Friday 31 May 2024

Stalbridge, Hoard or Grave? Questions About a Pay-to-dig Commercial Rally in England [Updated]


Artefact hunter John Belgrave, 60, a retired pensions consultant from Purley, Surrey, made a newsworthy find at a pay-to-dig rally  in the village of Stalbridge, near Sherborne, Dorset, in 2020. He uncovered a Bronze Age sword, an axe head and bronze bangle reportedly lying in a deposit together (Steven Morris, Detectorist unearths Bronze Age hoard after getting lost on treasure hunt Guardian Thu 30 May 2024).  He said he discovered he'd been separated from the group and headed to higher ground to try to spot them "when he made what he has called the find of a lifetime".

His device activated as he walked along and when he dug down he uncovered a rapier sword dating back to the Middle Bronze Age.
Just in passing, metal detectors do not have a mind of their own. They do not "activate" themselves. Either Mr Belgrave had it turned on, or he had it turned off. But let us remember that he says he did not know where he was, whether he was still in the area where the landowner had given permission to search, or not. The rest of the rally participants were nowhere in sight. Anyway, when the machine beeped, he dug down "eight inches". This raises the question of whether the find was made as widely-scattered pieces in ploughsoil, or in a relatively discrete zone eight inches down in pasture?
The 61cm (2ft) rapier had been deliberately broken into three pieces and placed in the ground alongside the remains of a wealthy landowner. Unusually, the hilt, though cast in bronze, was shaped to mimic a wooden handle. Only two similar rapiers have been found in Britain before and they were incomplete. As well as the rapier, a palstave axe head and a decorative arm bangle were found, presumably buried as an offering. Dorset Museum and Art Gallery raised £17,000 to buy the objects, with the proceeds shared between Belgrave and the landowner. Belgrave [...]  paid £20 to go on the rally on private farmland but became separated from the group. Belgrave said: “There was a group of between 40-50 detectorists there ...

So this unnamed landowner got 800-1000 quid to let these people on his land and walk off with whatever they found that was not reportable as Treasure, and then another 8000 quid on top of that. And what archaeological information was lost? The PAS record of this find [SUR-68C46E] was made in February 2020, and if we look, according to the database, it is the ONLY FIND reported from Stalbridge in 2020. There are no other finds from this commercial search on record. Who was the organiser? Where is this "responsible metal detecting"? 40-50 detectorists, the only one who it seems reported something is the guy who had to, by law, because the hoard fell under the Treasure legislation. The PAS database reveals that all the rest just walked off with the loot. One in fifty. 

The story of how Belgrave became separated from the group and made the discovery is puzzling: 

Belgrave said: “There was a group of between 40-50 detectorists there and they had searched the land before [but had not found the hoard previously? PMB] [...] “I tagged along and didn’t know anyone there. Somehow I got left behind and lost and so I walked to high ground in a field and that is when I got a strong signal for this find of a lifetime.
There are a number of problems with this trite story of "how I found this hoard on a rally", like the satellite photos showing the whole area around Stalbridge as pretty boringly flat, with no commanding hills - so where was this "high ground"? There were no witnesses to the tekkie's "hoard dance" then? And any photos of the items in situ? And those "remains of a wealthy landowner"? [Update: I checked this with the local FLO, who has not replied, but one from a neighbouring county - who actually dealt with the find confirms that the journalist probably misunderstood or invented that bit of the story; neither have replied to my question whether there will be a paper publication of this hoard and its implications beyond a potentially ephemeral digital record in the PAS database].  

Questions About a Pay-to-dig Commercial Rally in England

Steven Morris, Detectorist unearths Bronze Age hoard after getting lost on treasure hunt Guardian Thu 30 May 2024 

Belgrave [...]  paid £20 to go on the rally on private farmland but became separated from the group. Belgrave said: “There was a group of between 40-50 detectorists there ...

So this unnamed landowner got 800-1000 quid to let these people on his land and walk off with whatever they found that was not reportable as Treasure. What archaeological information was lost? This is just one of many commercial pay-to-dig rallies that are held up and dpown the country to serve Britain's 40k acquisitive artefact hunters. How sustainable is this activity? 

Thursday 30 May 2024

Valuing the PASt in England


                          "Bigger than yer average torcBigger than yer average torc"                    

What value can we place on the past? In Britain, a thief took a fancy to a Brionze Age torc in a provinciual museum, and so they took it. Now the museum has responded: Helen Burchell, Reward offered in search for stolen Bronze Age gold BBC 30.05.2024. 

The charity Crimestoppers is offering a £5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of thieves who stole two Bronze Age treasures from a museum. A 3,000-year-old gold torc and a bracelet were taken during a break-in at Ely Museum in Cambridgeshire on 7 May.
>It is interesting to compare that to how much the museum paid to have it temporarily on display in a showcase they could not secure: . It was valued at £220,000, split 50:50 between the finder and landowner, but with the total loss of any archaeological context [quite obviously, this is not a "ploughsoil find"] Ely Museum buys Bronze Age torc found in field 25 September 2017
The museum has been able to pay for the torc after receiving a grant of £138,600 from National Heritage Memorial Fund, plus grants from the Arts Council, Art Fund, Headley Trust, Museums Association and donations from members of the public. [...] Ros Kerslake, chief executive of the memorial fund, said without its funding "the torc could have ended up in private hands and been lost from public view".
"Thankfully, this extraordinarily rare, precious and beautiful piece of history will now be on permanent display at Ely Museum, helping to tell the story of Bronze Age civilisation in and around the fens more than 3,000 years ago," she said.
Or not. What actually would "tell the story of Bronze Age civilisation in and around the fens more than 3,000 years ago" better than a loose "ooo-ah!" trophy item with some unfounded dumbdown speculation about "why it is so big" would be full knowledge of the archaeological context that thing (and who knows what else?) had been lying in for those three thousand years. Tell me I am wrong, and why.

Tuesday 28 May 2024

Debate is in the Air: Let's Get it Out in the Open.

