Thursday, 18 September 2014

PAS and their "Vorgeschichte - eine hervorragend nationale Wissenschaft"

Today, as the UK holds a referendum to decide the future of itself, it seems worth recalling the gruesomely painful penultimate episode (7) of the second series of "Britain’s Secret Treasures" which dealt with Treasure Trove Scotland. This seemed determined to make as many gratuitous mentions of Scottish-English union as could be fitted into a half-hour ostensibly-archaeology programme. Yuk !
 I've pointed out the Kossinnist roots of other things the PAS and its supporters do with archaeological artefacts, here they go the whole hog, Vorgeschichte - eine hervorragend nationale Wissenschaft in all its dubious glory."Topical" reference is made to the upcoming referendum about Scottish independence, breaking the Union. The archaeological artefacts are dragged into the argument, explaining how the United Kingdom is "not such a bad thing", after all - the narrativisation goes - just a few decades after Cullodden, the archaeologists insist their stories show that "the Scots" were quite happy to be in it. So it is that the next find too is roped-into the feelgood narrative:
A second treasure found in the same area is also evidence of improving relationships between the Highlanders’ and British soldiers. Treasure hunter Jack Mackay found a belt buckle from a soldier’s uniform in the fields around the fort last year. The buckle was dated as being from 50 years after Culloden when Britain was at war with France and Napoleon. On the badge is the name of a regiment called the Fort William volunteers made up of local Scottish men. So just half a century after being defeated by the British Army, the Scottish Highlanders were volunteering to fight for them suggesting they had finally accepted a unified Britain.[...] Michael said: “It’s a new world now as I gaze out on a tranquil Scotland where in 2014 the people will vote on whether to maintain the union. These objects illustrate a crucial stage in the long running relationship between England and Scotland and they also demonstrate how old enmity can melt away to be recast as friendly rivalry.”
 Kossinna in his grave is beaming delightedly with his face turned towards Bloomsbury. Archaeology in support of imperialism.

Another Collector of Militaria Arrested in UK

A day following the St Albans raid, there has been another arrest in the UK of a collector of militaria ('Arrest after World War Two explosive found in Bicester', BBC 18 September 2014)
A man has been arrested after a World War Two explosive was found and had to be detonated by police in Oxfordshire. Officers have closed Buckingham Crescent in Bicester and a small area of the street has been evacuated. Thames Valley Police confirmed one person had been arrested but no further details have been released.
 It is unclear whether this person was an artefact hunter himself, or whether the explosive had been bought from a dealer.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: "Not interested in your biased arguments"

Ebola, little thing, let's ignore it,
maybe it will go away
Metal detectorist "Supernova" (James Oliver) cut and pasted onto his blog (in a text he titled: 'Dodgy Metal Detecting?' June 27th) a Heritage Action text about the inclusion of metal detecting and dowsing in the "Days of Archaeology" festival events (pointing out that neither has any right to be there because they are not really any form of archaeology). Instead of taking up that subject, however, Mr Oliver went off on a tangent onto a totally different topic. He accuses the conservation group of being merely "rather negative in their in their opinions" and castigates them for ignoring what artefact hunters have to offer archaeology. But that was not the point of what Heritage Action was saying. Then comes the "we are not all nighthawks" mantra (ditto) and ended with the question "why can we not discuss this issue that stands between us?"

Well, why can we not? That is what the Internet, blogs like these are for. So what stands in the way? Is it a lack of information about what the issues are? Hardly. In the English speaking sector there are blokes like David Gill, Nigel Swift, SAFE, the Antiquities Coalition, the Glasgow Trafficking Culture people, myself and others perfectly articulately rehearsing the problems and issues surrounding antiquities collecting. I'd like to say the CBA, PAS, IfA and others are too, but they are not, it's not the professional bodies doing this, but mostly people like myself devoting their own time to doing this. But the information is there fully in the public domain, in black and white at the click of a mouse (not to mention additional material in various professional journals). The issues that stand between archaeology/ preservation and artefact hunting and require discussion and resolution are clearly visible and available for those that care to read them and think about them. 

There, however, is the problem. We see from his initial reaction that Mr Oliver had not actually read what Heritage Action wrote with any understanding or empathy. No, he simply saw that it mentions metal detecting and automatically and immediately dismissed it as closed-mind negativity of people allegedly too superficial to understand that not all artefact hunters are nighthawks. He has made no effort whatsoever to address the actual points made, or even understand them.

