Saturday, 12 September 2020

"Twinkly Ritual Star Figurines" and Incantation Bowl Seized

In southern Iraq, in Al Fajr District, in the north of the Dhi Qar governate the National Security authorities h ave seized artefacts that they claim were intended for smuggling
"They are (50) antique masterpieces, (162) antique coins, and (180) antique pottery pieces".
There is an incantation bowl probably from the al-Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia) region of the sixth to eighth centuries, some copper alloy items (the "masterpieces"?) but also ceramic spindlewhorls, two weights (loomweights?) and a lot of triple-pointed things. These are kiln furniture (kiln props - spurs). It is quite unusual to have indusrial material being traded as collectables, possibly artefact hunters found a cache of them on a kiln site and decided to take them not knowing what they were. One almost regrets them not reaching the market, I'd love to know what a creative dealer would market them as.

Friday, 11 September 2020

Investors Push Rio Tinto Bosses Out After Cave Site Trashed

Rio Tinto CEO Jean-Sébastien Jacques has, though not after hanging stubbornly on since May, resigned under pressure from investors over the company's destruction of a 46,000-year-old sacred indigenous site in Australia to expand an iron ore mine. The rock shelters at Juukan Gorge in Western Australia’s Pilbara region, showed evidence of toolmaking and almost 50,000 years of ongoing human use, the only inland site in Australia known so far to do so. It may be suggested that the cold-blooded destruction of these sites by Rio Tinto was a heritage crime on the level of the destruction of the Bamiyan Buddha statues.

Wednesday, 9 September 2020

There are Bottle and There are Bottles


Another piece of unimaginative and uninformative gatekeeper/dumbdown "public outreach" from the PAS. "Finds Friday: Do you know what these are?". When in a short time a member of the public (John Bunyan.descended from immigrants) identified it as a "pilgrim's Ampulla", he got a "

There have been recent research projects on these ampullae based on PAS records. There is material about them in books, articles, though there is not yet a BM recording guide for them.  But you would think for all those millions of public quid spent on the PAS something a bit more educational and multiculturally enlightening than "yay, a pilgrim's ampulla". What Mrs Rashid who lives down the road from my sister wants to know is what was a "pilgrim" in this context? What do they need "ampullas" for? Mrs Simmons also does not know; she was last in Church in the primary school carol service nearly half a century ago.  

Here's another bottle, a brown glass beer bottle. Any paper label has gone but it has the embossed legend: '
No deposit - No return - Not to be refilled'. Just a modern bottle. But its findspot is known, in a forest outside a small town in northern Italy where it was dug up by artefact hunters. More than that, it was found with a large number of similar bottles in a rubbish dump left behind by a Wehrmacht unit fighting on the Gothic Line in the spring of 1945. But there is more to that, these bottles were produced in the US and originally carried beer to US, not axis, troops. It is unlikely that they got into the Nazis' hands from the US Fifth Army coming up from the south, it is probable that, like much else they were captured from overrun US units in the battle of Ardennes (Battle of the Bulge). This narrativisation (the details are published in the Polish metal detectorists' magazine Eksplorator of Jan 2016) however is based on research, not the kind UK detectorists do (to find potential productive sites to plunder), but the kind their central and eastern European fellows do, where they use the documentary evidence and context in the ground in a way unthinkable to the average British Baz Thugwit. 

One would have hoped this is the kind of approach to artefacts from artefact hunting we'd see from the PAS FLOs. Not "I know what this mysterious looking thing is, can you guess what it is, and I'll tell you if you're right". 

Sunday, 6 September 2020

Moral: You Can Never, Really Trust a Metal Detectorist for the Details

Tertiary rocks purple
A row has broken out in Germany over an artefact found by two metal detectorists in 1999 by Henry Westphal and Mario Renner while they were illegally treasure-hunting with a metal detector but no licence. They claim they found it in the Mittelberg hillfort near Nebra in the Ziegelroda Forest, some 60 km west of Leipzig. The find was reported as a hoard in a pit with two bronze swords, two axes, a chisel, and fragments of spiral bracelets. The next (!) day, Westphal and Renner sold the entire hoard for 31,000 DM to a dealer in Cologne. and it was only recovered in February 2002, the original finders were eventually traced and led police and archaeologists to the discovery site. An excavation, as yet unpublished, took place and seemed to confirm the finders' story. Apparently the soil at the site matched soil samples found clinging to the artefacts. The two looters received jail sentences of six and twelve months. There is a tourist-attracting archaeological park on the hilltop now.

The disc was thought to have been part of the hoard and thus dated to the Early Bronze Age. Recently doubt was thrown on this interpretation. Rupert Gebhard and Rüdiger Krause, two archaeologists from Goethe University Frankfurt and Ludwig-Maximilian University in Munich have taken a fresh look at where and how the disk was discovered and critically examine the "vague information given by the looters" (Critical comments on the find complex of the so-called Nebra Sky Disk, in the journal Arch?ologische Informationen).

A critical examination of the published results by the authors does not allow the conclusion that the site investigated in a re-excavation is correct, nor that the ensemble itself fulfils the criteria of a closed find (hoard). On the contrary, according to the excavation findings the ensemble could not have been in situ at the site named. The scientific examination of the objects contradicts rather than confirm their belonging together. If the disk is considered – as required by these facts – as a single object, it cannot be integrated into the Early Bronze Age motif world. Instead, a chronological embedment in the first millennium BC seems most likely. On the basis of this overall assessment, all further conclusions and interpretations of the cultural context and the meaning of the Nebra disk that have been made so far will have to be subjected to a critical discussion.

