Wednesday, 13 December 2017

Not Even Kossinnism Now...

Re: Delay in Treasure process BlackBridgeBoy (Wed Dec 13, 2017 3:24 pm) writes:
I also don't have a great deal of confidence in some of the FLOs. My local FLO took over a year to respond to my e-mails, after I had registered on the site. She hardly ever holds Finds Surgeries, and trying to track her down is like trying to nail a jelly to a wall. In the end, I contacted the FLO in the next district. She was completely the opposite, and responded promptly and kept me up-to-date with details of her Finds Surgeries. In fact, her last e-mail message contained the following, which might be worth noting...
"The PAS policy on how we prioritise finds has changed slightly. Instead of concentrating on finds that are more than 300 years old, we now prioritise finds that date from before AD 1540, but we do still selectively record younger items too. It is also preferred that you hand in all your recently discovered finds, on the understanding that they will probably not all be recorded. This allows me to better understand the range of material being discovered, and helps me decide which objects and which geographical areas should be prioritised."
Looks as though, apart from Treasure, you might be wasting your time sending in Finds that are post-1540, unless they are of special interest. My guess is that we are finding, and reporting, too much for them to cope with it!
So if only certain geographical areas are being prioritised, that rather reduces the value of the PAS-favourite technique of dot-distribution maps.  Equally if there was a period in which finds from 1540 (so somewhere within the reign of Henry VII who died 1547) and 1696 were recorded following a period starting from an undefined date when those finds were no longer being recorded, intruduces yet another inconsistency in the PAS database.

The thread is worth reading, detectorists seem to be getting a bit uneasy (as well they might) about the future of the PAS as a form of mitigation of their hobby. They seem to think that an increase in the numbers of detectorists and an increase in the exploitation of the archaeological record means that 'the government' "should" employ more FLOs to deal with it. Nobody seems to be asking why and whether there is a cheaper alternative for the nation which would also save lots of archaeological sites being trashed to fill collectors' pockets.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Act to enable UK to implement the Hague Convention

Act to enable the United Kingdom to implement the Hague Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict of 1954 comes into force 12th December 2017.

 That was the nineteen FIFTY-four Convention.

If only they'd given Brexiting as much thought and debate...

DMSC claim can only raise a hollow laugh, to be 'leaders' you'd have had to implement it half a century ago,

Monday, 11 December 2017

Fluffy Thinking on Metal Detecting: The Legacy of the PAS

In response to the article 'Night hawkers (sic) defile (sic) Cirencester's Roman amphitheatre' one Graham Burgess naively following the official line  replies
True. But don't decry all detectorists. Recent report from PAS shows that 98% of reported finds were from them. RAMs need better protection and public education to report nighthawk desecration
I am not sure what kind of 'protection' he wants to give ancient monuments and how you can 'report' what you cannot see (because they go out at night Mr Burgess, when it is dark).  There is however the problem of fluffy thinking:
What do you mean "98%" Mr Burgess? 98% of what, precisely? How many finds dug up by artefact hunters simply disappear into their ephemeral collections *without record*? This is a process in which, legal or not,  *all* detectorists are involved
Also, somewhet disturbng is the use of teh verb 'defle' in the original text, what does it mean here? And of course a "hawker" is somebody who sells something. While illicit artefact hunting may be done for profit, the term usually used is "nighthawks". Let us stick to one terminology otherwise we get in a muddle.

Ahmad Al Mahdi Destroyed Heritage, Sentenced in Court

The destruction of Cultural Heritage is a War Crime! Meet Ahmad Al Mahdi, the first person convicted of the war crime of having deliberately destroyed Cultural Heritage. Learn the story. (UNESCO).

Smokescreen Challenged

Antiquities trade lobbyist Peter Tompa from his '@Aurelius 16 11 80' account poses a  loaded question, Peter Tompa posing as a one-man cultural property (recte: antiquities trade) lobbying organization laughably called Global (sic) Heritage alliance ' answers it.... fortunately on the other side of the fence are people who - unlike most collectors it seems - can use what they have in their heads:

In fact, if you took away about six people, the entire US pro-no-questions-asked antiquities trade lobby in the form of multiple pop-up mouthy 'heritage organizations' would just collapse.

For who the GHA purports to be, see here. \

Sunday, 10 December 2017

Treasure Registrar: Tell the Whole Story - Like it IS

Artefact collectors as a whole love playing the victim, now's their chance:  Heritage Action, 'The Treasure Registrar: fake news and misleading the taxpaying public' 10/12/2017
[...] If anyone can show how this isn’t clear evidence of the Establishment spreading fake news and misleading the taxpaying public about the true nature of metal detecting in Britain …. we’ll publish it!
Any takers?

