Saturday, 15 April 2017

That 'Subsistence Digger' and 'Old Collections' Mantras

Extreme poverty statistics
We have all heard collectors suggesting that the main reason for the existence of  collection-driven exploitation (CDE) of the archaeological record which produces the portable antiquities that surface on the market is the number of poor people who are forced to dig over ancient sites for scrap metal to survive. They say the only way to STOP CDE is (for archaeologists - sic) to 'solve the world poverty problem'. Here is a chart of the proportions of the global population still living in extreme poverty, as opposed to that  of those that are not. We see that the number of people in extreme poverty fell by 137,000 since yesterday, as it has done for every day in the last 25 years. There is still a long way to go, but this argument seems less valid today than it might have seemed when first formulated by self-justificatory collectors in the 1960s and unreflexively chanted as a protective mantra for the following decades.

I'd draw attention to another consequence of these statistics. The omnipresent claim by collectors that all the unpapered artefacts apparently freshly-surfaced on the market 'could have come from' old collections ('people have been collecting ancient artefacts since....') is nonsense. the green area includes people with disposable incomes - potential collectors. It is very easy to see that in the decades preceding 1970, the number of people living above the poverty line was much, much smaller than today. It is quite simply a physical impossibility for there to have been enough antiquity collectors in the (pre-intrnet trading) world to have pre-owned the number of antiquities currently surfacing on the market. This is simply a highly-implausible lie.

I challenge any dealer in portable antiquities to produce verifiable figures showing I am wrong.


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