Wednesday, 25 March 2015

‘Overvalued’ Dark Age hoard comes to auction

This is going to happen more and more now as the museums all get their case fulls of glittering trophy artefacts. A group of Early Medieval coins - disclaimed Treasure (YORYM-BC3AB2) - is coming onto the market on March 25 and 26:

This opportunity to buy items from the [...] Hoard is so rare because coins of this nature are normally declared treasure under the 1996 act and go to museums. In this case, both the Yorkshire Museum in York and British Museum disclaimed the hoard - describing it as overvalued - and so the 65 coins and four ingots, found by two metal detectorists in a North Yorkshire field in 2012, went back to their finders. London numismatists Spink have catalogued the material in about 60 lots for their March 26 sale in London. [...] The hoard came to light in two separate batches - with several inches of soil between them - a week apart. One batch of coins is Viking in nature, dating to the 920s,
Since the coins are not going to a museum, the Spinks catalogue is going to be the only record of the hoard while it is still intact. It was disclaimed because the Yorkshire and British museums already possess a larger hoard from this era the Vale of York Hoard discovered in 2007 near Harrogate (617 coins, the two museums acquired it jointly in 2009). The museums felt that the hoard, valued at £80,000 by the Treasure Valuation Committee had been 'overvalued'. Neither museum revealed whether they would be bidding for any lots at the Spink sale.   It is interesting to note that Spink's, for reasons best known to themselves, have christened thius the "Eboracum (Ryedale) Hoard" while in the PAS records it features as "York Area Hoard". The condition of the coin on receipt was bad, the coins had been "harsly cleaned" by the finder and some were badly chipped.

Treasure Hunters will be watching this sale closely, they say the TVC undervalues their finds.  Not, of course, that any of them are "in it fer the munny".

Source: Tom Derbyshire, '
‘Overvalued’ Dark Age hoard comes to auction' Antique Trade Gazette 24 March.
Hat tip to Kyri

Who are the real "heroes"?

In his presentation 'The Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Act: the Current Situation' given at the Museums Association March 2015 "Dig It: Museums and Archaeology" Conference Roger Bland trots out his usual stuff, but near the end responds to the widespread criticism of the involvement of the PAS in the hurried removal of the Lenborough Hoard from the ground . He justifies this saying:
"This was a rescue job and Ros, as our sole FLO at event with about a hundred metal detector users, did a heroic job in the circumstances and ensured that all the coins were recovered".
What a strange thing for the head of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to have said. I think he could not have been clearer for his audience if he'd used a synonym "with about a hundred potential thieving oiks". The FLO was rescuing the hoard from one or more of them coming back at night and stealing it, is what he is apparently saying here.

Meanwhile in tekkie la-la-land they are still having trouble (Bazza Thugwit 'Still a National Treasure') parting from their fond memories of an unscripted remark blurted out in January 2007 by a hapless Minister of Culture who called Treasure Hunters coming for their rewards the "unsung heroes of the British Heritage". So who is the heritage hero, the bloke with metal detector eager to hoik it all out, or the archeologists who beat them to it?

Tuesday, 24 March 2015

Roger Bland on the so-called Crosby Garrett Helmet and the Lenborough Hoard

(Looting Matters Tuesday, March 24, 2015)
"Bland has only placed his notes on line and not his refined final views. But his online presentation appears to overlook some of the key issues relating to both these 'finds'...". 
There is, quite simply, no "appear" about it.

There is a jump in logic in the first case. At Crosby Garrett the FLOs were eventually shown a hole, well after the object had been rushed off to Christie's; they were not shown the helmet in situ, or any photos of the helmet in situ. Bits of bronze plate from the fill of the hole found many months later may be from the helmet, they do not and can not prove post-fact that the helmet had ever been in that particular hole. Indeed the stratigraphy suggests that there are problems accepting that it had. The helmet and the floor layer the deposition pit cut through differ in date by up to three hundred years - where had the helmet been all that time, and why was it only buried when it was? Such a helmet would be more likely to be used and found somewhere near a major northern fort (such as Catterick, for example); who carted it all the way to a remote hilltop pasture and buried it, when and why? The subsequent small-scale excavation of the findspot reported by the finders supplied no answers.

