Tuesday, 28 July 2015

UK Metal Detectorists and the Heritage Debate

Money 'out of a taxpayer'
Reminder, this was an academic seminar in March 2013, when the UK had a proper PAS. It seems metal detectorists cannot get over the fact that somebody talked about their hobby in less than glowing terms. Pathetic and puerile. 
Who paid for [Mr] Barford to travel from Warsaw for this lecture? In a time of the ever shrinking public purse, I hope the money did not come out [sic] of the taxpayer, Liam

The British taxpayer, as stakeholder in the archaeological heritage, is fully entitled to have the fate of that heritage at the hands of an exploitive minority publicly debated. The event was attended also by metal detectorists who were able to express their views, though their presence was somewhat sullied by one disrespectful individual who used the opportunity to take illegal photographs and record the event without the proper permits. This "Photohawk" has not been condemned in the UK detecting community and the next such debate will accordingly be blocked to metal detectorists.

Just look at those comments under the blog post, all by metal detectorists (many by a single one posing as several sock puppets), and you can see why there is no point trying to include them in any serious discussion of heritage policy.  

The Antiquities Trade: The Virus of Denial

For the first time I can remember ACCG dealer Wayne Sayles writes (here RE: New German Legislation) more pompously than ex-ACCG Dealer Dave (Welsh). Most of what he wrote can be ignored as the usual hot air, but let us just highlight another case of dealer weaselwording:
"The ideological position that private collecting is inappropriate and anathema to the preservation of culture is both recent and (I believe) misguided. It's the most extreme form of Cultural Property Nationalism and the underlying basis for this new legislative attempt."
No. What is at the basis of this regulation is that the continued failure of the antiquities trade to do anything to exclude illicit artefacts is leading to the destruction of archaeological sites by clandestine and illegal commercial exploitation. This has nothing to do with "cultural property nationalism" (a term Sayles barely understands anyway) and everything to do with sustainable use and preservation of a fragile and finite resource. Dealers like Sayles refusing to admit that, and constantly trying to misrepresent it to their audiences as something else is the root of the problem. This is why many feel that in order to stop the haemorrhage of illicit artefacts, legislation is the only option rather than waiting any longer for the atavistic antiquities trade to develop some effective good business practices that will lead to the same end. They obviously are not going to, are fighting against the notion that they have to, pretend like twelve-year olds that the whole problem is not their fault, everyone else is to blame but them. If they feel that the measures being taken to stop their businesscauseing any more damage is "repressive", then they can only blame their own passivity as a profession (I use the term loosely) since the writing of the UNESCO 1970 Convention. Forty five years they've been ignoring it. That's 45 years too many.

German Draft Legislation: Where's the Scan?

While US and German dealers, faced with the prospect of actually doing the due diligence they all claim to do if they sell dugup artefacts in the heart of Old Europe, are managing to get kneejerk reactions from a lot of unthinking Disneybred US coin collectors, not all are following the Pied Piper under the mountain. It seems that the British are showing more discretion.

The mysterious group urging "Support the Responsible Hobby" originates in England and it will be a test of the extent of the influence of the Portable Antiquities Scheme there (with its emphasis on responsibly recording finds) how man (IF any) collectors sign up from the British Isles, otherwise the PAS will turn out to have been a massive waste of public money on doing public outreach which was wholly ineffectual when it comes to achieving best practice.

A British collector joined the growing kneejerky discussion on Tim Haines' Yahoo Ancient Artifacts discussion list among a select few who are actually breaking away from the flock mentality of the rest, and makes a very important point:
List members, The current German law of 2007  concerns  objects imported into Germany from another EU nation after 31 December 1992 or imported into Germany from any other UNESCO Convention signatory after 26 April 2007. So 1992 and 2007 are the current thresholds. Read through that law for other current conditions. I have absolutely no intention of signing any petition or commenting on this new draft proposal one way or the other until I see an actual copy of the draft proposal and know what it actually SAYS - rather than relying on a frantic campaign by a trade lobby and blindly accepting what THEY say it says. Show me the REAL ACTUAL draft proposal and I'll comment. Until then, it's all just hot air based on second-hand interpretations by groups with an agenda. As an historian, I insist on PRIMARY sources.  
It will be noted that nobody in any of the trade associations opposing this draft of the proposed law in the case of dugup artefacts has a copy of the text and a scanner. Otherwise surely they'd have put a copy of the entire text on the internet for collectors (and dealers) to discuss. Why, for example has the ACCG, firmly opposed to the document (so one would has assume has obtained a copy) not done this for the benefit of its members? Ms Kampmann, have you got a scanner?

