Sunday, 5 July 2015

ACCG to Defend Member?

A few weeks ago an ACCG coin dealer was accused in the British press (Times and Mail) of selling coins looted recently in northern Syria. The dealer denied it. We were informed that his lawyer has seen the paperwork, there is no proof of any wrongdoing and he intended to sue the papers concerned. It would be welcome to get a case like this in court. Nothing seems to have come of it though. The Guardian has now repeated the accusation with reference to the same coin. ACCG board member Peter Tompa says (July 5, 2015 at 9:10 AM) "How they could picture that coin again and suggest it was looted by ISIS is beyond me". I think the time is right for the ACCG to step in to defend the "traditional" business methods of its members and offer to provide (perhaps with IAPN help) a fighting fund for the dealer to demonstrate the paper trail for that coin and clear his name, and create a clear legal precedent for the use of such paper trails in the verification of licit provenance. Can the ACCG do that? Or are they just going to continue to stand on the sidelines muttering and complaining?

Stakeholders "Unwelcome"

Bulk lots for sale, Welsh's exclusive
  emporium of 'Classical coins
Over on a coiney blog, the tiresome discussion is still dragging  on about whether Paul Barford is "qualified" to make any observations on the collecting of portable antiquities in the eyes of an engineer-turned coin dealer who seems not really to have grasped the concept of what the social media are.  He claims the right to demand that because I blog, I should submit to him and his readers details of how I earn my living and organize my time "because" (of course a Two Wrongs argument is now coming up):
you have yourself intruded in a most unwelcome manner into many areas in the realm of collecting, metal detecting and the numismatic trade that are none of your business according to the perspective of those assailed in your blog utterances. One glaring example of this is your attempt to portray the confidentiality maintained by dealers regarding their sources as reprehensible. It is in fact required by the longstanding and traditional ethics of the trade.
It used to be the traditional ethics of the cotton and tobacco industry in the South to exploit black slaves, Judge Roger Brooke Taney infamously declaring that persons of African descent  "had no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that the negro might justly and lawfully be reduced to slavery for his benefit". Things have, more or less, changed in the US since 1857 in that respect, but not - it seems - in the coin trade. The point is that in both cases, that "tradition" no longer stands the test of time. As a matter of record, the requirement to maintain secrecy about the sources of the items sold by a responsible dealer is not stipulated by the ACCG code, or that of the ANA. (Where is it "required" Mr Welsh?)

Another ACCG blogger posted a rather silly text filled with dot distribution maps of coin finds. Silly, because in his eagerness to prove one point (that Professor Nathan Elkins is not as good a numismatist as he), he missed another. Coineywise, his intellectual honesty was not up to posting and reacting to the comment I sent his blog (so I posted it here). The same point is made by the Portable Antiquities Scheme database, when we abandon this stupid "tradition" of not saying where individual things are found, we suddenly get huge amounts of information which were unavailable to no-questions-asked numismatists. Phippa Walton has shown what can be done with these data, and that work is now expanding. This is all because records are made of precisely the information that ACCG dealers - who acquire and then sell coins on without that information - are ignoring. Mr Sayles of course will not be answering that.

The problem is that this "tradition" means that illicit goods can be passed off by middlemen as "old collections going cheap [nudge-nudge, wink-wink]", and the coin dealer who buys them and brushes the loose earth off can pretend they did not understand the allusion.  As Sam Hardy observes: "By not keeping any records, dealers make it easier for buyers to convince themselves Athere is no evidence of any wrongdoing” ("they-can't-touch-you-for-it-legality"). The ease with which dodgy items can be slipped onto the market at any stage of the chain of ownership is the very reason why observers say we need responsbble dealers to do away with this "traditional" business model. I leave it up to the reader to decide for themselves whether they believe the excuses offered and what they think the main reason is for the dealers to wanting to hang onto their "traditional" lack of transparency and accountability and why they are fighting it tooth and nail. 

Whatever the individuals whose activities in full public view (public domain material) are the main subject of case studies used in my blog to illustrate a point may think, and however 'unwelcome' they think having somebody look over their shoulder is, it is not true that these are private matters. First of all as I say what I write about are things people have themselves published on forums, blogs, internet sales pages etc. They should not assume that they are immune to criticism just because what they write and do is in full public view. Secondly, it is generally accepted that the heritage does not belong exclusively to one interest group. That is the whole rationale behind artefact collecting and its uneasy relationships to archaeology and heritage management. The notion of a "World heritage" ("heritage of all humanity") is the very justification of US (Swiss, German and all the rest) dealers and collectors claiming "collectors' rights" over stuff dug up in far off countries like Egypt and Iraq, and denying the citizens of those countries the same rights to access the material they want to possess for themselves.