At Lenborough, why was it a "rescue" situation on an unthreatened earthwork site in the HER? What has the presence of 100 PAS-partner metal detectorists got to do with anything? Dr Bland says:
"They did not appear to have been laid in any order and there was no trace of, or room for them to have been in leather pouches".
Did not "appear"? How on earth can anyone tell coming down on top of it in a narrow steep-sided hole in the fading light of a mid-winter afternoon?  Excavation - "rescue" or not - does not depend on "appear", it requires documentation. Where is the documentation that the coins were randomly scattered throughout the pile?  We note the apparent lack of any substantive discussion of the archaeological shortcomings of the Lenborough Hoard removal on the PAS's own internal forum.  Dr Bland is indeed totally missing the point about what people (archaeologists) are saying about what the Portable Antiquities Scheme did here and about what it is gobbling up millions of pounds claiming to be able to do.

Still, it is nice to note that Dr Bland is not entirely oblivious to what "some people on the Internet" are saying. One day the PAS will realise that they cannot go on dodging the very real questions that exist about what they are doing.

Monday, 23 March 2015

Macedonia museum staff guilty of trafficking artefacts

Agence France-Presse, 'Macedonia museum staff guilty of trafficking artefacts', March 3, 2015
The former director of Macedonia's national museum and six other people have been found guilty of trafficking 162 ancient artefacts, a Macedonian court said Friday. Pero Josifovski [...] was jailed for seven years and eight months, while his accomplices - five of whom were also museum staff - received prison sentences ranging from one to seven years. [...] The stolen objects, which included 121 made of pure gold, date back to the classical era and stem from the famous archeological site of Isar Marvinci in Macedonia's southeast.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Archaeologists Go the Extra Mile, and Detectorists?

I reported here at the beginning of February that after the bad publicity the Lenborough Hoard Hoik gave artefact hunting, in a show of good will, some UK archaeologists went out of their way to help polish up the image of the PAS-partners ('UK Archaeologists go the Extra Mile' PACHI  Feb 11 2015; see: 'Metal Detectorists - not all bad news'. They asked metal detectorists for "positive stories".
Stories about working in partnership on digs, of good practice and of adding to the historical record. The best stories will be featured on this website. We look forward to hearing from you, closing date is Friday 27 February 2015.
Since then, nothing has appeared. Could it be that there were no stories of best practice from metal detectorists submitted which were worth publishing? What happened?

US treasure hunters urged to support Stonehenge short tunnel

It seems that some in the US have little thought or concern for the way the European heritage should be treated, for some of them, it is something to be covered in graffiti and selfies, for collectors, no steps should be taken to stop the import of illicitly artefacts which they want selfishly to buy. Now, as Heritage Action alert, artefact hunters over there ("passionatly interested in preserving the past") disgustingly are being urged to support a destructive short tunnel at Stonehenge ('US treasure hunters urged to support Stonehenge short tunnel!' Heritage Journal 22/03/2015). As the philistine instigator put it:
May I through the comments section ask that support be given to the UK’s National Trust who favour the ‘short tunnel’ option to protect Stonehenge from traffic. We need to counter the propaganda nonsense spouted by Heritage Harry, aka, Nigel Swift of Heritage Action who is desperate to see the ‘short tunnel’ option binned. Write to:- enquiries@ nationaltrust. . I already have. Please support the ‘short tunnel’ option.” 
Note the usual name-calling and the motivation. Heritage Action are a conservation organization which attempts to defend the heritage against all sorts of things, which has brought them into conflict with those who want to exploit this resource to fill their own pockets. So, to cut off their noses to spite their face, artefact hunters are going to support destruction of a precious piece of Britain's heritage and the environs of a World Heritage Site, just to hurt those who question officialdom on their policies on the erosion of the archaeological heritage.

This is supremely ironic, given that the main threat (real and imagined) which metal detector using artefact hunters claim to be "saving" the past from is development. Yet here is a case where they could join others in trying to stop damaging development in a very conspicuous place (where one would have thought detectorists could show that they really 'care') yet they are throwing away the opportunity to be seen to be doing good through their sheer selfishness and bloody-mindedness. There is nothing new in that these are in general very selfish and bloody-minded people (despite that comment being on a popular and widely-read detectorists' website - you will note that not a single reader has commented that they saw anything inappropriate in the suggestion or the reason behind it). 

TAKE A GOOD LOOK at this behaviour, for these are precisely the sort of people the PAS wants to grab more and more millions of public quid to make into the "partners" of the British Museum, archaeological heritage professionals and to whom they want us all to entrust the exploitation of the archaeological record. Take a good look and decide what you think about that as a "policy". 

