Monday, 30 June 2014

What Can St Louis Archaeologist do to Preserve Context?

Archaeologically damaging
urban encroachment in Missouri
Enormous amounts of archaeological evidence is being lost in the St Louis Region through ill-planned redevelopment, private landowners not looking after sites on their property, and looting. What can St Louis archaeologists do to protect this information. Why, it's easy says Peter Tompa, US expert on archaeological site preservation (Another Lost Opportunity):
[we] should also consider what archaeologists can themselves do to protect context.  At a minimum, why not hire site guards or at least monitor sites remotely during the long periods they are not being worked?  Or more importantly, why not promote programs akin to the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme?  This program [...] encourages the public to report what they find.  It also gives state museums a right of first refusal as long as the finder receives fair market value for their coins.  As CPO has said before, it should be about conservation not control. 
Absolutely. So why are St Louis and Missouri state not doing this? After all, how can the US expect places like Egypt to sign up to bilateral cultural property agreements with it, and allow the US to presume to stand judgement over Egyptian efforts, if the US  cannot take such basic steps to preserve its own heritage from encroachment and looting? How? Put site guards on each of the sites threatened in the vicinity of St Louis and set up a Portable Antiquities Scheme. Mr Tompa makes it sound so simple, so why are the US authorities not doing what Mr Tompa suggests?

These US collectors, dealers and lobbyists who are constantly belly-aching  about what the foreigners "should do" very rarely look at their own backyard. US cultural property observers from the ACCG stable are all too eager to complain that the brown-skinned folk have not done this, that or the other - and therefore deserve to have their cultural property colonialistically nicked by US dealers. Yet, if we look at the list of "conditions" the US dealers' lobby wish to impose on the brown-skinned folk of the source countries whose stuff they covet, it seems they have been less than assiduous about introducing them. In the US there are no inventories of the movable cultural property from sites on private land and now scattered (let alone "online"), there is no legislation to speak of for protecting sites on private land from redevelopment, metal detecting or other looting, there is nothing comparable to the Portable Antiquities Scheme, neither on a state or Federal level, nothing.

Really, is it not a bit pathetic that US advocates of change in the way foreigners do things in their own country point to models from the UK and not their own? Perhaps US "cultural property" (collectors' rights)  lobbyists would be better employed effecting change in their own country, gaining better heritage protection there, before they start attempting to dictate to others what they "should" be doing? Their inability to point to suitable models from the USA instead considerably weakens their case. It is strikingly ironic that this problem should be highlighted precisely in St Louis, infamous for holding on to cultural property withheld contemptuously from the brown-skinned folk, but unable to protect that belonging to the darker-skinned indigenous folk of their own hinterland.    

Ryan Schuessler, 'Suburban expansion threatens prehistoric sites near St. Louis', Al Jazeera June 28, 2014 ("As development continues westward, a new batch of artifact-rich sites lies at risk")

"Wayne's Words", or Somebody Else's?

This is rocket science,
the antiquities trade is not.
The so-called e-sylum (Volume 17, Number 27, June 30, 2014, Article 20) an 'electronic publication of 'The Numismatic Bibliomania Society' (a non-profit organization promoting numismatic literature)  has attempted to be topical with a discussion the 'Ongoing Debate on Looting and Collecting'. The journal is edited by one Wayne Homren [Computer Systems Researcher at United States Department of Defense, Washington D.C]. He makes a pig's ear of it. It seems the numismatist's idea of "publication" is lifting two other people's texts without sourcing them properly, stitching them together with some linking stuff and 'voila', a ready-made "noomismatic publication".

The first text is lifted verbatim from "Science daily". This turns out to be an edited version of the Baylor University press release - why not just link to that? Mr Homren vacantly sums it up as an article "blaming coin looting on collectors". But it does not. The nearest (the original) gets to it is: "insisting on the provenance of coins and avoiding giving money to those who buy from looters and smugglers". Mr Homren adds from himself:
I doubt there are many numismatists who would deny that the coin marketplace creates incentives for looters. The problem for numismatists is the push to assume guilt on the part of a collector who can't prove that his coin WASN'T looted at some point in its 2,000 year history. I don't like Asian sweatshops either, but without worldwide regulation and oversight there's no way I could ever prove my T-shirt wasn’t made in one. The haters are putting the cart before the horse.
So, once again we see the desire to play the victim. According to this model, there is no real problem to resolve, the problem is the irrationality of "the haters". Nobody is talking about a problem with a coin being looted two thousand years ago. This is another of those straw man arguments coin-collectors try to muddy the waters. What the rest of us (Elkins included) are talking about is freshly surfaced coins, and looting within the last few decades or so, and indeed right now. There is not even the slightest note of regret (instead there is one of defiance) that a collector "can't prove that his coin wasn't looted". Given the concerns about today's market, a responsible collector is one who will not acquire an artefact that has documentation proving its licit origins. Like the second-hand car, like the exotic pets.

As for the sweatshops, Mr Homren misses out totally the element of the "ongoing debate" about Fair Deal. Do they have "Fair Deal" products in Washington? Do the US Department of Defence buy goods produced in Asian, or any other sweatshops?  And since we have global markets, why not devise some workable form of global regulation to regulate them? Anyway, Homren goes on to cut-and-paste another text to make up his "publication". Mr Homren has lifted two largeish chunks of text of my PACHI post Dirty Old Coin Dealings:
At least the Science Daily article is professionally written, unlike the snarky tone of this screed against Ras Suarez.
He calls Mr Suarez "author of The Encyclopedia of Roman Imperial Coins" but forgot to say he's above all a dealer who sells dirt-encrusted bulk lots. I am of course not discussing Mr S's literary achievements or not (I've not seen this book). In my blog post I am referring to how he presents what he sells. In his efforts to present it as unduly "snarky" perhaps, Mr Homren has without scruples (numismatic, literary or otherwise) welded two separate fragments from my text together without any indication of elipsis. In doing so he omits a substantial 3540 character passage from between them which explains the title of my text and what my problems are with sales spiel of Mr Suarez's coins. Only later, after some other gubbins, does he give the source of the text he has mangled. In one thing, Mr Homren is correct; in assuming that I am not paid to write my blog (does his non-profit take money for amateurishly editing other people's stuff as his own "publication"?).  Homren goes on to explain to the readers presented with a fragment of my blog out of context:
'PAS" is the Portable Antiquities Scheme, a perfect example of the better regulation and oversight needed worldwide. In my time living in London I began to feel that there was no more civilized place anywhere in the world, and the PAS is another fine piece of evidence for that thesis. The PAS leverages market forces IN FAVOR of archeology and conservation by ensuring that finders have a strong economic incentive to report their finds to the authorities. 
What the...? Do you reckon Mr Homren's "defense" analyses are as incisive as this? Heaven help America if they are. Although it is not exactly rocket science, it obviously needs explaining a bazillion times to US coin collectors and defence analysts that the PAS offers no financial incentives. Neither is the PAS any form of "regulation". What on earth is this cut-and-paste merchant yammering about? The PAS "levers" no "market forces", indeed, that and precisely that was the subject of the bit of my text that the defence analyst cut out! The defense analyist continiues his analysis:
Absent such an incentive (as in most of the rest of the world), finders quickly become looters and only looters want to find.
Somebody has been confusing Mr Homren's mind with gobbldy-gook. This sentence confuses the notion of "finder" and "searcher". Treasure hunters with metal detectors are not the same as accidental finders, are they?  An accidental finder (toothless peasant farmer maybe) who stumbles across a few old items which his neighbour says are saleable and he "knows this bloke" is not the same as the dentally-challenged British nighthawk (or Bulgarian digger) that deliberately goes out at night onto the legally protected scheduled Roman fort site to hoik collectables.  In Britain, the latter has an incentive all right. All he has to do is lie about where he found it (nobody will ask to see any documentation) and he can get a reward from the state, or he can choose to flog it himself.