Oh yes, there's one....
Red house slippers and a scanner - so where's the text?


Monday, 27 July 2015

Egyptian Artefact Smuggling and Transnational Organized Crime

Antiquities dealers buying ancient Egyptian artefacts without ascertaining that they are of legal origins are putting money into the pockets of participants of transnational organized crime warned Interpol: 'Egyptian authorities seize guns, drugs and stolen art in operation targeting illicit goods', 13th July 2015)
A 60-day operation conducted across Egypt targeting illicit and fake goods has resulted in the seizure of genuine guns, drugs and stolen works of art. More than 233 weapons, including shot guns, machine guns and rifles, 30 kg of heroin, nearly five kg of opium and almost three kg of cocaine, in addition to 23 pieces of elephant ivory weighing 43 kg were among the illegal goods seized during Operation Monitor Eye. At Damietta port, inside a 40-feet container allegedly containing wooden furniture to be shipped to the US, Egyptian authorities discovered 135 porcelain and wooden artefacts from the Muhammad Ali Dynasty which had been stolen from museums and a warehouse belonging to the Ministry of Culture. The operation, supported by INTERPOL’s Trafficking in Illicit Goods and Counterfeiting unit, was run by the Ministry of the Interior and saw interventions at land, air and sea ports, markets, shops and warehouses across the country between 1 May and 30 June. [...] INTERPOL’s Executive Director of Police Services Tim Morris said the range of items seized clearly demonstrated the links between various types of crime, requiring a coordinated and cross-sector approach. “Criminals will take advantage of any and every opportunity open to them, whether this is through smuggling stolen works of art or guns or drugs, or trafficking in fake and illicit goods [...] which generate millions in profits for the organized crime networks behind them,” said Mr Morris.
Operation Monitor Eye followed a three-day training course in April and demonstrates the increased efforts across North Africa and the Middle East to identify and dismantle the transnational organized criminal networks behind illicit markets. And still thousands of collectors refuse to help clean up the antiquities market.

Vignette: Damietta

Jackboot-fantasists in the Mall

This is a threat to collectors
everywhere:"Today Germany, tomorrow the world". 

Nazis on Dave Welsh's mind
Over on Moneta-L there is of course a lively discussion of Germany's proposed due diligence regulations. You know, that thing every coin dealer cheerfully tells you they 'did already' when they bought something for their stock. Now when it seems that to sell them to somebody in Germany, they'd have to prove that, it's a problem ("ooops-I-lost-all-the-papers-again"). This is what "Classical Coins" Dave Welsh has to say (RE: New German Legislation).   
In my opinion it is vitally important not only to develop enough opposition to defeat this attempt to legislate "political correctness" but enough outrage to politically discredit the cultural fascism that has brazenly attempted it. These extremists are not only against collecting, they are against freedom, and against the right of intelligent individuals to make their own informed decisions. We have here an attempt to institutionalize, in the government of Germany and thereafter Europe, archaeology as an official cultural ideology -- and that is every bit as wrong and ill advised as it would be to institutionalize an official religion. It is a form of totalitarianism, and I believe that the world has had enough of that, particularly in Germany.
Of course there is no question in a market where illicitly obtained material is in free circulation of due diligence being merely "political correctness" or "extremism". It is a matter of keeping tainted material off the market. Neither is the attempt to clean up the market any kind of "fascism" (comic-book cardboard cutout or otherwise) or assault on freedom any more than speed limits and red lights at road junctions are.

As for the idiotic notion of "archaeology as a totalitarian state ideology", what we are talking about is collecting histories and export licences. What it is proposing as a ruling ideology is not "archaeology" but following the law and avoiding criminal activity.

In the case of the suggestion that measures instituted to ensure the addition of illicit antiquities to a dealer's stock is "against the right of intelligent individuals to make their own informed decisions", it is amply demonstrated on every forum, discussion list and webpage on cultural property issues, that the coin collecting community (and that of the USA in particular) is not exactly overflowing with individuals even of average intellect and literacy skills. Funnily enough when it comes to following the law (driving a motor vehicle, selling weapons, age of consent for sex, taking other people's property, selling fireworks, employment etc) the German constitution does not enshrine a right "for intelligent individuals to make their own decisions", it is called there "breaking the law" and the German constitution (like most of those in Europe) is rather there to protect other innocent people from law breakers. 

