Saturday, 31 May 2014

New York and Curatorial Responsibilities

"In the event that a third party brings to
the attention of a member museum information
supporting the party’s claim to a Work, the museum
should respond promptly and responsibly and take
whatever steps are necessary to address this claim"

Christos Tsirogiannis has spotted a suspect Medici vast at the Metropolitan Museum (David Gill, 'A Paestan krater in New York and curatorial responsibilities', Looting Matters, May 30, 2014). A Paestan krater is likely to have been found in one of the cemeteries around Paestum, what is its collecting history?

Collectors against the Professors

Polish professors (Jan Matejko)
Professor Ricardo Elia: "collectors are the real looters"
Professor Colin Renfrew: "collectors are the real looters"
Dr Paul Bahn: "collectors are the real looters"
Oscar White Muscarella: "collectors are the real looters"
Peter Watson, Cecilia Todeschini
"collectors are the real looters"
Professor Erin Thompson: "collectors are the real looters"

coin dealers beg to differ.

But I think Professor Thompson went out of her way to mention the US coiney opposition to the Egypt MOU, but somehow their lobbyists seem to have lost the ability to read (or should that be "observe"?) and argue the point. Do they get paid double-rate by the dealers associations they represent for arguing with professors?

Detectorists seriously behind the times

I find the notion that archaeology is a science to be absurd.

"archaeology as John Hooker says, is not a science".

One wonders where transatlantic metal detectorists and dugup antiquity collectors have been since 1985. They seem to be in some kind of a 30-year retarded Binfordian timewarp. 

UPDATE: see comment. 

Egypt steps up fight against antiquities thieves

BBC, 'Egypt steps up fight against antiquities thieves', 31 May 2014

Click here for BC Video

The unrest following the 2011 revolution has helped looters take treasures from museums and sites to sell on the black market. According to one estimate - up to $6bn worth of antiquities have been stolen since then. Howard Johnson reports now on the new efforts being taken to tackle this age-old problem.

Friday, 30 May 2014

The "Guess the Stone Circle" Competition in "The Searcher"

And without a pinpointer too... (Nokta)

When I received the advert below from a responsible metal detectorist who'd spotted it in a copy of "the Searcher" metal detecting magazine (No 347 July 2014), cynic that I am, I half-suspected that he was trying to wind me up with a fake advert. But no,  the same promotional picture showing a nonchalant oik crouching beside a hole dug right in the centre of a stone circle appears in another advertising campaign of theirs, (here).   Note the additional message:
coins and relics of the world are now in the hands of privileged FORS CoRa users...
Entitlement writ large. In most parts of the world, for privileged read 'criminal'. In the other advertising campaign, the message is even more disturbing:
With its extreme sensitivity, it will find coins and relics that other detectors miss at unmatched depths
"The Searcher" carries
these adverts (scan by "Bud")
Here I think it is immaterial whether the machine is more capable or asy to use in such mode than any other, or whether the photo is not made on somebody's back lawn with a photoshopped background. Here it is the appalling message being projected, and it is a matter of great interest that "the Searcher" would carry such an advert on its pages alongside articles written by officers of the PAS, for example. Further evidence that the mantra of responsible detecting in the UK are little more than words, leaving real attitudes down at the same level as they were before seventeen yers of ineffective outreach on :best practice". As far as the editors of "the Searcher" are concerned inNocta detectors pays the cash for advertising space, they'll print pictures like this for the rest of us to see and judge the artefact hunting community by.

The firm is based in Istanbul, Turkey, and their website says
Nokta Metal Detectors has been operating under the principle that environmental and community responsibility, customer satisfaction and insistence on high-quality are of the utmost importance.
Not with that photo they are not. It suggests that they have not the slightest idea what the first two terms might entail in the terms of artefact hoiking. The website's videos are also instructive about these notions of 'responsibility', like the 'summer adrenalin', Nazi digging, one. Maybe Nokta's marketing department would like to contact its European customers and ask what kind of advertising material they should be using to promote their products where everybody can see?

and the problem here is not the size of the hole...

Cut Back on Consumerist Tendencies to Protect our Knowledge of the Global Past.

Erin Thompson is a professor of fraud, forensics, art law and crime in the department of art and music at John Jay College in New York. She has a book coming out soon, “To Own the Past: How Collectors Reveal, Shape, and Destroy History”. Some idea of what that might contain is revealed by New York Times opinion piece ('Egypt’s Looted Antiquities

Thursday, 29 May 2014

"British Found" Metal Detecting Find for Sale

The finder apparently claims this came from Britain. It is an eastern Orthodox pendant cross. You'd be more likely to dig that up in south-central or eastern Europe. Was it really found by metal detecting in England, or is it an illicit find from elsewhere being 'laundered' as one found in Britain?

One or More More Anglian Cemeteries Emptied onto EBay

A bulk lot of legally, one assumes, dugup geegaws: '20 ANGLO SAXON STYLISED HORSES HEADS BROOCH PIECES [LOT B ]', twenty pieces of PAS-partner pilfered pieces of trashed history, yours currently for only £6.50 [2 bids].

If you prefer the other end of the brooches, there's currently a HUGE AMOUNT OF ANGLO SAXON BROOCH PIECES 58 IN TOTAL [LOT A ]' with a couple of cruciforms, square headed and goodness-knows-what-and-where-from, only £5.50 at the moment [2 bids]. All perfectly legal too, no doubt.

Hurry now, get your bid in for some legal decontextualised grave-robbed goodies, of no archaeological use any more now the looters have hoiked them. No mention of any PAS numbers of course - some could-not-care-less oik has apparently just hoiked as much as he can, probably kept some for himself  and contemptuously offloaded the more fragmented rest onto an eBay dealer, who'll flog British heritage and ex-archaeology to the highest bidder (this one has no geographical preferences where he'll send it by Royal Mail International Tracked). 

Big round of applause for the heritage heroes Baz Thugwit and "Dirty Dan" Braghoard, and their dealer pal Stycca 1234 from Durham for spreading a bit of British 'Kulcha' around. ("Not in it fer the munny" you understand. "There's no munny in this lark". Well, except the value of the pieces still in their personal artefact stashes that did not make it onto eBay). 

From an archaeological, rather than commercial, point of view, every single one of these artefacts is what you'd call 'diagnostic'. Even as surface finds they could yield a lot of information about the spatial development of the (unknown) site which they had come from - and every bit of information we can get about Anglian cemeteries in the northernmost parts of England are very valuable. But Thugwit and Braghoard have just hoovered up loads and loads of bits, and none of them are mentioned in the sales spiel as even having been seen by the PAS. This is particularly destructive exploitation of sensitive sites for mere personal entertainment and profit. No archaeological information will survive this kind of treatment of such a site.