Mr Homren says that hoards "discovered in any other place would never be reported, and end up smuggled out of the country, landing anonymously in collections worldwide with no legitimate provenance chain". In other words, they end up in the hands of collectors who have no scruples about buying items without the slightest bit of evidence that they were legally obtained, who are quite willing to buy items which could well be totally illegally obtained. After all, the teeshirt might have been produced in Asian sweatshops, but if we shut out that possibility from our mind, who is to know... ask no questions, get told no lies. And nobody thinks about what is in the label, so the exploitation goes on; consumers get their geegaw goodies at a low price and the exploited carry on failing to get a fair deal.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Coin Dealers, Evasive and Tiresome.

Wayne Sayles really seems to be losing it, and coming across as a bitter, cantankerous and quarrelsome old man at that. He snidely suggests on the Bible History Daily blog that Nathan Elkins, responding to comments there on his recent BAR article on preserving provenance of dugup artefacts should be, for some reasons, "peer reviewed by a committee". What? He also calls other people's responses "tirades" and a "flame war". Those who wonder if one can trust the word of a coin dealer might like to check the rational points made countering the arguments of the dealers' lobby in the whole thread above that remark for the veracity of that statement. It seems to me that collectors of dugup antiquities relish playing the victim, and have very thin skins concerning rational discussion of issues which they see as some kind of violence done on their preconceptions. Pathetic little people. They are the ones complaining nobody wants to sit down with them to discuss the issues. First I think they need to face up to their own shortcomings.

A good example of this is when Sayles (once again, even though he has been shown on a number of occasions to be misleading us), denies that the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild is a lobby on behalf of coin dealers. He disingenuously pretends he does not "even know of any such organization". He insists that the website of the ACCG says it is run by collectors for collectors, and so should be considered a collectors' lobby group. Is that what Mr Sayles means?

Nonetheless, as anyone can see, the ACCG very clearly, both in the structure of its organization and in the focus of its lobbying activities (and the non-functioning of all the rest of the things it says on its website the ACCG will be doing) quite clearly IS a dealers' lobbying group. There really is no denying that, but in the light of Mr Sayles' persistence ion trying to deny what anyone can see, consider how more open-eyed readers might like to treat things said by US coin dealers.  [Let's also see the results of the recent election of officers, why if  this is a collectors' organization are only dealers and those professionally involved in the numismatic trade and publishing and dealers' wives being nominated for office? How much of a mandate does that give them to speak for "collectors"?]

Sayles goes on to accuse Elkins of  misstating  "the ACCG position on import restrictions". He then continues himself totally to misstate what Elkins said before contradicting it. What Elkins said was however entirely in accord with what Sayles later asserted was the case:
[the ACCG] vociferously and aggressively opposes any legal measures aimed at protecting historical and archaeological sites from looting and smuggling when it might also affect anything but a 100% “free trade” in ancient coins.
Which you may compare with Sayles' response, Sayles is confirming what Elkins had in fact said, but the dealer tries to make an argument out of it. Again, please take that into account when assessing anything a coin dealer may say.

This is more of the continual evasive construction of straw man arguments which the coin dealers' lobby hopes  to derail discussions. They just cannot stop themselves and focus on core issues, they always want to try and lead any discussion off onto some sidetrack, one which is focussed on them, their needs and how much everyone wants to conspire against and victimise them. Here too. Note that the topic of discussion on this thread was the need for preserving provenance with reference to coins in the context of "Biblical archaeology". Instead of discussing that and applying their professed interest in studying the past to that question, all the slimy and tiresome ACCG lobby (Tompa, Sayles) want to do is force a detailed discussion of one piece of the US legislation (CCPIA).

Montpelier Archaeology Certificate Program

Typowy poszukiwacz skarbów
The Metal-Detector Expedition is the latest archaeological program offered by Montpelier. Designed for metal-detector specialists and hobbyists, the program serves to introduce the significance of archaeological methods such as gridded surveys, density plots to define site concentrations, and a deeper understanding of the past. The Montpelier Foundation's Archaeology Department is developing leading-edge methodology for involving the metal detector community in the use of metal detectors as a remote-sensing device to locate and protect sites. One of the main emphasizes during the week-long training program is the importance of site context for individual finds.
More here. Note from the video the difference in information obtained from gridded detecting and non-systematic metal detecting survey. then consider what information would be gained by simple artefact hoiking with discrimination of signals and minimal recording.

Saturday, 28 June 2014

Lost in Coineyland: New Brooms Needed

New broom at
the ACCG
Coiney "Mr X" requires guidance. He's not getting it from the ACCG, not getting it from the PNG, not getting it from the IAPN, not getting it from the PAS, and not getting it from the CPRI. Not that he's asked any of them mind you, let alone going to the bother of looking it up for himself. That would be too much effort for any ancient collector to take any kind of initiative to independently research a subject, so he asks me to hand him the answer on a plate:
I'd be interested if you could give us a reference to these "UK export licenses".  Just what are they required for?
What is the point of these folk offering to"discuss"  anything at all with anybody when they lack even the basic information? I have long ago suggested that instead of their stupid illegal coin import stunts, if the Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild really wanted to help collectors, not themselves, they could more usefully produce a vademecum to the legislation regulating different aspects of the hobby. That was years ago, and they still have not done that. But maybe now they have Director Sayles' wife on board, we might see some changes from the gung-ho, brainless macho-man approach that has dominated the coiney discourse for so long.

Friday, 27 June 2014

Islamic Artefacts Bound for Switzerland and Seized in Denmark Return to Egypt

Mamdouh Al-Damati, Minister of Antiquities announced that eight Islamic artefacts,stolen in 2008 from Ganem Al-Bahlawan mosque in Old Cairo will soon be returned. The items concerned are :
wood panels from the mosque’s pulpit, dating back to 1429 AD, the largest of which is 150 centimetres long and 50 centimetres wide, while the other panels range from approximately 10-20 centimetres. Ali Ahmed, Director of the Retrieved Antiquities Department explained that the Egyptian Foreign Affairs Ministry had been notified earlier in 2012 by the Egyptian Embassy in Copenhagen, that the Danish police department had confiscated the stolen artefacts in a shipment travelling through Denmark from the United States to Switzerland. He further added that the Egyptian government filed a lawsuit in Denmark to retrieve the artefacts, however the court decided on the retrieval of one panel only in the first hearing. Further pleas granted the retrieval of all the artefacts, which are scheduled to arrive at Cairo airport at 8 pm on Friday.
It remains an unanswered question who in the USA had shipped the stolen items out of the US. It is also worth considering reasons why, when they were being shipped to Switzerland (there are direct flights), they considered it necessary to send them via Denmark. Could the intent have been to thus 'launder' their collecting history ("from an old Danish collection")? Had the seller got some false document suggesting a prolonged stay in Denmark and needed Danish customs documentation to make it more usable? Was the intended recipient a collector or another dealer?