Vignette: Naked bias needs exposing

Friday, 8 December 2017

' Antiquities are a solid investment'

Chris Carter ( 08/12/2017) reckons ' Antiquities are a solid investment' . The article is full of auction results indicating that artefacts can ndeed be very valuable on the market. That is of course if you have the paperwork. The Montreal Persepolis relief fragment is now commerciqally worthless now we know where exactly  it is from.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Mosul Eye, the Blogger from Occupied Mosul

Amazing AP News story about the man behind Mosul Eye, 31 year-old historian, Omar Mohammed. 

Antiquities Have Been Weaponized

US aerial attack in Syria 2014
In a readable article, Professor Michael Press highlights what some of us have been saying for quite a while ('How Antiquities Have Been Weaponized in the Struggle to Preserve Culture'). In his overview of  the reporting on Syrian antiquities over the last six years he agrees with those among the archaeology bloggers and (it must be said) the dealers' advocacy who have been pointing out a parade of errors in the media reporting of looting and heritage destruction in Syria, Iraq and other MENA areas. He emphasises that 'most, if not all, of the errors cut in the same way: to inflate the threat ISIS poses to cultural heritage while ignoring the threat posed by other armed groups'.
Since early 2014, ISIS has been presented in news reports as the greatest threat not just to human life but also to cultural heritage in Syria [...] the reality that looting of and damage to antiquities take many forms. And when we compare that reality to its portrayal in media outlets over the course of the war, we find that most reporting has ignored — or hidden — several basic facts. ISIS is not responsible for the majority of antiquities looting in Syria. By early 2013, experts were already pointing out that Assad’s forces, rebels, and jihadist groups were all involved in antiquities looting, before ISIS was in control of much territory. A study of satellite images of six select sites by the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), published in December 2014, showed significant looting by ISIS by this time, but also significant looting in areas controlled by other groups (though this was not emphasized by the press release or subsequent news reports). The most detailed study was published by the Cultural Heritage Initiatives (formerly the Syrian Heritage Initiative) of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR CHI) in September 2015, when ISIS was close to its largest extent in Syria. The study determined that areas held by ISIS, Syrian government forces, Kurdish YPG, and other rebel groups all experienced significant looting of antiquities. More surprisingly, the study concluded that only 21.4% of the sites evaluated in ISIS-controlled territory had been looted, which was lower than percentages for YPG and Syrian opposition groups. Overwhelmingly, however, news stories have focused (and continue to focus) on ISIS looting.
Some of this has already been detailed by me on this blog and also covered by others (Professor Press mentions them in his acknowledgements), so there's no need to go over it again here, suffice to mention that it is gratifying to see the threads pulled together in one text.

He summarises the points under several headings
1. ISIS is not responsible for the majority of antiquities looting in Syria.
2. Most estimates of the amount of money ISIS has made from antiquities looting are vastly exaggerated. [I really have never understood why so much attention is given to this issue - is looting and smuggling going on? Yes. That's reason enough to stop it, no matter how many green ones somebody pockets from it].
3. Most of the objects coming out of Syria are forgeries.
4. Much if not most antiquity destruction in Syria has been conducted by groups other than ISIS.
5. Syria is only one of many countries where massive looting and damage to antiquities are happening in wartime.
6. Most threats to antiquities don’t come from war at all but from everyday activities.

Professor Press addresses the issue of the quality of the journalism in English that informs public opinion and the problems inherent in how we go about making and handling 'news':
Experts have spent years trying to inform journalists of many of the same points I have raised above. They have been largely ignored. According to one expert on antiquities trafficking who wrote on this issue in early 2016: Editors want to hear about Daesh making millions of dollars from the trade, they do not want to hear that its financial accounting is difficult to know, or that other combatant groups might be profiting too. What explains this state of affairs? For one thing, ISIS sells. ISIS has become such a successful bogeyman — far beyond the already significant threat to human life and culture that they pose — that their mere presence in a headline means papers sold and links clicked. After so many years of emphasizing this threat, some media members may naturally assume any claim about it to be true. But why was ISIS made into a bogeyman in the first place? Here we cannot avoid the fact that it was the threat of ISIS that was used to justify Western military intervention in Syria. 
In short, the U.S. government has (he says 'appeared to have') used concern for antiquities to galvanize support for its intervention in the Syrian war. I am of the opinion there is no doubt about it.