And what are British archaeologists doing about this?  Absolutely NOTHING. EBay has existed since 1995, this has been going on day-after-day, week after week, almost since the beginning. Today there are 2,004 British antiquities on sale on eBay UK alone (not counting items listed in other categories such as ancient coins). next week, there'll be another few thousand. Where will it end? Is anybody bothered? Is anybody counting? Is anybody compiling a report to submit to British lawmakers?  Is anybody writing to the newspapers trying to prod journalists to do some investigative reporting to rouse public opinion? Is anyone contacting UNESCO to ask them to write someone a stiff letter? Actually, no. No. We do have fifteen-million quid scheme staffed by archaeologists whose job it is to pat Baz and "Dirty Dave" on the head and tell them "you done well" and nothing else, but nobody doing any activist work highlighting what is going on.  Apparently several thousand British archaeologists and heritage professionals have other things to do than worry about the emptying of entire archaeological sites onto eBay.

And people, not being informed by anyone whose business it should be to inform them, continue to buy. People get caught up in the network of deception and destruction. People also get ripped off because of the same 'professional' archaeological apathy towards this whole sorry business (ripped off that is only if they actually cared about the real nature of the 'cool stuff' they were buying).$_3.JPG The same dealer has a notched projectile point listed [£5.50 2 bids] under   British Antiquities which would be entirely aberrant (formally, the material it is made from is not defined) from such a context. This looks North American, and more specifically a piece of "flint-knappers' art" (sic) but its a piece of junk knapping with scraper retouch along at least one edge and the notch most likely made with a metal point. Let's be charitable and assume its misidentification is from it being from an estate sale of a detectorist who kept poor documentation and the dealer assumed that all the stuff he had, he'd found himself. This is why poorly-documented personal collections - apart from being destructive of the archaeological record - are simply irretrievably contaminating the market with huge amounts of dross. Despite the resistance from UK artefact hunters and just about anyone else, we need a push for collectors, if they are to be tolerated at all, to aim for much better documentation of what they have and retaining that record during subsequent changes of ownership.

[In a council office in northern England a slightly bearded archaeologist half-glances at this in his tea-break, half-shudders at the colour of the photos' background, half-raises a quizzical eyebrow, takes a sip of luke-warm green tea, and dismissing any further thoughts about the antiquities trade from his head, gets back to doing the Guardian crossword].

    Proceedings of the Advanced Metal Detecting for the Archaeologist Conference, Helen, Georgia

    Download the Proceedings of the Advanced Metal Detecting for the Archaeologist Conference, Helen, Georgia (pdf) August 2012

    A Discussion of Standards for Metal Detecting (Chris Espenshade, Doug D. Scott, Patrick Severts, Sheldon Skaggs, Terry G. Powis, and Garrett Silliman)

    Yes, But How?: Increasing the Efficiency of Metal Detector Survey (Chris Espenshade)

    Advances in Metal Detector Technology and Applications in Archaeology (Doug D. Scott, Chris Espenshade, Patrick Severts, Sheldon Skaggs, Terry G. Powis, Chris Adams and CharlesHaecker)

    The Utility of Metal Detectors in Delineating and Defining Archaeological Sites (James R.Wettstaed)

    and four case studies. 

    Are Some Parts of the Global Heritage Less Equal then Others?

    SAFE poll:
    Should all nations help protect one another's cultural heritage?
    There's an option for the hardline Philistines too. 

    Wednesday, 28 May 2014

    Going, Going.... Gone. One More Hoiked Early Medieval Artefact

    Another one with skin problems
    An eBay auction finishes in five minutes:
    Length 40mm, copper alloy Anglo Saxon equal arm brooch, reasonable green patination, traces of iron pin. Please see pics as guide to condition [read: cos I'm too lazy to try to put anyfink in words].
    £13.00 13 bids [Update, sold for £16.76, 14 bids ] dealer (Coinspopup70), location: "Essex United Kingdom" who "May not post to Poland" it says. This is because the Polish customs men are vigilant when it comes to movement of cultural property, and would stop it and ask awkward questions, and the importer would not have the answers because the seller says nowt up-front.

    It also says, "No questions or answers have been posted about this item". Not even by the PAS ("policing eBay" don't you know?) and the nice BM lady who not long ago was enthusing about these caterpillar ("ansate") brooches which she found on the PAS database?

     I'm no expert on Anglo-Saxon fibulology but this one screams 'probably Continental' to me. The French journalist was asking whether finds dug up elsewhere are not passed off as British finds. I think they are, and I'd love to hear from the finder of this one with his story. This is exactly the reason why we need better documentation of the entry of dugup artefacts onto the market, including (especially) from source-country England.

    "Tackling Pasture Sites"

    He's taken it down now, ( May 19, 2014, 'Tackling Pasture Sites...') but Steve Broom had a tekkie-typically wonky-minded explication about how to "tackle pasture sites", allegedly the "responsible" way. Being too busy with other things to reply at the time, I put it off, just as well because any effort I'd put into it would have been wasted as a few days later he deleted the whole blog in a fit of petulence. Suffice to say, I hope anyone who read the text it did not take it without a pinch of salt. Quite clearly its author had not the faintest idea of what the point is of the Code of Responsible Metal Detecting saying responsible detectorists keep off pasture, and instead of asking, just wrote if you dig very small holes and fill them in, no damage is done. And seventeen years of (expensive, public funded and miss-the-point) "outreach" has got us... where?

    Tide a Long Time in "Turning"

    Back in February 2009 it looked for a while like "The tide turns for the British Antiquities market" (PACHI Monday, 16 February 2009):
    The publication today of the Final report of the Strategic Study on Illegal artefact hunting seems to mark an important watershed in the long and sordid story of the British market in portable antiquities.[...]  We should recognize that there are limits to the degree public education will have an impact on this group of individuals ['nighthawks']. The report recognises this and concludes that the motor for this activity (there is a substantial analysis of eBay sales on which this is based ) is the no-questions-asked market in portable antiquities. The conclusion is that the most effective means of dealing with the problem of illegal artefact hunting in the UK is to close the loopholes that allow them to find a market for the commodities they produce to make the venture worthwhile. Removing the ability to profit financially would clearly reduce the motive for these criminals to operate.

    Monitoring of eBay UK by the Department of Portable Antiquities & Treasure, British Museum since October 2006 [main report pp 82-88] has shown that an element of the illegal movement of unreported Treasure items has been the lack of due diligence by British dealers in establishing provenance and title to sell while handling such material (hence current moves to have the Treasure Act amended to make it a requirement for all who come into possession of Treasure to have an obligation to report it). This monitoring of sales of antiquities listings on eBay shows a steady rise in the number of unprovenanced British antiquities on sale each month. Some of these at least seem likely to be the products of “nighthawking”, but which ones?

    It is heartening to see that as a result of this report, British archaeologists are at last looking at the possibilities of regulating the local antiquities market. They are taking a vivid interested in the regulations reported here which were introduced last year on eBay in Germany, Austria and Switzerland which have shown that the auction house is prepared to take stricter action than has been the case so far in the UK. The Council for British Archaeology and PAS are now suggesting that Britain should be pressing eBay to follow suit in the UK to close down online auctions of illicitly acquired material.