Neither is he at all interested in discussing the actual reason for the 'gap' as he put it, between the different uses of evidence for the past, by archaeology through the methods of the discipline and those who merely want some geegaws to collect. I briefly summarised the issue in a (perfectly civil) comment responding to what he'd said (02/09/2013 at 5:58 am):
and did you get around to discussing “this issue that stands between us” with the archaeologists and conservationists in any detail? Where, please? Artefact hunting and collecting happen in many corners of the world, can you give an indication how this is adding “a positive contribution to our heritage” in Egypt, Syria, Peru, Greece, Italy, Bulgaria and NW Russia and everywhere else this is going on at the moment?
He dodged the question, it seems he wants us to see what artefact hunters with metal detectors and spades do to the archaeological record in the UK as in some way substantively different to what artefact hunters with metal detectors and spades do to the archaeological record in other countries. For him and those who think like him, Britain is apparently some magical fairyland where the gaping wounds done to the archaeological record by artefact takers are magically healed by the Bloomsbury Elven folk.  He tried to deflect the argument away to machine use by the TV reality show "Time Team" (whatever that has got to do with anything) and the Staffordshire Hoard fiasco, and then says: 
I will not be provoked, cajoled, insulted or belittled by you, slandered by your unprofessional and confrontational attitude and your derogatory comments, in short therefore, I do not wish to speak with you further and you are no longer welcome on this blog. My work is important to me even if it’s not to you. No wonder there is conflict between certain groups of archaeologists and detectorists therefore, you may now speak about me on your blog but you are not welcome here any more.
He then calls me a 'troll' for trying to discuss the issue he himself had raised about the gap between artefact hunters and preservationists. This is a typical dismissive tekkie attitude to questions to which they have no coherent answer.  We see this in Mr Oliver's reaction to the comment Heritage Action made ():
My work is important to me even if it’s not to you.” “Work”? Helping yourself is not work. It’s helping yourself. Why not join the tens of thousands of amateur archaeologists who DON’T help themselves. THEIRS is “work” and they don’t feel the need to ban critics from their websites as they don’t have critics. You can criticise Paul Barford till you’re blue in the face but what he doesn’t do is do something that would get him locked up in nearly every country and tell the public and farmers it’s valid “work” and himself it’s morally justified because it’s legal. Perhaps you’ll ban me too now. Shooting the messenger again on the grounds the messenger is rude, eh?
This is the same issue, the difference between artefact hunting and archaeology. What was the metal detectorist's response? Well, of course precisely the same dismissive approach (), a curt:
Not interested in your biased arguments.
This is tautology in an incomplete sentence. All arguments approach a subject from a particular point of view and are intended to express and support that point of view. Heritage Action's, like mine, is that artefact hunting is not archaeology. Mr Oliver first expressed an interest in discussing that issue and then decided that he was not up to it, and has resorted to simple dismissal.

The root of the problem is that metal detectorists in the UK have a paradoxical attitude to archaeology. On the one hand they see this very much as a "them and us" situation - the archaeologist is the Other with reference to which their own individual and group identity are forged. Only by acting aloof and dismissive of the archaeological milieu ("they need us", "they use topsoil-stripping machines", "they steal stuff", "they're so stupid they think we're all nighthawks") is this identity upheld.

On the other hand (and at the instigation of the PAS), artefact hunters seek to be treated as equals as history-makers by the very same professional for which they express such disregard. Equally they expect that [all] archaeologists will validate and legitimate their hobby - irrespective of everything ('cos it's legal innit?).  Furthermore they expect their glib arguments in favour of the status quo to be accepted unquestioningly, in the same way as they themselves accept the glib anti-archaeological slander put out by certain of their number. The moment anyone expresses a contrary view, they gladly play the victim. The interlocutor with the decent arguments is (see above), "elitist",  "provoking", "cajoling" (eh?), "insulting", "derogatory", "belittling", "slandering", "unprofessional" and "confrontational" (and a "troll" to boot). The notion that others might think they are simply wrong, seems not to have crossed his mind. The idea that what other people are saying about the hobby might be worth thinking about and at the least formulating a sensible argument or two against (instead of glib parroting of mantras heard on a forum) to address what is actually being said also seems to be the furthest thing from the metal detectorist's mind. The metal detectorist is happy insulting and dismissing the Other side, less happy when they criticise him and his mates. It's a group identity thing again.

Mr Oliver may not be interested in Heritage Action's arguments, but then at least let him not protest "why can we not discuss this issue that stands between us?" when it is he and his attitudes towards robust, free and open discussion of the issues which constitute the main reason for the gap between the two groups.

The problem is that while the artefact hunters and collectors attempt to ignore the issues and pretend they do not exist for as long as possible, the political situation around them is changing. This is in part happening because of what the other side are saying. The longer they refrain from taking part in the wider heritage debate, the more excluded they become.

What Real US Cultural Property Lawyers do...

