Sunday, 31 August 2014

More on Isil Looting, but What's Really Going on?

Sam Hardy has another incisive piece looking at the new stories on ISIL and the antiquities trade ('Are ‘unheard of numbers’ of cultural goods from Syria and Iraq making their way into auction houses in the UK?' Conflict Antiquities August 31, 2014). This time he's looking at Buzzfeed's Buzzfeed's Middle East Correspondent Sheera Frenkel's text 'How ISIS became the richest terrorist (sic) organization in the world'. The article contains references to what Sam labels 'unimaginable claims, contradictory evidence'. The first concerns the claim by the Guardian's Martin Chulov that evidence had been uncovered that through antiquity sales from one province alone ISIL had generated $36 million. Sam considers this information to be false and I am inclined to agree that he has a good point. The article also contained an estimated of the overall value of conflict antiquities ascribed to UNESCO, but Sam shows this was Frenkel's misreporting and
"that estimate is uselessly out-of-date and possibly entirely unevidenced [...] it’s a figure from a single twenty-four-year-old newspaper report, which hasn’t even been adjusted for inflation, let alone corroborated with evidence. UNESCO should not be recycling decades-old media guesstimates".
The most astounding claim Frenkel made however is that she talked with an archaeologist with a foot in the preservationist camp but working with rich collectors:
Archeologists trying to explain the extent to which ISIS has looted archaeological sites often rely on Google Earth to make their point. Zooming over areas of northern Syria and western Iraq currently held by ISIS, one British archaeologist told BuzzFeed, “What’s happened here is historical devastation.” “We are talking about areas that were part of the cradle of civilization being pillaged, artifacts going back thousands of years that should be studied in museums are instead disappearing to the black market,” said the British archaeologist, who works as part of a team that tries to verify whether antiquities reaching London are legally sourced. He asked not to be named as he did not want to expose his wealthy clients who guard their privacy. “We are also seeing unheard of numbers of stolen goods making their way into auction houses which are considered reputable.”
Sam discusses this quote, but this sounds like an apocryphal source to me. If this guy is so concerned about holes dug in Syrian sites, by what logic is he collaborating with collectors at all? Where is there a "team that tries to verify whether antiquities reaching London are legally sourced for wealthy clients?" Who employs him, does he work for one of the major auction houses? Finally, is it a lack of literacy or linguistic skills that prevents rich clients in London themselves asking a supplier to show the documentation of legal origins before they buy?

The whole reasoning behind not giving the informant's name is dubious. In what way would Sheera Frenkel, by saying "Tom Diggalot, a British archaeologists who can use Google Earth..." "expose his wealthy clients who guard their privacy?" That's just nonsense.

I suspect the improbable Tom Diggalot does not in fact exist. Another sock-puppet. In which case there would be nobody actually behind that claim that "we" (who?) "are also seeing unheard of numbers of stolen goods making their way into auction houses which are considered reputable". What actually is that supposed to mean? I cannot imagine anyone who actually knows the market making that claim in such words. As Sam says (and despite what supporters will claim - hi Kyri), we are still seeing more or less the same number of items in those 'auction houses of repute' with pretty skimpy and unsupported collecting histories. That is grounds for concern, and they may, or may not, be looted, but that is no justification for making the claim that they represent "unheard of numbers of stolen goods". Anyone who has some ideas about what went on in the antiquities market in the past would be unlikely to suggest that any modern figure is 'unheard of'. I'd say this was hyperbole and nothing else. Sam takes the point to its logical conclusion:
Frenkel’s sources avoided the problem of false evidence by simply providing no evidence at all [...] Are archaeological consultants reporting ‘unheard of numbers’ of illicit antiquities to the police? Are these archaeologists reporting their discoveries to the police? If so, where are the ‘unheard of numbers’ of withdrawals of objects from auctions? Where are the ‘unheard of numbers’ of prosecutions of illicit possessors, handlers, dealers and buyers? If not, is it because their employers require them not to share their evidence, or because they themselves do not consider it their duty as professionals and as citizens?
I suppose if they really do work for collectors or dealers, that might be a bit of a hindrance in their career development.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: From Folkstone Beach to Apamea

The reaction of the Portable Antiquities Scheme to Dave Crisp's exhortation to 'take up yer metal detector and loot' (and show the stuff to the PAS) was swift. Based on previous experience of discussing the issues with members of the public, they produced a page showing the benefits to our knowledge and stewardship of knowledge of the past through site preservation instead of greedy, self-centred acquisitive destruction of evidence through collection-driven exploitation (CDE). They put Britain's curio anti-protection laws in their global context of the measures taken all over the world to prevent damage to sites through them being 'mined' for collectables for personal entertainment and profit. They give a link to one of my blog posts about CDE going on at Apamea, Syria, showing the damage caused by collection driven exploitation over a wide area of this important town. They point out that a difference is that the "Code" of UK detectorists enjoins them to fill the holes in after they've finished hoiking.

The information page explaining the issues which was produced by this professional outreach scheme run at taxpayers' expense can be seen here.

Well, actually no it cannot. The PAS would not in a hundred years actually produce any piece of public outreach like that. They'd have another 'recording strike' on their hands the moment they did that, from the people that have the PAS over a barrel, their artefact hunting "partners".  You might well ask why.


My comment replying to the sock-puppet "Diggerdoc's" remarks on the Guardian (Re the Crisp text). It could have been phrased more fluidly, but these are not Daily Mail readers:
"Diggerdoc" how is collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record as exhorted here by Mr Crisp "doing a worthwhile job"? They are simply collectors, some people make personal collections of stamps and pottery figurines, these people collect artefacts abstracted from archaeological assemblages. 

Is collection-driven exploitation of archaeological sites not "doing a worthwhile job" in other places, Egypt  (El Hibeh etc.), Syria (Apamea, Dura Europos etc), Cambodia, Guatemala, France, Germany, Nigeria and Utah, only because these countries do not have a fifteen million pound Portable Antiquities Scheme there and looters there don't fill in their holes? 

Would UK bird egg collectors be "doing a worthwhile job" if there was a government scheme set up to "record" their depletion of a finite and fragile resource too?

For "even more" UK artefact hunters to report "even more" of their finds for professional recording (like the estimated eleven million found by metal detectorists since 1975, and the 134700 found just this year  of which there is still absolutely no record) the PAS annually would cost not today's 1.3 million pounds annually. The taxpayer would have to pay annually about 3,06 million pounds annually and in perpetuity. For "archaeology as whole to spend time on working with them" also costs money on top of that. How do you propose raising this money to save all the information from that "worthwhile job" of artefact hunters and collectors simply going missing, as it is today?
The ball-park figures for PAS full operation come from taking the values for number of objects the Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter estimates as not recorded this year (1st Jan to 30th August 2014: 134695 items) and the number of objects (93075) recorded by the PAS in the same period and then multiplying the average daily rate by 365.