Egypt retrieves 8 Islamic artefacts after court ruling in Denmark' TNN June 20, 2014

Avoiding the Fair Deal: Recorded by PAS, a "Laughable Solution"

I suggested that collectors, in order to obtain coins that were legitimately on the market, might cultivate connections with English suppliers and through fair deal transactions obtain coins that were (a) legally dug, (b) properly reported and recorded, and (c) exported with a UK export licence. Why not? That's one of the reasons the PAS exists, to liaise between the worlds of archaeology and artefact collecting. US coin dealer Rasiel Suarez (of the Dirty Old Coins bulk buy dealership) supplies some shocking statistics. Leaving aside tens of thousands of coins from disclaimed hoards under the Treasure act, the PAS record contains information on 189,346 such licitly (legally) obtained Roman coins (and 307,382 coins as a whole) entering personal collections since it began 17 years ago. How many have surfaced on the market as such? Mr Suarez has checked:
An absolutely laughable solution. Of over 1.3 million auctions tracked between 2007 to the present a sum total of just 113 have the string “PAS recorded” in their descriptions. Of those less than half are actually ancient and not a single one comes with a copy of related documentation of the sort Paul envisions. In fact, I could not even locate via Google image search what a EU or UK export licence for a coin looks like.
1,300,000 coin sales since 2007? In seven and a half years?  That is 173000 a year. What this means is that in any year since 2007 at least, half as many coins pass through the online auctions as PAS has recorded in seventeen years public funded work. That rather places PAS successes in some sort of focus. So what has happened to all the other Roman coins not auctioned off as the collector loses interest or dies? Just 113 of these coins have re-surfaced? Where are the rest, in a skip? Lost paperwork on the incredibly lax ask-no-questions-don't-get-told-lies ancient coin market?

In fact, another person connected with the dugup coin trade agrees - he says that the entire haul of dugup coins from the province of Britannia "can’t satisfy the market because they are too few relatively and are mostly late Roman coins". Not enough coins in the ground to satisfy today's market? He adds:
There is one dealer in the US who does specialize in such coins [...] I’ve never actually personally seen a UK export certificate, but they do exist and evidently should be procured for such coins found in the UK. The coins this dealer sells do come with paperwork describing the hoard, the circumstances of discovery and PAS hoard references. I’m also aware that he procures UK export certificates for such coins. Another larger dealer, CNG, also passes along references when they resell such coins, but I don’t believe they typically handle them in the first instance.
No, CNG does not, they seem to prefer other suppliers. Sadly it again has to be pointed out that our American informant needs to find out the difference between PAS and the Treasure Act, hoards reported as Treasure and disclaimed will not have a PAS number (though I agree they should). So, in fact in the USA there are only TWO dealers who offer material properly documented for them free of charge by the PAS. All the rest ignore this obvious licit source of dug ancient coins, and prefer to source other coins elsewhere. Is that because buying them through legitimate UK sources, a dealer would be forced to allow the finder to obtain a fair deal, a near-to-market price for the coins, something which - one might surmise - they do not always have to do if they get them from other non-fair deal sources? Are they exploiting other finders to keep their profits up, and if so, why is this not colonialism?

More Hopi Masks on Sale in Paris, just up the Road from UNESCO

UNESCO Whirling dervishes
The US-based Holocaust Art Restitution Project is miffed because it could not persuade the French government (more precisely the “Conseil des Ventes”, an administrative body in charge of regulating and supervising auction sales on the French market) to halt an auction sale of Hopi and Navaho masks at Paris' Hôtel Drouot on June 27th 2014. They've just issued a press release calling this "shameful" and "tragic".
"The Conseil has refused to consider the provenance information for these objects in its decision, when everyone agrees in the United States that title for these sacred masks could have never vested with subsequent possessors. Furthermore, adding insult to injury, the Conseil held that the Hopi tribe, in fact ANY Indian tribe, has no legal existence or standing to pursue any cultural claim in France".
But this is quite true. The entity which should be the petitioner in such a case is the state, in this case the US government, not any art foundation or ethnic group. Like the Ka Nefer Nefer case, this failed because of a procedural error on the side of the US, who don't on current evidence seem to be all that good at this sort of thing. They don't even have export licensing for cultural property.  Do HARP have any access to decent cultural property lawyers? 

Cultural property Observer: AIA "Stalinists"

Airhead vision
According to a comment the conspiracy-theory-loving paid lobbyist for the International Association of Professional numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild has just posted on his blog, the Archaeological Association of America are "Stalinists" who want to put coin collectors in FEMA-run  "Gulags". Whatever the AIA think of the trade in illicit antiquities, I am quite sure that there is absolutely no evidence to back up this wild accusation published on "Cultural Property Observer". It seems collectors are seeking absolutely any pathetic opportunity to play the victim.

In addition, whatever relevance that fact has to the collection of ancient artefacts (which I admit escapes me), the "cultural property internationalist" apparently thinks the transliteration of the Russian phrase до свидания is "Das vydanya". Somebody throw those unlettered airheads a dictionary.

Coin Dealers Playing the Victim Again

Poor dealer Suarez, he is at a loss. There's these nasty people saying he should be offering his clients kosher goods, and he cannot see how that is possible. He asks David Knell "and others who espouse your views" to:
simply point the clueless in the direction of a viable source of ancient coins where one may purchase free of guilt. Maybe you’re aware of some organization that sells post-dig finds that have been properly recorded? Any museums having a sale on overstock coins that have been appropriately catalogued? Name at least one source where one may buy “fair trade” ancient coins and I’ll be happy to retract my statement.
This is of course another of those completely pointless time-wasting pseudo-arguments typical of any discussion with these dealers in erdfrische dugups. I've been through this before with Dealer Dave (on his nasty little Unidroit-L forum), almost a decade ago now on an equally pointless discussion where he was ducking and diving to avoid admitting that there is an alternative to non-transparent no-questions-asked trading of "whatever comes".* There really is no point in discussing things with these people when you are just going round and round in the same circles, saying the same thing to respond to arguments already refuted in the last 'what I said this time. Note the 'fair trade' argument which I think is important when discussing the trade in licit versus illict antiquities. As was pointed out long ago by Brodie, the latter is doubly-exploitive: 
round'. Anyway, for what it's worth, I'll put up here
Rasiel, When it comes to Roman coins such as you have for sale on your 'Dirty Old Coins' and on Tantalus, Britain has, as many US collectors and dealers point out, pretty favourable legislation about finding and keeping such items, and there are many thousand metal detectorists out there doing just that. There are now hundreds of thousands of coins out there that have been legitimately found, properly reported under the legislation (through the Treasure Act for hoard finds and Portable Antiquities Scheme)  and available for purchase and export (with the required UK export licence). There are in the UK many dealers and middlemen who buy this stuff from finders and offer it for sale. It is a perfectly legal, open and above-board business (whatever personal opinions I or anyone else may have about that). The coins come with ready-made documentation - all you have to do is put it in an envelope and keep it to pass on. The detectorists have forums where you can make contact with finders. The Roman coinage supply to Britain was very rich, many mints and reverse types to choose from, coins of every emperor right through until the end of the Western Empire, there is also Celtic and some Byzantine, many of these coins are in as good or better condition than the ones pictured on your websites.

But somehow neither you, nor any other US dealer I can see [please correct me if I am wrong] have on offer any quantities of such legitimately-obtained coins. Why is that? Is it because you have suppliers which exploit finders and therefore can provide 'fresh-from-the-ground' document-free coins cheaper so you can make a big profit while offering them as "astonishingly affordable"? Is it because poor folk that you are, you cannot find an "organization" (see above) to funnel them right into your hands? (And what kind of an "organization" would that be?). Try networking with British finders, Peter Tompa does.