Octogenerian metal detectorist, retired microbiologist Dr William Shephard claims to have a pro-detecting archaeologist ("lovely finds from his dig last Sunday") who is his "bulwark", and has thrown down a challenge in the name of British artefact hunters
28 May 2024 at 12:50:

Well, Paul, I, and Mr. Rushton would be prepared to meet with you at any location you prefer, to discuss the merits, or otherwise of metal detecting, do you agree to such a meet?
Blogger Paul Barford saidBlogger Paul Barford said...
Two against one eh?

You have still not explained who this "Mr Rushton" is. But, assuming he's a pro-detecting archaeologist, yes, I'll take you on.

Let us do a Hancock-Dibble -style debate, same format, film it and post it up for public information.

But to even it up, so it is not the two of you against my views alone, I ropose asking Flint Dibble - who has already informed me (pers.comm.) that he'd be up to doing a debate with artefact hunters. He has the broad knowledge and experience that would inform such a debate (He's also a Marie-Sklowdowska Curie Research Fellow, in the School of History, Archaeology and Religion at Cardiff University which makes it appropriate). So yes, please contact Dr Dibble and see if he's interested in talking to you. Maybe he could provide a venue there in Cardiff and there'd be an audience of students at least.

As a moderator, I would like to suggest Mike Heyworth, who has also some broad experience with public archaeology and metal detecting issues/PAS liaison. He would be an ideal moderator I think, if he'll agree. Try him.

I'd also like to do it the way Joe Rogan did, starting off with a presentation, and incorporating short video presentations with a couple of talking heads, I have two people in mind who have something to say on this issue.

As for timing, I probably am not free until mid-September.
Let us do it, but do it properly.

Vignette:  film

US returns to Italy ANOTHER $80 million-worth of stolen artifacts

There has been a new 'repatriation' (Barbie Latza Nadeau, US returns $80 million-worth of stolen artifacts to Italy CNN May 28, 2024). The return to Italy was possible thanks to the investigations conducted by the Carabinieri and various Public Prosecutor's Offices together with the New York District Attorney's Office and Homeland Security Investigations. The repatriation ceremony was held in the offices of the Central Institute for Restoration’s in central Rome, where some 600 seized and returned works of art were put on display
"Ranging from life-sized bronze statues to tiny Roman coins, from oil paintings to mosaic flooring, the pieces span the 9th century BC to the 2nd century AD and amount to just one year’s stolen and trafficked art confiscated by Manhattan prosecutor Col. Matthew Bogdanos’ team and returned to Italy.

The trafficked works[...] were sequestered in New York and New Jersey last year. The returned works, together with 60 items repatriated last year, are worth more than $80 million (or roughly €73.6 million) — but are just a drop in the bucket when it comes to artwork still hidden away in private warehouses and on display in museums in the United States [...]

Most of the recent items returned to Italy were dug out of clandestine excavations or stolen from churches, museums and private individuals [...] Among the items on display on Tuesday was a cuirass and two bronze heads dating back to the 4th-3rd century BC that were confiscated from a gallery owner in New York. [name?]

There was also an Umbrian bronze statue depicting a warrior stolen from an Italian museum in 1962 that was found in a well-known American museum. [name?] And a mosaic floor depicting the myth of Orpheus enchanting wild animals with the sound of the lyre from the mid-3rd to mid-4th century AD was recovered after being stolen from a clandestine excavation in Sicily in the early 1990s. It was confiscated from the private collection of a well-known New York collector [name?]".
THat's just one DA's office in one US city ("Bogdanos said the $80 million of items does not include a further 100 items his team has just seized in the US'). 

Saturday 25 May 2024

Detectorists Hate Catholics? [UPDATED]


                Teotokos differently               

A British metal detectorist, incensed that he found a picture of Mary, the Mother of God somewhere on this blog and "deduces"null on that basis that the blog's author must be a "devout Catholic" will not accept that there are other pictures of mythological, historical and other people here and protests (23 May 2024):
I care not regarding your deities, their connection to "culture" is non-existent. Culture is the shared belief leading to the eventual well-being of people, how does slavery, infanticide, filicide, genocide, misogyny, racialism, ethnic cleansing, rape, and many more evils supported by Christianity contribute to "Culture?"
I guess that in British schools, they no longer do Sparta, Spartacus, ancient Carthage, Romulus and Remus, the massacre of the Midianites, ancient Greek (or any other) patriachy, the classical world's division of "us" and "barbaricum" (debate on the invention of racism in Classical Antiquity), expulaion of Jews from Judah by the Neo-Babylonian Empire, expulaion of Jews from Israel by the Romans in the 130sAD, The Armenian genocide (1916-17) and the Greek genocide (1914-22) by the Ottomans, Boudica's two daughters, Ganymede, the Sabine women, and many more phenomena that quite clearly are not being taught in UK's metal-detecting schools. A shame that Brits like this should be mouthing off their utter ignorance and prejudices creating the impression of a post-Brexit Britain that is now dragging along behind the rest of Europe when it comes to understanding the world.

Update 28.05.2024
In the comments: "as children, we had to salute a plaster statue of the ''Virgin''...". that rather explains it. Like when you read Erich von Daniken's early books, you see that his "God was an astronaut" theories were hitting back at a religious childhood the Saint-Michel International Catholic School in Fribourg, Switzerland (see his 1974 infamous Playboy interview)

Not Just Metal Detectorists, is it?


Bill Farley, ArchaeologyTube @ArchaeologyGame · May 19
You know, before starting to do this online public archaeology stuff, I never would have guessed that people could be this obnoxious about topics they know nothing about.

Another click-bait searching pseudo-archaeologist's social media account ( has the banner  below addressed to Bill Farley an archaeologist who engaged with him, explaining "I make videos that are often focused on scientists letting their biases ruin their perspectives... So I don't see this as bad, to me, it's job security 😘". In other words, he expects to make his money out of posting anti-science videos, and sees people trying to put the record straight and do outreach to his readers as a threat to his profits: 

But for good ol' chip-on-yer-shoulder personal abuse, you still can't beat the metal detectorists:
William Shephard has left a new comment on your post '"Are we being LIED TO about ancient history?":
Are you not ashamed of yourself Paul? Hated by the metal detectorists who uncover history where you would never, ever think of looking, reviled even by members of your chosen profession, my dear fellow I know you are a devout Roman Catholic, a brainwashed victim of intense pressure but, pause a while, there is still hope, reject one of your beliefs, [the religious bullshit]and that may open the door to a realisation that you may be wrong, big time.
While attacking somebody because of their religious beliefs may be part of the Kinderstube 'oop North' in the UK, it would help if the crass jerk had not got it completely wrong "big time". I am not a Catholic. My mother-in-law is. 