    The Director of the CBA suggested today at the launch of the Illegal artefact hunting report that there is a need for the introduction of a new criminal offence for a person to deal in such objects without being able to produce a clear modern provenance. Such a reform in attitudes and legislation would introduce the necessary transparency into dealings in cultural objects and ensure prospectively that persons dealt only in such objects with a recorded and substantiated background. Apparenly such a proposal is currently being discussed by a working group of the APPAG with the aim of identifying a way to add this to the legislation of England and Wales. There will be a review of the 1996 Treasure Act later in the year which will provide an opportunity to discuss this proposal with policy makers.
    The British archaeological establishment (all of it) has been aware since February 2009, if they'd slept through it in the two decades before, that something needs to be done about the sales by British dealers of unprovenanced dugup artefacts from Britain. A concrete proposition was made. The CBA said they were going to action it... and .... and? Basically, this does not need a rewrite of the Treasure Act, because quite obviously the latter is not going to happen before the last polar bear in the wild dies. An agreement could be reached with eBay in the same way as was recently reached with Egypt (and hopefully will be reached with Syria) to close any auction where the dealer does not fulfil certainconditions intended to prevent the sale of illicitly-obtained material.

    UNESCO to create an Observatory for the Safeguarding of Syria’s Cultural Heritage

    UNESCO will establish an observatory in Beirut (Lebanon) to monitor and assess the state of Syria’s cultural heritage. The decision was made during an international meeting of experts held at UNESCO from 26 - 28 May. The Observatory will monitor the state of buildings, artefacts and intangible cultural heritage to combat illicit trafficking and collect information to restore heritage once the fighting is over. Based at UNESCO’s Office in Beirut, the Observatory will maintain an online platform where national and international stakeholders will share information on damaged structures, looted artefacts and all forms of endangered intangible heritage.  [...] The participants also called on the UN Security Council to consider a resolution to facilitate the restitution of stolen and illegally exported cultural objects from Syria and ban their sale and transfer. They also underlined the need to “demilitarize cultural sites,” preventing their use as military bases or targets in keeping with existing international law, notably the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict (1954), ratified by Syria.

    Read the entire press release of 28.05.2014 - here.  

    Sam Hardy's "Conflict Antiquities: the book"

    This promises to be a real cracker when published: Sam Hardy, Conflict Antiquities: the book
    Across borders, police and cultural heritage professionals struggle against the plunder of vulnerable societies’ pasts, while art dealers advertise their antiquities’ authenticity by guaranteeing their illicit origins, and everybody from the elite to the humble turns a blind eye to lay their hands on their own little piece of history. Transnational criminal networks weave amongst them, profiting from international collectors’ greed and local communities’ poverty. And increasingly, in conflicts, the armed groups – whose battles have driven the civilian communities into the desperate position where they plunder their own past – capitalise on the trade to fund their fighting.[...] In the contemporary market, where dealers dispose of genuine antiquities’ documentation to disguise their origins, and forgers produce scientifically-indistinguishable fakes, the best guarantee for a buyer is an artisanal dealer and a pliable authenticator. Drawing on my own visits to boutique galleries – which promised me hand-smuggled antiquities from Afghanistan, Pakistan, Tibet, Cambodia and elsewhere – and police forces’, cultural heritage workers’ and journalists’ investigations, Conflict Antiquities will showcase some of the highs and lows of working against trafficking.

    Whose Culture is it?

    Egyptian heritage protection
     Some in "we the People" Washington are confusing the Egyptian people and those who are responsible for running their country (CPO Tuesday, May 27, 2014: 'Tunnel Vision: MOU Supporters Oblivious to Facts on the Ground'). Meanwhile, is it true that some young Egyptian students who happen to find themselves in the US at the moment are discussing having a small 'welcoming committee' outside the State Department for certain lobbyists from the US antiquities trade who are going to advocate the continued theft of Egyptian culture? Surely not, the people do not care, do they? We will see. I hope someone takes a camera.

    It seems Peter Tompa does not understand the word "student". 

    While his BFF sycophantic claquer metal detectorist comments that students with attitude hanging around in the street with banners can be seen as a "veiled threat". Metal detectorists in general view of course any kind of education and attempts to draw public attention to injustices as a threatening phenomenon.  


    Smugglers Thrive On Syria's Chaos, Looting Cultural Heritage

    Smuggling is a way of life in Lebanon's Bekaa Valley, just over the border from Syria. Driving along it, you see pale smugglers' trails snaking through mountain passes, and the guys who run touristy little antiques stores here say they can get you anything. "Everything that have traditions and everything found in old houses," says Reda Ismail, who runs one of the many stores in the valley. Dealers say most things here are smuggled from Syria, and Ismail thinks these days it's more prevalent.[...] now the market's flooded. Desperate Syrian families sell their treasures, or militias steal them. "Before the war, look," he says, "when people saw this work, they maybe pay for this chest maybe $1,000. But now because all the quantity of this stuff in Lebanon ... maybe it's like $200 or $300." [...] Now there's a new smuggling trend. Antiquities are seeping onto the market, looted from ancient sites and smuggled over the border.
    Of course collectors are really pleased prices drop as more and more stuff is "liberated" and "surfaces".

    Assaad Seif, of Lebanon's Antiquities Directorate, says they're catching shipments about twice a month.   "Of course when you have war, you have less control; and when you have less control, people try to do whatever they can in order to get easy money," he says.

    A joint U.N. statement led by Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in March warned that "the illicit trafficking of cultural objects has reached unprecedented levels," but the Security Council members can't agree on a resolution to deal with the problem, for example outlawing the sale of freshly-surfaced Syrian antiquities. 

    Alice Fordham, 'Smugglers Thrive On Syria's Chaos, Looting Cultural Treasures', National Public Radio May 27, 2014

    Why the Syrian Looting and Smuggling Matters

    Alice Fordham, 'Smugglers Thrive On Syria's Chaos, Looting Cultural Treasures', National Public Radio May 27, 2014

    Nada Hassan from UNESCO says she's often asked why she cares about such things when so many are dying. She says her answer "is always that culture, cultural heritage are part of humanitarian relief. This is about the environment of people, first of all — the habitat of the Syrian people — and it's about their identity, their past, what defines them."  Hassan says armed rebels, starving civilians and organized criminals are all stealing. Roman ruins, mosques, centuries-old churches — nothing is spared. But the country needs those tangible fragments of history now more than ever. "The Syrian heritage, and heritage in general, holds so many influences. ... In this case ... where a country is fragmented, heritage will have a very important unifying role," she says. She says some day the war will end. Syrians will want to build a future — and they'll need reminders of their shared past to do it.
    Vignette: The costs of conflict: the future is part of them.

    Tuesday, 27 May 2014

    Filming Starts Soon for Crook's "Detectorists"

    Shooting is about to begin for the 6-part comedy series called "the Detectorists" starring actor Mackenzie Crook. The Production Company behind it is 'Channel X North'. Filming will take place throughout June in, of all places, Framlingham, Suffolk. This location will be familiar to long-term readers of PACHI as the site of the infamous Hot-Tub Rally at which many stones were thrown, and which the world will only (maybe) learn about what was taken in December 2016 (PACHI Monday, 19 December 2011, 'Framlingham "Hot Tub Rally" Video'). One wonders quite what the producers had in mind choosing this location, particularly as now they are looking for supporting actors of a particular type:
    we are looking for a 5 x males aged 20-50 with a slightly intimidating look. We don't necessarily need you to look like bouncers or criminals, just slightly intimidating. 
    They'll get paid  £75 per 11 hour day. The programme will be shown on UK TV later this year.