The costs in fact would be greater as the HAAERC is based on there being 8000 active detectorists in the England and (for the moment) Wales catchment area of the PAS. Although the Counter has not been adjusted for the change in numbers of detectorists brought about by misguided propaganda, including from the fold of the PAS, that figure has now, I think, risen some 60%. I would say if we had the proper figures from an official survey, we'd probably be looking now at a significantly higher rate of depletion which should be measured at 12800 detectorists. That would come out as 4,89 million pounds annually to get coverage of even the basic bare-bones (findspot and what-it-is) information being lost through metal detecting. If these figures are right, a minority and erosive hobby would cost the British public five million pounds a year to support. These are costs no other country has, over most of the rest of the world the ripping up of a finite and fragile resource such as the archaeological record for personal entertainment and profit is regulated by environmental protection laws.

If these figures are right, there is a shortfall of 3.6 million pounds each year on the amount England and Wales are currently willing to spend pretending they are "dealing with the metal detecting issue".  Three million, six hundred thousand pounds worth of knowledge-taking each year remains unmitigated. And PAS-partner Mr Crisp says we need more unmitigateable taking - because he's got a book to promote.

 UPDATE 1st September 2014
"Diggerdoc"  of course never came back to reply. Another example of happy-slapping nuisance posting from the tekkies.

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Intelligently weighing facts and circumstances

Wayne Sayles June 24, 2014, 3:30 pm

Wayne Sayles likes to appear to be seeking dialogue, just not on his blog. I queried the name calling and admonition to go and "get ***ed" used there on Thursday, August 28, 2014 regarding myself, and posted a link to my answer to the point made there about the Syrian sanctions (trying to make out that bolstering the licit trade was an attack on it) and nothing else. It was not posted, but this was his reply:
By the way, I routinely block posts from certain agitators in my comments section for that very reason. This blog is not a forum for debate.
Well, we can discuss it here on this blog as part of the ongoing public heritage debate if Mr Sayles would like to say why he thinks stopping stolen, looted and smuggled artefacts coming to the UK from Syria is an attack on legal collectors and dealers. I do not get the point made of his blog, and I am sure I am not the only one eager to hear a more detailed exposition of the dealer's point of view. That's unlikely, but not - you understand - because he has any problems articulating such ideas. Oh no, no it's our fault:
I went through a phase of indignant rebuttal to archaeo-blogger polemics but realized that it was consuming time, energy and enthusiasm better directed toward more worthy endeavors. It is a futile confrontation. I try to ignore them and reach out to those who are capable of intelligently weighing facts and circumstances.
Like metal detectorist John Howland he means. He's unlikely to attract them to a little brown blog which allows no debate. What he actually means is he really has no answers to the questions which the archaeo-bloggers urging responsible collecting are raising. Especially as he is trying to make people believe that when we argue for more transparency and accountability in the antiquities trade in order to force out the dodgy dealers, what we are instead doing is characterised as "an effort to clamp down on legitimate collecting". It takes a specific mindset to appreciate how trying to reinforce the legitimacy of the legitimate trade is somehow an attack on that (very same) legitimate trade, rather than being an effort to clamp down on the illicit antiquities trade. These are nothing more than weasel words of a dealer in denial.

Clamping down on the illicit antiquities trade is surely something one would have thought that the collectors Sayles claims to represent would be all for, though it might make some shady dealers and their shadowy business partners rather unhappy perhaps. So on whose side is Sayles and his weasel worded denials? I think those "who are capable of intelligently weighing facts and circumstances" do not blindly buy dugup antiquities on the no-questions-asked market. They come to sites like SAFE, David Gill, Rick St Hilaire, Donna Yates and mine for the "facts and circumstances", rather than those of the weasel wording ageing shopkeepers moaning that nobody's listening to him any more.

Intelligently weighing facts and circumstances, it seems to me that the reader can really come to only one conclusion why US dealers are behaving in this manner, and why.

False Prophets in Washington Antiquities Lobby

A lobbyist for the no-questions-asked antiquities market was crowing back in December 26, 2012 that "SAFE No More?":
A reliable source indicates that Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) is effectively dead. While SAFE's website remains online, it has not really been updated for some time [...] I for one will not mourn the demise of SAFE. From the start, it was highly confrontational, and brought far more heat than light to cultural property issues.
Personally I would say that is a description perfectly fitting the grotesque blog of the author of those words. Peter Tompa does not produce texts presenting any substantive "observations" on cultural heritage issues, every single one of them is the sort of weasel-worded irritating provocation one might expect of an internet troll, and moreover he represents not one, but two international dealers' associations. The non-profit SAFE meanwhile goes from strength to strength, due to the dedication, commitment and initiative of its staff and volunteers. While strident jackasses in the US antiquities trade with their specious arguments and self-centred attitudes are among those who persist in damaging the image of America in the eyes of the outside world, organizations like SAFE are assets to US cultural diplomacy.  (I know the US Department of State reads this, how about some kind of award for them in a couple of years?). Thank you Cindy Ho for giving us all something of inestimable value.

And that is the reason why the US lobbyists for the shadowy no-questions-asked market in antiquities would be happy to see the back of them with their reasoned arguments in opposition to their confrontational nonsense.  I have every confidence that SAFE and the enlightened attitudes it represents are here to stay.

Focus on Metal Detecting: Welcome to Hoik Wiltshire Too

Dave Crisp and heap of coins
PAS poster-boy metal detectorist Dave Crisp (photogenic Frome Hoard finder) now writes for the Guardian ('The joy of metal detecting – it’s not just about the treasure', Friday 29 August 2014).
Yesterday, a treasure hunt began on a Folkestone beach where a German artist, Michael Sailstorfer, has buried £10,000 of bullion – 30 bars of 24-carat gold – as part of an arts festival. People started to descend with metal detectors, spades, forked sticks and anything else they thought might help, and on Thursday night a family found the very first bar. Is this art? It’s not for me to say. I can’t tell a Picasso from a potato, but it’s certainly given my hobby a boost.
Ah yes, beachcombing, using metal detectors to find coins and jewellery recently lost in the sand by holidaymakers, and the quirky other objects that they take to the beach (model cars seem to be common finds), or the odd thing washed up by the tides. in the meanwhile performing a socially useful function in removing rubbish, sharp can fragments, cutlery and worse. Sadly this PAS-partner did not extol that, he turned a discussion of an art-happening into a plug for collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record, artefact hunting and collecting.
It’s not all about pots of coins and jewel-encrusted gems, but the items people have lost over the past 2,000 years, the fascinating everyday artefacts – buckles, brooches, rings, weights and buttons. All these lost items are our history, and they shouldn’t just be left in the ground to rot and disappear. These Celtic, Roman, Saxon and Viking items conjure up the history of our shores, the people who made us what we are today, the ancestors whose blood runs in our veins, and their lost objects are ours to enjoy. 
"These Celtic, Roman, Saxon and Viking items" which artefact hoikers are taking by the thousand and adding to thousands of scattered ephemeral private collections (where it seems that the majority soon lose all contact with their findspot information) are not just capable of "conjuring up the history" (narrativisation -story telling). Through proper analysis of their associations and deposition patterns, they are a resource for the study of the past, one which we are wasting in a wholly unsustainable manner.