I would question the term "uncover history" when artefact looting is concerned. It is no more "finding history" than finding a smashed snail-shell dropped on the concrete path where a blackbird has finished its lunch is "finding ecology". The PAS needs to do more work with Britains tekkie buffoons. It has not made much headway so far in its (now) third decade. 

Wednesday 22 May 2024

Let us See [UPDATED]


EBay dealer made me an offer (reduced from  US $900.00  to $800.00). My reply:

 No thanks, I "watched" this coin as an example of what seems to me to be a moderately dangerous fake. The coin looks to be cast rather than struck.  If you paid a lot of money for it, in my opinion there is a high chance that you were cheated - before you sell it as an authentic artefact, you need to get an experienced specialist to look at it - maybe a metal analysis too. You also need to say what its collection history is and whether any export licences exist for it to reach Thailand legally.  Good luck. 
The use of a broken caliper as a scale (diam c. 16mm) really looks unprofessional. The legend is ANTONIN AVG PONT TRP III[]. rev" CONCORDIA AUG. I am not in my library at the moment, so cannot search for this coimn, but I have feeling I'd not find it. First of all, correct me if I am wrong, but that PONT looks a bit odd if this is Antoninus Pius as Augustus. I suspect this is a nonsense inscription (?). Above all an aureus of that emperor would be around 19mm in diameter and weigh 7.2/7.3g. This one is 16mm and weight is (they say) 3.9gm. Is this coin in fact modelled on a denarius (which are about that diameter)? So let us see how the seller reacts.

UPDATE 25.05.2024 

Seller Uddiyana Art (308) 100% positive (" PrivateRegistered as private seller, so consumer rights stemming from EU consumer protection law do not apply") Ignored my message. Seller's other items.
Some of their "Gandhara-stuff-without-mention-of-export-licences"  is quite nicely done (and - ahem -evenly patinated), others less-so. Most of their stuff is overpriced. 

"Ancient" Vase Fantasies Again: UPDATE Matt Beall



Some people never learn, you can tell 'em and its like water off a duck's back. So Matt Beall, having set his pal Luke Caverns on me for discussing his fantasies about his "perfectly-round-might-be-lost-technology"..."ancient Egyptian stone vase" has just published another - er, another "perfectly-round-might-be-lost-technology"..."ancient Egyptian stone vase". And just to stave off any criticisms, and show why he is so confident that this is a real ancient vase... he shows the piece of paper. At the top it has the dealer's name. My ears prick up. It is a known name. There is a thread on this business on a collectors' forum I presume Mr Beall will have come across researching his artefact. I've written about them twice:  "Emptor, Caveat and Do Your Homework" Saturday 23 April 2022, and "A Lady and her Scarab" Thursday 14 April 2022.

But let's look at the claimed collection history: there are three families named - but I have not found any other reference to their collections. Then it's a "French family" and "inherited" within that unnamed family, and then the new owner IS named.

Where it was before "1962" is not given. Mr Beall's belief that this piece of paper authenticates this object relies on the belief that in 1962 there were no lathes in stonemasons' yards that could turn a stone object. Yeah, right. Get a vase from a proper archaeological contet Mr Beall, not off the market. What there is not to understand?

UPDATE 25.05.2024
Antiquities buyer Matt Beall who yesterday was claiming he was posting stuff on social media about the vases he bought in order to "share" and learn what people think seems not to be interested in learning what happens when archaeologists get shown a dodgy artefact with inadequate documentation. So now hwe's blocked me. To what extent is any of this "alt.archaeology" stuff a real intellectual curiosity and desire to learn (and cvontribute) and how much is it attention-seeking (look-at-me-what-I've-got/what-controversial-thing-I-said) clickbait? I suspect a lot of the latter. 

Friday 17 May 2024

Night of Museums 2024

Night of Museums 2024 in Warsaw
This year it is the 20th anniversary edition of the Night of Museums. In Warsaw, 312 institutions are registered to take part in this year's campaign and have prepared 336 events, most of them especially for this night. Nearly 50 institutions will take part in the Night of Museums for the first time.

Many museums in Ukraine have been destroyed or closed because of the War. In Saratov, Volga region, Russia, a "Museum of the Special Military Operation", welcomes children and adults for a "Night in a Museum" with "real life experience". There is another in Nizhny Novgorod, also on the Volga, in the former premises of the House of Books. Russian museum managers are a breed apart.

"Are we being LIED TO about ancient history?"


                    Screen grab from You Tube video - fair use for purposes of criticism                         

For some reason, Elon Musk's Twitter now insists on filling my Twitter page with time-wasting, mind-rottingly vacant pseudo-archaeological crap. It would not be so bad ("multiple points of view") if it were not abundantly clear that the people writing these texts are deliberately shunning any opportunity to get better acquainted with the material they are warbling about. They know there is another side to the story, but they will not make the effort to actually look with any degree of application or comprehension at it. It's more fun to believe conspiracies and mysteries. So, it turns out that among the stuff one can find out there, You Tuber Luke Caverns [the Texas typo-hunting anthropology graduate (he says) whose recent output indicates that he he simply does not understand that unprovenanced antiquities from the market cannot be used as "proof" of anything], has recently published a pretty eye-popping "public information" video: "Are we being LIED TO about ancient history? - Graham Hancock's "Ancient Apocalypse. There is a word in the Polish language for this type of thing. 