    UKDFD Implosion

    UK Metal detectorists are surprised to find that the pirate private recording facility UK detector Finds database has undergone some changes in the past few weeks. You now have to register to search or use it.  There is some kind of a new layout which replaced the elegantly laid out page of the original with what one member called a "right royal mucking fuddle" ("I hope they don't try to install a "Thanks" system...."). As Allectus (Sun May 11, 2014 8:04 p) notes:
    What a complete and utter mess they've made of that site! I've registered and the search facility still doesn't work properly...hit the back button and nothing occurs, it just freezes. The whole site and categories are just a muddled mess!
    The UKDFD website explains everything, apparently after being inactive for a while, Restricted recording now enabled:
    In anticipation of an initial high level of activity, recording will initially be restricted to benefactors*, who may upload up to three records per day (i.e. per 24 hour period). In due course, when the activity level stabilises, recording (with a lower upload limit) will be extended to non-benefactors.
    It's now a pay-to-record facility ("Recorders may become benefactors by donating £15 annually"). The results are predictable, member The Ferret (Fri May 23, 2014 9:22 pm) is disgusted:
    Oh dear, Don't like the changes of the site so I'm not going to bother now [...].
    sinclairuser is also not impressed (Wed May 28, 2014 2:27 am):
    this UKDFD website stinks of "no one can be arsed to run it properly-itis", lots of sites have caught this over the years, it never ends well, asking for donations is usually a conceited stealthy way to keep numbers low, so they dont have to run proper servers.


    The team has also found a variety of artefacts,
    including fragments of tableware imported from Gaul
    and the Rhineland, storage vessels that once contained Spanish
    olive oil and Gallic wines, fragments of glass vessels
    and several items of jewellery including a jet finger-ring
    and part of a decorated glass bangle.

    Maryport Roman settlement: Dig unearths 'lost harbour', 27th May 2014

    Philanthropist Christian Levett, who is funding the project, said: "I'm particularly interested in the connections we're seeing across the Roman empire through the imported objects the team is finding such as amphorae, pottery and ornaments. "Maryport is a remote but important part of the Roman world with a fascinating story. I'm looking forward to more information coming through as the team continues the detailed analysis after they leave the site."
    And it's not a small project (photo BBC)

    Hat tip, David Gill

    Another Detecting Website Gone?

    Well, somebody's lawyer seems to be on overtime. First Steve Broom's metal detecting blog comes down, then a few hours later John Winter's metal detecting blog. Was it something they said? Who is next? No staying power, these fly by night tekkies. One day they are trying to say something, the next they are deleting it.

    UK Foot Dragging, PAS drops under the Radar

    Mike Nevell, commenting on the recent Telegraph article about the guy with a Minelab detector and Garrett finds bag notes that the BM apparently actually said
    According to the British Museum, most finds of real interest and value now come not from professional digs but the endeavours of men such as Mr Herbert and Mr Spohr.
    Like any sane and normal person, he doubts that the BM actually said such nonsense and adds:
    " This kind of misunderstanding is why the CBA needs to revisit the issue of metal detecting",
    well a few months back they seemed to be saying they were going to, but something seems to be sapping their resolve. Or did I dream it? Note though that Dr Newell cuts out the PAS completely, they seem not to have a lot of kudos today in the British archaeology community - probably because (despite warnings in the Hawkshead report) they ignored their questions and real concerns for so long while unfairly (and expensively) claiming to represent them to the wider public. 

    PAS and Finds Release Documentation

    In the attempts to discuss what constitutes truly ethical detecting, which has in the past few days prompted one self-proclaimed ethical detectorist to flounce off the blogosphere deleting his blog, along with a whole load of other people's comments (including mine) on the topic, one question raised, right at the beginning back in 2010 was about a landowner being kept aware real-time on the various values of what was leaving his property in the pockets of guests on his land. Metal detectorists did not like that idea one bit.

    A related issue, not raised earlier, was whether the PAS should be handling finds where they do NOT have a signed release form from the landowner from each of them saying the has given the finder the permission to search for that item on his land and take it away. How without it can they prevent nighthawked finds getting ‘laundered’ by being entered into the database as from being from a totally different farmer’s lands altogether? Like that Malmesbury coin. Yes, these too can be faked, but by demanding to see such documentation, the PAS will have taken reasonable steps to avoid handling stolen material. If they have not obtained such documentation, they have not. Neither by the same token is it particularly responsible detecting not to have such documentation, whether or not your FLO is interested in playing it by the book. I do not see this as about stealing as much as documenting the licit and documenting behaviour classifiable as licit and clearly distinguishing those who engage in such transparent practices from those whose activities are clandestine and less than illicit. These questions went unanswered of course by the "responsible detectorist".

    Vignette: PAS "partnership" and finds release.

    Monday, 26 May 2014

    More on the So-called Crosby Garrett Helmet

    Most British archaeologists have forgotten the fiasco over the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet and the resolutions that it briefly prompted to force changes to the Treasure Act. Nothing came of that, British archaeologists are not exactly noted for their assertiveness in the face of large scale pillage of the archaeological record for collectables. Anyhow, not everybody has forgotten, the so-called Crosby Garrett helmet has been exhibited in the British Museum, and to accompany this is an essay by David Gill in the latest volume of the Journal of Art Crime, now out. The text considers the new evidence presented by the delayed investigation of the place reported to have been the find-spot where the object was removed from a poorly-understood archaeological context. Gill returns to the issue of The Treasure Act and the need to bring it into line with the needs of heritage protection.

    Vignette: Crosby Garrett, idea metal detecting holiday venue... 

    Je Suis un Confrère (du 'royaume voisin du nord')!

    A whole new view on things, as somebody whose concept of Europe is something that I basically go "east" and "west" across a lot, I must admit it never struck me that the UK was "to the north". That makes  sense in the discussion as the North is the region of myth and foggy fact. Now all is clear about the lady journalist, from the excellent blog "Agir contre le pillage du patrimoine archéologique 2" [] by Jean-David Desforges, Président de Halte au Pillage du Patrimoine Archéologique et Historique:
    Un gros dossier est en préparation pour un journal français des plus connus. Les détecto-pilleurs interviewés ont évidemment pleuré après leur situation, tout en regardant d'un regard larmoyant vers le royaume voisin du nord. Leurs arguments m'ont été soumis mais il m'a semblé que la personne la plus à même de répondre à ces contre-vérités était mon confrère Paul Barford. Chose faite !
    This is HAPPAH in full flow, why is it number two?
    Ce blog rassemble articles de presse, informations, prises de position et réflexion contre le pillage du patrimoine archéologique, sa toxicité pour la recherche et la connaissance du patrimoine par tous. Il succède à une première version piratée le 20 mai 2014 par un groupuscule fasciste de détectoristes convaincu de pouvoir étouffer la liberté d'expression de l'auteur, l'archéologue J.-D. Desforges.
    Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. It's the same everywhere, disruption of debate by detectorists in denial. But jobsworth British archaeologists have saved their partners (fascists, UKIP, BNP or not) the trouble, they never even made the effort to get anything like this up. Never. They are all quite content to sit back and watch from the sidelines, fingers crossed that no detectorist says 'boo!' to them, or slap the pillagers on the back and say "you done well mate!" when some more geegaws are pulled out of the next unknown archaeological context.  It's pretty symptomatic that when our French colleagues wanted somebody to give a proper low-down on the bonkers situation in Britain, they have to go to Poland to find somebody actually willing and able to talk about it.