UK finders (when they sell disclaimed or unclaimed items to middlemen), get from them the market value - or near to it (this was discussed on a metal-detecting blog near you just last week). So any coins you resell from such a source are indeed in every sense of the word 'fair trade', the finder is not being ripped off and exploited as in the case of the illicit diggers that supply artefacts to "buck-a-coin" cowboys. What kind of neo-colonialist deal are source-country finders getting there?  

Please don't try to play the "clueless" victim with us (why do collectors and dealers always try to play the victim of some conspiracy against them? Are they seeking sympathy?) I think every dealer and collector in the English-speaking world knows about the Portable Antiquities Scheme, British metal detecting and Treasure Act, they quote them incessantly at every opportunity. Anyone in the trade who has not heard about them is clearly not in the loop. There IS a source where you could, if you wanted, access guilt-free, fair trade, ancient coins of precisely the calibre of the ones you have for sale on your websites this very moment.
[Omitted here the reference to the fact that Mr Suarez and Peter Tompa by raising more straw man arguments were again - right after David Knell's comments on the tactic - trying to deflect discussion away from the topic of the original blog post, which is simply bad manners, and a highly unfruitful manner for the coin dealers to demonstrate their alleged "willingness" to enter into discussion about issues of concern]

Collectors can help eliminate the dodgy market by taking on board that cowboy antiquity dealers with their "favourable" pricing are yet another expression of colonialist exploitation. Their profit margin relying on networking with dodgy middleman suppliers who obviously give finders much less than true market value for what they bring. Indeed, if we are to accept the open and transparent buying and selling of dugup antiquities, this colonial exploitation of foreign workers by dealers and their middlemen suppliers should be something  UK metal detectorists with a social conscience (if there are such things) could be campaigning about, fair deals for them surely means they should want to see everybody in a similar situation (including the brown-skinned ones) getting a fair deal. Why not?

Vignette: "make it happen" choose fair trade. Don't support colonialist exploitation in the antiquity trade.

Thursday, 26 June 2014

Reason Against the Coinheads

David Knell has added his two pennies' worth to the Biblical Archaeological Society discussion on "preserving provenance". He seems not to think very much of the coin dealers' line of "reasoning" either:
Apart from a genuine disregard for history, there can be only one reason why the coin dealers and their lobbyists are up in arms: acting responsibly is inconvenient. Refusing to buy stock that is likely to have been looted, carefully recording stock and revealing its provenance so that customers will know they are not encouraging looting either, and so on, are all a troublesome hindrance. To avoid that inconvenience, the dealers will invent any excuse they can dream up: archaeology isn’t important, coins aren’t important to archaeology, coins are all found in hoards, coins are common, it’s all the fault of the ‘source’ countries for not guarding the sites properly, archaeologists are just being nasty, and so on ad infinitum. All the excuses are blatant rubbish that are easily refuted but the dealers simply ignore that or invent another one. I have to wonder if the coin dealers spent half the energy on cleaning up their act as they do on inventing silly excuses to carry on regardless, people like Nathan wouldn’t have to defend what should be blindingly obvious. 
And that is it, the whole problem with dodgy dealers in a nutshell. What is more, those "any excuses the dealers can dream up" really are blatant rubbish (and I am pretty sure they know it) and anyone with familiarity with the ins and outs of the discussion with them over the past few years will see clearly that they are nothing more than a cynical deliberate tactic to to deflect attention, waste time and to attempt to discourage any further attempts to discuss things with them. Like UK metal detectorists, they just want to be left alone to do their thing. Obviously, they cannot, they cannot be trusted to ever get around to cleaning up their act by themselves, there is money to be made by cutting corners, and transparency is going to be pretty inconvenient to current business models (and contacts). It is time the business was better monitored and regulated. 

American Tourist Stole Coin from Archaeological Park

A reader has just sent me to a link on a collectors' blog where an American tourist tells the story of how he stole a coin from an archaeological park in Lucania, southern Italy, and then writes a 4000 word essay trying to justify himself to fellow collectors. He enthuses, almost wetting himself in excitement:
"I at last held a man-made object whose direct line of ownership passed from one anonymous Roman to me with no intermediaries howsoever temporary".
No, no ownership passes to you through theft, and the laws of the country where you were a guest are perfectly clear. But that is exactly how these people think, "the wops will not be able to look after it like me, it's just one coin, they'll not miss it, hey I am American" etc. This is the one that says "illicit is not necessarily immoral". Oh by the way he found that "object" next to a man-made surface equally old, which he'd been walking on. You see, it's not the same for these collectors "reconnecting (sic) with the past" and stealing a bit of it to have.

Note the comments by the amoral sycophantic coinheads below the text.

Vignette: the artefact-pocketing visitor may look something like this. Behind them is the only type of historic site it is safe to let people like this on, though they may then start picking the wild flowers too.

Iraq fears new wave of antiquities smuggling as ISIS controls hundreds of ancient mounds

Iraq daily Journal, 'Iraq fears new wave of antiquities smuggling as ISIS controls hundreds of ancient mounds', June 24, 2014.
The advancing Jihadists of the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) have now more than 400 Mesopotamian mounds under their control, particularly in northern Iraq, said a senior Antiquities Department officials. Ali al-Hashemi, the department’s spokesperson, said ISIS had three major Assyrian metropolises within the territory it currently controls including Nineveh and Nimrud. “The Ministry of Tourism and Culture is trying to preserve (Iraq’s) cultural heritage from terrorist operations, particularly in the provinces of Nineveh and Salahudeen,” Hashemi said [...] more than “400 archaeologically significant sites (in the two provinces) are under threat of illegal diggers and smugglers.” He said the ministry feared a repetition of the events that immediately followed the 2003-U.S. invasion of Iraq
"Of course there is no need to fear", soothes an anonymous spokesman for the antiquities trade, "our members would never touch such stuff". (I made the last bit up, but that is, isn't it, the sort of thing they say). We will see.

Boston MFA returns eight dodgy antiquities to Nigeria

. Goodness, provenance research, what a novel idea. SLAM, see that? Problems with the paperwork, and it goes back, no courtroom, no legal arguments, just good, decent honest behaviour on the part of a US cultural institution. 

More Blood Antiquities, Who Cares?

"Prospective buyers should be asking
themselves one key question, says Hardy: "What
are the chances that my money is going to buy bullets?"
Sam Hardy, quoted by National Geographic.