Published on You Tube by Luke Caverns  Nov 25, 2022 (6,067 views)

This looks like clickbait to me. Caverns writes:
"With the rise of research from the likes of Graham Hancock, Randall Carlson, Robert Schoch and the late John Anthony West, we're beginning to see the emerging sentiment that the scientific/archaeological community is a dogmatic, hierarchical "Good Boys Club" that attempts to silence its skeptics and opposition".
He probably means old boys. The argument he's making here is very unclear, it's all over the place, on the one hand it's a fawning puff-piece for Graham Hancock, while pretending to be adding nuance to that man's ideas (note though that he calls Hancock's pole-shifting "Fingerprints of the Gods" a "novel" - why?).

Caverns totally ignores the background history of the "Atlantis" genre of pseudoarchaeology (De Camp 1971), ideas originating from the 1870s in the likes of Augustus Le Plongeon (1825–1908) after his investigations of the Maya ruins in Yucatán and James Churchward (1851–1936) in a series of books of the 1920s and 1930s, beginning with his 'Lost Land of Mu'. Then its history enters a phase where in European historiography it is mixed up (Kurlander 2017) in the völkisch-esoteric politics and ideology of pre-War Germany , Alfred Rosenberg's 'Myth of the Twentieth Century', etc. and  so on.  Hancock is by no means the innovator he and his devotees make out. But when the unsavory roots and intellectual associations of these ideas are pointed out, they get all huffy. 

Caverns even brings portable antiquities and collectors into the equation... Looking into the camera from his attic room, in all seriousness he comes out with this: 
"I won't get into specific names, sites or situations but a more explicit example of moral corruption in Archeology are the organizations over the heads of young hard-working archaeologists. There are places in the world where the government itself carries out secret archaeological digs to sell artifacts on the black market. Now are these artifacts evidence pertaining to an ancient Lost Civilization that need to be hidden from the general public? Or is it more likely that many faceless nameless billionaires would be willing to pay exorbitant amounts of money to own several thousand-year-old artifacts that can't be found anywhere else in the world? It's most likely the latter."
This guy cites no evidence for this accusation of foreign heritage professionals, but the photo he shows in the video to bolster his claim of this conspiracy-theorist "secret government" organization is.... of the storeroom under the New York shop of Mehrdad Sadigh the fake seller that was all over the international press three years ago. What a clown. Caverns is trying to pull the wool over his audience's eyes in the search for lucrative internet clicks with tabloid style "shock-horror-sensational" content with no backup. 

As I say, he cites no sources, but it is possible that this is a half-remembered rehashing of Jonathan Tokely-Parry's justifications, or some stuff thrown around by the antiquities dealers' lobbyists.  What the young wannabe scholar fails to mention is the roles of dealers and US dealers (like Sadigh) in particular, in damaging and corrupting the archaeological record so that people like his collector friend with the vases I discussed can "own a piece of the past". 

De Camp, Lyon Sprague (1971) [1954]. Lost Continents: Atlantis Theme in History, Science and Literature. Dover Publications.

Kurlander, Eric 2017.'"One Foot in Atlantis, One in Tibet". The Roots and Legacies of Nazi Theories on Atlantis, 1890-1945' in Leidschrift 32, no. 1 (January 2017): 81–101.

Thursday 16 May 2024

Are Archaeologists Talking About Looting? Nope.

Oosterman, Naomi, and Cara Grace Tremain. 2024. “Are Archaeologists Talking About Looting? Reviewing Archaeological and Anthropological Conference Proceedings from 1899–2019Are Archaeologists Talking About Looting?Reviewing Archaeological and Anthropological Conference Proceedings from 1899–2019.” International Journal of Cultural Property 1–18.

The impetus for this study was a review of the Society for American Archaeology (SAA) 86th Annual Meeting program in 2021. Finding that no single poster or presentation referenced looting or antiquities trafficking despite these issues being ethical considerations that all SAA members are expected to recognize, we sought to investigate whether this was an irregularity – perhaps due to the virtual format of the meeting – or whether it was more common than not. For a broader understanding of if, how, and where these topics are discussed by archaeologists outside of the SAA, we expanded the investigation and studied the archives of 14 other archaeological and anthropological conferences. The results of the study show that despite there being an overall increase in mentioning looting and antiquities trafficking at conferences, it remains a niche and infrequently discussed topic.

pp 12-13

"Figure 1 shows an increase in the discussion of our keywords from the mid-1980s, but starts to gain more momentum and consistency beginning from 1999 (approx.), taking off in 2003. There were no observations between 1899 and 1934 in our data. The first mention in our data was observed in 1935 at the AIA. Observations remained sporadic until 1985. Since 2003, there have been at least ten presentations dedicated to art and heritage crimes with the largest volume of presentations in one conference taking place in 2015 at the EEA". 


Vovchansk (Вовчанськ) Chuhuiv Raion, Kharkiv Oblast

                               Ruski Mir                                        
Ukraine's Defense Ministry confirmed that Russian infantry groups have entered Vovchansk in Kharkiv Oblast and are trying to gain a foothold in the northern part of the city. The city is home to 17,459 people (before the War it was 20,484). Around 82% of the population are Ukrainian-speaking. Vovchansk was first settled in 1674 by Ukrainian migrants from Dnieper Ukraine and designated as a guarding settlement in the northern part of the so-called Wild Fields (Дике Поле - Dyke Pole). In April 1780 it was officially renamed as Vovchansk and became an administrative centre of Volchansk Uyezd in the Kharkov Governorate. 

The city has a number of cultural monuments. The Historical and Regional Museum in VovchanskThe Historical and Regional Museum in Vovchansk (42 Aviatsiina St) was founded in 1912, it is one of the oldest local history museums of the Kharkiv region. It was created in 1912 at the initiative of the scientist-archaeologist, tireless collector of local history materials, Vasyl Babenko (1877 — 1955). The museum's collection, ncludes over 4,000 exhibits. Unfortunately, during World War II, the museum was destroyed, but the collection was saved. Vovchansk was occupied by Russia during the opening days of the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was retaken by Ukrainian forces on 11 September 2022 as part of a major counteroffensive in the Kharkiv Oblast. Despite these present the military actions, the museum staff had been actively working on its restoration and additional projects. The fate of the Museum and its staff are unknown, the Facebook page is no longer operational.

Faced with resistance that is preventing them from occupying the whole town immediately, Russians are now raining the entire place with cluster munitions to kill any residents that've managed to survive.  