Yet that sword has a double edge because it means that we are all stakeholders in that past. I am as much a stakeholder in the case of a Syrian coin in Mr Welsh's stockroom as the schoolteacher Hamid in Damascus and Mr Welsh himself.  Mr Welsh and his collecting friends deny others the right to express interest and concern about what they are doing. "It is none of your business [what we are doing with these bits of everybody's heritage]" they say. Well, actually it is. Very much so. That is especially the case when we are already concerned about illicit digging, smuggling, illegal transfer of ownership - and then we find the dealers at the other end of these ownership chains claiming all the stuff they have is "of licit origins, it's just I cannot show you the paperwork, someone seems to have lost it - Ooops". Neither can they show us what happened to the illicit stuff they "did not buy". I think we all can see that there is a case here to be answered. It's either we believe in the coin fairies and coin elves model they are trying to foist on us, or we begin to suspect that we are not being presented with the full picture. "Go away, it's not your business" is not the answer that is likely to convince anyone that some "intrusion" by stakeholders is not justified.

What is happening here is a reflection of the ingrained attitudes represented by Judge Taney that brown-skinned persons living in foreign lands "have no rights which the white man was bound to respect; and that their cultural heritage might justly and lawfully be reduced to a commodity for his personal benefit". Shameful.

The archaeological heritage belongs to us all, and we should all be able to have a say in how it is used (Hamid too), and that applies in particular to the deeds of those who want to use it for their own selfish needs to the detriment of others. These users should be persuaded to exploit it in a way that the interests of others in the same material and information are damaged as little as possible. It's what we call 'best practice' and it is the aim of public discussions (among which is this blog) to establish what we mean and expect from 'best practice' in responsible antiquities dealing. If that is "unwelcome" to dealers, then that in itself says a lot about them.

If instead of coins dugup in foreign lands, these people were selling online live rare insectivorous plants (for example) dug out of  wild environments East Coast swamplands, then they may not really welcome people looking over their shoulder and tut-tutting (Dionaea muscipula is a protected species there), but I would say that a conservationist has every right to ask exactly what they are doing and what paperwork they have showing these plants come from licit (cultivated) sources. Indeed, they'd not be much of a conservationiust if they shrugged their shoulders and ignored in-your-face online activity.

Mr Welsh claims that instead of being sleazy, "the profession of ancient coin dealer is among the more unusual, interesting ways to earn a living, offering ancient coins for sale is one of the most exclusive professions...". The antiquities which Mr Welsh brightens up his life selling ARE under protection in their original environment in most source countries, like the Venus Fly Trap, and it is only right for Mr Welsh to be prepared to answer questions where the ones he has came from, and how he got them, and what due diligence he has done to verify that they were not obtained or taken out of the source country by illicit means. There are a number of reasons why such questions may be "unwelcome" and I leave it to the reader to decide why they think he prefers to keep such information to himself and why he is continually trying to deflect attention from this fundamental issue.

Collector Shlomo Moussaieff Dies

Quoting from Benny Ziffer' (5th July 2015) opinion piece 'The colonial powers should have plundered more antiquities':
Shlomo Moussaieff, a Jerusalem-born magnate and a Jew with deep national feelings, died on Monday night. Moussaieff devoted all his energies to collecting objects relating to the archaeology of the ancient Near East and the Land of Israel. Even though he did not have a university education, he had an intuitive feeling for archaeology. Once in his possession, every find, be it a Jewish clay oil lamp from Israel, or part of the wall of an Assyrian palace that was smuggled out of Iraq, became like a lost child who returned home. To visit his homes in London and in Herzliya was to step into a time machine. And, contrary to the myths about collectors, he did not want to freeze the items in a glass case; just the opposite: He encouraged scholars to publish articles about them and thereby relocate them within history. Because of the laws that prohibit or at least limit commerce in antiquities, and certainly their theft, the higher-education establishment treated him with a mixture of suspicion and admiration. In at least one case he got into trouble when he tried to import part of a wall from a palace of the Assyrian kings that had been acquired by theft in Iraq. He wanted that particular item to be in Israel, but on that occasion he failed. In general, Moussaieff scoffed at convention. He was the friend of extreme right-wingers, and of former criminals. In his living room, one encountered the last people in the world that an average person would expect to find in the home of a person of his standing. And he had strong views – always right-wing – about what this country should look like in terms of Palestinians.
Another, less contentious, obituary: Ronen Shnidman, 'Shlomo Moussaieff Jeweler to Royalty Dies at 92' Diamonds net Jul 2, 2015, and this from Robert Deutsch, "The Death of Shlomo Moussaieff" Zwinglius Redivivus  June 29, 2015. See also: Sara Leibovich-Dar A man of good fortune' (Haaretz Oct. 10, 2001), and others...