Heather Pringle, 'Plundering the Past, ISIS Cashing in on Looted Antiquities to Fuel Iraq Insurgency  ' national Geographic, June 26, 2014) uses different terminology in her more recent article in the series 'Plundering the Past'. She's discussing 'the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, better known as ISIS', a group of extremist Sunni Muslim militants, and raises the question of where it has got its funds from.
Much evidence suggests that ISIS cashed in on the Syrian oil fields it captured. But two weeks ago, Iraqi intelligence officers discovered new sources of its income, according to a report in the Guardian newspaper. While securing the safe house of a dead ISIS commander, they seized more than 160 computer flash drives containing detailed financial records of the insurgents. Listed among ISIS's key financial transactions were records of illicit antiquity trafficking.
She quotes the looting which we know has been going on in northern Syria during the civil war there, using as an illustration those truly shocking shots of Apamea
Sam Hardy, an archaeologist at University College London, who studies the trade in illicit antiquities, notes that insurgents and paramilitaries generally enter the trade in at least one of three ways: by running a trafficking network, facilitating smuggling through offering a service, or levying a tax on traffickers who move looted artifacts through their territory. Hardy suspects that ISIS commanders are likely imposing a levy on smugglers. ISIS "looks like they want to function as a state, so in that sense they would at least have to be doing taxation," Hardy says. But that may not be the end of it. "The talk is that they are also running the oil management and smuggling operations," Hardy adds.
Pringle however has rather too high an opinion of collectors. It's somewhat naive to say:
Clearly, collectors of Syrian and Iraqi antiquities need to exercise caution before making any purchases in the days to come. Some unscrupulous dealers are highly adept at laundering looted artifacts.
Well, they don't do they?  They stick it online with a little note saying "from an old dealer's stock" or "from an anonymous Swiss collection", or "with Jizz Scraggins" or some such meaningless dealer-mumbo-jumbo, knowing full well that most collectors will never ask for more, ask-no-questions-get-told-no-lies. I bet there are not even very many collectors who'll ask which country its from. No dealers are not "good at laundering" artefacts, they just shove them online 'as is' and 99% of the time, nobody ever picks them up on it. That is where we are today in the heritage debate. Click on V-coins and type in a few key keywords and see what evidence there is from the way things are listed on this "ethical alternative to eBay" that anyone there is showing those dealers they are "exercising caution". If they were, those dugups would be being listed differently by now. But they are not are they? But this was a year ago.  The National Geographic's voice of conscience goes on:
Moreover, recent research shows that there can be little distance and few links between looters, traffickers, and collectors. Prospective buyers should be asking themselves one key question, says Hardy: "What are the chances that my money is going to buy bullets?"
No Sam, in the case of these antiquities, they should be asking the question, what are the chances that they are not. Does anyone think they will? Or are we now going to see another spate of articles from the dealers,their lobbyists and supporters doubting* and denying everything? Which do you think?

* and yes, I think we all recognize that the claimed 36 million is in fact likely not to be from antiquity sales (that's a lot of Palmyra statues), but even the very fact that the question has been raised would have truly responsible collectors taking precautionary active steps to improve their own personal due diligence t set them apart from the could-not-care-less cowboys that get collecting its bad name. 

Dirty Old Coin Dealings

Dirty Old Coins
Over on the Biblical Archaeological Review blog a gaggle of coineys has converged to discuss "preserving provenance" of dugup antiquities (or rather why they say we should not bother, because it's bad for business). Rasiel Suarez goes on to suggest that ancient coin collectors are not only passionately interested in history, but have "skills in conservation and a desire to preserve and reconnect with the past". The dealer then goes on to say that in his opinion, "illicit does not equate to immoral", which will be news to many people I am sure. He tries to claim that the onus is on the critics to show why there are negatives in the no-questions buying of dugup artefacts of unknown origins and collecting history. In the same way I am sure there are dealers in such things who might raise the same points about cars, bikes and firearms with filed off serial numbers, but I think the rest of us can see through this line of argument. Personally I would steer clear of any dealer in any commodity who was expecting me to buy possibly illicit stuff ‘blind’ like that.

Mr Suarez continues to give what he considers to be a "positive" aspect of the trade in ancient coins
I can note by way of personal example that had it not been for the easy accessibility of ancient coins I would never have taken up numismatics as a career nor, however modest my contributions may have been, that in the intervening years I can still ultimately owe them all to buck-a-coin ebay auctions. In a rhetorical sort of introspective can you think of what positive legacy your crusade has added to the collective good of mankind? 
I think we are supposed to infer from this that Mr Suarez becoming a dealer is in some way for the "collective good of mankind". It is a shame he does not say how. Dollar-a-coin eBay auctions are not exactly the sort of transaction anyone should be taking pride in, I would say, especially when they are dugups offered with no supporting documentation of licit origins and export from the source country. Mr Suarez has a lot of such coins on his "Tantalus Coins" website (606 coins for sale). None of the ones I looked at have any details up front about their origins, or documentation of when and how they left the source country. None of the coins I looked at can be verified by the potential buyer as of licit origins. Why not? Well Mr Suarez seems to think that a “just say no” campaign will not "spontaneously spring from within our community", so I guess he feels he does not have to bother persuading what must then be thoughtless oiks to buy his coins. They'll buy no-questions-asked, he is sure. Attempts by conservationists to persuade them to do otherwise using reasoning, he is sure, "will not be effective".

We see the same thing, nay worse, on his Dirty Old Coins portal (he is a part-owner here). Just look at this.  Dirty Old Coins claims to be "leading educational company that brings this rich historical legacy to life through hands-on learning".
Our surprisingly affordable uncleaned Roman coins are real antiquities that have been recovered still with the sediment accumulated over centuries under ground. Learn how to clean and restore them using the same methods museums would, then learn how to identify which ruler among hundreds is featured.  Our Roman Emperor in A Box kit provides everything necessary in order to launch a lifelong interest in Roman history and archaeology making it a perfect homeschool project or a gift for the budding history scholar. 
The only thing they do not educate their clients in is the conservation issues connected with looting and smuggling of ancient artefacts. There is nothing about that fundamental issue on their "educational" site. But that is because the pretend education is a front for a shop. And look what it sells:
Uncleaned Coins From Balkan Region (Bulgaria and the former Yugoslavian countries). 3rd—4th Century $3.00/each,
High-Grade Roman coins recovered from France. Gaul was the prized province of the Romans and last to fall $6.00/each, [nonsense actually],
Restored Balkan-Region Late Roman Coins $6.50/each,
Recovered from Spain, these coins date from ancient Greek times through to the 19th century $3.00 each,
“Holy Land” coins. Here we have a nice assortment of coins found in the Middle East, primarily from Israel and bordering countries. [...] locally minted small Roman coins of the late fourth and fifth centuries there is good representation from other periods such as Byzantine, Judaean, Nabatean, Greek and other exotic origin (sic) civilizations.
Meet the big money. These large and thick Roman coins dating to the first two centuries AD were from the early period of the empire when the economy was at its peak. Careful restoration should yield a keeper in every case! $15.00 each
, [now take a look at the photograph of the totally worn slugs they are selling in this category and decide for yourself how much the sellers' word is worth in this case, come on, who are trying to kid?]. 
And so on, you get the picture. Now these 'Dirty Old Coins' are all coming from countries which have laws about taking metal detectors and spades to the kind of places where you dig up ancient coins (there are online databases of heritage law in English translation if any collector wants to check that out before clicking "add this to your basket"). What are missing from their offer are coins from the UK, where detecting on archaeological sites is legal, objects reported by responsible finders to the PAS and exported (as the law requires) with a UK export licence. Now, why would that be? Why are these Dirty Old Coins so "surprisingly affordable"? What about the export licences here? Why is there  absolutely no (as in zero) information about this on the Dirty Old Coins website? Now, you can get Bulgarian export licences, I saw some at the Warsaw coin show last year, so has Mr Suarez and his partners got them for these coins? And where did they come from? How did they get on the market in the first place? The old apotropaic formula "Old collection, predating the legislation and conventions" really seems difficult to apply here, to Dirty Old Coins, still dirt-encrusted. Oh and that "conservation" which coin collectors are supposedly so good at?
you will want to preserve it for display or storage. If the coin has not fared well in cleaning you may try restoring a suitably "ancient" look by using one of several re-patina methods available. If you are satisfied with the way the coin looks as is you could give it any of a number of treatments (see "finishing") to keep it looking its best. 
 That's what Dirty Old Coins calls "restoration" which has nothing to do with proper means of conservation. There are no books in this "educational" store on metal corrosion, stabilisation of corrosion products, preventive conservation either. No, it's a sham. Then we have the twee "Roman Emperor in a Box" kit ("a perfect homeschool project or a gift for the budding history scholar" - before dumb-down, we used to call them "books").
But for something truly impressive to add to your collection nothing beats owning a handmade coin from thousands of years ago! Our uncleaned coins come exactly as they were found in Europe still caked in hardened dirt so that you can have the fun of lovingly restoring these antiquities. For your reward YOU will be the first to see the coin as the last Roman who owned it. You can't help but make an instant connection with our long ago ancestors. Who could have lost this coin? A Roman soldier, a luckless citizen, a slave? What could have been bought with it? And for every question only your imagination for answers! 
No, a thoughtful and informed kid's imagination would dwell on who dug this crap up, what they trashed in doing so, what laws they broke selling them to persons unknown (oh, just "imagine who that could have been, real life cultural racketeers maybe, what they were up to alongside this - shudder"). The thoughtful kid might dwell on who might have got a backhander for turning a blind eye to the passage of this stuff out of the country, across the continents and oceans (with what other illicit commodities, another thrill of excitement, eh?). They might then speculate about who then could have received and warehoused these artefacts in the US and what connections might the thoughtful child consider they may have with criminal groups outside the country, and a thoughtful child might reflect whether financing such criminal links is in the interests of the USA. I would say that the thoughtful child, imaging all that would then have sleepless nights. Of course, it's all going to be speculation, because the person he bought them from cannot and will not tell them whose hands they passed through. I do not think anyone who's getting homeschooling in the US and is bought this kit by their homeschooler is really going to be thinking of any of that. More like "wow, cool!". They probably are Creationists too