Russian Delegation Denied Access to the UNESCO International Conference

Good. News from the Netherlands:

The Russian delegation was denied accreditation to the UNESCO International Conference “Cultural Heritage and Peace: Building on 70 years of The Hague Convention

"We regret the gross violation of obligations by the Netherlands," the Russian embassy commented on the refusal.

Hysterical Zakharova characterized the decision as a clear example of the West's efforts to manipulate the convention for its interests.

Are they really surprised that they are refused entry to a UNESCO conference?

Due to Russian aggression in Ukraine, more than 1000 cultural heritage sites have been affected.

As of 10 April 2024, UNESCO has verified damage to 351 sites since 24 February 2022 – 129 religious sites, 157 buildings of historical and/or artistic interest, 31 museums, 19 monuments, 14 libraries, 1 archive.

In December of last year, Lavrov dismissed everything and simply said that UNESCO has no right to point out the guilty.

"Attempts to disparage Russia for the so-called destruction of Ukraine’s cultural heritage are along the same lines. Even though nobody can present any evidence toward this end; it simply does not exist," he said.

"Just as UNESCO has no right to assign blame, something that is recognized, by the way, by the very employees of the UNESCO Secretariat in private conversations," the top Russian diplomat pointed out.” Lavrov said. 

The 70th anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention

The 70th anniversary of the 1954 Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict has been celebrated with an international conference organized by UNESCO in The Hague. The convention, considered the "mother of all conventions for the protection of cultural heritage," was created to safeguard cultural heritage in both peace and conflict. ICOM, along with other organizations, has been actively involved in implementing the convention, including through the establishment of the Blue Shield organization. Despite ongoing threats to cultural heritage, including in conflict zones, ICOM remains committed to raising awareness about the importance of the convention and advocating for its universal ratification and implementation.

Monday 13 May 2024

Edutainer thinks it's time for What he calls "Toxic Archaeology" to End [UPDATED]

Over in Texas, USA, Luke Caverns ("Degree in Anthropology: but now an Expeditionary Historian making videos on ancient civilizations")* with 39.2K subscribers on You Tube thinks "It's time for Toxic Archaeology to END", though in talking about it, he comes over pretty toxically himself:

In today’s video, I examine the modern day battlegrounds of archaeology (this platform) & address how Academics can be just as Toxic and petty as what they claim to be fighting against /In this video, I break down an article posted by an archaeologist on X/Twitter refuting the Pre-Dynastic Vase research. This is, in my opinion, how NOT to argue against "Pseudo-Archaeology".

He admits he's writing this on behalf of Matt Beall, his friend, collector and businessman, who bought a stone vase from a certain dealer and whom I allegedly "attack" by questioning whether what he has subsequently done with it actually has much sense [my post  Granite Vase Fantasies: Rubbish In, Rubbish Out - and yes, there are typos in it; previous one on same topic here]. The video is here:

..Posted on You Tube by Luke Caverns May 12, 2024

Those of you who are too busy to watch it all, I'll save you a bit of time, there is a preamble to here, then after saying "I wanted to draw to light (sic) one of the worst examples...") the guy procedes to rather boringly and monotonously read out (almost) my whole post aloud [but without citing his source i.e., posting the LINK to my post]. He stumbles over intonation and a few words, pausing a couple of times to complain he's found some uncorrected mistypings. This goes on to here. Then there is an ad hominem swipe, noting that an archaeological colleague has "a tough time" writing English. The actual nitty-gritty of his video is at the end -  the bit after that

It seems he's running out of things to talk about, just a month ago (Mar 30, 2024) he published another ad hominem hit-piece article aimed at somebody else whose ideas he came across on the Internet, "Explaining why Billy Carson is wrong on Ancient America" ("I believe that 90%+ of the people in the in this ancient civ community are genuine, curious independent researchers" - 12,141 views  Mar 30, 2024). I have no idea who Billy Carson is, but Caverns' spiel is very similar in format to his "break down" of my text - except, mercifully, he does not read Carson's texts out aloud too. Anyway, he starts with an over-theatrical sigh, before focussing on  grammar-police castigation about spelling of Maya and it goes downhill from there. Get a life.

For the rfecord, I'll just address a couple of the comments Caverns made about my blog post:

1) He says he does not believe that friend Matt Beall is mistaken and that he does not believe the vase in question is a modern fake because... "there would be a duplicate". I do not really understand the reasoning here. The originals if one of a group deposited in a tomb or used in a palace would more likely be made in sets for storage etc, a fake could be a one-off. In the same way as a lathe-turned wooden bowl could be. What's the problem? Did Mr Caverns do lathe-turning in his woodwork classes at school? Did his bowl look like the one the other boy before him produced? (Apart from his of course being the most perfect, having no mistakes, no doubt.) The fact the same lathe is used does not mean (of course) that every object turned on it would be a duplicate of the one made before. Bonkers.

He also says that in his opinion, it is not a fake because "so many ["tens of thousands"] were dug up" - yes lots of things have been dug up and dispersed from ancient Egypt and the classical world in general - so by Luke Caverns' reasoning,  there will be very few fakes of any artefacts like that on today's market, oil lamps, Greek vases, terracotta figurines, shabtis, scarabs, faience amulets - anything. Yes? I beg to differ. The market is full of fakes, some sold by dealers with shiny galleries and expensive suits.

Above all, whatever Mr Caverns thinks, it is not "pseudoscientific" (sic) to point out that given the current state of the antiquities market, an artefact that cannot be tied to an excavated context (grounded) is "probably fake".

On the basis of what he says, I would question what Mr Caverns understands as a pseudo-scientific approach. My approach here is source-critical. Where does that evidence come from, can it be associated with 100% certainty with the archaeological record? Mr Caverns on the other hand does not bother about that, he says  "there is an insane amount of artifacts up on these legal markets prior to the late 1900s that you can still buy today and nobody's looking at them and saying oh those are probably fake". So his is not source critical, more like wishful thinking. But that is not what we can base conclusions on. 