Out comes the self-interest special pleading "they shouldn’t just be left in the ground to rot and disappear". Being left in the ground is called preservation, and these "Celtic, Roman, Saxon and Viking items" have been in the ground one to two thousand years or more without "rotting and disappearing" until now and - in reality - there is no reason to think that the majority of them are any more "threatened" with "rotting and disappearance" (except if taken by hoikers and knowledge thieves) now in 2014 than they were in 1414. In 1414 when they had ploughs, frosts and manure - but no metal detectorists. What is currently the threat to the knowledge in the ground is the number of grey metal detectorists pilfering archaeological sites for collectables and it is irresponsible for Mr Crisp to write so blithely to encourage even more.
"Go on, take yer spiydes to th' 'eritidge, rissponsble like!"
PAS-partner Mr Crisp says its OK

Why not get involved in Real Archaeology instead?

Culture not Merchandise
The Glasgow Trafficking Culture Project folk tend not to get involved with the debate on UK metal detecting, especially now Suzie Thomas has left for other climes. Donna Yates however, despite a recent tangle with one of the 'ambassadors for the hobby' ventures an opinion on reading PAS-partner Dave Crisp's awful opinion piece "". She quite rightly asks:
Why not get involved in real archaeology instead? 
A simple question, I wonder whether the PAS would care to give an answer. Why not? Why is this not the PAS argument too? Fifteen million quid to encourage hoiking and collecting instead of archaeology? How would the PAS actually answer that on the basis of seventeen years liaison? I bet though, we will never find out, the PAS pretty consistently run a mile from questions of public interest like that.

Another Archaeologist Pussy-footing Around the Issues

In the comments to  PAS-partner Dave Crisp's awful Guardian opinion piece "", you can see British archaeology at its best (worst). Now bear in mind that Crisp writes: "We are very lucky in this country to have an excellent system where we can record the items we find, so they can be enjoyed by all. It’s called the Portable Antiquities Scheme...[bla bla]..." next to an avatar of a cuddly kitten a Guardian-reading somebody writes (29 August 2014 7:42pm)
As an archaeologist I have lots of things I'd like to say here but rather than offending anyone, I'd much rather direct any interested parties to the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) website, where they can learn about responsible metal detecting! Help us, don't hinder us!
You just wonder whether ms Fluffykitten had actually read the text. You can see how this kind of mind works "I'm an archaeologist, but I am too busy/important to read what a metal detectorist has written in a national newspaper, I'll just brush the whole thing off with platitudes". You see also the pass-the-buck, "it's the job of the PAS to deal with these people, not mine". I wonder too if Ms Fluffykitten archaeologist has actually been to the PAS website and seen just what is (and is not) available there. I defy her to, and then tell us what she found there about 'best practice'. The PAS website in its current form is the last place you'd want to send anyone for any information on portable antiquity issues in a wider context, or even the narrower context of best practice (apart from "we-are-your-friend-show-us-all-yer-stuff M8s").

Yes, I am well awere that all over Bonkers Britain there are a whole load of jobsworth archaeologists who'd have a lot of things to say to artefact hunters. They write to me off-line in droves about it ("would if  could, you know...."). Wimps. There are a lot of things Fluffykitten would I hope say if she say three blokes driving a bulldozer through Offa's Dyke (wouldn't she?), if she saw two teenagers digging a hole in a scheduled hillfort, kids vandalising a park bench (no?) or if somebody told her that there is really good evidence that Stonehenge was built 100,000 BC by  anthropomorphic space lizards which is why it is round and points towards the stars. At least I hope she would. So why not here? What is so "offensive" about writing: "This is why I think you are wrong Mr Crisp"?  Somehow, from seeing Mr Crisp in action on TV and You Tube, he does not strike me as being the sort of person with complexes who'd get  defensive and hurt if you disagree with him. He's not a PAS-poster-boy for nothing. He is one of the more articulate of all the PAS partners.

I wonder just when it is that British archaeologists, individually and as a whole, will stop pussy-footing around this issue. When will they stop using the PAS as a prop: "I don't have to deal with it, it is somebody else's problem". It is quite clear that the PAS is not "dealing with it", never have - and on current showing, never will. How long does British archaeology (including the PAS) intend to keep turning its back on the complex issues surrounding artefact hunting and collecting in the UK?

This is not intended as a personal attack on the lady who did write. I used her comment to make a point. I imagine there are dozens of archaeologists who read that article and did not even lift a finger to send a comment to register their disapproval (or support). Shame on the lot of them.

I see the PAS and its 'polite green men' now, like Vladimir Putin, have their own social media disinformation computer squad. I suppose we are expected to infer that somebody calling themselves "DiggerDoc" [Male Joined: 30 Aug 2014: one comment]. is a real Guardian-reading archaeologist who writes (30 August 2014 3:37pm):
Interesting piece, indeed. It's just a shame that more of my colleagues remain tight lipped when the loonier elements - the anti-everything brigade - sound off against people with metal detectors. They are, doing a worthwhile job and to be encouraged even more to report their finds, and for (sic) archaeology as a whole to work with them.
"Doing a worthwhile job"? That last sentence is a bit dodgy, isn't it? I hope you got your sister to read your thesis if you filled it with phraseology like that, "doc". Transparently a metal detectorist.  Pathetic really, they have to convince people that they have lots of supporters through sock-puppets. The remedy to people "sounding off about [policies on artefact hunting]" is to answer the points made. Just show we are wrong, "Intelligently weighing facts and circumstances" in the wider context they deserve to be seen in. Please, "doc".

Collectors and Syria: "get Stuffed"

Over on Wayne Sayles' Ancient Coin Collecting blog, he has published a comment on the passage of enabling legislation by the UK government [The Export Control, Syria Sanctions Amendment Order 2014 SI 2014 1896] to enforce trade sanctions in accordance with Article 11c of Council Regulation (EU) No 1332/2013 of 13 December 2013 amending Regulation (EU) No 36/2012* concerning restrictive measures in view of the situation in Syria:
The salient points in this masterful piece of diplomacy as I read it, hangs on the interpretation of the two words, ... 'If' and 'reasonable', a la, "[...]If there are "reasonable grounds" to assume that an object came illegally out of Syria,..[...]" On the one hand Her Majesty's Government (HMG) looks to assuage the concerns of the likes of [Paul Barford], while on the other, encrypts the message to legal collectors and dealers that it's business as usual and to be mindful of the key words. It assumes too, that the likes of [Paul Barford] [h]as the nous to realize he's been told to get stuffed. Well done HMG.
Collectors seem not really to be able to cope with more complex texts and apparently have problems understanding the legislation. As can be seen above, coin collectors and metal detectorists simply reduce everything down to a personal level. It is not just 'the likes of Paul Barford' who are concerned about the situation in Syria. The Executive Director of the Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild cannot see further than the end of his own nose and seems unwilling to develop the argument which he published, so somebody else will have to put him straight to prevent him, and his, misleading people.

The rest of us can see that 'Council Regulation (EU) No 36/2012' is not a document produced by 'HMG' (Her Majesty's Government) of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. It is Brussels phrasing the collector considers 'masterful'. Secondly the subordinating conjunction is not "if" but "where" ("Where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the goods have been removed from Syria without the consent of their legitimate owner or have been removed in breach of Syrian law or international law" - what the collector fails to note is that paragraph two of the amended article requires the importer to demonstrate the status of the goods).