Just as threats to the Yazidis of Sinjar were used to justify the bombing of Syria, so too was the threat ISIS posed to Syria’s cultural heritage. Before 2014, news stories about threats to Syria’s cultural heritage generally ignored ISIS (just as other aspects of their violence were ignored) — even though they were already damaging sites and destroying monuments. This suddenly changed in 2014, as media outlets then focused on ISIS (while downplaying threats posed by other groups). In addition to correct reports, some false claims of sites destroyed by ISIS were circulated. [...] News stories on antiquities looting in Syria gradually increased over 2013 and early 2014. But there appears to have been a major spike in this reporting in September 2014, the same month that the U.S. began its airstrike campaign against ISIS in Syria. Cultural heritage was enlisted in the war against ISIS. The war must be sold. In enlisting cultural heritage, governments’ use of archaeologists and other scholars is a notable feature. 
He points out the involvement of ASOR CHI, funded to the tune of several hundred thousand dollars per year from the U.S. State Department. Their purview
includes Syria, Iraq, and Libya, all of which have seen U.S. military strikes targeting ISIS since 2014. But other countries in West Asia whose heritage is also threatened have been ignored — notably Yemen, where damage to sites and monuments has been caused mostly by Saudi Arabia, a US ally. 

He mentions that noteworthy speech by Secretary of State, John Kerry at the Metropolitan Museum of Art just hours before the missile campaign against members of the Islamic State began.
 Kerry used that speech, at the opening of the Met’s exhibition Assyria to Iberia at the Dawn of the Classical Age, to argue in favor of intervention in Syria. The speech is striking for its emphasis on the threat to cultural heritage over the threat to human lives. But it is also striking for repeating some of the false and misleading claims of many news outlets
Which makes one wonder about the nature of that Fake News in the US political process. Readers may recall that I suspect the Abu Sayyaf  'invoices' are forgeries and if so that would be another pointer in support of the thesis that the US government s using concerns for cultural heritage as a cover for other activities. Then Dr Press turns to that thorny issue of terrorism:
[P]olitical measures to address threats to cultural heritage are focused primarily on antiquities looting [recte looting and smuggling PMB] as a source of funding for terrorism. This is a problem for several reasons. Terrorism is a heavily loaded word, used inconsistently to refer to enemy groups of the moment, rather than according to any neutral standard (what techniques the groups use, whether they target civilians). As a result, national legislation and UN resolutions against trafficking in antiquities from Syria have focused exclusively on targeting funding for ISIS and (to a lesser extent) Al Qaeda and its affiliates. They do not address the many other groups looting and damaging cultural heritage in Syria. Blanket bans on importing antiquities from Syria would affect these other groups as well, but political solutions have avoided mentioning them or targeting them specifically. Also, since legislation is focused solely on Syria and Iraq, the broad and serious problem of antiquities being used to fund conflicts worldwide is barely addressed. And since most threats to cultural heritage lie outside armed conflict, these are ignored altogether. 
I think it is largely the Americans who have been guilty of the overuse of the T-word, and in the rest of the English-speaking world we should be on our guard to slavishly assimilate their usage into our own (and here is one useful result of a Trump presidency, focusing European attention now less on the similarities but the differences between us). I would add to what Dr Press says that also being barely addressed due to the current focus of (in his case US, but let us add international) legislation on Syria and Iraq, the broad and serious worldwide problem of illicit trade in antiquities being used not only to fund other illicit and illegal activity but to act as a focus for the creation of (and incentive/means for the maintenance of) organized criminal groups involved in the trafficking.

I think that in fact the title that Professor Press (or his editors) is inadequate. It reads 'How Antiquities Have Been Weaponized in the Struggle to Preserve Culture', when in fact what seems to be emerging from his text, if only between the lines, is that the manipulations and superficial knee-jerk arguments are not here being used by those perpetuating them 'in the Struggle to Preserve Culture', but instead in an effort to put forward completely different political aims. Bombing hell out of anyone, 'ISIL' or not, is hardly any means as far as I am concerned to 'Preserve Culture', it is sinking to barbarism. In this context, Professor Press ends with a very important point which requires thinking about and debate (not that in certain circles, archaeologists actually like debating portable antiquities heritage issues):
Those of us who work on cultural heritage must stop and ask ourselves how we want to interact with this system, one that uses cultural heritage as a weapon while ignoring most threats to it by design. Whatever we decide, we cannot be naive about our role. Nor can we be naive about the role of news media in failing to inform us all about what is happening in Syria.

Or misinforming. 