In any case, I'd like to see him define "insane numbers". Most big London auction houses can include about two of these vessels in a big antiquities sale, that (and their price) does not mean that if they are on that part of the market, they are two-a-penny. Maybe Mr Caverns is happy to look at them and nod his head that they are "probably real", the discerning buyer would do well to exercise caution when the paperwork is less than complete. Big auction house have expertise that 'should' cut out the fakes, but ... I happen to have my own thoughts on that. [caveat emptor and all that].    Let's leave aside the legality of a market that handles items without gettimng the paperwork that show an object has been acquired and moved between countries fully licitly, but Mr Caverns, if the object was "dug up in the 1900s", how do you know you are buying one dug up in the 1900s if you've not got documentation of the collecting history instead of assumptions or a dealers nod-nod-wink-wink-assurances? 

Note that Mr Caverns omits in his reading the loaded sentence, why does he do that? Is it because he understands "what the author might have had in mind", or because he dismisses what he does not understand, because he's not read any discussion of the antiquities market on my blog except to pick holes in the spelling? Huh!

Mr Beall claims his item is OK, both in terms of autheticity and legality because he has a nice printed COA that says it came from a specific, named, collection. This is interesting, because that collection is well-known, and also something is known about the way that particular owner marked his objects. I have unsuccessfully been trying to get an answer from the new owner whether the vase that he has has that feature - and he has steadfastly refused to answer. The ABSENCE of that feature would raise further questions about where the dealer got that vase. So if Mr Beall is sure that the COA accurately gives the penultimate stage of the collection history, let's hear about how it is labelled.

2) Mr Caverns thinks it is nit-picking (sic) to question whether the raw material of an object claiming to be an ancient Egyptian sone vase is actually from Egypt. It is quite a distinctive stone with some big felspar crystals (that as we see in the video when the walls of the vessel are thin and you shine a light inside are translucent... uh.... could that, uh...?). I point out that such a stone should therefore have an identifiable quarry source somewhere (you know, archaeology looks at technology and raw material sources, and yes, we start off with simple visual comparison whether it be flint, stone axe material or building stone). Ancient Egyptian hardstone quarries were in the deserts (Western or mostly Eastern) and organizing quarrying and transport of the materials was not easy. We also know quite a lot about the quarries, it has been quite well studied. Since I gave a link that suggests that the main outcrops of rose granites in use in Egypt do not have the same macroscopic petrology as that vase, I'd say the onus is on the guy who claims it is an ancient Egyptian product, if he wants us to believe him, to show us where that raw material comes from. That is not nitpicking, it is a fundamental issue. 

3) The storerooms under and around the Pyramid of Djoser at Saqqara are NOT a "pre-dynastic" context.   

4) Mr Caverns says: "I agree with Matt that there's not really a lot of material in here I mean what did he say, you don't have providence for it so therefore we cannot take it seriously at all, even though there are tens of thousands of other artifacts found in Egypt that look almost exactly like this? If I had a little alabaster figure that supposed, that somehow had some really precise cuts on it but I could couldn't I couldn't produce where exactly it came from because it was looted in the late 1700s, I don't really know that anybody would come after me saying that no this 100% did not come from Egypt because it's probably more in favor that it is real than it is not real cause there's such an abundance of them out there and I'm with Matt on this one". [BTW alabaster - gypsum - is quite soft] To me, it seems Mr Caverns and his mate Matt, miss the point. There is not supposed to be any material, I make just one simple point, if Mr Beall cannot demonstrate that the vessel is from an ancient context, from an archaeological /historical point of view, it does not matter how nicely it is made. That's all, yet he's making a huge meal out of trying to explain aeaway the issue. I do not get the point he is making about an unprovenenced figurine, it has as much evidential value as an unprovenaced vase, the alleged finger bone of St Vincent, or Cabrera's Ica stones

The rest of his text (11.31 on) seems to me to be full of the ad hominems he (falsely) accuses me of using, he questions the "thoroughness" (or alleged lack of thoroughness) of my research as an archaeologist, speculates about my "personal life",  and so on. He ends with: "articles like this from a professional are just unacceptable and it's very juvenile".  That told me, eh? 

UPDATE 14.05.2024
* Mr "Spellchecker" Caverns has now got rid of the meaningless pretentious crap, it now reads: "I'm Luke Caverns. With a degree in Anthropology, I have taken to Education-entertainment to continue my studies of Early Civilization. "

And if you were wondering, the figure lurking behind him in the dark seems to be a "Mutant Ninja Turtle" cosplay oufit (!). Seems appropriate. 

And, the collector joins in, suggesting Caverns was writing-to-order ("I expected [when?] it to be a lot more harsh than this"):
@mattbealllimitless 1 day ago
Thanks Luke, really good conversation! The guy who wrote that baseless hit piece is fine, he probably just has unprocessed childhood trauma. Honestly, I expected it to be a lot more harsh than this. And it will probably get there. I could have responded to flint in a more mature way, and I regret that and am going to message him now to apologize. It’s possible he’s right and it was made with chisels without a turning device

It’s a great discussion, hopefully we can make progress. I’ll keep sharing data, hopefully we can get some museum pieces CT scanned if the interest from the gen pop gets big enough. It’s a fun project. Lots more to come! Thanks for the level headed comments, appreciate your thoughts. It’s different once you see them and handle them right? Anyways, thanks again
Keep drumm ing up that "interest from the gen pop" going, get more kliks and LOLs... Just below it: 
@oak1550 1 day ago
I love to imagine there was an ancient lost civilization, I shouldn't be ridiculed for wanting realistic answers for an obviously lost technology.
"Lost" as in using a lathe to make a turned stone object - like a baluster for example? Mr Caverns reckons we should be discussing real archaeology with these people, really, but where to start? The fact that he starts the whole "expose" with "yesterday I was scouring the modern-day  battlegrounds of archaeology on X formerly known as Twitter" suggests that he does not consider publications, conferences, seminars to be where archaelogy is thrashed out, but only is interested in the social media. Where to start in a discussion with people whoe main background comes from such sources? 