    Vignette: Faceless metal detectorist in France

    Struggling to Find Meaning, Washington Coiney Making it up as he Goes Along

    A DC Lobboblogger, John Howland's best friend forever, who has refused to take my comments shedding light on his nonsenses on his blog once again gets lost in his own verbiage (Monday, May 26, 2014, 'An Archaeo-Blogger's Manifesto'). He attempts to dissect my comments to a Frencjh journalist which I put online here. Since I cannot comment under his post, I'll have to do it here. Unable to understand the notion of conservation, and apparently professionally restrained from ever attempting to do so, he just makes it up as he goes along.
    Barford apparently believes all the coins and artifacts that have come to light and recorded under the programs would be best left off in the ground for future archaeologists to find.
    That's what we understand by conservation of the archaeological resource. Paul Barford belies that all of the artefacts ripped out of archaeological contexts without proper record, and many of them with none at all, are needlessly destroyed archaeological information. The Washington townie apparently is not at home in fields, and somehow thinks it is relevant to whether we should be worried about artefact hunting that artefacts are found on "private farmland" (where else?) and he apparently does not understand the first thing about soil chemistry and farming methods. It's certainly on the cards that the closest this American has come to a cow pat is glistening with grease between two halves of soft-pap sesame buns. He reckons that the fact that artefact hunters are currently hoiking more Treasure finds than archaeologists can process is "only an argument for more efficient efforts at recording and more judicious decisions on what the State should keep". Tell that to Roger Bland. Tompa's BFF John Howland seems inordinately interested in sock-puppet issues and fake farmers.

    UK Metal Detecting Mr Broom Has Left in a Huff (UPDATE and Taken Other People's Words With Him)

    Steve Broom has decided that when it comes to discussing responsible metal detecting, 'Enough is enough...'. He bemoans the fact that "no matter what we do as detectorists, there are those who [...] flatly refuse to admit that anything that we do is beneficial". What an utterly strange thing to say. Artefact hunting is what people do for personal entertainment and profit. It damages the archaeological record, however it is done. Artefact hunting is on the whole not beneficial. Nobody ever said it was, not in Iraq, India, Egypt, northwestern Africa, China or Suffolk. In Britain it exists through an aberrant legal system, nineteenth century in origin, and all attempts to deal with it (through the PAS and TA) are a next-best to a total revamp of the law. Meanwhile, while the law remains unchanged, one can only hope for strict adherence to it and its implications and appeal to the better nature of artefact hunters and collectors to try and have some respect for the needs of others when dealing with a finite and fragile resource.

    Mr Broom seems to think it is enough to declare oneself a "responsible" remover of archaeological material to deserve a massive clap on the back and everybody's "support" and maybe applause. He also seems to think however that because some artefact hunters and collectors have a better nature than others, it means that there should for some (unexplained) reason be massive compromises made to their needs, even if those making them see them as detrimental to the preservation of the very resource in question.

    I really do not see how he can justify this and call it a "responsible attitude". It's like rhinos in the wild. They are a finite resource too. Once hunters have killed them all there will not be any more for our children and our children's children. So there are two groups, those who see the benefits to themselves of killing as many rhinos as they can get their hands on, and those who want to see the resource preserved as long as possible in as natural conditions as possible.  It seems obvious to anyone with a mental age of over nine that if those groups came together and reached some sort of compromise, then the most beneficial for the rhino would be compromises on the side of the kill-them-all-now hunters.  Compromising the position of the we-must-save-what-we-can-now side will only lead to more rapid deterioration of the situation than the other option.

    I really do not see why, when long-term conservation issues are at stake, the let's-dig-it-all-up-now-because-I-wants-it side (metal detectorists) think their "rights" should override those who are trying to preserve the threatened resource through pointing out there is ample room for a much more reflexive use of that resource in future. Mr Broom insists that he's not interested in any "improvements" to the way the hobby is done, that are "offered on their [the preservationists'] terms". So he's just announced he's closing his blog, and "just get on with my metal detecting... the way that I like it!"

    For this, he and others are blaming myself and Nigel Swift of Heritage Action, because we engaged with his ideas, had other ideas and said where and why we were in disagreement. Before this is taken with more than a pinch of salt, perhaps it is worth recalling the history of all this. Nigel and I have been looking closely at metal detecting for - coming up to - a decade and a half. We've observed it through the prism of what metal detectorists themselves say on their forums and websites as well as the honbby literature (books and magazines). in the course of that, we've had ample time to work out what is and is not true of the milieu, who they are, what they represent, what many of the are doing, and what they all say they are doing.

    Back in November 2010, as part of the discussion, Nigel Swift wrote (I think with some minimal input from me) a Code of Ethics for Metal Detecting (note the difference in name from the existing documents) and wrote about the justifications for some of it here : 'Ethical Metal Detecting Association launched!', 13/11/2010 (and here is my mirror text of the announcement - note the discussion of sock puppetry there too). The actual text of the Code is here (The Ethical Metal Detecting Association Pledges).  The idea was to get some metal detectorists who would subscribe to the ideals set out there, to show that there really aree some ethical metal detectorists around.

    What happened? Did the PAS take it up and promote discussion of the ten points among its partners as a tool in its outreach encouraging best practice? Did it hell. They totally ignored it. Was there lively discussion on the forums full of 'responsible detectorists"? Nope. There was total silence. Which, actually was precisely what its author knew jolly well would be the reaction.  That total silence though was worth thousands of words to show just what a meaningless farce this "responsible detecting" mantra. From time to time Nigel and I would drop a hint mentioning the document, no reaction at all from anywhere. Take a look at it now, is it really so awful?

    Then along came Steve Broom. Wanting to cast himself as Responsible Detectorist Extraordinaire. He'd got his own little group of super-responsible detectorist followers, the Southern Detecting Group. They were mentioned by Heritage Action, in connection with a artefact hunting rally for kids at Laverstoke, Hamps which precipitated some nasty exchanges with the people who organized it (one of whom Martin Gilchrist claims to be an archaeologist).  Some of those aggressive comments and accusations were for some reason aimed at me (PACHI Monday, 21 October 2013, 'Focus on UK Metal Detecting: A case of Mistaken Identity') but apart from that unpleasantness, we learn:
    The Southern Detectorist Group, (SDG) is a small friendly bunch of like-minded Detectorist[s] that are passionate about showing how metal detecting can be carried out responsibly whilst contributing to the recovery and preservation of the Nation[']s heritage. As such[,] the group prides itself on doing things “a little differently”  
    They had a website (now mysteriously disappeared) which did not enlighten much about their 'standards', but somebody calling himself "SDG Member" (Steve Broom??? - note the phrase "get recognition for what we do actually contribute") announced (PACHI Tuesday, 5 November 2013), 'The Southern Detectorist Group Decide to Check Out Ethical Detecting'. He castigates Heritage Action for "tarring all detectorists with the same brush" (yawn, how many times have we heard that?) and urged them to  "instead start talking to the more responsible detectorists to see how we can improve things together". At which point, Heritage action pointed to the Ethical Metal Detecting Association Pledges and said, in effect, you call yourselves "more responsible than the average, can you do that?" Mr Broom asserted he could. Then he backtracked when he found his members would not agree to it all.Then after some discussion on HA's blog, Mr Broom started his own and announced he was going to discuss there his own vision of responsible detecting - but then started criticising HA's concepts without really, one suspects, understanding where they were coming from.  