Frankly, it seems to me that with the massive and, by now, well-known destruction at the hands of antiquity looters of sites like Apamea (PACHI Saturday, 4 May 2013, 'Looting and Conflict in Syria - do you KNOW where those antiquities have come from?') and Dura Europos (PACHI Monday, 23 June 2014, 'New Imagery of Archaeological Site Looting in Syria'), any artefacts legally exported by a responsible dealer turning up at any country's borders should have some kind of documentation demonstrating licit origins and export. It is the no-questions-asked trade which is allowing the antiquities onto the market bought by some dodgy 'middleman' dealer from a man at the Syrian border in a jeep with the dessicated impaled head of a young Kurdish boy on the front. That is what the 'likes of Paul Barford' are trying to combat. It is precisely that inability to actively differentiate between items subject to a licit and illicit trade exhibited by the crass comments of a blinkered collector on Wayne Sayles' blog that is the problem.
The commentator is wrong. The British government is not merely 'assuaging' and whims of conservationists as he suggests. The British government, acting in the interests of all the country's citizens, is growing concerned more than ever about the financing of terrorism in Syria and northern Iraq. The British government is very concerned about the British link in ISIS terror and human rights abuse. It would be good that collectors and dealer step in line with those concerns, and did their best to help stop the mindless slaughter, or at least do their (real) best not to contribute to it in any way.  I see very few signs of a willingness ("get stuffed") for that to happen in the comments published on Wayne Sayles' blog. Blinkered collectors persist in denial and insist on taking the public debate to a very personal level, and simply refuse to step back and look at the wider picture.

* Council Regulation (EU) No 36/2012 concerning restrictive measures in view of the situation in Syria and repealing Regulation (EU) No 442/2011

Coins For Sale, where from? "Get Stuffed"

Hans Memling, Portrait
of a man with a coin
of the Emperor Nero
WGS the "Get Stuffed antiquarian" has quite a few ancient dugup "Coins for Sale" which certainly do not come from the soil of Missouri. Look how he promotes them:
Coins of the ancient world have been collected widely since the 15th century and by nobility and educated society as far back as antiquity itself. The coins offered here are guaranteed to be authentic and are sold with a guarantee of clear title. 
Now, HOW can you guarantee that the buyer of dugup artefacts has "clear title"? Well, one obvious way is by providing them with documentation that they were excavated legally (for example in accordance with the laws of Great Britain) and exported legally from the source country. Is that what the "Get Stuffed Antiquarian" is providing here? It does not say so. So how else can you guarantee that if someone buys one of these coins there is not a polaroid photo in the archive of a dodgy dealer somewhere (Italy, Lebanon, Dubai, Syria, Israel?) that will emerge some day to haunt the buyer? Or of a 1933 Jewish coin collection that was seized by the Nazis with one of these coins clearly visible right in the middle? In truth, without the documentation, there is no way that Mr Sayles can actually guarantee clear title of undocumented coins and he certainly cannot guarantee that these coins are kosher-clean.

 So what's he got in his stockroom?
Not a single one I looked at of these 1026 coins had anything like a proper collecting history cited upfront, none have any mention of provenancing documentation or export licences. Yet some of them are from mints now in Iraq and Syria and thus potentially circulated in that region, and may have been deposited there. From whom did Mr Sayles' suppliers buy these coins? How much blood is on these coins? How many criminal acts and corrupt deals lie behind them reaching the USA? Mr Sayles apparently has absolutely zero documentation of the previous history of those objects (because if so, he'd mention it surely) so he can hardly claim the answer is "none" I guess that is why his answer is more likely to be the "get stuffed" we saw on his blog.

The question however will not go away. The existence of a no-questions-asked market does not mean that we should not be questioning very closely what chain of events these individual coins are associated with. Mr Sayles' support of the no-questions-asked  market (and his "get stuffed"), and the collectors he claims to represent, can only be seen as sinister and counter- progressive. 

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Welcome to Loot, but only in Bonkers Britain

Heritage Action put the looting of French archaeological sites by 'empowered and entitled' British artefact hunters in context:
Last month the nation was informed by Country Life magazine (briefed by the Portable Antiquities Scheme?) that critics of the British system are "scholars of the old school" (in other words, out of touch and wrong) and that Dr Lewis, Deputy Head of PAS, "actually welcomes" the activities of metal detectorists.
British archaeologists are hard-put to explain it to the French, and the Irish, and all the other countries of the civilized world that artefact hoiking is good for the environment. I have not really seen them overly exerting their intellects to try, have you?

Heritage Journal, 'French accuse English of cultural piracy. UK Govt trying to think of a defence', 30th August 2014.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Sex Discrimination in ACCG

Reconstructed group photograph of the current lineup
of the ACCG board
, the one they apparently don't want members to see.
The ACCG seems to be discriminating against Doris Sayles, one of its officers, representing US ancient coin collectors, by not replacing the retired Dave Welsh on the page presenting the officers with a biogram of his replacement, coin collector Doris Sayles. The page gives the impression that the organization is run by seven white men. What is Director Doris's numismatic specialism? What does she bring to the ACCG?

Friday Retrospect: Vandalism of Ka Nefer Nefer Mask - Who is Responsible and Why Did They do it?

In her discussion of the Ka Nefer Nefer case, K.M.Johnston ('Now You See It, Now You Don’t: A Hieratic Scrawl on the Ka Nefer Nefer Mask', Posted on August 7, 2012) discusses further "something that I’ve seen mentioned once in the literature, though I can’t remember where". I do not know whether she saw it discussed here, she's been a visitor to this site before, but here is a discussion of the significance of the damage to the object: PACHI Saturday, 26 March 2011: 'A Question for St Louis'; and this problem will not go away: PACHI Thursday, 12 April 2012 Scabby Hands at St Louis. That damage is very noticeable, yet there is nothing that suggests that SLAM questioned the seller about it either before the sale, nor after when they had the object, and most tellingly of all when they realised (only in 1999) that they'd bought an object from 1951-2 excavations in Sakkara published a few years later and shown in the publication with the inscription still intact.

That photo is quite significant, it was probably taken in 1956 and is credited to the Supreme Council of Antiquities, the significance of that is that the "collecting history" being propagated by SLAM has the object already in Brussels in 1952, so it cannot have been photographed (with the inscription intact) in Egypt in 1956. Unless it WAS in Egypt still in 1956, in the Sakkara storerooms. If there was any correspondence with the seller and previous owner (Zuzi Jelinek) or the SCA (to see if the negatives survive and there is any documentation of where and when those shots were taken), trying to get to the bottom of this discrepancy, it apparently has not survived in the archives of SLAM.

Bloomsbury Countdown

State of PAS database today 630,066 records concerning 997,498 objects within but many millions of artefacts not accounted for. Will they get their "millionth object" before they start their eighteenth year of operation the day after tomorrow September 1st? What will it be?