Discussing Artefact Provenance

Expeditionary Historian making videos on ancient civilizations
In the post above, I respond to Luke Caverns' reaction to me pointing out that in discussing archaeological artefacts, provenance is important; ending: "articles like this from a professional are just unacceptable and it's very juvenile".  That told me. Anyway, I was glad to see I am not the only archaeologist who thinks context is important, and there are problems in using artefacts from the market as a source (Flint Dibble @FlintDibble 6h):

A few notes on this. Yes, people have been looking at the antiquities market forever and revealing how many fakes are there. Go follow Erin Thompson (artcrimeprof). She has many, many threads on the fakes and fake certificates on the market. As well as looted material. This is a big deal. Archaeologists have stopped studying material without a context because it is unreliable. And we are holding people who do these scans to the same bar.

It is scientific to say that if you are making a big claim about the past that the evidence you use needs to be demonstrably reliable. It needs to be proven to be archaeological in nature and not possibly a forgery. Most academic journals ethically wouldnt even publish these stone vessels from the art market whether I submitted the paper or unchartedx. Studying these sorts of materials is a big no no and it's one of the points I'm trying to teach my following (including you)

In fact, the ethics behind this are one of the largest reasons to argue against it on Twitter.

I see pseudoarchaeologists supporting the purchase of antiquities. This one was supposedly certified as legal. But most others aren't. The one unchartedx put in a video. Nope.

Most objects without provenance on the antiquities market are either recently looted (illegal) or forgeries. Many of us are working to educate the public about this issue. If everyone goes and buys an 'Egyptian stone vessel' from who knows where. That either supports forgers or looters. This is bad and we want people to be aware of these problems

Ditto with breaking and entering on archaeology sites. This is bad and harmful and illegal

I don't fight pseudoarchaeology for shits and giggles. I try to educate people about archaeological ethics and to have a more respectful attitude towards cultural heritage around the world. It's not just there for fun speculation but it's relevant and matters. And Paul's blog is largely about the antiquities market and looting. He is an expert in it. To make light of these topics and that expertise shows a big hole in your thinking, Luke. These topics matter

Last point, Luke. You talk about an 'army of academics' in the replies... wow, they are dwarfed by the army of alternative folks who flood my mentions with real nastiness. Call me nastier names than one could imagine. And then screenshot and make fun of me for blocking them for being nasty
Same goes for US coin collectors and dealers, US antiquities activists, US metal detectorists. But UK metal detectorists are in a league of their own. On top of the abuse have been physical threats, both with a history going back more than two decades (and in Britain, archaeologists do not criticise detectorists, but pat them on the back, say "well done", and pay them a reward for digging stuff up from archaeological sites). Then the Polish ones, I challenge Mr Caverns to get an online translator onto some of the stuff they have been writing about all of my colleagues, despite fruitless years of trying to bridge the gap with the ones that want to search legally and responsibly. Maybe he could do that before next time writing proposing as some kind of a fresh new idea "hey guys, group hug, let's just work together".


Sunday 12 May 2024

Milo Rossi: You Tube Pseudoscience Commentator "Miniminuteman" [UPDATED]

The popular You Tube personality "Miniminuteman" (Boston, Massachusetts-based Milo Rossi) came to my attention through the recent discussion on Graham Hancock's controversial (in more ways than one) Netflix series "Ancient Apolcalypse". In point of fact, he came to my attention from Hancock's ungraceful reaction to having his theories discussed in this way (see the post below). Rossi has produced 181 You Tube videos (totalling 465,772,185 views), has 1.85M subscribers and seems to be doing very well for himself. He describes himself as "Archaeologist, Environmental Scientist, Author, Conspiracy Debunker". He started his activities on TikTok, where he has six million followers. 

 He does a lot of stuff, most of it concentrates on debunking pseudoscience and misinformation. What interests us here is the series of "Awful archaeology" videos that he's been doing since 21 Dec 2021. Mr Hancock and his acolytes may have been annoyed by the three videos "I Watched Ancient Apocalypse So You Don't Have To" (Part 1), (part 2), and (part 3) which have some 4mln+ views despite their length. I've watched them and think they are very good examples of the genre and show what we, archaeologists, should be providing more of. 
 For the record, in my opinion, Milo Rossi does an excellent job presenting the difference between reasoned, evidence-based, argument and pseudoscience. To be totally honest, as somebody from a somewhat different generation and background, at the beginning I was rather put off by his long hair, the biker image, the swearing, and loud in-your-face American brashness [rather too reminiscent to me of a North American guy I once had the misfortunee to share a flat with], but... as I watched the videos and was drawn into the narrative (and his online 'persona'), these prejudices of mine became easier to overlook. 

Rossi is articulate, has some good arguments, does not suffer fools and grifters lightly, but above all he is genuinely funny and entertaining. Rossi can also sometimes surprise with a totally fresh and sober take on some of the tired old tropes marshalled as their "proof" by pseudoscientists. He provides links to where the viewer can check what he said or find further information. His videos are presented to look very low-key and 'home-made' and personal, done on a shoestring, and sometimes look like chaos ... but he actually seems to spend a very long time preparing for them, they are carefully scripted, and overall strike a really good balance between providing information/ asking pertinent questions and sheer entertainment. They are IMO eminently watchable. He can produce a two-hour video on some abstruse points and get an audience to settle down and watch it and not get bored. That is a gift. Oh, and he has a big ginger cat who sometimes makes an appearance.

Take a look and decide for yourself. This one somebody sent me a link to is a good sampler of the presentation style (though less visually attractive than others, and cat not present).*  Maybe not to everyone's taste, but he obviously is reaching a wide audience who do want the information presented in this way and benefitting from what he presents. 

Nota bene, there are a lot of producers of similar content of various quality, but it is worth drawing attention to the fact that this kind of popular-science debunking of pseudo/para-science is largely a US genre, British archaeologists, for example, don't do this nearly so often. To be honest, I cannot imagine a single Polish archaeologist I know (and I know quite a lot of them) who would even attempt something like this - or be able to carry it off.  There are not a lot of them in social media in general. 

* one segment of this makes reference to the way that pseudoarchaeology is used to attract readers to Russian misinformation dissemination sites showing that this kind of clickbait has a more sinistewr role than just confusing people about the past. 