I think we may all suspect, from all the information that, as the result of recent research and discussion, is  currently emerging in the public domain about the antiquities trade and how it really works, that the manner in which the bulk lots of 'uncleaned' coins reach the market these days involves a whole spread of trashed historical and archaeological sites all over Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa, a lot of less-than-licit dealings and most likely a whole trail of human misery caused by the very people that clandestinely bring those coins to the market. If Mr Suarez wants to claim that in a dirty old business, it is otherwise in the case of those dugups sold by Dirty Old Coins, he is of course perfectly at liberty to prove it by documenting their licit and wholly clean origins. His attitudes towards his clients, the collectors, cited above must be the only explanation of why he has not done that up-front on the web portal so far.

But do have a good look at this website and consider in what way Mr Suarez becoming a coin dealer has had "added a positive legacy to the collective good of mankind".

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces Establishes 'Heritage Task Force'

The 'Ministry of Culture and Family Affairs' of the Istanbul-based [but apparently US-backed] 'National Coalition of Syrian Revolution and Opposition Forces' (optimistically calling themselves the 'interim government') recognizing the propaganda value of heritage protection, has established a 'Heritage Task Force' with Dr Amr Al Azm (associate professor of Middle East history and anthropology at Shawnee State University in Ohio) as Chairman (Syrian Coalition, 'Interim Government Establishes Heritage Task Force', June 24, 2014). The stated aim of the Heritage Task Force is to "help protect Syrian cultural heritage in the present crisis" and will coordinate the work of "internationally recognized Syrian technical experts" coordinating its efforts with UNESCO and other international heritage organizations, such as ICOMOS, ICCROM, and ICOM.
Damage to museums, archaeological sites, religious buildings, and historic structures is known to be widespread. Just in recent weeks, a new wave of organized archaeological looting began at Dura-Europos, the Ottoman period gate at Deir Ez-Zor was bombed, the desecration of a medieval Christian graveyard, and the destruction of the Jewish Synagogue in Jobar and the Omayyad mosque in Aleppo. The Heritage Task Force was established in order to address these and other heritage preservation concerns.
And looky-here, the US State Department obligingly pulls out (June 18th 2014) of the hundreds of thousands of surveillance photos they have on Syria (presumably showing dozens of heavily-looted sites) a spanking new series to show looting... precisely where? Dura Europos of course. Coincidence, surely. The Heritage Task Force will provide a structure for protecting heritage sites in the areas under the control of groups opposing the Assad regime.
The Heritage Task Force will [...] work with the community groups and non-governmental organizations that are working diligently to protect heritage inside Syria. [...] As a first practical step, an emergency training program for museum curators and other civil society representatives will be held in the coming month. This training will focus on safeguarding museum, library, and archaeological site collections that are at extreme risk. An emphasis will be placed upon how collections can be safely sheltered in place. [...] The Heritage Task Force will support efforts to document the current conditions and future preservation needs. [...] In the coming months, it will work in conjunction with a new project to be undertaken by the University of Pennsylvania Museum, the Smithsonian Institution, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) that will track intentional damage and destruction to cultural heritage sites in Syria.
The Task Force will draw mainly on US expertise to achieve its aims, the Smithsonian Institution, the University of Pennsylvania Museum’s Penn Cultural Heritage Centre, the U.S. Institute of Peace (Washington, DC, USA) and The Day After Association (Brussels, Belgium). The training has been financially supported, in part, by the J. M. Kaplan Fund (New York, USA). Good luck to them.

Den of Secrecy

Archeologia "po angielsku" - skandal 
Incredible, you'd get more information out of a US coin dealer flogging off stuff illicitly dug and smuggled out of the Balkans than the PAS. I asked three simple questions, not infringing on anyone's personal data or any other considerations, has inquest taken place, did/will the PAS be taking part and which coroner deals with it. This is my reply to the THIRD letter I sent in that regard:
Dear Dr Richardson,
Thank you for prompt answering of my first question, I doubt there are really any good reasons for the FLO wanting to keep that a secret.
I suppose then it will only be post-fact that we will learn what PAS considered to be an "appropriate communication" to the Coroner and TVC. Going on the information in the public domain about the disturbing manner PAS has treated this case so far, I think stakeholders will more than be interested to discover what that was and whose interests it apparently served.

It really is no use pointing us to a list of "all" coroners in the UK when not even an approximation of the findspot of the find has ever been released to public information and anyone who wants to get a picture of what you and your 'partners' are doing to the archaeological heritage is left guessing what was done where (which is why I asked).

It is regrettable that in situations like this, the PAS is not more about public participation, transparency and promoting best practice rather than perpetuating the clandestine, behind-closed-doors manner of dealing like the antiquities market which the Treasure process mirrors.

Please will you be so good as to let me know when the inquest is scheduled. Thank you.
Yours sincerely
Paul Barford

These people act as though there are only two groups of stakeholders interested in the way the archaeological heritage is handled, the finder/landowner who hoiked the stuff and themselves who get to play with it and flog it to the nation. There are in fact 60 million other people in the UK who deserve to know what is going on, and to register their opinion. Why keep the information from them?

I am going to make a prediction/ hypothesis based on what we've seen so far of this high-profile case. My bet is that after the whole affair is over, we will most likely find out post-fact, that the the "interests that are served" here are NOT the public interest, or those of archaeology,  but largely that of the Treasure hunters who hoiked it.  Let us see. There was extraordinary interest in this case in February, and a number of extraordinary facts emerged in the public domain. Let's see it kept in the public domain and it will be interesting to see what effect they will have on the process that so many collectors worldwide see as a model one to be emulated. We will see how the model works in practice.  The photographs of Mr Sweetman in his hole have aroused great interest (actually, astonishment) on the Continent too, as - I am sure - will what happens next. There was another way to deal with this and that road was not taken by anyone involved. Maybe it is worth asking why. 