The rest of us might consider whether to go the way of the self-centred heritage-grabbing and anti-conservationist louts of "Stout Standards", or whether they are going to sign the petition. It takes a few minutes to do so and show you care.  There is a comments box - you might like to write "because I am not a metal detectorist", just to make the point.

Will Antiquities Smugglers be Thanking the IAPN and PNG?

J. Gelibert: 'Le contrebandier de la
Vallée d'Aure' (wikipedia)
The IAPN and PNG lobbyist is thanking collectors who as he put it "again asked CPAC to help preserve their ability to collect "coins of Italian types"  from bureaucratic overreach" (sic). If the ploy succeeds who will be thanking Mr Tompa for his work in ensuring antiquity smugglers have a carte blanche to import coins into the US with nobody at the border checking that they've not been illegally exported? The IAPN and PNG? Collectors? Collectors who will be faced with a market where illegally exported material is in free circulation thanks to IAPN and PNG opposition to the implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property? 

 After all, there is nothing against that in the IAPN Code of Ethics ("Diese Seite wird derzeit überarbeitet, schauen Sie doch später nocheinmal vorbei.")  It used to read: "To guarantee that good title accompanies all items sold, and never knowingly to deal in any numismatic item that has been illegally removed from an official excavation site or stolen from a public or private collection". Nothing there at all about smuggled artefacts. Once it is through the US borders a buyer in the US can claim 'good title' (as per the so-called Code of ethics here) of a coin smuggled out of any source country. And an IAPN dealer buying from a middleman smuggled coins no-questions-asked is conveniently not in any way ("never knowingly") in breach of the actual wording of their code of ethics. 

It is the same with the PNG Code of Ethics . There is nothing here specifically about smuggled artefacts either. The nearest you get is that "To refrain from knowingly [that word again] dealing in stolen numismatic items.

To what extent did the PNG ("Knowledge Integrity and responsibility" [sic] and the IAPN in financing Peter Tompa's lobbying on their behalf, intend to attempt to re-open the US market to coins smuggled from Europe? What other interpretation can there be for their opposing the extension of the MOU implementing in the USA the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property? Just what lies behind their continued support of the particular manner in which Mr Tompa, "Cultural Property Observer" conducts his lobbying on behalf of all IAPN and PNG members and the collectors they serve? Members, ask them how much this cost you. How much did Peter Tompa's legal firm receive to carry out this lobbying cost IAPN and PNG members over the past year and what do they have to show for it apart from a comment to the CPAC full of irrelevant padding, misleadingly-represented 'facts' and contentious statements?

Let us be clear about this. The phrasing of the texts constituting the majority of the opposition to the extension of a protective cultural heritage MOU between the USA and a major European cultural centre are quite clearly the result of the work behind the scenes of one man. Tompa is no doubt proud of himself for what he has done. The majority of the cut-and-pasted mass mailings of the coiney attempted highjack of the public discussion come from a template he supplied (and himself used) in their comments. Most of the anti-MOU contributions make reference to his cynical  sky-is-falling manipulation counting on collectors' naivity and stupidity that the extended MOU will affect all Roman Imperial coins

While Peter Tompa is single-handedly responsible for the damaging effect this creates of the commitment of US collectors to tackle the illicit antiquities trade, behind Peter Tompa stand the IAPN and PNG. The IAPN was founded in Geneva and aims to promote 'a healthy and prosperous numismatic trade' for its members, while the PNG is based (like ACCG's Dave Welsh) in Temecula CA. It says its aim is "to make the hobby safe for collectors and investors by maintaining strict standards of excellence and ethics for their member dealers". The activities of Mr Tompa which they support might be thought to cast severe doubt on their sincerity about that. A market penetratable by illicitly exported material may be "safe" (in a 'they can't touch you for it' way) but can in no way be said to be ethical or licit. If their lobbyist succeeds in his efforts to get the extension of the Italy MOU refused on their behalf, the US coin market will be in danger of being a major outlet for Europe's antiquity smugglers. 

Shame on you IAPN and all the "professional" numismatists in it.

Shame on you PNG and all the "professional" numismatists in it.

Shame on you collectors if you supported either of these organizations in their efforts to get the MOU withdrawn or reduced in scope so you can buy smuggled coins with impunity. 

Shame on the lot of you who say you care about 'preservation of the past' but throw a stumbling block under the feet of those that want to curb culture crime. Hypocrites. 

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