Friday, 24 October 2014

Focus on UK Metal Detecting; On my untouched pasture

Quote by "beaubrummell" from Essex (Fri Oct 24, 2014 11:58 am):
On my untouched pasture I need to dig down 15 inches plus to find something 300 years old or more !!

Germany attracts trade in looted artifacts

Philipp Jedicke, 'Crime: Germany attracts trade in looted artifacts' 24.10.2014.
Day in and day out, go-betweens smuggle looted art from the war zones in the Middle East first to Turkey or Lebanon, and then on to, for instance, the Dubai foreign trade zone. Here, the artifacts can either be purchased on the spot, or they are shipped to antiques dealers and auction houses in Europe and the US, complete with export documents supplied by the intermediary.[...] Germany's culture and media minister, Monika Grütters, this week announced new legislation aimed at turning a 2007 law on the repatriation of cultural assets into an effective tool against the import of stolen goods. "Germany must make sure it doesn't turn into a hub for this," she said. However, according to Sylvelie Karfeld of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office (BKA), Germany has already become a major trading zone. In fact, the BKA official responsible for the fight against the illicit antiquities trade describes the country as an "El Dorado of the illegal cultural artifacts trade." In an interview with Germany's NDR broadcaster, Karfeld said that under current German law, "a simple chicken's egg is more thoroughly protected and tagged than the most valuable antique." How could that happen?

Artefact Hunters Plunder Ancient Danish Burial Sites

Examining the destruction

Danish archaeologists are devastated, artefact hunters have dug up and plundered four ancient burial sites in 'Mangehøje' north of Grindsted near Billund in Jutland ('CW', 'Grave robbers plunder ancient Danish burial sites', the Copenhagen Post October 24, 2014). It is believed the sites date back to the Stone Age some 4,000 years ago. According to Lars Bjarke Christensen, an archaeologist from the Culture Ministry the last time graves were plundered in Denmark was back at the end of the 1890s. Hmm, Anglo-Saxon burial sites and Roman cemeteries are dug over for collectables on a regular basis in the UK, and you will not find any British archaeologists shedding a tear over the destruction. British archaeologists, you see, are in "partnership" with the diggers.
Christensen is gutted over the theft and the loss of Danish history. ”It's a disaster. The grave robbers have ruined part of Denmark's history,” Christensen told DR Nyheder. ”The things we could have learned from the burial mounds have now been erased from history. We can no longer investigate how ancient life was in this area of Jutland.”
Of course the soil in Denmark is different from that in Britain. Over there, you dig up an archaeological site and its gone. In Britain, the magic stratigraphy fairies come at night and do their healing dance to rejuvenate the Earth, heal the ripped layers of history, and restore everything as it was, so there's no need to get worried. At least that's what a New Agey metal detectorist told me. .

Faux Numis

 Kilroy coin (photo from Hooker's blog)
John Hooker claims to be an expert: "A numismatist with over fifty years experience [...] Very few people without at least twenty years of experience in numismatics can make much of an impact on the subject ".

In his desire to 'make an impact', he opines on a coin which a collector ["Owner's name withheld by request"] suggested to him was 'Celtic'  (Thursday, 23 October 2014, "Faux amis"). Although he saw it was not 'Celtic', he was at a loss to recognize it, but on showing a photo of it to local dealer Robert Kokotailo ("who really knows his Medieval coins") it was reportedly identified as a rare issue of "a Bishop of Prague". I should add that they seem unaware that there is no indication that , unlike the Ottonian ones, eleventh century Bohemian bishops had any minting rights at all.

The main interest in this coin for Hooker was however that he uses it as the springboard for expressing his hatred for those who see current modes in collecting and commerce in archaeological finds in a different light from him:
Certain archaeo-bloggers who constantly criticize collectors and dealers are always very nasty. [...] The person who owns this coin holds an important position and did not want his name associated with it for fear of being bullied. That could have brought trouble to even his organization. He did not want to have to deal with such evil people. So this coin has no recorded provenance because of the existence of such people [...]. There is a little irony here, and more than one sort of "faux amis". So be aware, and do not get taken in by such people's lies.(sic)
Note the total lack of paranoia there.... So, we are told that the coin's owner is going to keep quiet about where it comes from as he does not want his feelings hurt and the reputation of his organization damaged. As for who is lying, and whether strong criticism of no-questions-asking, and no-answers-giving dealers and collectors is justified, and whether it is "evil people" that raise these concerns, I leave it up to the reader to decide.