UPDATE 13.05.2024
THIS I think is well worth a watch right through to the end: Pseudoarchaeology and the Pseudoscience Pipeline - Milo Rossi LIVE at Virginia Tech

Graham and Holly Take on Archaeology


                     Holly Lasko Skinner, pen for sale


Above, I discussed the YouTube debunker of psedoscience Miniminuteman and his series of "Awful archaeology" videos . As noted there, one of them was his major effort concerning a recent well-produced blockbuster six-part Netflix series "Ancient Apocalypse" written and presented by Graham Hancock. Rossi's videos were titled: "I Watched Ancient Apocalypse So You Don't Have To" (Part 1), (part 2), and (part 3) which have some 4mln+ views despite their length. I've watched them (and the Netflix series) and think Rosi has provided a good evidence-based critique of the programme in an entertaining format. Also showing that you can produce good TV with a much lower budget than Netflix expended on making the original film.  

Recently there was also a debate on the 'Jo Rogan podcast' between Hancock and archaeologist Dr Flint Dibble that also was based around an evidence-based presntation that was confronted with Hancock's suppositions, "what ifs" and "looks-like" meanderings about a hypothetical/(imaginary) "Lost Civilisation" in which Hancock emerged rather badly and weakly. Hancock objects to this kind of writing about the past without a strict theoretical methodology being treated, not as legitimate archaeology [the word after all means just 'study of the past'] but something that apes the way that enquiry is conducted today - in other words it is a para-archaeology, a pseudo-archaeology. There was a very distasteful moment in the middle of the debate when Hancock tried to react to it having been pointed out that Diffusionist explanations of cultural change brought about by "superior" cultures "bringing the benefits of civilisation" to "inferior" ones willing to acknowledge their position by adopting teh new models is at its core a racist one. Hancock apparently does not accept /understand this, though it is commonplace in discussions of archaeological theory. 

On 19th April 2023 on Graham Hancock's personal website a huge verbose text appeared  called: "Will the real Pseudoarchaeologists Please Stand Up! (sic) The institution of North American archeology is racist to the core and must be “rebuilt from the ground up” say antiracist archaeologists". Wow. Much of the last third of this is a hit-job aimed at.... Flint Dibble. Coincidence? The text is poorly-organised and thus pretty unreadable, it is ajumble of assorted quotes by various people taken out of their context that the author (AI??) was unable to into coherent text that actually gets to the point. The author of this text fails to grasp that, as in any discipline, there are factions in US archaeology, critical of others. This does not mean that what they say and postulate can be used to generalise about all US archaeology at home and abroad. Also is US archaeology more, or less, "racist" thau any other segment of US society, a country where allegedly black people fear being killed in the street by a cop just because they are black?

Holly Lasko Skinner, "is a freelance writer, researcher and editor based in London, UK [...] with a first class degree in history". So far so good, but we also learn: "as a strong believer in social justice, she's worked with Graham Hancock to decolonise and democratise our understanding of the past since 2015". Wow. It is unclear what form that took, as there do not seem to be many publicaltions on that, or any other, theme online, at least. 

But then, a new text by Ms Skinner has just appeared on Graham Hancock's webpage, 18 days later, on May 7th. This was prefaced by a tweet by Hancock: "Thanks to brilliant freelance researcher Holly Lasko Skinner, who I've worked with for many years, for looking into this phenomenon at a time when my energies have been focussed elsewhere". This "phenomenon" was an ad hominem attack called  "Investigating YouTuber Miniminuteman" (Graham Hancock website 7th May 2024).
Investigating YouTuber Miniminuteman
The archaeological community have upheld Rossi as a bastion of archaeological integrity. This article investigates who Miniminuteman really is.[...]
Ch. 1: "Milo Rossi is not an archaeologist" [...]
Ch. 2: “Milo Rossi is a pseudoarchaeologist" [...]
[...] Ch. 5: “Miniminuteman is a conspiracy theorist”
I was not aware that anybody has been "holding Rossi up as a bastion (sic) of arechaeological integrity" - where did she read that? Anyway Holly Lasko Skinner has either self-appointed herself or been asked by the website owner to "investigate" him.

 This is a nasty text. I understand that Mr Rossi's online persona may not be to everyone's taste, and that his arguents and style in which he presents them may be uncomfortable to a certain body of writers/ media producers, but I think that Mr Hancock and his hired proxy pen have gone much too far here. Furthermore, to me, this text gives the impression of the outpourigns of an obsessed stalker. Look at the effort she's gone to to dig up the dirt on this guy - hours and hours of research. 

Again we get the same verbose mudslinging composed of large chunks of quotes from other sources, all selected with the sole intent, far from "investigating" a subject, of blackening his character. Yeah, we all of us make mistakes (I disagree about the one with the archaeologist getting precious about surface-found sherds by the way) but this is so obviously done with the sole intent of discrediting an uncomfortable critic.  

In all of this, there is not a single case of Ms Skinner actually addressing the points about the lack of evidence for this imaginary "Lost Civilisation" - but if she was "investigating" the views of Mr Rossi, that is exactly what should be here. And that is exactly what she has avoided doing. Is Mr Rossi an archaeologist? I have no idea what his formal qualifications are, and neither do I care. 

As far as I am concerned: "an archaeologist is somebody who applied archaeological methodology to interprete the physical remains of the past" (I am aware that this is NOT a good definition - because it raises the question of what that "archaeological methodology" is, but then what is NOT an archaeological methodology, on the one hand also needs defining, on the other perhaps not). Now, I'm pretty grumpy and critical about what is good archaeology. It seems to me that Milo Rossi is applying archaeological reasoning (grounded in a knowledge, appreciuation of and experience with sais methodology) to the wquestions he is discussing. So yes, even if he was a landscape gardener or pharmacist by avocation, what he is doing here is by that definition archaeology. I have no problems with that. And I do not give a tinker's cuss for what Holly Lasko Skinner thinks about that. Whether you, dear reader thinks it is relevant is up to you. But base it on what Rossi says and not what she says. Go to the source, a mouse-click away.  

And Hancock's image as an affable articulate guy "just asking questions" and "just trying to find out" bursts here like a bubble with his publication of this text.  

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