William Pearlstein and Michael McCullough of Pearlstein & McCullough LLP:
have a combined 45 years of experience in counseling individuals and institutions in transactions, disputes, litigation and regulatory matters relating to the domestic and international trade in fine art, decorative art and collectibles. We understand the vocabulary of the art world, understand the concerns of dealers, collectors, auction houses, museums and non-profits, and have the seasoning to help clients navigate the special problems that often arise in the art market.[...] Sophisticated art market participants realize that prices have grown too high and legal risk has become too pervasive to conduct business casually. Pearlstein & McCullough LLP was founded in Spring 2014 to service the marketplace for sophisticated art-market counsel and to provide high-level legal services to the international art market.
In the past six months, their newsletter reveals they have already been engaged by the parties below in the following representative matters:
• Seller of an important ethnographic art collection
• Seller in private treaty sale/consignment of a $10 million contemporary painting
• Seller in private treaty sale of a $500,000 contemporary painting
• Buyer of a group of important Egyptian antiquities
• Buyer of a $4.5 million antiquity
• Dealer in sale of mid-six figure painting and mid-seven figure sculpture
• Museum purchase of important American Indian objects

• Dealer of an important 20th century sculpture in an authenticity dispute
• Dealer in settlement of claims arising out of the sale of a $1M painting sourced from Glafira Rosales and wrongly authenticated
• Estate in connection with a $1M Renaissance manuscript
• Two major US auction houses with regard to foreign patrimony claims
• Owner in connection with demand for return of rare manuscript acquired by public institution after a defective foreclosure sale
• Dealer in demand by foreign government for return of a $1M sculpture
• Dealer in demand by US museum for rescission of sale of a rare SE Asian sculpture

• Art and Antiques Trade Group in opposing efforts by US Fish and Wildlife Service and New York State legislature to restrict the trade in antique ivory (See recent Art Market Report on Trading Endangered Species)
• US collector of Latin American materials in evaluating potential exposure under foreign patrimony laws and US law
They list some impressive achievements here too. Their website contains no conspiracy theories, attempts to play the victim, alarmist half-truths and speculation, xenophobic snipes, attacks on foreign governments or other bodies, and does not host abrasive ad personam comments by metal detectorists and sockpuppets aimed at conservationists and other concerned people. True professionals, compared to some others in the field.

Sadly though I note the glaring omission of the clause "We understand and sympathise with the concerns of cultural property professionals about the need to help conserve a fragile and finite resource while satisfying the cultural and personal needs of our clients within the specific environment of today's art market".

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Dysfunctional?

Detectorists (BBC)
Adam Sherwin, 'Metal detectors object to digs by Mackenzie Crook about ‘dysfunctional’ hobby in BBC4's 'Detectorists'...', Independent, Wednesday 17 September 2014
Metal detector[ist]s have accused the BBC of portraying them as “anoraks” in a new sitcom that shines a light on those enthusiasts whose lives are dedicated to uncovering a treasure hoard. [...] the National Council for Metal Detecting refused to co-operate with the BBC when it sought the body’s participation in the series because they felt the project intended to mock enthusiasts. In the opening episode, the head of the detecting club sends members to sleep with a tedious talk on buttons. Trevor Austin, the council’s general secretary, said: “They approached us but we didn’t want to get involved in a comedy which would belittle detecting and make detectors look anorakish [...] Any serious metal detector knows there isn’t much money in it. And they don’t dig without getting a special licence and abiding by the rules.”
Well, as far as their record so far looks, if the NCMD had ever agreed to co-operate in any initiative at all, it would probably be a first. What's this about a "special licence" Mr Austin, where did you get that from?

There was a press screening last night. The comedy series "Detectorists" is set to debut on BBC4 on Thursday, October 2nd at 10pm. For more updates on the series, follow @Detectorists on Twitter

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Style, Design and Ethics in a "Bible Museum"

Michelle Boorstein (Washington Post's religious correspondent) writes now in their Style Blog (sic) about the Green Bible Museum ('So, just how do you design a Bible museum?', September 16). How about in a way which deals with the public's questions about the ethical issues involved in the rapid accumulation in a private collection of a large number of historical artefacts from various source countries, some of which are freshly surfaced ("from underground"?) in current market conditions? It seems the designers instead have gone in the direction of a scheme to enhance the personal status of the sponsor as a way of dismissing those questions. Perhaps it would do better to concentrate on the chain of curators that has allowed the objects displayed to be preserved down the centuries, honour them as much as the person who brought them all together to show off as his personal collection? In line with the institution's declared mission, lets see a museum of collecting histories as a physical demonstration of the devotion paid by numerous people, one after the other, to the evidence of the Bible's place in human culture.

St Albans Bust Part of Wider Investigation

This BBC video gives some of the background to yesterday's St Albans Windmill Avenue bust. It is part of an ongoing three-year investigation into illegal artefact hunting from collected conflict archaeology sites. Very satisfyingly if anyone mouthed the "most-metal-detectorists-are-law-abiding-folk" mantra, it got edited out.
Mark Harrison from English Heritage said
this is the first operation of its kind
"Illegal metal detecting or nighthawking has long been of concern to those who strive to protect our past. This is the first time that English Heritage in partnership with the police have targeted those who they believe are regularly taking and trading in battlefield artefacts". 
On a metal detecting forum near you, a member ("Wansdyke44", Wed Sep 17, 2014 2:59 pm) says: "This guy sells military stuff on ebay. I recognized it from the photo of his back garden. Can't remember his username, but the stuff he sells is very overpriced". Perhaps what we see is less a museum than a dealer's stockroom?

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