - but this looks a bit 'off' to me. Secondly those bobbly bits looking like casting bubbles on the obverse are a big no-no for me. As is the generally 'soapy' appearance over all, the way the raised design merges gently into the background (so not suggesting a cut die) and the disjointed design of the reverse suggests to me that the maker of the mould really has no real concept of the "reality" of the mythological figure from the classical past being depicted. It looks too much to me like it has been slavishly copied from a picture with no real understanding of the form of the depicted subject. This is often a dead givewaway that something is of modern manufacture by an artisan working outside the cultural traditions of the authentic (and has never actually seen a lion-griffin, dead or alive).

The seller is either very honest or clueless in (a) claiming it is from "Afghanistan" and (b) presenting the picture of the edge of this thing. Instead of showing a flan that has been distorted by being flattened with no small force between two opposing dies during striking, we can see very clearly a series of toolmarks intended to remove..... a casting flash (!). We can also see how the metal has coolecd differentially in contact with the face of the mould and deeper inside the casting.

the question that is of interest to me, is this object a product of a Ukrainian workshhop or Thai one? The range of other products sold by the same seller seems to suggest the latter.

I'd buy it, it is not an illegally excavated ancient object smuggled out of Crimea, it is an interesting simulacrum (not a replica as the size is wrong) and thus collectable. But not at that price. Let the seller admit what it really is and price it accordingly.

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