Egypt Tourism Revenue for Sites Falls 95% After Political Upheavals

Revenues from ancient Egyptian monuments such as the pyramids have fallen by 95% since Egypt's 2011 revolution, the country's antiquities minister has said. Revenues fell from 3bn Egyptian pounds (£250m) in 2010 to just 125m (£10.5m) in 2014, Mamdouh el-Damaty told al-Mehwar, a private Egyptian television channel. The drop has left the ministry – which derives most of its income from tourist revenues – struggling to pay thousands of staff. "The current yearly income is good enough to pay the salaries of the ministry's employees for just two months," Damaty said in the interview. Tourism in Egypt has been decimated since 2011, with media reports of social unrest coupled with western travel warnings putting off holidaymakers from travelling to most of the nation's famous destinations. Only 9.5 million tourists stayed in Egypt's hotels in 2013, compared to 14.7 million in 2010. 
Although there are better figures for the Red Sea and southern Sinai, there is still have a very big challenge in Luxor, Cairo and Aswan. Lots of people in these areas who have given up working in tourism and are trying to find new work.

Patrick Kingsley, 'Egypt tourism revenue falls 95% after political upheavals', Guardian, Friday 29 August 2014

Focus on Artefact Hunting: Coin "Rescued" from What?

"Well saved!" goes the tekkie sign of approval: "well saved M8". This refers to the myth that being in the topsoil somehow is sudden death for any artefact. The story goes that by hoiking finds like this out of the archaeological record and into their pockets, artefact hunters engaged in collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record (called looters in other countries) are "saving history". No, what they are doing is taking artefacts from the archaeological record, that is not the same thing at all. It's like "saving ivory" by shooting the elephant.

A few days ago we had some tekkie sock puppet (K.P. Volkswagen)  trying to tell us that nitrates and plough damage were destroying the archaeological evidence contained in the topsoil, so we should be happy that artefact hunters are putting some of them in their pockets. I answered that here.

Now the PAS is jubilating that one of their "partners" has found a gold coin of Magnentius ("one of only eight found - hooray!"). Disregarding the sheer dumbdown of such artefact (and gold) centred heritage hoorayism, let's have a look at that coin: IOW-923F8F

Well first of all Philippa Walton has already pointed out that there is a lot of strange stuff (Roman-coin-wise) coming out of the Isle of Wight. She thinks that's fantastic, I reckon it's suspicious. The findspot of this one is "to be known as: Isle of Wight" (an island the size of a large cricket pitch, isn't it, so it does not matter that the findspot is so vague, does it Bloomsbury?). Searching the database brings us no nearer to working out what other finds were recorded by Mr Basford which had been found in "Isle of Wight" on the same Sunday 3rd August, so zero information what else might have been found on that site, just a loose gold coin from "somewhere on the IOW". Whoopee. 

But look at the state of it! Battered and chipped, scraped and eroded, nicked and nibbled, bent and twisted. Late Roman gold is pretty pure (96-97% at this period if my memory serves me right), so its really, really soft. So its no wonder that this coin which has been in the IOW topsoil perhaps since it was dropped in the 350s looks so completely knackered. Another winter's ploughing and the whole thing would no doubt (NO doubt, eh, Mr Volkswagen?) have disappeared....

Well, actually not quite. This coin could well have been rolling around in the ploughsoil for centuries with nothing more than the scratch under the nose. Or it might have been dug up by yon (unnamed) artefact hunter from below plough level, straight out of undisturbed archaeological layers below plough level. In neither case has it been "saved". Who is to say which of these alternatives is applicable? Certainly the FLO does not record anything like that. Indeed, the FLO does not seem all that interested in the artefact and what it tells us, though he notes it is "one of eight" and "RIC VIII, p. 155, cf. 247". But that is just typology, its what makes it the same as all the rest. So what's the flat edge about? That's not plough damage. The coin has been deliberately modified. Look aroung the flat edge, you can see it has been hammered. Does the FLO mention that? Nope. He weighs it, finds what RIC number it is, did not bother to mention that damage.

Then there's something odd about the edge of the obverse, behind the head. The PAS record here mitigates the loss of information from artefact hunting (because the hoiker has hoiked and taken it away and now has it in his pocketses, if not put onto eBay or passed it on to that nice coin man who advertises in "The Searcher"). That is why the PAS record is full of details about the odd relief seen in the photo. The description is a model of clarity and best practice in archaeological recording [ironic text OFF]. 

Actually the "description" (I use the term loosely) as it stands has not a word on what the photo shows - or rather does not show very well. Is that gold solder on the surface? is it some kind of corrosion product which has come out gold colour in Mr Basford's photos?  What lighting was used here? Or is this a case of damaged dies being used, with a later 'nick' on top? It is difficult to say, and it is precisely because it is difficult to say that the FLO should have put something in his description. 

Now this is Mr Basford, one of the PAS's greatest assets, been at it a long time, has a superb relationship with his "partners", is often the FLO that journalists are directed to by the BM press office. This is not one of the 500 mysterious volunteer karaoke recorders, this is an old hand who has a lot of experience in looking at coins.  

I am sure the reason for the omission to give an exhaustive description of the find which has already vanished from view into some ephemeral personal collection is that the FLO is very busy. They all are. They want to get that millionth object recorded and FLOs are working flat out to boost the database statistics. But what point is half a record? What is the point of 'preservation by record' if the records don't give important pieces of information in those records? On looking at the fuzzy photos I am led to suspect that we have here some kind of traces of metalworking activity, somebody has bashed that coin with a hammer and it is possible to suggest that those cruddy traces are the result of failed soldering or maybe even melting. Were any other metalworking traces found on this site? Is the site Late Roman, or is this a case of a gold coin being reused for sixth or seventh century jewellery? In the latter case, this would not be a dot on the "Roman Isle of Wight" dot distribution map, but the Early Medieval one. But basically, the FLO's record of this find reduces all of that to pure speculation for lack of any useful information. All the public knows is that a tekkie hoiked and kept one of eight coins of Magnentius from a site somewhere on the Isle of Wight which we are not being told about.

What does that photo show?

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Bloomsbury Countdown

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Fake Coins Turning up in English Fields

(Museum Reproductions Ltd)
UKDFD 45779 is a coin found by "Hidden" (always hiding, those metal detecto
rists) in a field in Ongar region, Essex (parish also "hidden data"). This looks like a coin of Coenwulf of Mercia, tribrach type, Canterbury mint ('Spink 914; North 342') it is recorded as being of silver. The trouble is, it is a fake based on Museum Reproductions Ltd's No. 587.

With so much collecting activity going on in the UK, it is not surprising that the archaeological record is being contaminated by numerous visibly out-of-place artefacts. This one is visible, other out-of-place items may blend in to the background and not be spotted and find their way into databases like that of the PAS. This coin could have been one of a number of finds dropped in a field to be found by foreign metal detectorists paying as part of a detecting holiday, seeding 'club land' or rally site for the same reason, carried by somebody as a pocket-piece and accidentally dropped, a scattered and unwanted coin or artefact collection. Other possibilities exist, the potential for contamination is increasing.