    So basically, HA had already defined what they understand, as a result of hard thinking about the topic before Mr Broom ever laid hands on a metal detector (2009 he says), to be ethical metal detecting. Mr Broom apparently expected to come along and make them change their definition. When Nigel (and I) continue to justify why that definition was reached and why HA and myself still stand by it, Mr Broom, after a few weeks of blogging, decides to waltz off in a huff, declaring "enough's enough".

    Not only that, last night (26/7th May 2014) he petulantly deleted his "I Go Detecting" blog, a blog which several of us, myself, Nigel Swift and "Sock Puppet Steve the Pretend Archaeologist" included, had spent some time and not a little effort to try and discuss in a civil and reasoned manner what he was writing about "responsible detecting" not only for him personally, but (because its a blog) the other readers of this resource, wanting to use it now and in the future to help make up their own minds about what responsible detecting is, and learn other people's reactions to what was written there. Now they cannot do that. We are back to square one.

    Here are the four-year-old Ethical Metal Detecting Association Pledges which were so unacceptable to Mr Broom. Sadly, part of the more recent public discussion of these principles is now missing.But then, that's nothing new. Metal detectorists and their British (or US) supporters simply are not going to discuss anything like the ethics of artefact hunting, in any form.

    "I Don't Want to Talk About it"

    The Face of Bonkers Britain
    In a festive moment last night, Donna Yates of the Glasgow Trafficking Culture project linked to a Telegraph text on another Treasure find and bemoaned the fact that the journalist "fails to get the problems detecting causes". Curious as to what she considers those to be, I tweeted her asking to enlarge and she let slip an odd comment about metal detecting and then said she thinks I should "know that" (unclear whether that meant she thinks I know what she thinks - and I do not because I do not recall her writing in any detail about it, or that I should agree with her - which again I do not). My reply:
    Nope, but interested to hear it now. can you do a blog post? I disagree by the way.
    Her reply was that she sees her blog as for "research bits and small histories". But surely is not artefact hunting with metal detectors a valid research topic in its own right as well as in context of the other things Trafficking Culture works on (whatever that is)? Why does this attitude persist that what is considered looting in every other country under the sun, even in the USA, when it happens in Britain is somehow anorakish and even to some, beneficial when it takes place within the shores of Bonkers Britain?

    [lack of links to actual tweets deliberate, it's the general point that interests me here, not what Dr Yates personally thinks about metal detecting]

    "How Can we See the Treasure Act etc"?

    France watching you
    On Sunday evening, I received a mail apparently (gmail address - odd) from an investigative journalist writing for a well-known French national newspaper about "archaeological pillage in France". Apparently, "some French archeologists told me about the English Treasure Act and its consequences for English Archaeology". I am hoping these were HAPPAH archaeologists who have no illusions about the consequences for British archaeology of artefact hunting. Anyway, she somehow found me and asked a couple of questions. I thought I'd post my answers here too, maybe somebody will find them useful:
    1) “What is your point of view about the English Treasure Act?”
    The Treasure Act is a cosmetic alteration to the Medieval law of Treasure Trove. It has not gone very far beyond the primitive eleventh-century prototype. In the 1990s, attempts were made to create a modern law, but British metal detectorists placed great pressure on the government not to alter the laws in a way that would prevent them pillaging sites for collectable items. The law we have today as a result is therefore a total mess, a rehash of the medieval approach which is a weak compromise with the pillagers. British law does not in any way protect archaeological sites or the majority of the archaeological objects and material they contain. British law now furthermore makes it financially attractive to buy a metal detector, locate a potentially ‘productive site’ which is one of the hundreds of thousands of British sites unprotected by any antiquities legislation, and remove archaeological and historic material from it in any way the amateur sees fit, and do with most of what they find as they like (including melt it down for scrap metal which is happening a lot to items these amateurs cannot identify as anything collectable). It also requires museums who want to acquire items for the public to buy them at market cost, which places a great strain on the limited resources for cultural activities in the UK. This law desperately needs rethinking and rewriting in the light of what we now know are the effects of current policies.

    2) “Is the English Treasure Act a good thing for archaeology? If no, why?”
    Absolutely not. The Act defines certain objects as “nationally important” (called “Treasure” which in itself is a stupid name invoking images of pirates rather than any scholarly resource). The main criterion used however is whether such an object is made of gold or silver. Many archaeological objects of great significance are made of other materials (like the Roman wooden writing tablets from Vindolanda, or the bronze Crosby Garrett helmet). The Act, and what happens as a result of it, have the consequence that the British public is constantly getting a very unbalanced view of what archaeology is, what archaeological evidence is, and what archaeologists do. This is already having considerable impact on the way the discipline is treated in the UK by lawmakers and the media. It is also having severe impact on discussions surrounding collecting outside the UK, with a lot of superficial and nonsensical things said about the “British system” which is held up as some kind of “model system”, a picture which generally goes unchallenged in the interests of scholarly accuracy (not least by the British institutions evoked in such pseudo-arguments).

    The whole complex of circumstances surrounding the current policies on metal detecting in the United Kingdom is, I am sure, eroding the position of real archaeology.

    Another problem is the lack of resources to deal with “Treasure” finds properly. The costs of conserving, storing, displaying and insuring each of them are considerable. The high costs of properly analysing and documenting them, and then publishing the results of that analysis are the reason why this is so rarely done. Artefact hunters are pulling these things out of the ground far faster than British archaeology and museums can deal with them and a huge and expensive backlog of undone work is building up. The result is that the stuff gets put in a case and heritage professionals (rather unprofessionally) shrug their shoulders and hope that nobody ever asks to see a proper publication for any of them beyond a brief mention and a couple of artistic pictures in an annual summary report. Hundreds and hundreds of finds annually are being treated like that. These are all finds which by law are defined as all being nationally important and which should be in the public domain. It has always been considered the case, however, for as long as archaeology has existed as a discipline, that no archaeological discovery is in the public domain until it is properly published. In the case of nationally important Treasure finds, the norm has become immediate display of such finds as trophies, with non-publication.

    Furthermore, if we accept that these “Treasure” finds are nationally important objects, then their findspot and context of deposition are by the same measure equally important. Yet all too often there is limited or in most cases no follow-up excavation of these findspots (which are also not in any way legally protected from further pillaging by metal detectorists). The amateurish and poorly-observed and documented removal of the items from the findspot by an excited finder means any archaeological information that deposit had contained is lost. Most Treasure finds come from unthreatened sites, and many of them come from below the level normally disturbed by the plough where they have remained preserved in situ thousands of years.  