Transparency in the UK

Whose job description does this sound like?
"Person Specification (Qualification, knowledge, skills and other): Minimum: · [...] Awareness of issues relating to metal-detecting and archaeology [...] Ability to communicate effectively with a wide range of people, including finders, archaeologists, landowners and the general public. [...] Please note: The details above may be adjusted to accommodate the needs of applicants with particular disabilities".
Like an inborn inability to communicate effectively with other archaeologists? Next time when they advertise the job, they should put journalists on the list too.

US Boots on Ground Artefact Rescue Still on Cards at Dura?

Back in January 2014, Arthur Houghton informed an incredulous world (January 25, 2014 at 1:46 PM) that he was involved in discussions on a daring action involving NATO forces to rescue ("US Iraqi Jewish Archive" style) some of the most important artefacts in the Near East from the effects of the Syrian civil war, because "they are at risk of being looted and destroyed or sold onward to rapacious markets in the Gulf or China".  He apparently thinks some of them belong in America. Of particular concern were some "incredibly important" Jewish artefacts from Dura Europos:
It would take a very fast operation with limited forces and the technical ability to remove them from the walls, package them properly and then take them out, but I understand this capability exists.
He claims he has found interest in this scheme of his from certain highly -connected friends in Washington (PACHI 'Head Shot to a Curator?').  Now Dura seems to have fallen to ISIL, can we assume that Mr Houghton's appetite for sending somebody's sons and brothers into action to save these antiquities has increased or decreased? 

Historic Environment not the Only Victim of Increased Criminalisation of Illicit Markets

The non-sustainable and illicit exploitation of the historic environment for short-term commercial gain is only part of a wider problem of environmental issues which urgently need to be faced. Here is a report on the wider problem. UNEP/Interpol: 'The Environmental Crime Crisis, threats to sustainable development from illegal exploitation and trade in wildlife and forest products'.  Some of the findings and conclusions parallel what antiquities activists have been saying all along:
The pace, level of sophistication and globalized nature of wildlife and forest crime is beyond the capacity of many countries and individual organizations to address. Of particular relevance is the increasing involvement of transnational organized crime in the illegal trade of wildlife and timber, as well as the significant impact on the environment and development. Solutions will require a combination of efforts to address both supply and demand reduction, based on deterrence, transparency, legal enforcement, behavioral change and alternative livelihoods. Differentiated strategies for addressing illegal wildlife and timber trafficking must be developed across the relevant value chains (source, transit and destination countries)
Obviously some more holistic approach needs to be adopted towards protecting the environment. For an opinion piece summarising the main conclusions: Hilary Whiteman, 'Environmental crime nets $213B, threatens global security, U.N. says', CNN June 25, 2014. I wonder how many antiquity dealers and collectors will bother reading, let alone reflecting on it.

 Hat tip, report: Tess Davis, CNN headsup, Emiline Smith.

Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Saudi Arabia Approves Law to Protect National Antiquities

The Saudi Council of Ministers, chaired by Crown Prince Salman Bin Abdulaziz, deputy premier and minister of defense, approved a new law on antiquities, museums and urban heritage. ('Saudi Arabia approves law to protect national antiquities', Saudi Gazette,  Tuesday, 24 June 2014). This gives the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities (SCTA) jurisdiction over deciding what will be recorded as archaeological monuments and heritage.
The commission will register antiquities and heritage sites and items after the state approved their national, historical, cultural or artistic importance, as well as the need to preserve, maintain and showcase them. According to the law, all movable and immovable antiquities in the Kingdom or within its sovereign marine areas or legal jurisdiction will be the state’s property. However, there will be an exemption for immovable antiquities of private owners, movable antiquities registered with SCTA by their owners, and those antiquities that the SCTA decides not to register. The regulations state that anyone having a movable antique should submit it to the SCTA for registration within two years from the day when this law comes into force. Dr. Khoja said those who violate the provisions of the law by encroaching on a heritage site, or carrying out surveys or excavation for antiquities without license will be given jail terms ranging from one month to one year, or a fine of not less than SR10,000 and not more than SR100,000 or of both.

Coineys Plodding Along (Their) Track

My text discussing Wayne's World ideas where coins in context have allegedly "no archaeological significance" prompted a whole load of Wayne-supporters to crowd onto the Biblical Archaeology Society's "Bible History Daily" blog (the post 'Ancient Coins and Looting Preserving the context' 06/18/2014).

First to come along to succour the hapless Wayne is a "Peter" (sounds awfully like that disruptive PNG/IAPN lobboblogger from DC) and he tries also to argue (on the Biblical Archaeology Society's blog) that archaeologists know nothing about interpreting stratigraphical sequences, and what everybody needs is a PAS everywhere. Then comes a "John" who claims likewise to be an expert in everything in the entire world, and he says nobody understands coin finds as well as he, personally, does, even having an uncharitable go at Professor Elkins ("Having a Ph.D on a numismatic topic does not make one an expert in ancient numismatics" - not of the calibre "John" claims to be). Neither does having a big head: "John" considers we all need a lecture in 'numismatics 101' ("a beginner might think...") with tempus post quem thrown in. Collector Rasiel thinks that there are a lot more coin collectors than archaeologists and - UK metal detectorist-like - darkly warns of the effects of "antagonizing them". He is one of those who says that instead of focussing upon what smugglers and dealers do, we should employ looters as .. (well, as what exactly?) ... and "then they'll stop looting". Just like that. He insists we should all be friends as no-questions-asking coin collectors are... well, you can guess the 'My Little Pony' rest, we've heard all this trite idealistic nonsense before. Here's my reply to that little lot. The crux is what all the rest are simply trying to prevent being said by their time-wasting anti-archaeological deflections:
Surely, instead of this, all it needs is for the buyers in the rich countries to just tidy up their act and stop irresponsibly buying freshly-surfaced artefacts ‘blind’ (just say ‘no’). That, as has been pointed out many times, is where the help of “collectors as allies” is sought. If all responsible collectors took a conscious decision to switch to buying only that which they can personally verify is 100% of licit provenance, that is precisely a programme of action that would “legitimize the acquisition of antiquities like coins” and immediately resolve the conflict over clandestine excavation and artefact smuggling. Without it, eliminating illicit dealings in antiquities will be impossible, and surely eliminating illicit artefacts from the market is not against the interests of responsible collectors. And if in addition in the promotion of transparency, collectors would like to set up some kind of register (as William Pearlstein of the US Committee for Cultural Policy has recently suggested) along the lines of the PAS, that would be a great idea too.
The tone of the discussion is well- illustrated by this from coin collectors' BFF, one "John" who correctly guess my identity, claims some privileged knowledge of my personal history, calls what I wrote on stratigraphy and market transparency "near-lunatic and radical views" and assumes (June 24, 2014, 3:54 pm) the mantle of my exegist:
Where he writes “Secondly in stratified contexts, coins and coin assemblages are extremely useful as chronological markers and in reality few other artefact types have such a precise chronology (terra sigillata is one example),” is a sly dig at those archaeologists and excavators tempted to supplement their incomes the only ones with access to these contextual coins.
In reality, as anyone who has got an 'O level' or two can see, I was answering "Wayne", and talking about archaeological value, the ability to be used in post-excavation analyses for deducing chronology of a stratigraphic unit or block of stratigraphic units. The only person having a "sly (and slanderous) dig" at archaeologists on the Biblical Archaeology blog is "John" who seems to be more intent on causing trouble than adding anything substantive to any serious discussion between the collecting and academic milieus on "on ancient coins and looting". But - despite their declarations -  stalling such a debate is precisely what all the other commentators from the coiney milieu want anyway.