Rescuers Criticise Metal Detecting

Rescue Facebook page:
Amanda Kenwrick I come across detectorists all the time, and none of them record their finds properly 😤 All claim not to be treasure hunters, but what else can you call them? I have known one or two who work with archaeologists and do invaluable work, but are all too few in number.
and then
Gary Crabbe I have no detectorists amongst my friends, only met a few. None of them have ever recorded the context, only one contacted the FLO, and not for everything. [...] Wczoraj o 10:27 ·
In reply to a metal detectorist justifying collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record in the inimitable way most metal detectorists do:
Angie Fogarty Wickenden . You are being rude again because you don't like people criticising your hobby! And they are valid criticism! Tough! It is what it is. PAS enables the destruction of fragile archaeology. And you metal detectorists denude it of its finds. Wczoraj o 13:01
Metal detectorists gonna do what metal detectorists gonna do...
Pam Braddock Can we please stop with the language and the personal abuse? It only goes to support what Paul Barford is saying. I think if most archaeologists were being honest they would agree with him 21 godz.
[No, Pam, if they were being *honest*, they'd say so - instead of leaving somebody else to say openly what professional ethics and care for the archaeological heritage requires that they they should all be saying openly, and then take the flak.]

and here is why most archaeologists stay clear of talking about anything other than "what yer got?" with metal detectorists:
Andy Holbrook what a load of crap Wczoraj o 10:11

Andy Holbrook why do you post crap up by this prat? [H]e hasn't got a clue what's going on over here as he lives in Poland! [H]e's hated by 90% of archaeologists and detectorists[. A]ll he goes on about is what a bad thing we do, when he doesn't even know a bloody thing about detecting and if people actually believe the crap he writes then they are bigger Muppets than he is Wczoraj o 10:14
Hmm, the fact there are haters is supposed to mean, I guess I am wrong... I leave it up to my readers to decide if after several decades of looking into the issues I know a 'bloody thing' about what collectors do and to consider for themselves to what degree  what I say  here or elsewhere is in any way worthy of credence.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Metal Detecting : "a chance they may hit it big" (comment from Guardian article)

Dirt Pirates

It's a mugs game. Even if you find anything valuable you're legally obliged to report it to the coroner, wait to see if anyone claims it, then even if they don't you're forced to auction it to a museum because you're not allowed to keep it and then whoever owns the land gets half the cash. You basically end up with half its worth and feeling shafted and you did all the work.
Mugs game? 30,000 people enjoying a hobby that takes them outside into countryside, fresh air, exercise, learning about and discovering the history of this country and their local area, all this and a chance they may hit it big. Yes what absolute mugs!

Detectorist Stealing Lost Property in Foreign Lands

Comments under the atrocious Guardian article are equally dumbdown and concentrate on the BBC comedy programme 'detectorists'. This one mentions something else:
2 3
I never had much interest in modern finds, but the little beach detecting I did was aimed at jewellry (sic) losses, in fact I set my machine to ignore the smaller coins. Friends spent the summer on the med three years running (as an alternative to signing on) and averaged over a kilo of gold between them each summer. Even though the bulk of that was 9 carat it shows you how much is lost.
and they just bagged up this kilogramme of lost property gold and flogged it off?

The Problem Misstated

Global (sic) Heritage Alliance's tweet misses the point:
  W odpowiedzi do to   i jeszcze "Terrorism" again being used to justify [curbing illicit imports to US]? 
Is not the problem here the loose use in North America of the word "terrorism" to mean a variety of things? Surely dealers and their associates can accept that  illicit trade in art does not exist in a vacuum and can be used to finance other illicit activity and that's what we need to STOP.

Note how all these folk engaged in the antiquities trade writhe about trying to avoid calling a spade a spade. It is almost as if they are afraid that if we call something by its proper name, it will become crystal clear what they are up to.

Vignette: and this is what failure to use terms (and brains) properly leads to.

Supercilious US Collectors and their Neo-Colonialist 'Coon Caricatures'

"Don't you believe that the Lord made them of one blood with us?" said Miss Ophelia, shortly. "No, indeed not I! A pretty story, truly! They are a degraded race." "Don't you think they've got immortal souls?" said Miss Ophelia, with increasing indignation. "O, well," said Marie, yawning, "that, of course – nobody doubts that. But as to putting them on any sort of equality with us, you know, as if we could be compared, why, it's impossible! (Uncle Tom's Cabin)
One would have thought that such sentiments would be found in today's USA only in rather specific social circles. It seems that related ideas however are still alive in Tumbleweed Town Arizona where the American Committee of Cultural Policy has its office. Take a look at this nonsense, penned by Kate Fitz Gibbon ('Bearing False Witness: The Media, ISIS and Antiquities') where she dismisses the hard evidence of looting of archaeological sites in several regions of the Middle East:
Pockmarked satellite images of cultural heritage sites in Syria and Iraq incontrovertibly show a pandemic of destruction. What these images do not show us is whether any antiquities were found in these holes in the ground, if what was found had monetary value, or where these objects are going. 
Fitz Gibbon has exactly the same orientalist approach to the allegedly 'Stupid Ayrabs' as some of the protagonists of Uncle Tom's Cabin have to 'those people' who because they have darker skin somehow are expected to think and experience life differently. 