"The colonial powers should have plundered more antiquities"

In an article that will no doubt be being extensively referenced by the antiquities dealers' trollbots, Israeli author and journalist Benny Ziffer controversially argues that "Entrusting the treasures of Middle Eastern civilization to the Arab people is turning out to have been a criminal mistake" ("The colonial powers should have plundered more antiquities" Haaretz Jul. 5, 2015). Ziffer is the author of 'Not recognizing the Armenian genocide is a triumph for common sense' and this text is of the same rank. His piece is presented as reflections on the recent death of collector Shlomo Moussaieff. Ziffer reckons that "all those self-righteous types who demand the return of the Parthenon sculptures from the British Museum to Greece, and of the Luxor Obelisk from the Place de la Concorde to Egypt" are "eating their hats".
Today everyone with eyes in his head sees – across the whole region that’s considered the cradle of world civilization, namely the Fertile Crescent, from Iraq to Syria – that it’s unfortunate that more wasn’t stolen. In short, that the colonial powers did not plunder additional antiquities and bring them to Europe.
But isn't Greece, from which the knocked-off Parthenon Marbles were taken, part of Europe?  Anyway, while Europe is relatively stable at the moment, so were Tunesia, Egypt, Libya, Iraq and Syria until a few years ago. The fate of those countries show how easily that can change. Europe cannot be assumed to be a safe haven for ever. We should also look carefully at what has just happened in Crimea (antiquities involved there too) and especially the collapse of security in the Donbass region. Artefacts from Tel Halaf in Berlin's Pergamon Museum were nearly lost to a 1943 bombing raid (Stephen Evans, 'Berlin's Pergamon Museum exhibits Tell Halaf statues', BBC News 29 January 2011). No doubt many antiques and antiquities were lost in the Jugoslavian war (that "Kaloterna collection" which has never been seen by anyone maybe). Mr Ziffer does not see it that way:  
Entrusting the treasures of Middle Eastern civilization to the Arab people is turning out to have been a criminal mistake. It worked for a few years, by dint of force. Now, with the removal of the tyrants who concentrated the powers of the state in their hands, including the preservation of antiquities, we are witnessing the daily savaging of world heritage sites. These acts appear to be carried out by Islamic State, or ISIS – but they are not the only perpetrators. In the civil war raging in Syria, none of the warring parties spared the Old City of Aleppo, which, according to reports, was completely destroyed. What was Aleppo’s sin? And what was the sin of other sites, such as Palmyra, also in Syria, or the palaces of the Assyrian kings in Iraq?
First of all, the monuments and objects survived among the "Arab peoples" for millennia. The question is whether it is the removal of the regimes that created (by force certainly) stability, or the inability of those who brought down those regimes to replace it with anything else which is to blame. Or maybe we are seeing (or failing to see) other processes at work? Is the problem as the Jewish writer suggests "the Arab people? (Have not the Israelis not destroyed anything at all in their near vicinity in the past few years?) Once again however we see the notion dear to antiquities dealers and collectors that the destruction of sites 'justifies' the appropriations of portable objects. This is skewed logic. European museums are full of big sculptures from Nimrud, that does not in any way compensate for the loss of the remains of the site they came from - parts of which were excavatred in the nineteenth century by the methods of the time. Ziffer continues:
It seems to me that their [sites'] malicious or incidental destruction shows utter contempt for what’s known as world civilization. It’s the same contempt that occasionally rears its head in different parts of the world, such as in China during the Cultural Revolution, Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge and so forth. And worst of all is the fact that these acts of destruction get a wink of approval from people in the West, who look on in amazement at the barbarism. They supposedly understand the volcanic rage and tacitly agree that this is the price to be paid for shedding years of colonial oppression. This forgiving attitude vis-a-vis barbarism is the most depressing outcome of the present situation.
I do not know whether in Israel they are "winking with approval" about the destruction of ANYTHING by the warring parties in Syria and Iraq. Certainly over here, it is only antiquities dealers that present it fatalistically as an inevitable feature of the situation in those oh-so-very-Oriental areas, justifying them making off with ("saving for the rest of humanity") whatever can be carried away. Basically it is knowledge that in various foreign circles these monuments are seen as 'our culture' is precisely the reason ISIL is targeting some of them - it is our valuing of them as such which is the reason why they are now in danger. 