But here we at last see what I suspect is the problem. Dave Welsh thinks "due diligence is for others", other dealers. He obviously considers himself to be an "intelligent individual" who can "make his own informed decisions". Thus we have it him selling Parthian coins as of kosher provenance because he bought them from a Spanish dealer and he's never heard of any looted stuff comiung from Spain.* Now obviously standards of what is considered "intelligent" will vary across the world. What may be considered an "intelligent opinion" in a Jesuit school in California would be considered a sign of utter idiocy in a grammar school in England.  Anyone who's gone to the latter and mercifully avoided the former will see that Mr Welsh's idea of "individuals making their own decisions" is no longer the sort of basis on which the antiquities trade of the twenty-first century should be based. Instead of subjective decisions based on what is made available at any time by foreign middlemen, we need the institution of well-documented good business practice, just as when eggs and potatoes are sold in German supermarkets. This is not "totalitarianism" or "fascism" (sic), but good business practice and consumer protection.

Vignette: Pennsylvania bill would require schools to post ‘In God We Trust’ motto

PS pointing out the mechanism by which he introduced those coins onto the market is what dealer Dave Welsh deletes in quoting that fragment of my text on his blog, labelling it "turgid anticollecting verbiage omitted". Apparently, in the eyes of those over-sensitive individuals involved in it, anything which raises any issue at all about the manner in which the commerce in archaeological artefacts is carried out is by its very nature "anti-collecting" - even though in fact what I was talking about was about buying and selling by a dealer and not collecting at all. 

Who Will "Support Responsible Antiquity Collecting"?

This afternoon I was asked by somebody calling themselves "Ethical Collectors" sic to stop tarring all collectors with the same brush (which in fact, I do not think I do) and take a look at the petition he/she/they had started addressed to "UNESCO, UK government, US government, government of Federal Republic of Germany and others" and called "Support Responsible Antiquity Collecting". The  blurb is interesting:
We, the undersigned, call on UNESCO and Governments to institute legal and other measures to clean up the international antiquities market, to eliminate the risk for collectors of buying anonymous artefacts resulting from criminal activity (looting, theft, smuggling, fraud) and to prevent collectors' money being put to nefarious purposes (financing organized crime, terrorism, militant activity etc).
I am unsure how to treat this, there are absolutely no signatures on this petition, and I am unsure where else it is being promoted. The creators (the email originated in a server in the southwest of England) seem to want to create the impression that there is a groundswell of responsible collectors out there who are opposed to the philistine tactics of their fellows. The effort falls a bit flat though when they cannot get a single collector to sign up to it and given the numbers that are signing up in droves to aa rival petition to prevent due diligence being mandated in the German market and thus support the criminals. That rather puts the notion of "responsible collecting" into perspective.

I am unclear whether the petition is open to signing by archaeologists and heritage professionals (such as the staff of the PAS) who "support responsible collecting", or whether the creators intended it to be signed only by ethical collectors (and are dealers eligible?). Anyway, one to watch, let us see what happens.

Are there any ethical collectors out there anywhere in the English (or even German) speaking world that would like to declare themselves in favour of artefacts accompanied by documentation of proper due diligence? Or are they afraid to put their head up over the parapet?

German Collectors Guilty

The petition "Für den Erhalt des privaten Sammelns" (sic) has now 3,723 supporters in Germany. This is the country where the media have been stressing that illicit artefacts from southern Europe and the Middle East may be responsible for financing organized crime and civil war. Nearly four thousand German collectors show they do not give a tinkers for any of that, they just want the continued ability to buy paperless antiquities and shut their eyes to where they come from. This is who collectors are.

The site where the petition was organized has some interesting features which allow the information to be analysed from a number of points of view. Here is the graph of progress of the petition (I have a feeling that in the next few days we will see some more populist alarmist anti-due-diligence material from the dealers to chivvy collectors along), and the map of where these collectors are. The black spots are festering wounds on the face of Germany's image, but in fact highlight the main population centres. It would seem that in Germany coin collecting is primarily the preserve of urban dwellers rather than the population as a whole. Is there perhaps some kind of psychological reason for this?

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