Rangel, Israel and the Antiquity Smugglers

Coins are looted too, and the profits are largely made by the bad guys, guys who are not always friends of the people of America - but then in this business, who knows who the money really goes to? Rangel and Israel are not in the know, that's for sure. These two however have unwittingly allowed themselves to play right into the hands of the bad guys. Don't let them get away with it. Do Rangel and Israel "represent" you and yours? Does antiquity smuggling "represent" the interests of civilized folk?  What are these people thinking of? Sign the petition: "Do not exempt coins from Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act".

ISIL and the cultural racketeers will not thank you for it.


Somebody called "Wayne"
Noah Wiener's (18th June 2014) post 'Ancient Coins and Looting: Preserving the context' has attracted a few comments. Among them is one from somebody who fancies himself as an expert in archaeological methodology. Wayne reckons that Professor Nathan Elkins' analogy in Biblical Archaeology Review between archaeology and a detective examining a crime scene is totally wrong:
If archaeologists are the “detectives” of history, and they truly believe that “coins provide a precise chronology when discovered in context” I fear that the past will forever remain a cold case. The truth is that coins are far less accurate as chronological markers than other contextual objects.  
What "contextual objects" does he have in mind (more to the point what IS a "contextual object")? As an archaeologist I would say that "Wayne" needs to do a little more reading up on the subject of archaeological methodology before coming out with such a negative suggestion that "coins are far less accurate as chronological markers than other contextual objects".  What does he mean, things like glass vessels, Viking battle axes or sword fittings, bone combs, fibulae, architectural elements, metalworking waste, type 168 cooking pots, East Gaulish terra sigillata?  What can he mean?  

I think most of us, except "Wayne" are aware that in stratified contexts, coins and coin assemblages are extremely useful as chronological markers and in reality few other artefact types have such a precise chronology (terra sigillata is one example). Even in such cases, if we look at the methodology behind the establishment of their dating, in fact their controlled excavation from coin-dated contexts has played a large part in its development. In any case, anyone who says that "looting coins does not damage sites because they can't be used for dating anyway", they are missing the point, looting a site for coins and other collectables will destroy the context of those "other" objects that Wayne insists are in some way "more important".

The archaeological use of coins however goes far beyond their use for dating stratigraphic sequences and zones of sites. Applied numismatics has for some time been used in the UK and here in Poland (and probably elsewhere too) to say a lot more about classical and medieval society using sourced numismatic evidence, and addressing wider questions about their use and significance than a few decades ago. None of this information is available when coins are surreptitiously dug up and flogged off to grabbing coin dealers who do not care where they came from. The study of the 'pictures and writing' on unprovenanced artefacts can never yield the sort of information being obtained by coins from known contexts and findspots that is being obtained by studies such as archaeologists Philippa Walton in the Heberden Coin Room at Oxford and Tom Brindle at Reading working on Roman coins or Mark Blackburn on the early Medieval coinage..

"Wayne" asks what the agenda was of the author of the piece. I would say that "the agenda" is encouraging better and more nuanced scholarship like this using more full information about the numismatic source material, one which I would have thought anyone seriously interested in learning more about coins would support.


From the Collectors' Campaign for a Clean Antiquities Market (CCCAM)
Everybody can see the toll taken by looters and we collectors are suffering the consequences. Unfortunately, attitudes in part of the trade these days seems not to encourage the development of levels of agreement and cooperation in reducing this problem. Instead, dealers and their lobbyists all to often engage in biceps flexing and chest pounding posturing in an unproductive attitude of self-righteousness. The Campaign for a Clean Antiquities Trade has extended a standing offer to engage in serious discussions with the dealers' associations with the aim of working together to establishing manageable parameters and transparency in the legitimate trade. The hoped for response has not been forthcoming. In fact, it seems that the dealers' anti-preservation rhetoric mounts daily. That is a sad fact, because the hope of some in the collecting world that private collecting can by responsible behaviour escape the opprobrium of being perceived as associated with those that clandestinely handle smuggled and looted items seems no less a pipe dream than it did two decades ago when our campaign began. The current rhetoric serves only to alienate collectors from society, to the degree that National Geographic, NBC and other media outlets have recently joined in with a flurry of activist op-eds and “articles” that merely inflame the situation. 

I don't give a link because - sad though it may seem - nobody among the responsible collectors that I firmly believe must be out there somewhere, has thought of setting up anything remotely looking like a proper collectors' campaign for a clean antiquities market, not "two decades ago', not now and I rather think anyone who thinks there will be one set up soon is in the same league as those who believe in coin fairies and coin elves. 

From their online behaviour, you'd be forgiven for believing that the average collector is the kind of guy who on looking at the picture above has at the back of his rather small mind a question why he had to pay slightly more, not less, for that unprovenanced Seleucid coin he bought last week from Messers Grebkesh and Runn the dealers, and who's getting all the good stuff? 

Monday, 23 June 2014

New Imagery of Archaeological Site Looting in Syria

The US Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has released some updated satellite Imagery of Archaeological Site Looting in Syria, focussing on three sites in the Euphrates and Khabur valleys in Deir ez-Zor Governate, the area where insurgents have been highly active.

The first site is Dura Europos, Abu Kamal, Deir ez-Zor Governorate, where since the first photograph (June 2012) and before the beginning of April this year, the entire area of the city has apparently been dug over pretty systematically, penetrating deep into many individual rooms of whole ranges of buildings. The latest Google Earth photo of this site dates to 8th April 2011 and when I looked at the looting as seen on Google Earth a few months ago, showed no recent looting. In the latest photos, the shadows are sharp, the sun is low, and the extent of the damage is shocking. It is a superb photo (is this a satellite shot or a vertical survey shot from a plane?). This hole digging was not done for fun or to pass the time, somebody has been getting something from those holes, and that something has been got for a purpose. They've found a way of making this hole-digging in the hot sun worthwhile.

At Mari, Abu Kamal, Deir ez-Zor Governorate, the latest photos available through Google Earth are also from 8th April 2011. The BECA have shown photos of 7th September 2012 and 25th March 2014. The looters' pits are visible in several areas in the second photo. Several of them cut through excavation spoil heaps as though the diggers knew that there was something underneath, and in other cases totally blank areas have been chosen - why? While the pitting is nowhere near as severe as at Dura, this is still disturbing. Again none of this new digging was visible on Google Earth.

The third site chosen by the BECA is Tell Sheikh Hamad ( Dur-Katlimmu / Magdala)where the Google earth photos show nothing (the only photo up there at the moment is a low resolution shot of April 2011). There is digging in three areas between March 2011 and March 2014. There is digging near the recent cemetery on the tell (which seems not to have expanded in the meantime), in spoil-heap covered areas to the southwest (do the spoilheaps perhaps shield diggers from view?) as well as in the old excavation trenches (ditto) to the northeast. There are also new pits on the 'lower town' on the north side of the tell (away from the modern houses) not marked by the BECA.  

What is coming out of these holes, where is it going, and who profits from it all? Whatever the answer we are all the losers here, it is the global archaeological record that is being trashed in front of our eyes, and this raises the question of what we are going to do about it.

US Collectors and their empty-headed, black-hearted, money-grabbing lobbyists, missing the point as usual, say "nothing, better smuggled than lost".   

Vignette: social change in action, destructive imposition of one group's ideals over another's
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