Of course iconoclasm and wiping-the-cultural-slate clean are well-known phenomena throughout human history. In ancient Egypt, rulers scraped out the inscriptions of previous ones, and replaced them with their own, the Post-Amarna iconoclasm is a well-known example, but there are others. In Byzantium there was image smashing in the eighth and ninth centuries. In Reformation Europe, the survival of Medieval art was threatened by several waves of iconoclasm, stripping religious buildings of almost all of their fittings and decoration. That was not so many generations ago at the beginning of Modern times.

In Central Europe just a few decades ago, territorial shifts led to the wholescale removal of monuments, replacement of commemorative street names, destruction of prominent cultural landmarks (the whole of Warsaw in 1944 for example - but only after the earlier stage of blowing up historical buildings, burning entire libraries and emptying the miuseums by the Nazis). Then the Red Army came through the eastern, northern and western regions of what is now Poland and flattened almost every single historic town centre with any buildings that looked 'German' (Gothic onwards), just to root out any latent Germaness. The idea of 'a nation without a culture ceases to be a nation' [I forget the exact quote] is an European invention (ascribed to Hitler, but its roots go back earlier to the partitions of the 18th century). In occupied Cyprus, during the Kosovo war we saw the same. We Europeans are no better than the people the Jewish writer criticises.
Also depressing and worrying is the dogmatism that prevents the West from grasping that we must welcome the fact that the museums in its capitals are filled with objects that were stolen from the Middle East. And, as in the case of raising children, in which the good parent is the one who cultivates the child and not necessarily the person who gave birth to him biologically – so too in the field known as the “antiquities theft.” Those who appreciate and love the objects that constitute the world cultural heritage deserve to be called their parent, not those in whose country the objects happen to be found.
So, like the forced relocation of Aborigine children in Australia, North America or Nazi Germany he means?  Because these artefacts have been taken by force, whether direct or 'soft power'. "Must" we welcome the retaining of these objects in our museums? Human remains too? That merely implies that we are the ones that can be properly trusted with their care, while the brown-skinned Orientals cannot. That is an incredibly arrogant attitude - especially when there are good grounds to believe that a lot of the instability of the Middle East and the manner in which it is manifested is to some degree (or perhaps to a large degree) the fault of the rich countries around. Zimmer concludes his text by offering a prayer:
for the souls of the colonialists who unfortunately did not steal more and plunder more and empty out the Middle East of its treasures, because the people who are considered the lawful inheritors of those treasures are not worthy of being their owners.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Do UK Coin Dealers Read the Guardian?

An Archaeologist Patrols the Market, 2 comments:

John H said (July 4, 2015 at 12:06 PM) ...
Ah Peter: The Guardian is not a tabloid, rather a Lefty broadsheet rag...say no more, eh?
Regards John Howland England

Cultural Property Observer said (July 4, 2015 at 12:15 PM) ...
Thank you. A distinction without a difference then.

I guess that means Mr Tompa is under the impression that every single member of the IAPN which he represents, even the European ones, is as far on the political right as he seems to be. Are they? Are none of the British ones Guardian readers?

UPDATE 6th July 2015
Tompa later says "it's not so much a liberal/conservative issue but a media trust issue [...]  In the US, trust in newspapers continues to drop precipitously". Yes, the drop coincides with the lies the Bush regime told the world in 2003 to get the destabilisation of Iraq off to its disastrous and deadly start. 

UK "Financing Syrian Terror"

The media in Syria are reporting the UK's role in financing conflict in their country: 'Antiquities looted from Syria and Iraq sold in European markets, American archeologist says'. They point out that there had been similar alegations in March, but nothing was done:

The near-east specialist from the UCL Institute of Archaeology, Mark al-Taweel, said that the antiquities looted by terrorist organizations [,,,] are being sold in the markets of Britain and other European states. Al-Taweel added in a report issued by the British Newspaper of The Guardian that terrorists work through systematic networks on looting these antiquities and smuggling them to Europe without any questioning or punishment. Tracking the movement of the Syrian antiquities shows that they reach the shops and antiquity auctions directly in London and other capitals, al-Taweel said [...]. He pointed out that the European antique dealers avoid giving clear answers on the sources of the antiquities they sell and they do not have legal documents on how they get them.

Samarra Under Threat?

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.