It would seem that both Hooker and Dealer Bob are blinded to the aberrant form of this object by the potential of using it to criticise archaeologists. I would suggest that if they'd handled any number of them from proper archaeological contexts rather than the random items that drift their way having "surfaced" ("from underground?"), they might look at this item in a different light. Yet Hooker reports that Dealer Bob has no problems with this item as eleventh century Bohemian. Caveat emptor.

UPDATE 23.10.14
I owe to Dorothy King the suggestion that the image of the coin pictured has been digitally doctored (or even created digitally).  If so, Dealer Kokotailo's reported diagnosis is even more difficult to understand.

UPDATE UPDATE 24.10.2014
And so the coiney circus continues.... John Hooker, in reaction to my debate about a coin he discusses,  for some reason now threatens me with a libel suit. This is typical of the fragile egos of collectors who rather than admit ignorance about something outside their field, go on the offence. John Hooker may see himself as an all-knowing polymath able to speak with authority on a variety of topics. The simple fact is however that he is not a Medievalist, does not have much experience with handling the sort of numismatic material that is abundant in Early Medieval silver hoards of central Europe. It just so happens that both are areas where I can claim more expertise than him. The coin he pictures has a number of features which suggest to those familiar with large numbers of real 'grounded' examples (and not the decontextualised ones in the trade), that this item  is not what he published it as. He is unwilling to discuss that. He could start by citing his sources and reveal the alleged published parallel from Mr Kokotailo's book (cited by the wannabe scholar vaguely as "a German book on Medieval Polish coins"). That's what real scholars do. Instead of doing that, he sees a dent in his personal authority and goes on the attack calling me "evil" and one of the "people of the lie" for doubting his unsupported diagnosis. 

When, on questioning whether the coin pictured actually existed (has Hooker held it in his hand?) , I referred to his study of Coriosolite coins being based on reconstructed composite images rather than individual specimens, Hooker informs his readers that this is:
as everyone (sic) knows, blatantly false. I create the image he speaks of for Archaeopress as cover art.
What I was talking about was not the cover of the book, but the subject of the analysis inside: "the drawings of the die designs of these coins, often having to be reconstructed from several incomplete impressions".  

Kilroy Coins

Exploring the "Only Encyclopaedic Museums" myth

James Cuno has a number of justifications why (only) encyclopaedic museums can achieve a whole range of socially-useful results which is how he justifies retaining trophies such as the Parthenon Marbles in them. The case made sounds like special pleading and deliberately avoids certain topics (like why "globalism"/cosmopolitanism  is "good",  when it leads precisely to the erosion of culture and cultures). I thought I'd take his main justifications and examine them from the point of view of another type of collecting.

There is a lovely Polish kids book, "Mikołajek" which has a funny story explaining why stamp collecting is a socially useful hobby, the comedy resulting from the self-righteousness and pretentiousness of the claims made. I was put in mind of it on reading Cuno's piece on encyclopaedic museums in "Foreign Policy". Stamp collecting has been encouraged because it fosters curiosity and awareness. Stamps have pictures and writing, sometimes slogans, and often commemorate events of importance to the culture of the issuer. Sometimes they embody values at odds with those of the collector's own society (e.g., stamps of the Soviet Union, 1933-45 Germany). Learning about what they represent helps learn about the history, cultures and everyday interests of the societies that issue and use them. Postage stamps sometimes serve to foster/celebrate  national identities (with the picture of the leader on them, or with series of historical buildings or folk costumes etc.). In September 1939 Stalin had Polish stamp collectors rounded up and executed along with all the other 'dangerous minds' because in his regime's view they had become too 'cosmopolitan'. So would Cuno's arguments work with postage stamps ? Let's see:

"the power and promise of [philately]. By preserving and presenting [representations] of the world’s cultures, they offer their [viewers] the world in all its rich diversity. And in doing so, they protect and advance the idea of openness and integration in a changing world".