Looting Hecatomnus' Tomb

Dorothy King ('Looting Hecatomnus' Tomb', PhDiva Thursday, August 28, 2014) has a series of photographs which seem to have come somehow from the looting of the tomb found in August 2010 in Mylasa, Caria, Turkey, probably that of Hecatomnus. Police found it when swooping down on looters. Dr King blogged it initially here, and also something about the coins here. The photos with the posed and variously dangled bunch of keys seem to have been taken after an attempt to move the heavy marble coffin in a confined space (nor surprisingly) failed. Do we have here a hint that the looters were looting to see if there was a market for individual elements slice3d as bas-reliefs from the whole? If readers have any information about these photos, please contact Lootbusters.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Staffordshire Countryside Officer gets it Wrong

Footpath men
A reader has pointed out to me that the Staffordshire metal detectorist who hides his identity under the name "Timesearch" (the one that started the discussion on throwing away loads of artefacts artefact hunters do not want for their own collections) has elsewhere made another revealing comment (Re: Sending of letters [about search and take permissions for metal detecting] Postby timesearch Tue Aug 26, 2014 8:44 pm):
The problem is making sure it [the letter] goes to the landowner., as the tenant may say yes without realising they can't legally give you permission [...] Never having been lucky enough to find anything which comes under the Treasure Act this has never been a problem, but you could find yourself in the position of finding the next big hoard and not being able to claim your half because you only had the tenants permission. Land Agents are different to tenants, as they work for the landowner. As a countryside officer working for a council I could legally sign on their behalf, but the tenants couldn't.
"Timesearch" gives the impression that he thinks not having permission from the landowner only becomes important when a detectorist finds something which comes under the Treasure Act and "not being able to claim your half". This is precisely the sort of attitude towards the appropriation of ownership of artefacts which Farmer Brown is talking about over on Heritage Journal. This is disgraceful, and you would have thought that seventeen years outreach by the fifteen-million pound PAS would have sorted this out by now.

It was also pointed out to me that on this blog I have already discussed the views of another detectorist from the Walsall region who has 27 years experience as a "local authority countryside officer" who was asking about artefact hunting on environmental stewardship land. See my discussion here (PACHI Sunday, 26 February 2012, 'Focus on Metal Detecting: Artefact Hunting on Environmental Stewardship Land'). Are these two gentlemen one and the same?

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Peter Campbell Stops "Stolen Heritage"

Stolen Heritage:
I have decided to stop updating this account. Several years ago an independent source was needed for antiquities news.There are others now doing this better, such as and . You can find my personal discussions
I think, while dealers and collectors attempt to get the upper hand to maintain the damaging status quo, there will always be a need for a number of independent sources of antiquity news and sites commenting on it. But thank you Peter for all your hard work.

Gimme-Gimme Collectors With no Conscience?

integrity, responsibility

ISIS Militant holds out hand
for collectors' cash
In today's media offerings we find two recent texts: Hyperallergic's  '' and SAFE's 'UK adopts resolution to ban the import of antiquities from Syria' (with the question "will the massive market of the US follow suit?). We also find over on the blog of a lobbyist working for the International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild  an attack on the idea of the enforcement of trade sanctions relating to Syrian cultural property. Let me remind "professional (sic) numismatists" what is involved:

It shall be prohibited to import, export, transfer, or provide brokering services related to the import, export or transfer of, Syrian cultural property goods and other goods of archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific or religious importance [...] where there are reasonable grounds to suspect that the goods have been removed from Syria without the consent of their legitimate owner or have been removed in breach of Syrian law or international law, in particular if the goods form an integral part of either the public collections listed in the inventories of the conservation collections of Syrian museums, archives or libraries, or the inventories of Syrian religious institutions.
The ANS has yet to make their position clear, but since many ANS affiliated dealers sell numismatic material potentially of Syran origin, it would surprise nobody to see them siding too with the lobbyist representing the IAPN and PNG. At a time when the US is putting resources into stopping the post-2003 human rights tragedy unfolding in northern Syria and Iraq, it seems downright un-American for US collectors, dealers and international trade associations to be attempting to hold out for their 'right' to put money blindly into the hands of those responsible for it.

Bulgarian State Agency for National Security Stops Antiquity Smuggling

The State Agency for National Security (DANS) has investigated an organized criminal group reportedly involved in cultural racketeering and smuggling antiques and antiquities from Bulgaria to western European countries, the US and Russia. According to the press office of DANS, the special operation was conducted at seven sites in the cities of Veliko Tarnovo and Shumen last week under the supervision of the prosecuting authority. During investigative activities the authorities seized a gold coin together with over 100 ancient and medieval silver and bronze coins, and a large number of bronze antiques. There were also weapons seized, including combat weapons and a heavy machine gun with ammo.

Meanwhile, though this one group has been caught at it, huge numbers of ancient artefacts from Bulgarian sources continue to circulate on the international antiquities market, bought and sold by people who have absolutely no interest and no concerns about where they come from and through whose hands they have passed. Zero concerns. And it is that factor, and that factor alone, that allows the illicit trade to flourish in the shadow of any licit trade that may be considered to exist.

'Bulgaria Busts Int'l Antiquities Trafficking Ring',  August 27, 2014.

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: (Non-) Participation in the Heritage Debate

PACHI  :  'Focus on Metal Detecting: More Entitlement on Show' Friday, 22 August 2014 (UPDATE)
"More happy-slapping nuisance posting from the tekkies. Obviously the intent of 'Anonymous' was merely to annoy, rather than contribute. This is another example of the same old tactic typical of UK's tekkies. They are not a bit interested in debating the heritage, but have every interest in trying to disrupt and derail any such discussion by whatever cheap tactics they can think of employing".

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".  

Abandoned Antiquity Recognized not a Moment too Soon

Stephen Drake and the mummy case he found in empty house
A Cambridge auctioneer has found the lid of a Late Period (25th dynasty?) Egyptian coffin in a house in Bradwell-on-Sea in Essex.
 He said: “It really was quite bizarre. I’d been asked to look at the house by relatives of the previous owner, who’d died. “When I got there the renovation work was fully under way, and a large hole had been smashed in one of the outside walls. When I stuck my head through and looked inside, I was surprised to see the coffin lid leaning up against a wall in the corner, covered in dust and cobwebs. There was a painted face on it and some hieroglyphics. “It was just like a scene from an Indiana Jones movie.” Mr Drake said the new owners of the house had no idea what the coffin lid was, but imagined it had been part of a collection of ancient items. He said: “I believe the previous owner may have collected old artefacts. There were other very old items in the house.” 
Donna Yates is suggesting the object is a fake, though on what grounds I do not know. The object looks genuine to me, in very bad condition, water damage on one side, soot deposits all over it, except the face, which some jerk has repainted with what looks like yellow ochre emulsion paint, going across the missing area of the nose. Possibly under the paint is some gap-filling to tart it up. I presume this was done by the previous owner, who mercifully stopped at the comedy mask. This is a good reminder of what can happens to archaeological artefacts in private hands. Collectors suggest that all collectors 'preserve' the past and 'look after it'. This piece has lost its lower half, contents and any associated items and information about findspot, has been been mistreated terribly and ultimately abandoned - with it seems the present owners of the building and its contents totally unaware of what it could be (they probably live in a hole in the ground with no TV). They could easily have dumped it in a skip, but called in an estate clearer instead. Oh by the way, there is no "seaside" at Bradwell, just hectares of mudflats and marsh - and a nuclear power-station.
Chris Elliott, 'Raiders of the Lost Sarcophagus: Cambridgeshire auctioneer amazed to find ancient Egyptian coffin in seaside house' 26th August 2014.