    I think there is all too often some confusion between the Treasure Act (a law, adherence to which is compulsory) and the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS - a voluntary recording scheme based at the British Museum) which are two different things. The effect of both however is the same, they engender a (false) impression that the “problem of pillage by metal detectorists has been resolved”, that “artefact hunting with metal detectors leads to information gain for archaeology” (so, “metal detecting is in some way good for archaeology”) and that “looking for Treasure is what archaeologists do”. These are all very contentious statements. In fact I'd say they are all wrong, taken in a wider context. You are probably aware that there are very strong indications (Google “The Heritage Action Artefact Erosion Counter”) that the PAS database contains only a very small, and probably biased, sample of what artefact hunters and collectors have taken away down the years, most of these finds have totally disappeared. So far, the supporters of metal detecting - who deny that these figures are relevant to the discussion - have produced no alternative figures for the number of objects dug out of the British archaeological record unseen under current British “policy” and not even being recorded anywhere. 

    3) “Do you think this legislation has increased or decreased the archeological pillage in United Kingdom ?
    Obviously, every time a newspaper publishes a story that some British guy has found something ancient and shiny and the state will give them thousands of pounds for it, all over the country more and more people are thinking of buying a metal detecting site and visiting the local Roman villa or deserted medieval village site. The archaeological message that they should not do that because it will damage the site is lost, the only message that is coming over in the public domain is that everybody is happy when somebody finds a ‘Treasure’ and, irrespective of what damage is done, they will get lots of cash for it. So obviously there is no reason to think that this atavistic law will reduce pillage of artefact-rich sites by Treasure Hunters.

    The number of Treasure finds reported each year has gone up from 800 a year to nearly 1000, an increase which (given the actual number of such finds to be made in accessible places is finite and now being depleted) means the threat is increasing as more people take up Treasure hunting under the current legislation. British archaeologists are unable to do anything to curb this.

    This is the “British Disease”.

    In its seventeen years of so-called “outreach”, the PAS has failed to get over certain archaeological and conservation-based messages to the public (and I would say has failed us all in that respect). The evidence suggests that more and more people are taking up metal detecting as a hobby, and more and more people are mining the archaeological record for collectable items to take home and add to their scattered ephemeral personal collections, or to sell to other collectors wanting their own personal “pieces of the past”. Meanwhile the archaeological record is being depleted week after week, month after month and year after year of hundreds of thousands of diagnostic artefacts which through the use of a more archaeological methodology would reveal so much more detailed information about the past of that place. This is all perfectly legal, but the widespread and uncontrolled pilfering of the archaeological record in a single generation is an  archaeological tragedy. Given a different approach it was one that was  entirely avoidable, and the opportunity was missed and the resultant loss of information and destruction of evidence have been cripplingly severe.

    4) “Why are you involved in this debate?
    It is inconceivable to me that anyone with an archaeological eduction can watch what is going on around the whole topic of antiquities collecting and the antiquities trade and remain silent, and shut it out of their mind. Yet it’s what the majority of British archaeologists do day after day. They cannot be bothered to look past the spin and deflective arguments produced by the supporters of collecting and the antiquities trade, they cannot be bothered to try and find the facts of the matter and confront them with the wider context. They cannot be bothered to get involved in anything requiring arguing the point with these people and their equally mind-numb supporters. It’s not a very fruitful area of debate, most people do not want any contact with it. Some feel its "more than their job is worth".

    One of the reasons for this reluctance is that the metal detectorists who take part in any public discussion of the heritage are mostly engaged in upholding deceits and deflecting discussion away from uncomfortable points. Debating with those whose only aim is to disrupt such a debate - and who may not be intellectually equipped anyway for such discussions - is very time-consuming and frustrating. It’s also a discussion for the thick skinned. Anyone who says that these things need re-examining and discussion inevitably faces a barrage of personal attacks and insults. Several of us report having been threatened specifically by metal detectorists (I need not add that though archaeological discussions can be very heated at times, discussion of archaeology-metal detecting issues is the only  area of archaeological discussion where this sort of thing occurs). A member of my family was attacked outside our home a few years ago, after a British detectorist publicly told his readers that he was contacting his detecting friends in Poland and he "had a little job for them". Some of the people involved in antiquities collecting are very nasty people indeed. Metal detecting is not a hobby for the suave, erudite and articulate connoisseur in a silk dressing gown, instead it tends to appeal to a somewhat different social milieu. Instead of discussing issues, metal detectorists try to get people to stop discussing them, they try to shut down blogs like mine.

    I think the lengths some go to in order to stifle the debate is a sign of how bad things are, and this is what convinces me that getting people talking about it in the open is the right thing to do.

    5) “Are there now some discussions in order to change again the situation ?
    In the case of Britain, no, not really. Most people try to avoid the topic. Archaeologists know that if they oppose the free-for-all pillaging, they can expect personal attacks on them. The main archaeological organizations are aware that they too are powerless in the face of such resistance. Lawmakers are not going to listen to them, or seek take their advice. There is from time to time glib talk about “doing something” at government level about “the illicit trade in antiquities”, about “reforming the Treasure Act”, but beyond a committee meeting somewhere and drinking a few cups of coffee together, or somebody making a slideshow presentation, time after time, nothing ever comes of it.

    Archaeologists have no clout and have rather dropped the ball when it comes to using the media to arouse public interest in the fundamental questions and get public pressure behind any moves to do something. In addition, British journalists lack the will and intellectual curiosity to investigate the real stories and issues behind yet another jubilant press release about another “Treasure” find. Sadly, it is up to the individual efforts of a few like myself, completely without any institutional help (or even recognition) from Britain to try to get this discussion out in the open, to make a wider public aware that there are problems, and we need to be discussing this, and poking those who should be doing something about it into belatedly taking some action. It’s an uphill battle, as of course the issues discussed are inevitably esoteric and difficult for the layman (the tax-payer and voter) to understand, and there is a whole industry propagating an entirely different (and I would say deceptive) picture. This is one reason for the somewhat populist tone adopted in my blog. I think this is the only way to get any change, but admit that it too is a long shot. Nevertheless it’s heartening to see that this blog is being widely read. One day, perhaps we’ll see the British media taking the discussion up.I am glad to see the French press is leading the way.
    6) “Do you think some illegal French artefacts are sold in United Kingdom?
    A Europe without frontiers creates enormous problems for curbing illicit movement of things like antiquities between states with different criteria of what is legal.  Its obviously a very simple matter to represent antiquities dug-up in France as having come from a country where there are no controls whatsoever on digging up and sales of such items. We need better tools than we have at present however to investigate such cases, and get law enforcement authorities alert to these issues and find ways to punish wrongdoers. This is a very amorphous and difficult area of law, we need to tighten that up too. There is a group of criminologists in Glasgow working on it now, but it’s difficult to see what the progress is or the output likely to be.

