Tuesday, 9 February 2016

Reserve Collections to Go?

US dealers, their lobbyists and collectors insist that before asking for restrictions aiming to curb the sales of smuggled portable antiquities ("retentionists") source countries like Italy and Greece should sell the "duplicate" items in storage to collectors. The latter, as is their wont, will immediately lose all and any documentation pertaining to their origins. Here is one of those accumulations of duplicates (from the Museums Week twitter feed)

These items are in the basement and other stores of the British Museum. They are there as research and study material, for display in temporary exhibitions, for loans to other museums and other purposes. Selling them off would weaken the ability of the Museum to fulfil its functions. Why idiot collectors persist in repeating this mantra without thinking about it is anybodys guess.

Monday, 8 February 2016

"Archaeologists are modern day grave robbers and our enemy"

UK artefact hunter the late Alan Hassel managed to get quite a few revealing comments from the metal detecting fraternity in this thread which starts off with a few libellous comments on me (and a huge chunk copied and pasted from another blog - no link), but once they get going, not a few other detector users from both sides of the Atlantic drop the hobby right in it... enjoy the spectacle.

Sunday, 7 February 2016

Annoying Artefact Photobombs: May "Captivate" but is it Archaeology?

Some people post an incessant series of kitty photos on their twitter account, others what they are having for lunch. The Learning, Volunteers and Audiences Portable Antiquities Scheme posts decvontxtualised artefacts hoiked mostly by metal detectorists. Like this one, a "captivating mount" "found in Lincolnshire:.

But that's it. There is no information for the viewing public what is meant by that very-vague term, what this is a "mount" from (book, bridle, casket, armour, toilet door knob, whatever). There is no information on what it was found with, on what type of site. Neither is its disposition given, whether it is currently in private hands, on eBay or in a public collection. Neither at the time of tweeting does the object seem to be in the PAS database. What is the point of this PAS photobombing? If PAS have time to play the gatekeeper/entertainer like this, then they have the time to use social media like Twitter (onlly 140 characters a shot, two sips from a coffee mug less) for the sort of public outreach they are paid for:
  1. to advance knowledge of the history and archaeology of England and Wales by systematically recording archaeological objects found by the public.
  2. to raise awareness among the public of the educational value of archaeological finds in their context and facilitate research in them.
  3. to increase opportunities for active public involvement in archaeology and strengthen links between metal-detector users and archaeologists.
  4. to encourage all those who find archaeological objects to make them available for recording and to promote best practice by finders.
  5. to define the nature and scope of a Scheme for recording Portable Antiquities in the longer term, to assess the likely costs and to identify resources to enable it to be put into practice.
Greater emphasis needs to be placed on the importance of the scheme's educational role and thus developing outreach work to those audiences. Posting loose ooo-ahhh finds like this is not any way at all to be doing this.

By the way, take a look at the identities of the people the PAS account follows. Does that reveal in any way a commitment to engaging with the heritage debate or the public at large on portable antiquity issues? That list of 56 accounts is composed mostly of their own employees, excluding the contribution of the "audience" for their work entirely.  

If they have time to titillate,  the PAS have time to reciprocate. 

Saturday, 6 February 2016

What happens next in Aleppo will shape Europe’s future

There are people down there. Aleppo (ﺣﻠﺐ‎) the largest city
in Syria home to some 2,132,100 people.

Nick Paton Walsh, 'You thought Syria couldn't get much worse. Think again', CNN February 5, 2016

Natalie Nougayrède, 'What happens next in Aleppo will shape Europe’s future', the Guardian Friday 5 February 2016
If Aleppo falls, Syria’s vicious war will take a whole new turn, one with far-reaching consequences not just for the region but for Europe too. The latest government assault on the besieged northern Syrian city, which has caused tens of thousands more people to flee in recent days, is also a defining moment for relations between the west and Russia, whose airforce is playing a key role. The defeat of anti-Assad rebels who have partially controlled the city since 2012 would leave nothing on the ground in Syria but Assad’s regime and Islamic State. And all hope of a negotiated settlement involving the Syrian opposition will vanish. [...] The aftershocks will be felt far and wide. If there is one thing Europeans have learned in 2015, it is that they cannot be shielded from the effects of conflict in the Middle East. [...] The refugee crisis has sowed deep divisions on the continent and it has helped populist rightwing parties flourish ....