I really do not know if Ms FitzGibbon has used a spade much in her life in her Tumbleweed Town backyard, for example to dig a hole for an oil tank, or erect a 600-metre long row of fence posts. My charitable guess is that she has not done very much physical labour of this sort in a warm country. If she had she would hardly be likely to entertain the notion that, however childlike and retarded she stereotypically thinks a group of people are, they'd dig and dig and dig, time and time again, deep wide holes all over a rubble-strewn site, oblivious to the fact that there is nothing there to reward all that hard work. Hard work Ms Fitz Gibbon, show some respect for it. It's easy sitting in a lawyer's office in an air-conditioned office in New Mexico disparaging the brown skinned folk half way round the world and ascribe to them all sorts of totally illogical concepts. If those holes appeared all over a Native American cemetery in New Mexico, would she be so dismissive of the idea that they are pot-diggers holes? Or are US pot diggers in some mysterious way inherently 'different' from the 'Ayrabs'?  I'd draw her attention to the fact that the holes in places like Apamea and Dura Europos are not dug with 'ignorance', you can see the pattern of the digging reflects where artefacts will be found, and keep away from those where they will not (street grid, on top of city walls, beyond the edges of the cemeteries). Those photographs show very clearly (especially to those of us who have some training and experience in aerial photograph interpretation) what is going on.

That, it seems, does not include the spokesperson for an American 'committee' that has pretensions to make 'informed' comment on cultural property policies. Texts like this do not inspire much confidence in their ability to analyse information. The dismissive tone of the ACCP's Ms FitzGibbon should be assigned to the dustbin of misguided online chatterers such as Peter Tompa who thought the holes in Apamea were military 'foxholes'.

 Vignette: The 'Stupid Ayrab' stereotype

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

'Metal Detecting', The fall of UK Journalism

Heritage-pocketing greedy buggers
depicted by the BBC
The Guardian coverage of Collection-Driven Exploitation of the Archaeological record in the UK reaches new lows with the article of Stephen Moss ('Rise of the detectorists: how to hunt for treasure' Guardian Tuesday 5 December 2017) It is the usual tired tropes journalists have been fed by artefact hunters and the PAS alike. Guardian readers are told that it’s easy to get involved in exploiting the archaeological record for collectables, but they should not expect to strike it rich, some more six-figure Treasure ransoms are highlighted and that this will be 'shared with the landowner' (who by rights is giving away half his share), of course that endearingly warm 'award-winning BBC sitcom starring Mackenzie Crook and Toby Jones' gets a mention, and that its all about 'being outdoors and finding something ancient', but (as in the series) 'mMostly, it’s rusty ring-pulls' (what' aluminium?). Gauardian man gets told that some detectorists 'explore the same fields for years on end', that should read 'exploit'.

The tabloid-worthy pro-collecting drivel continues:
Every enthusiast will tell you that the hobby is about communing with the past, not making a quick buck. “There are treasure hunters out there and there are detectorists,” says Steve Critchley, policy adviser at the National Council for Metal Detecting. Some of the latter will be lucky enough to find treasure, but most are happy to find the odd old coin and get pleasantly damp. [Harry Bain, editor of the Searcher magazine] reckons there are about 30,000 detectorists, some attached to local clubs, but many doing it alone.
There is a bit about 'how to start' (and a sexist comment that 'women can do it too' - "women are often better than the men – they are more meticulous”). So:
- 'To get started, find a place to search', research and find a place where you are bound to find something, a previously known site is ideal for this...('following Roman roads is often particularly productive'). Fish in a barrel.
- 'You need a landowner who is willing to let you dig on their land' and let you take artefacts away for your collection.
- 'buy a decent detector (about £200, although you can pay up to £2,000)'*
- 'You will also need a spade and perhaps an electronic pinpointer', because this is not really about just making the little box on a stick give a signal (detecting metal blind) but in fact about digging the stuff out of the archaeological record.
– 'plus an anorak and a bobble hat, of course'.
So no GPS then? No maps or notebooks, individual finds bags with a label for noting individual findspots to an accuracy of a metre then? No reading the Code of Practice (updated, they say), no establishing contact with the local FLO before you venture out? No learning how to properly document what you find?  No mention of getting individual artefacts signed over to you before you pocket them (in fact no mention of any kind of written agreement at all)?
 - 'In the unlikely event that you find a hoard of Roman coins or Anglo-Saxon burial objects, don’t get a JCB and start digging. You are obliged to contact the local finds liaison officer, who will undertake a professional excavation'. 
Really? And if there are no funds or proper resources available at the drop of a detectorist's bobble hat, he or she will do it out of their own pocket, even bring their own equipment such as orange plastic carrier bag. How unlikely is it when one in eighty finds reported to the PAS this past year were Treasure? Its better odds than the lottery, obviously. 
- 'Sorting out what it’s worth and whether a museum wants to buy it comes later'. 
Note that 'buy it' - no mention of the PR opportunities fer the 'obby you'd get if you donate it. Then you'd get mentioned in dispatches from the Treasure Registrar. He loves that kind of thing, really gives the partners' image a boost.