"This principle is exactly what [stamp collections] encourage: understanding the intertwined nature of different cultures that are more similar than they are different, the result of centuries of contact through trade, pilgrimage, and conquest".

"the values represented by [stamp collections]: openness, tolerance, and inquiry about the world, along with the recognition that culture exists independent of nationalism. These ideas can flourish everywhere, not only in the United States and Europe but wherever there is a spirit of inquiry about the world’s rich and diverse history".

"this more open future mostly depends on individual governments’ setting aside their nationalist claims and encouraging among their citizens a cosmopolitan view of the world’s many different cultures".

Yep, I reckon Cuno's arguments apply to postage stamps and sound equally pretentious as when applied to a load of fragments of marble and cruddy bronze exhibited in a fake Roman villa* in Los Angeles as trophies of some vanished society.  In addition there is absolutely no possibility of understanding the societies of the USA, or UK or Poland in the full richness of their variety based only on the selective images carried by their postage stamps -  even though they are specifically intended to convey such messages (addressed sources par excellance).  In the same way no ancient society can be properly studied in the full richness of its variety by the study of its coins and statuary alone. For this the study of a wider range of evidence is needed, archaeological evidence being one of the primary ones. One cannot do that if a large amount of the archaeological record has been trashed by artefact hunters seeking stuff to smuggle out to foreign dealers.

* an example of a vision of the 'pure form' of antique culture Cuno ridicules among the brown-skinned foreigners. 

Director Sayles in Denial and Losses his Reading Glasses

"Those responsible for this sort of baseless 
vilification are really little better than the looters
they decry. Their agenda-driven ideological fervor

is as irrational as it is fanatical".
("Terrorists the lot of them" ACCG).

Anti-academic ACCG Director Wayne seems not to have asked ACCG Director Doris to bring his reading glasses before tapping away at his keyboard berating "scholars" (Friday, October 24, 2014 "...the scholars said"). He detects a conspiracy theory "in a so-called news report on "RT News"...". He denies everything, according to his use of scare quotes he does not believe that Mustafa is Mustafa, he does not believe he's Syrian, being filmed in Lebanon and does not believe that he's carrying any real antiquities. The female journalist probably is not a real blonde either. While I am no fan these days of Putin's mouthpiece media, I rather think Sayles confuses a news story with a detailed presentation of evidence (ACCG Director sidekick Tompa does the same in an equally tendentious post called "propoganda") . According to Sayles' conspiracy theory, there is no looting going on, no sales of smuggled items in Lebanon. This is all made up Mr Sayles suggests to discredit dealers like himself.
The claims seem intended mainly to bolster a recent open letter from more than 80 "prominent scholars" calling for a U.N. ban on the trade of Syrian antiquities—hardly coincidental.
Rather a narrow and self-centred interpretation of events. Perhaps Sayles might like to look a bit outside his blinkered box, and consider whether an additional reason in this case is related to Moscow's reaction to current US ambitions in Syria and Iraq (and also the potential long-term effects of militia rule in the Near East for the Russian federation). Sayles seems first to be in doubt about the authenticity of most of the artefacts shown ("purportedly ancient uncleaned coins") but then in a moment changes his mind and admits the bulk are "typical low grade surface finds from the region, [...] of very little interest or value to either collectors or archaeologists". Again we see the narrow object-centric approach of the collector. Their grade and "interest to collectors" is immaterial to the effects of digging them out of a stratified site, especially if mechanical excavators are being used. It seems Sayles was snoozing in bed when I published my thoughts about the coins that were shown to the camera. It is good to see we are in agreement about what they are, if not what they are doing on the film.
The article quotes the supposed looter as saying "these antiquities smuggled from Syria now form up to 50 percent of the European markets." That is a preposterous statement and not something that any responsible journalist or editor would endorse in print.
I suggest he now read the article properly, with his reading glasses on and try to work out who says what. It is not the looter that is quoted, but the collector-dealer who'd been selling the stuff on to dealers precisely from the EU.
the whole article reminds one of the yellow journalism of years gone by and appears now as a very thinly veiled attempt to criminalize the collecting of ancient coins and portable antiquities.
But, it is indeed illegal in the form in which we see it here, would Director Sayles, with or without his reading glasses, not agree? Ask Director Doris to explain it to you.
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