Background: Emile Hokayem, 'Obama’s Disastrous Betrayal of the Syrian Rebels How the White House is handing victory to Bashar al-Assad, Russia, and Iran' Foreign Policy February 5, 2016  "The humanitarian crisis is a deliberate regime/Russian strategy to clear important areas of problematic residents"

Current disposition of factions in Syria

Situation around Aleppo

Subhash Kapoor trial begins

The trial of American antiquities dealer Subhash Kapoor 

Donna Yates on the Spot on You Tube

Antiquities trafficking questions and answers with Dr Donna Yates on YouTube:
Some interesting points raised. Peter Tompa and Wayne Sayles need to watch this. She needs to do some thinking about addressed and non-addressed sources. Metal detecting in the UK (and I swear I did not ask that question)... skipped over. At the end of the talk are her reflections on ISIL and looting - I'm not sure I agree with her but worth hearing what she had to say.

"We are all Gilgamesh" So Carry on Buying?

Professor Andrew George
Andrew George, professor of cunies in London's SOAS ought to get together with Wayne Sayles of the ACCG. He makes a smug case for the subject of his own study being far more important than any other type of research into the past  ('How looting in Iraq unearthed the treasures of Gilgamesh'):
The illegal trade in Mesopotamian antiquities that was viciously repressed by the Ba’ath government sprang back to life and continues to this day. It has brought on to the market many thousands of small objects. Their exact archaeological provenance can only be guessed at, and they are now dispersed among museums and private collections worldwide. 
No, they will not be dispersed in any museums which honour any kind of ethical code. They will be scattered in private collections of vicious, greedy self-centred buyers who do not give a fig for museum-style ethics. Professor Cunie argues in favour of also abandoning such niceties in the face of academic fame to be gained:
 But it is not all bad news: out of the destruction and looting, and partly because of it, emerge striking gains in knowledge of our oldest literary inheritance. Among the objects that passed through the antiquities’ markets in the past 25 years are large numbers of clay tablets inscribed in cuneiform. 
Oh, please.. and what was discarded, lost, dug through, exposed to weathering and otherwise trashed at the site where they came from? But "wottalotta STUFF WE'VE got!" Eh? SOAS is just down the road from the PAS, that other tragic British home of the "wottalottastuff - don't bovver about who digs it up and why" approach.
In 2011, Farouk Al-Rawi, an Iraqi Assyriologist now living in Britain, was shown a group of cuneiform tablets by an antiquities dealer in the Kurdish part of Iraq [...] and urged the Sulaymaniyah Museum to acquire the whole group [...] In November 2012, he and I spent four days establishing a definitive decipherment, and the results were published in the Journal of Cuneiform Studies two years later.
I dealt with this here New clay tablet adds 20 lines to Epic of Gilgamesh Professor George continues his own story here:
Assyriology customarily hides its light under a bushel, and there was no press release. It was a further 10 months, in October last year, before the media realised what we had done and signalled the discovery to non-specialists and the general public. Downloads of the academic paper climbed briefly from a handful per month to 150 per day: not exactly big-league, but impressive for an obscure article in a learned journal of tiny circulation. 
And giving a clue why some artefactologists welcome the chance to have decontextualised artefacts handed to them on a plate, no troubling contexct to puzzle over - just the artefact lying like a beached whale on their desk waiting to be written up and become a ticket to assyriological celebrity status.

Does SOAS allow Professor George to study material derived from looting in Iraq in his office on University of London premises?

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