*'If you get the bug seriously, you can trade up – one enthusiast with 40 years’ experience tells me an £800 detector will give you everything you want'.

Emergency Import Restrictions Imposed on Archaeological and Ethnological Materials From Libya

US: Emergency Import Restrictions Imposed on Archaeological and Ethnological Materials From Libya
 The Acting Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, United States Department of State, has determined that conditions warrant the imposition of emergency import restrictions on categories of archaeological and ethnological materials from Libya, which represent the cultural heritage of Libya.
Of course the slimeball US dealers and their lobbyists are already moaning.

UK Archaeologist Just Can't Put the Thing Down

UK Detectorists 'Strike Gold as British Museum Reveals Record Haul'

Grabby fingers
On St Barbara's day this year the British Museum announced that there were 1,120 treasure finds in 2016, the highest number since the revised Treasure Act came into law 20 years ago (Maev Kennedy Guardian 4 December 2017). St Barbara is the patron saint of miners and Britain's archaeological record is being mined for sparkling 'treasures' like no time before in its history. Over the past 20 years, 14,000 treasure finds have been reported under the act, of which 40% are in UK museums.

In addition to the Treasure stuff, the Guardian reports that 'there were 81,914 smaller archaeological finds [...] reported through a network of local finds officers across the country under the voluntary portable antiquities scheme'. So basically one in 80 artefacts reported were treasure. Who says they are 'not in it for the money'? Yet the HA artefact erosion counter suggests that in that same year, a minimum of some 300000 artefacts (and probably many more) will have been dug up by artefact hunters alone exploiting the archaeological record as a source of things to collect and sell. All the rest (290000 items)  just disappeared into collectors' pockets. And everybody at the BM yesterday knows that. Everybody, including the enthusiastic journalist who 'reported' the event, mentioning some human interest stories, but not much else.

She says soothingly:
Many of the items have almost no commercial value but contain great historic importance, helping to identify hundreds of sites and settlements.
No they do not. The show where things have been found and nothing else, the rest requires examination of those single finds in their context. As for the 'value' I suggest the Guardian's reporter goes and gets a couple of numbers of 'The Searcher' from her local newsagents (WH Smith carry it too) and just spends a few minutes looking on the 'valuation of yer finds' pages there. Even at ten to twelve quid a shout, 300 000 artefacts sum up to quite a bit of munny coming out of the ground into somebody's pockets. I bet the actual landowners whose land is being mined for these collectables never sees any of it - especially when the collection is sold off decades after it was accumulated - in most cases the finds are not labelled or associated with any paperwork showing the landowner's name even. These objects are coming out of our archaeological heritage into their pockets. Year after year. Where will it all end?

One obvious projection is that one day collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record by thousands of collectors will end in the substantial depletion of the accessible archaeological record of almost all diagnostic material (turning it into the decontextualised mass of material on the collectors' market).

The second, equally worrying, aspect is that as lawmakers apparently seriously consider shedding the  'polluter pays' approach to the management of the archaeological record , that same government can point out to the public that figures like these reported in the Guardian show that 'archaeological discoveries' are in no danger of decline due to these shifts in funding 'policy'.

Which brings us back to that question I have been banging on about, making a clear definition of what we mean by archaeology as opposed to just 'finding interesting things' .

