Friday, 22 August 2014

Israel and Turkey Destinations of Stolen Yemeni Cultural Property

I'm not sure how to treat this: "The Heritage and Researches Center in Taiz governorate has revealed that around 2500 ancient manuscripts have been smuggled from Yemen to Israel in the past five decades".
The state-run 26 September website quoted director of the center Suaad Al-Absi as saying that rings specialized in smuggling and trading in ancient anticrafts and heritage in cooperation with brokers from foreign countries have been involved in the largest trafficking operations through Turkey to Israel. "Most of the smuggled manuscripts dated back different antiquities including the pre-Islam age and the Rasulite era," Al-Absi was quoted as adding. Al-Absi condemend the silence of the authorities toward the systematic smuggling of ancient cultural heritage while calling for strict measures to put an end to this phenomenon.
Other observers indicate that "officials including those from the army are involved in trading in and smuggling artefacts from Jawf [governate] to other countries mainly those in Europe". Turkey does seem to be indicated as a major centre for antiquity trafficking these days. Are these items travelling with bulk commercial cargoes through the Suez Canal to eastern Mediterranean ports?

'Yemen: 2500 precious manuscripts smuggled into Israel in past five decades', Yemen Post 21st August, 2014.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Evidence in the Scrap Bucket

A metal detectorist writes:
After finding a few lead musket balls last Tuesday I returned to the same area today with my Deus for a few hours. What did I find, more lead musket balls, all those pictured above. The place just seems to be littered in them. Some are nice and round and some all (sic) splattered. The signal numbers they were giving off ranged from between 80-85 so I just had to dig them. I like to keep the round ones, the splattered ones are ok for my lead scrap bucket.
So he'd have not recorded them if they'd given a different signal? If he could, he'd discriminate them out and just hoiked the items that gave a better signal indicating they are something more collectable? So, even if we had other artefacts in the record from metal detecting that field, we'd not have a record of the skirmish or whatever activity produced this discrete cluster of historical artefacts. Any records made s a result of this sort of activity will, in their selectivity, be a reflection of the interests of those engaged in that activity, these are not data gathered for the purpose of another.

These artefacts which he has removed from the original surface assemblage are evidence of historical activity on this site, and the "nice round ones" (collectable) are no more and no less evidence than the 'splattered' ones that had been used. Study of the distortion patterns and their spatial distributions will reveal just what they'd been used for - but because this guy is an artefact collector, only after the "nicest artefacts" for fondling and display, and not a forensic archaeologist, he's throwing away the evidence of this past activity. In fact, not only is this amateur seeker of the past failing to curate the evidence he is stripping out of the site, he is wantonly destroying it. Not only does he not mention making a record of where this evidence is coming from as he strips it out, but he's actually sending the artefacts themselves to be melted down as scrap.

Anyone who thinks that metal detecting is an ersatz form of archaeology, and can produce information that can have archaeological usage needs to wake up and take a proper look at just what it is real (not cardboard cutout) artefact hunters do and why. They might like to consider why after spending seventeen million quid for nearly eighteen years, all we are getting from the liaison of the Portable Antiquities Scheme in fact differs little from a cardboard cutout image of this hobby.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Bloomsbury Countdown:

Come on, Bloomsbury, come on, you can do it.... PAS Countdown continues today: 995,517 objects within 629,220 records recorded (110 records up on yesterday), but..... more than eleven million probably missing.

Oldest metal object found to date in Middle East

University of Haifa
The University of Haifa has announced the discovey of a copper awl, the oldest metal object found to date in the Middle East. It was discovered during the excavations at Tel Tsaf ('Oldest metal object found to date in Middle East', Science Daily August 21, 2014).
The awl dates back to the late 6th millennium or the early 5th millennium BCE, moving back by several hundred years the date it was previously thought that the peoples of the region began to use metals
. Had it been found by an artefact hunter, and hoiked out of the context that dated it, this small piece of metal of rather nondescript form probably would not have got a second look and very well might have landed in their scrap bucket along with other unrecognised archaeological evidence. Thank goodness that metal detecting and this manner of treatment of archaeological remains as collectables is only legal in a few backward countries in the world.

Culture at Risk: The Global Crisis of Cultural Racketeering

The Antiquities Coalition have a thought (and anger) - provoking infographic on the scale of the problem of cultural racketeering in eight countries (Egypt, Libya, Syria, China, Cambodia, Peru, Guatemala, Mexico).  I'm sure I'm not the only one who'd like to see some sources for the figures presented as facts there. I also think the US organization would find it easier to be taken seriously if they'd replace the Disneyland quote at the top of the page from a fictional "Frank Stokes" (in a Hollywood film, "Monuments Men") with something less inviting ridicule. We have people out here that are doing their best, under difficult circumstances, to separate fact from fiction, something that can be regarded as factual from the trade flam. It's hard work. What we are finding is shocking enough, without having people (albeit no doubt with the best intentions) trying to sensationalise it.  

Rülzheim Tekkie could be facing Jail Time

Not surprisingly, a 23-year-old man who unearthed treasure in a forest near Rülzheim in Rhineland-Palatinate with a metal detector is now facing embezzlement charges after trying to appropriate the objects and sell them in February.
A court spokesman for the Frankenthal district in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate told The Local that the man is facing up to three years in prison and/or a substantial financial fine after precious items dating back to the 5th Century AD were spotted up for sale on the Internet. "If he had just found the treasure and reported it to the local government, he would not have been charged. His troubles started when he dug it up and then claimed the treasure as his own, and that's why we've brought embezzlement charges against him," Hubert Ströber said.[...] The amateur archaeologist, named as Benny C. from Speyer by the Bild newspaper
The treasure is reported to be worth up to €575,000. In most German states, finds of this nature are automatically deemed public property, administered by the state. Benny C. thought nobody would notice... Pretty thick, many metal detectorists seem to be.

'Treasure hunter facing jail time over golden find', The Local 14 Aug 2014

Processing of Jersey Hoard Continues

Archaeologists are aiming to remove and clean up to 500 coins a week for the next three years from a hoard found by two metal detector enthusiasts in 2012, they've already been working on it for the past two years An estimated 70,000 coins and pieces of jewellery will need to be separated from the binding mud, then properly studied, conserved, archived and published (BBC, ' Jersey hoard experts aim for 500 coins a week over three years' 21 August 2014). The full costs of the artefact hunrters digging this up from undisturnbed archaeological deposits for fun are not being revealed, but as one may imagine, they are going to be astronomical. Did we really need this dug up right now to burden the slim heritage budget, could not that deposit have remained in the earth until there was a pressing need to exhume it (properly) ad there are resourcves in place to deal with it appriopriartely? These are among the questions Britain is not asking itself about current policies on Treasure hunting. Cleaning 500 coins a week, keeping them associated with their locational data within the mass, is a stakhanovite target and will need gallons and gallons of coca-cola, or whatever it is they are using instead of careful mechanical cleaning under a binocular microscope.

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