UPDATE 16th September 2014:

The sarcophagus was found in the former home of the big game hunter and journalist Captain "Tiger" Sarll, who died in 1977, and his widow continued to live there until her death in 2005.
The two-metre artifact is an ancient Egyptian Ptolemaic coffin top made for "Hor, son of Wenennefer" and dating back to around 330 years BC, according to an initial assessment by Egyptologists at Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge. [...] The coffin lid, described by the auction house as “a very rare and unusual Egyptian antiquity” is expected to fetch several thousand pounds when it goes under the hammer on Saturday, and dozens of advance bids have already been made from all over the world. Prospective buyers of the item, listed as Lot 1400 and described as “an interesting antique” are told “inspection advised” with some “paint loss and fading... worm holes...splits, slight movement to side.” 
Jonathan Owen, 'Egyptian embassy tries to prevent auction of 2,300-year-old coffin lid in Cambridgeshire', The Independent Friday 12 September 2014

Focus on Metal Detecting: Simpletons

Part of a 2012 metal detectorist's 'haul', showing the variety of objects hoiked.
The problem of non-reporting is not purely a figment of the imagination
of "simpletons" (sic). Part of the collection had been sold through
the English antiquities market by the time this photo was taken (BBC)

On a metal detecting forum very near you, "Liamnolan" (Re: Percentage of 'Keepers' - Tue Aug 26, 2014 3:04 pm ) is another one who attempts to explain away the doubts some of us have about the relationship between what metal detectorists in the UK are showing the PAS and what is actually being hoiked out of the archaeological record. He's decided to go for the name-calling tactic:
[...] There is always the chance that a simpleton =)) browsing this topic will not have a clue about metal detecting realities and thus not realise that the 99% of finds that are not coins etc are in fact RUBBISH such as tin foil, blobs of molten lead, shotgun cartridges, fragments of all sorts of domestic appliances, hot rocks ... the list is endless [...]

Simpletons are the people that write such crap, imagining that it will end the debate. Simpletons are the people who listen to them too. Mr Nolan does not name the "simpleton" whom he is addressing, but perhaps should be aware that in some of our cases (my own for example) we've been looking at metal detecting since the 1970s, when it started, have been to club meetings, out with detectorists on a number of occasions in more than one country, and have made a close study of the problem for a decade and a half. Anyone who's ever been involved in fieldwork of any kind (fieldwalking, earthwork surveying, hedgerow dating, excavation) in the heavily-littered English countryside is well aware of what gets into the fields in dirty Britain. I would say the accusation that people like that still "have not a clue about metal detecting realities" is clutching at straws. Certainly, I know enough about metal detecting argumentation to know that this very same argument has been trotted out regularly over the years.

This was the case in March 2005 when on another forum, the tekkies decided to put their money where their mouth is. They actually set out to demonstrate it. Thirty of them did, in different parts of the country. a total of 112 detecting hours, they turned off their discrimination and determined to "dig every target", ostensibly for a three hour session and log the results. They were going to show that - as Liamnolan puts it, "99% of finds are in fact rubbish".

They dug 1521 "hits". Of these only 493 were very modern finds (so to list the categories mentions by Liam Nolan: tin foil 61 pieces, ringpulls and drink can pieces 111, shotgun cartridges 173, fragments of domestic appliances and electrical waste 14). Hot rocks accounted for 14 dug hits.  There were 15 very modern coins (plus '14p in coppers').

The 'blobs of molten lead' may be "rubbish" to a collector, but could equally be archaeological evidence, deriving from reuse of Roman bath house fittings, roof lead flashings, medieval came manufacture, silver refining waste and so on (dating it would depend on the recording of distribution pattern taken with those of other artefact types). The 2005 survey found 262 pieces of lead 'scrap'.

Apart from that there were 456 artefacts falling into the group categorised by Nigel Swift and myself as 'Old Timey' (collectable - and saleable - items between c. 300 and c. 90 years old  but not recordable by the PAS). Among these were 71 coins.

What is significant is that there were 55 PAS-recordable finds found in this exercise (one 'keeper' per two hours' detecting in this case).* Of these 30 were coins.

Those figures break down to
Recordable collectables: 4%,
Old Timey collectables, 30%,
Very Modern 32%,
Unattributed and scrap (by the finders) 34% 
 This is a far cry from the "99%" rubbish claim. If we are talking about modern items, the figure shown by this survey is actually 32%.** I am sure that had the items not attributed by the finders been examined properly more archaeological items would have been recognized among them.  (See also: PACHI  Detecting Under the Microscope 13: Finds or Portable Antiquities? What is Being Thrown Away?).

These are the sort of "metal detecting realities" we are talking about. The ones that induce detecting forum moderators to delete posts or entire threads when they are pointed out.

*Actual rates will be higher, these people had discrimination turned off and were deliberately spending time digging signals they knew were duds. 

**"Oh, what about Green Waste?" you can almost hear them screaming. What's the betting the next such survey will be done only on "Green Waste fields" to boost the "Very modern" category - you know, the fields the detectorists would normally avoid for that very reason

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Building material

pantiles for detectorists (Builder Bill)
It's damage control time on a metal detecting forum near you, obviously (Percentage of 'Keepers'). Now we have another tekkie extolling the virtues of keeping artefacts instead of binning what is not wanted for a personal collection. This one ("Timesearch" from Staffordshire - Tue Aug 26, 2014 9:21 am) begins by telling us: "My interest in metal detecting came out of 25 years working in the heritage sector". I guess we are supposed to be impressed by the non-specific use of the H-word. He is careful to point out that he does not dig deep holes to take items away, claiming that this therefore is: "no threat to underlying archaeology". Missing the point totally of course, since surface sites are also a major subject of archaeological research. Odd though that for a heritage professional he is ignorant about basic facts and terminology. he announces:
I'm about to work on a site where pantiles have been found, indicating Roman occupation [which is going to be] steirlised by being turned into a car park.
Hmm, if it's being sealed by a car park, then there is no need to do anything, it will be preserved under the asphalt. But, "Timesearch" is of course thinking a site which is no longer available for his and his mates' hoiking is in some way being damaged rather than preserved.

But then this collector seems not to have learnt very much about the things one can find in fields anyway. He's far off the mark in thinking pantiles are an indicator of a Roman site (what do they teach "heritage professionals" with metal detectors these days?). They were and are used mainly on the eastern side of England and Scotland and were first imported from Holland in the early 17th century. But then, this is wholly typical of these collectors who say they are hoiking stuff, chucking what they don't want and walking off with the nicer collectables in order to study the past. They are not, are they if they are chucking away, totally disregarded, the stuff they do not want, to the degree that this numpty apparently cannot even tell the difference between Romano-British and post Medieval ceramic building material. Most artefact hunters do not collect anything other than metal (and primarily non-ferrous metal) objects  to "study the past" (sic). You cannot study the past on the basis of discarding most of the evidence for it. In the same way as you could not say very much about our own society on the basis of just going through the yellow bins into which residents have segregated all the plastic. What the PAS is collecting data on is not "evidence of the past" it is evidence of the scope of today's collecting activities and collectors like this one cannot even recognize a very common and diagnostic artefact type - how reliable is this person's recording of the context of deposition of any artefact he hands in?