Monday, 4 December 2017

Insurance Company Tries to Block Ancient Sculpture’s Return to Iran

In an object lesson for the art insurance world, a sculpture that the owners expect to recoup may turn out to have no commercial value (Allan Woods, 'Courts in Quebec, New York asked to block ancient sculpture’s return to Iran Toronto Star, Dec. 3, 2017). The 20-by-21-centimetre fragment of a Persepolis limestone bas-relief sculpture once displayed by a Montreal museum has been discussed in this blog before. Readers will know that it is now caught between authorities in the U.S., Canada and Iran after it was seized by police at the European Fine Arts Fair in New York City in October of this year ('European'?). Attempts are being made by Iran to reclaim this item, hacked out of a wall  in Persepolis by persons unknown in the 1930s. This case is complicated by the unusual circumstances of its most recent ownership history. It was stolen from Montreal museum, the Museum then received the insurance money which I guess it then spent, so when the object was found by the police, the insurance company took ownership of it as one of their assets. What then follows is interesting:
Lawyers for AXA Insurance Company have now asked a Quebec judge to rule that ownership of the sculpture was properly transferred from the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts to AXA, which then had every legal right to sell it to a British art dealer. A request filed with the court states that Rupert Wace purchased it from AXA after the piece was recovered by Canadian police in 2014. It had been stolen several years earlier from the Montreal museum. Wace then sold a share of the sculpture to another British art dealer, Sam Fogg. “Refusing to grant the … orders would have the effect of allowing the relief to be sent to Iran without a proper determination of ownership,” says the Quebec court request, which was first reported by La Presse in Montreal. 
Yet they apparently insured it for a certain value without a proper determination of ownership (an ownership which they are now finding affects its value quite considerably). The Quebec Superior Court two weeks ago issued an order that the artefact should not be repatriated by the US to Iran before courts (the Canadian courts) can rule on who is now the legal custodian of the object.
Superior Court Judge Babak Barin [...] sent a copy of the ruling to the judge in the U.S. case, in the hopes that the Canadian injunction would be respected until such time as ownership of the piece of art could be determined.
The Toronto Star detail its collecting history, 'how the sculpture got to where it is today, in the possession of the New York Supreme Court, is a colourful tale that spans decades':
It isn’t clear who took it from Iran in 1936, but the Quebec court file includes the typewritten invoice issued in 1951 when Paul Mallon, a New York-based Frenchman, sold the piece to Frederick Cleveland Morgan, president of the Art Association of Montreal, for the sum of $1,005. It was then housed in the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and regularly exhibited over a period of 60 years until Sept. 3, 2011, when it was stolen, according to Danièle Archambault, a museum archivist, whose affidavit was submitted in support of the insurance company’s ownership claim. In September 2012, AXA paid out $1.18 million (Canadian) to the museum under the terms of its insurance policy. But the sculpture was recovered 16 months later, in January 2014, when the RCMP in Alberta and the Sûreté du Québec tracked it to an apartment in Edmonton. The condo owner, Simon Metke, told CBC News after the raid that he had bought the sculpture for $1,400 from a friend of a friend in Montreal, unaware of its true origins. “I’m really glad that I was able to protect this thing and look after it, and it sort of feels like it may have come to me to be protected so that it didn’t get destroyed or lost,” Metke said. Lawyers in Quebec claim that the sculpture was legally imported to Canada in 1951 before the country signed on to UNESCO agreements dealing with the trade of cultural heritage artifacts. Even if the sale was not legal, the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts became the legal owner under Quebec’s Civil Code after being in possession of the sculpture for three years, the court filing argues. 
The Star continues: 'Ii may take some time to arrange an initial court hearing in Montreal on the requested ownership ruling. A followup hearing in New York on the request to block the repatriation of the sculpture is scheduled for Dec. 18'.

Sunday, 3 December 2017

Looted ancient gold jewelry returned to Cambodia from Britain

One of the pieces (Khmer Times)
Cambodia on Saturday welcomed home a set of 10 Angkorian-era gold jewelry pieces, which was stolen from the country several decades ago ('Looted ancient gold jewelry returned to Cambodia from Britain' Xinhua,  2nd Dec 2017):
The ancient artifacts, which were returned from Britain, included a head cover, a pair of pectoral ear pendants, a pair of earrings, a necklace, a pair of armbands, one belt, and one chest band. The artifacts, which adorned a statue during the Angkorian period between the early 9th century and the early 15th century, were looted from Cambodia during the civil war in the 1970s. The London-based gallery Jonathan Tucker Antonia Tozer Asian Art voluntarily returned the jewelry items after Cambodia had concrete evidence to prove that they were stolen from the country, the statement said, adding that Cambodia identified the artifacts when the gallery placed them for sale in November 2016.
What paperwork had the gallery secured before they did so?

Here is the repatriation ceremony (Daily Mail)

(Daily Mail)

(Daily Mail)

(Daily Mail)

Daily Mail:
Officials proudly welcomed the jewellery back to the country Saturday as the items were accompanied from the airport by hundreds of people and flanked by security guards.  "This is a successful mission of all Cambodians, including diplomats and people who love the arts and antiques. Everyone is happy," Chuch Phoeun, secretary of state at Cambodia's Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, told AFP. [...] The pieces will soon be designated as national heritage items, and will join scores of stolen artefacts that have made their way back to the country in recent years -- many that had been on display in western museums or for sale by dealers. [...]  On Saturday, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen's son Hun Many said it was an honour to have the jewellery back on home soil. "As a Cambodian, I am so proud to be part of this process to bring our ancestors heritage back home," Many, a lawmaker who helped to secure its return, told AFP.