    7) “more personal maybe, why do you leave in Poland ? Is it linked to a kind of pressure (In fact, I saw on the web a lot of strange videos or blogs and I don't clearly understand the situation...”. No, no pressure, family reasons, and life here is very good. As for the videos and the libellous stuff on the internet, it is all produced by metal detectorists trying to discredit my arguments. The end result of their attempts to reduce things to the personal level is that it shows everyone at a glance just what sort of primitive, inarticulate, empty-headed and vindictive people many of Britain’s metal detectorists are (one of the websites you mention has over 20000 hits, so it seems to be very popular with the whole milieu). This anti-preservationist propaganda also show all too clearly that these people have no idea about what the issues are, and that they have no real arguments.

    May I suggest that for balance you should contact Roger Bland of the PAS and address the same questions to that organization?  I would however suggest treating their answers with a huge pinch of salt, they obviously have a vested interest in representing the whole situation as almost totally under control, their control. They’ve cost everyone a lot of money and they’ll be the last to admit that there are good reasons to believe that the Great Social Experiment which they represent went wrong more than a decade ago and they soldiered on regardless.

    Thanks for your interest. Good luck with making sense of a difficult topic. If you have any further questions I will be here in the office most of the day.

    Paul Barford

    Sunday, 25 May 2014

    "and What's Wrong With That?"

    David Knell answers the question of Peter Tompa about coin collecting: "what's wrong with that?" Knell says that as long as the collector of today can ensure that the coins he collects are not encouraging the ongoing mass destruction of archaeological evidence to provide them, there is no wrong. What would be wrong is that through ignorance and neglect, the collector by buying artefacts deriving from damaging and illegal commercial activity contributes to the obliteration of the evidence of the very past cultures they profess to be studying through the little metal discs with the pictures and writing on them, "a responsible modern collector will ensure his actions are not adding to the carnage of that fragile and finite resource".
    Since Peter Tompa is a modern collector himself, I look forward to reading about his own method of ensuring that his acquisitions have not derived from recent devastation. And since he is also a lobbyist for the coin trade, no doubt he will be exhorting the dealers he represents to adopt a similar thoughtful approach - scrupulously examining the sources of their stock and keeping meticulous records of every item (perhaps along the lines of a publicly accessible registry to date-stamp them) so that other collectors can avoid buying fresh loot too.

    After all, progress is not all bad. Modern technology has abetted looting but it has also increased our awareness of its appalling result. We can no longer claim the excuse of living in an isolated bubble; global information is now instantly at our fingertips. Any caring modern collector or dealer will be far more aware of the desperate need to conserve what remains of our archaeological heritage than people were a few decades ago. They can still experience the joys of collecting but they now know the dangers of their hobby and can aim to avoid them. And what's wrong with that?

    UK Metal Detectorist: We Are The Ones That Have The Rights

    The reporting of finds made on a landowner's property by artefact hunters before they take them away is referred to by one metal detectorist as
    tak[ing] any fun out of this HOBBY to try and turn it into some kind of majorly regulated and uninteresting pain in the arse.
    Let it be noted that what "takes all the fun" out of hoiking artefacts is doing it when the farmer is around for the artefact hunter to get his OK on what it is they are doing, not going in behind the farmer's back. I am not sure what is "uninteresting" about showing the landowner what you've found this time and discussing it with him or her, instead of just waltzing off with it. I rather thought that acting responsibly was indeed falling in behind some kind of discipline in turning the archaeological record into a mine for collectables. To make matters worse, Mr Baines emphasises "collectors' rights" over the artefacts that are actually the landowner's property:
    At the end of the day though we are the ones that have the rights, we are the ones who speak to the farmer's and make agreements and we are also the ones who regulate ourselves to be as responsible as we can be. I think we are nailing this whole responsible detecting thing now, things are slowly changing for the better. Metal detectorists are speaking up, asking questions and thinking how they can better the hobby, we don't need the archaeo-bloggers [crudity], it does not help.[...] Don't let their nitpicking ways bother you, it is us who decide our future and the path we take not them.
    That is the "responsible detectorist's take on partnership and dialogue. "Eff off yer archies, we'm gonna self-determine this are 'obby areselfs". We've heard it all before, May 2006 to be precise, when the Code of practice for responsible metal detecting in England and Wales was launched, to the dismay of artefact hunters who'd got used to calling themselves "responsible' without the term being defined, when it was, they suddenly found themselves unable to comply. It seems Mr Baines and his followers are going the same way.Yes, actually, part of the process of determining what is, and what is not, responsible behaviour, is inevitably going to be discussing it with various groups also interested in the preservation and use of the archaeological record and seeking their input, advice and giving both consideration. That means talking to archaeologists, no matter how unsavoury Mr Baines consiers that prospect to be. that's what a "partnership" is about, and without that "partnership", there can be no "responsible artefact collecting".

    It seems those making the most noise about this (two metal detectorists who declared a few months ago they wanted to lead the way to some more "responsible detecting") really do not understand the wider issues and want "no change" to be regarded as the epitome of "responsible practice". They really seem unable to comprehend that the crux of the matter is not "trust" or (not)"stealing", it is about documenting transfer of ownership.

    I think if these critics were to read the blog as a whole, rather than just the posts in it devoted to metal detecting, they would see that a constant theme is documentation of the history of how the object got out of the ground to its present owner. And not only here, this is a key issue in fighting illicit antiquities as a whole. I would have thought the latter was a crucial area of responsible collecting - of any kind - is to combat the problem of illicit antiquities.

    So to come back to the metal detectorist's pathetically narrow little perspective, any nighthawk in the land putting a coin or two on eBay can say "yeah, I 'ad th' landowner's permisshin, matter of trust innit?". That's how the illicit stuff is sold (like the "it's from an old collection, innit?").

    We are talking about the need to document the transfer of ownership of dugup artefacts from one owner (The landowner) to the person whose collection it enters. Since the existence of landowner's permission is the difference between a nighthawked object from a non-protected site and a licitly-obtained one, it stands to reason that for an object to be verifiable as licit, assumptions and word-of-mouth are not enough. Its the same with New Kingdom shabtis, funerary cones and Syracuse decas. We already have  the recommendations of the Oxford Nighthawking report. We have the 'Glasgow Fourth'. Metal detectorists desiring to become the vanguard of a new responsible phase of the hobby need to look at the way things are going, and the way they have to go to maintain legitimacy of the hobby as more and more of this stuff comes anonymously onto the market.

    The responsible artefact hunter has to document licit possession of the items in his collection. This is fundamental to the collection's hygiene. It stands to reason then that the responsible detectorist cannot do that if he just gaily walks of with whatever takes his fancy without the involvement of the only person by English law who can provide confirmation of legitimacy for those artefacts. To be fully law abiding that transfer of ownership needs to be backed up by more than a tekkie's say-so.

    I think everything that is documented on this blog shows very well indeed that nineteenth-century "trusting" those disposing of artefacts is not going to get us anywhere in the fight against the trade in illicitly-obtained (stolen) artefacts. If we are to fight heritage crime, we need to be able to physically document the legitimacy of the licitly-obtained artefacts in accordance with the current law. I'd say a lot of people out there are looking to responsible detectorists from the UK to show the way here. If they cannot do it, who will?

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