Of course if the PAS would produce 'a guide to common building material types worth recording' like they did the COINS  they after seventeen years, we'd be getting somewhere.

Builder Bill has photos of Roman tegulae and imbreces and a brief text in simple English: Imbrex and tegula.

UPDATE 28th August 2014
A reader has pointed out to me that the Staffordshire metal detectorist who hides his identity under the name "Timesearch" has elsewhere supplied the information what is meant by  "25 years working in the heritage sector" ('Timesearch', Tue Aug 26, 2014 8:44 pm):  
As a countryside officer working for a council I could legally sign on their behalf, but the tenants couldn't.
[countryside officer ].

Metal Detecting and the Heritage Debate: "Disappointed this is happening again".

Metal detectorists apparently consider that what they do happens in a vacuum. They take stuff, the rest of us are expected just to turn away and let them. The very idea that there might be some kind of debate about what we do to the heritage, what we allow to happen to it seems an anathema to them, indeed the possibility apparently never crossed their minds. So artefact hunter Kris Rodgers of 'National Geographic' and Greg's Bedroom fame "Addicted to Bleeps"adds his latest to the 'Re: Percentage of 'Keepers' thread (Tue Aug 26, 2014 4:17 pm:
Since I wrote my post, I've learnt about the underlying politics concerning this thread. Some people are great with political spin, and loaded questions, but surely healthy debate is the best way to come to a positive conclusion? Disappointed this is happening again.
He cannot make up his mind whether the penultimate sentence is a statement or a question, which probably is symptomatic of a certain confusion in thinking typical of the milieu. It is rather pathetic that these people do not recognize that heritage in general is 'political'. There is a heritage policy (or mixture of policies) in the UK, and this is and should be the subject of debate. My questioning what artefact hunters do to the archaeological record under the umbrella of a vague policy is part of that public debate. Metal detectorists Greg, Baz and Liam may not like that, they may not wish to take part, they may even wish to avoid even thinking about it (even to the extent of avoiding mentioning the names of people debating the issues) and they may be "disappointed" that others want to discuss it - with or without them - but yes, the rest of us will continue to expect a healthy debate to come to a positive resolution. That is not a question.  

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

'Shaky Ground: Context, Connoisseurship and the History of Roman Art' Reviewed

A Bryn Mawr Classical Review reviw, by Josephine Shaya of the book (Elizabeth Marlowe, 'Shaky Ground: Context, Connoisseurship and the History of Roman Art' Debates in archaeology, London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013) which nobody involved in the portable antiquities debate can do without reading. (Unless they work for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, because there is no academic or public debate there.)

Portableising Petroglyphs in California and its Implications

Derek Fincham said it, I'm quoting him here verbatim, this is not some Third World country with 20% literacy rate, this is Central California (Derek Fincham, 'Losing California’s ancient petroglyphs', Illicit Cultural Property, August 26, 2014):
Central California PBS affiliate KVIE has a segment showing and discussing the theft and destruction of ancient petroglyphs from California. It shows some of the sites themselves, the damage they have suffered, and a good overview of the laws protecting these sites. The segment really hits its stride in pointing out the disconnect between laws protecting these sites, and the local populations. There is a lot more public awareness needed. People should know better, but they don’t yet, and cultural resource managers need to redouble their efforts to do a better job educating the public about why they shouldn’t damage sites and remove items
Which should go hand in hand with educating the US public about the damage done by the no-questions -asked antiquities market as a whole. Why is this not making much progress? Why do we find even US broadsheets writing uncritically and blithely of the collection of "ancient art" as though it was an envronmentally beneficial phenomenon, when the Americans have such destruction on their doorstep? Is it really so difficult to make the connection?

 Watch Torn - Recovering California’s Stolen Cultural Heritage on PBS, it's really quite shocking.

Castle Ashby Fire Caused by "Sparking Windows"

The Castle Ashby estate is (only now) claiming after a three day investigation, that 'Huge fire at Northamptonshire stately home ‘was accidentally triggered by workers’ tools’..'. Yeah yeah, just coincidentally on Wednesday, July 9 when the house's owner was waiting to hear how much he'd made from the Sekhemka sale. Well, the insurers can believe it was careless workmen ("friction and sparks caused while contractors where renovating windows" - eh?), we may choose regardless to believe another explanation and suggest that the new owner takes care. An angry akh can be a dangerous thing.

British Archaeology, Outreach and "Little Green PAS-Men"

Volunteers arrive in mismatched camoflage

The secrecy surrounding the Heritage Lottery-funded PAStExplorers recording scheme to be manned by mysterious 'volunteers' has aroused much speculation in recent months. The PAS is refusing to say where these volunteers will be recruited, who they will be, what milieus they will be they are coming from and what interests they have in strengthening the PAS hold on archaeological outreach. In particular, there has been total silence on the all-important question of the security of findspot data in the hands of these 500 unknown individuals scattered in ten regional centres, or indeed to what data and resources these people will have access. A PACHI reporter was in Bloomsbury Square this morning as the first volunteers arrived for briefing at 41 Russell Square, Camden Town:
As a column of muddy cars arrived outside number 41 on Monday morning, a pirate flag fluttered from one of its windows. As the volunteers clambered out, locals crowded around them in the square. There was rampant speculation about who these men in mismatched camouflage were. The men themselves were reluctant to talk to journalists about their identity or intentions, though it was clear that there were definitely green men among them. From their demeanour it appeared that the bulk of them were not  professional finds specialists. Several people peered nervously into the back of one of the cars, there were long packages there, which could have contained metal detectors or weapons, but onlookers were quickly ushered away and the men filed silently into the building.
The whole idea of the PAS was so that members of the public who'd found archaeological artefacts would be able to take them directly to an archaeologist who would then 'liaise' with them and thus provide public outreach and where necessary guidance and encouragement on 'best practice'. That concept quickly became bowdlerised to 'best practice=going to the PAS'.

Now it seems the core element of the Scheme is being scrapped, members of the public apparently will not be coming into direct contact with real archaeologists, but volunteers 'trained' to fulfil the role of pretend archaeologists (who very well may then 'liaise' with the archaeologists they are working under). The whole concept of liaison has all-too-clearly been subsumed under the overall aim of "getting as much stuff in the database, no matter what" which is simply a perversion of the reasons why the Portable Antiquities Scheme was set up. The database was a tool and not the aim in its own right it has now become.

Meanwhile there are justified grounds to believe that many of these 'volunteer ersatz-liaison officers' will in fact be coming from artefact hunting and collecting circles, and not in any way representing to the public the aims and concepts of archaeology, but an object-centred approach to the past (PASt). This is exactly the equivalent of the un-unifoirmed and unacknowledged "little Green men" who are presently an instrument in the attempt to wrest Crimea and the Donbas from the Ukrainians through clandestine infiltration through poorly-defended borders.

PAS, when will you inform us, who - specifically - ARE your little Green Men going to be? 

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