Saturday, 2 December 2017

German government refuses to certify Dead Sea scrolls belong to Israel

Israel withdraws from planned exhibit of scrolls in Frankfurt after Germany refuses to guarantee their return if Palestinians claim them (German government refuses to certify Dead Sea scrolls belong to Israel JTA 1 December 2017)
 Israel pulled out of a planned exhibit of the Dead Sea scrolls in Frankfurt because the German government would not guarantee their return if claimed by Palestinians. The Frankfurt Bible Museum announced that it has canceled the exhibit scheduled for a September 2019 opening. [...]  the government guarantee, had it been issued, would have blocked Palestinian or Jordanian authorities from contesting the provenance of the scrolls [...] The first scrolls in the cache were discovered in 1946 by Bedouins in the West Bank, which since 1967 has been under Israel’s control. In 2010, the Jordanian antiquities department demanded the return of some of the scrolls, which it said Israel had taken illegally from a museum there in the 1967 war. [...] Boris Rhein, the culture minister from the state of Hesse, told German news agencies that the German Foreign Ministry and federal commissioner for cultural affairs considered the ownership of the scrolls to be unclear.  
The ownership of the scrolls currently in Israel is questioned by both Jordan and Palestine, having been seized in armed conflict after their discovery (that is the period 1946-1956). This is not directly related to the current disagreement (basically by Trump's USA) over recent UNESCO resolutions. This hinges on the interpretation of the Hague Convention regarding the removal of antiquities from militarily-occupied territory. The dispute will continue until the issue about the status of Jerusalem is resolved.

Friday, 1 December 2017

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Writing about antiquities...

'Nice' people, dealers and collectors.Candida Moss shares her personal view on how to deal with the sort of issues writing on antiquities matters involves:
Candida Moss My new personal rule is that for every death or rape threat I get I get to buy a new pair of shoes (just proposing this as a strategy if you have to read the comments!)

“The plunderer is a great option”:

Roberta Mazza shared this 'gem from the world of Biblical Archaeology' 

David really needs to look more carefully. The "great option" plunderer does not "prerserve" all the "stuff". He takes only what is most saleable and can easily be carried (and then hidden) . Look at any antiquities dealer's stock and then ask how typical that is of any excavated assemblage. the answer is not at all. So the recent Bonhams sale, think: Egyptian tomb. What did Bonhams sell in fact from the tombs that said "great option" plunderer had "preserved stuff" from? Actually they rifled the shabti box, therew the box away,, but had a couple of little "mummy-statues" to flog off. They then found the deceased, took a crowbar to the coffin, wrenched off the block of wood on the front with the face on it, destroying the integrity of the coffin itself and dumped the rest. They might saw from one of the boards a random fragment, less than a meter long if it has some colourful pictures or a segment of inscription. All the rest is dumped.

hat tip: Malcolm Choat

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

Buy Without papers, Get cheated Like the Fule You Are

'This 700-year-old Torah scroll was seized by authorities in Turkey recently. Police acted on a tip after hearing antique dealers were selling it for $1.9 million in the southern province of Mugla. The dealers were arrested, according to Turkish media'. 

This is another of those 'brown' manuscripts from the Turkish/Syria border region.  I guess the perception is that since documents yellow with age, really old' documents should be brown. I'm guessing this is done with acid (I wonder what coca-cola does to papyrus over a few weeks?).

Like the rest, the 'Biblical scholar wannabe' who'd buy this dodgy junk would be fooled out of his money:
17 godz.
This is not a Torah scroll. the text was google translated from Arabic. This is fake.

If you are buying antiquities on any market that does not offer proper and 100% watertight documentation of origins - every emptor should jolly well caveat.

UPDATE 12th December 2017
Journalist refused to accept they'd got it wrong until she finally decided to ask somebody who even she accepted knows about such things... 

Happens with cars with dodgy paperwork, antiquities buyers/dealers why do you think you're an exception?

Happens with cars with dodgy paperwork, antiquities buyers/dealers why do you think you're an exception?

Examined this Zetec S today, recently purchased by its owner with his hard earned cash. Unfortunately fully rung onto false details & paperwork. ID’d back to a stolen vehicle & seized 😞Now preparing evidence to assist in investigations. Such a shame...

Tuesday, 28 November 2017

IS it Gold, Dave? Yes, yes, it is gold!! Scrubbed up well, worth a few quid for yer.

On a facebook page near you , Dave Greeves bottle digger Bottle digger, detectorist and fisherman from Stockport  posted (27th November 2017) one of his recent finds, a late Roman crossbow fibula:

Fellow artefact hunters and collectors are ecstatic. Not recognizing what that pircture actually represents, the main topic was about how gold it was, how much money it was worth (including as scrap) and dousing it wit nitric acid would be the best thing to do (!)

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