At the end of the (preprint) text, the authors describe a number of problems they had with the German archaeological establishment getting their critical study published...  

Rather weirdly, just after that went online on 3rd September was a response (published anonymously!) from the Landesamt für Denkmalpflege und Arch?ologie Sachsen-Anhalt: "Himmelsscheibe von Nebra eisenzeitlich? Eine Richtigstellung/ Sky disc of Nebra dated into the Iron Age? A corrective statement". This is really dotty, and one wonders what lies behind this.

The colleagues not only ignore the abundance of published research results in recent years, their various arguments also are easily refuted.

Well, Landesamt, get the results of the confirmatory excavations published for a start.  And I think if you are going to "easily refute" the reasoning, it is best properly to acquaint yourself with it first. Landesamt goes on: 

Claims are that the soil attachments on the Sky Disc do not correspond with those of the other findings and that the geochemical analyses of the metals do not support their coherence. Both of these statements are demonstrably incorrect. According to an essay by Dr. J?rg Adam (then State Office of Criminal Investigation of Brandenburg), who conducted the investigations of the soil attachments for the Regional Court of Halle as an expert, and who was not quoted by the two authors...

Wass? Landesamt has not read the text above, which actually refers to that report prepared for a court. They give a link to it, and you decide if those soils are the same and can only locate the findspot to a single small hole on a huge hilltop at the southern end of a hill complex 15x7km in a particular region of Germany (bear in mind how much of Germany overlies Tertiary rocks). Note, only six control samples were taken from just three localities (Suhl, Hainspitz and three samples from Hettstedt). As for the metal analysis, the significance of the analysis of copper production in Mitterberg in the Salzburg region that shows it "ended at the beginning of the 1st millennium BC" (so allegedly the Sky Disc could not have been made later) depends on what the Sky Disc was made from.  Landesamt (using the royal 'we') says: 

Due to lack of space, we refrain from discussing the many other inconsistencies in the content of the article here. 

Well, as  Rupert Gebhard and Rüdiger Krause said, all further conclusions and interpretations of the cultural context and the meaning of the Nebra disk that have been made so far will have to be subjected to a critical discussion. Let's now see it. Let us see it start with a discussion of whether metal detectorists are cognitively equipped to make the kind of observations and record of the details of archaeological context that is the basis of this dispute. It is their word here against some evidence that throws their account into doubt. Because at the moment, this dispute suggests that the only record available are several court depositions of a criminal case that took place more than three years after the discovery. Let us find out where the metal detectorists and their associates had been digging earlier and see soil samples from those sites given the same analysis to help falsify the theory that the objects were not originally found together at x-marks-the-spot on Mittleberg bei Nebra.

Attempt to Sue Ariadne Galleries over ‘forged’ mosaics

Mr Demirjian in 2015

There are a lot of faked antiquities around on the market, and it seems even the 'high end' are not above suspicion of handling them, as an unfolding case suggests (Tristan Kirk, 'Sheikh who entertained Queen sues gallery over ‘forged’ mosaics' The Evening Standard 4th September 2020)
A member of the Qatari royal family has accused an art gallery of selling two mosaics worth almost £300,000 which later allegedly turned out to be fakes. His Highness Sheikh Hamad Bin Abdullah Al Thani is locked in a High Court dispute with Ariadne Galleries over the two sales which date back to December 2013 and July 2014. Legal papers lodged reveal the art firm — which has galleries in Mayfair and New York — is being sued for alleged breach of contract and misrepresentation over the sales. The claim concerns the sale of mosaics named "Cupids At The Grape Harvest" and "Eros Hunting With A Stag". The writ states: “Both mosaics are inauthentic and/or forgeries. They were purchased for $200,000 and $150,000 respectively, equating to a total purchase price of $350,000.”
It is not stated on what grounds the inauthenticity of the items in question is claimed, and it remains to be seen whether that accusation will stand up in court. I could not find online pictures of these mosaics, possibly the Gallery used them in a 2013/14 catalogue.The legal challenge to Ariadne Galleries is being brought primarily by the Qatar Investment and Projects Development Holding Company (Qipco) of which the Sheikh, a cousin of the Emir of Qatar, is chief executive. The Sheikh is listed as the second claimant. The Al Thani family is very active in the art-buying world.  Ariadne Gallery is a family-run business with locations in New York and London and specializing in the art of the ancient civilizations of Egypt, the Near East, Greece, Rome, Asia, and early medieval Europe. Its founder and current chairman is Torkom Demirjian.

Thursday, 3 September 2020

British Museum's Stuff was Bought and Paid for, Says Director

Hartwig Fischer said it was a 'simplification' to treat the British Museum's collection of 13 million historical objects from all over the globe as a hoard of stolen goods that can be returned because many of its artefacts were bought and paid for (Craig Simpson, ', Telegraph 27 August 2020).
Mr Fischer has argued that many significant pieces in the museum were acquired by less controversial means, including purchases, donations and treasure finds. These items cannot simply be sent back to their country of origin, the director said, and the legitimate acquisition of objects had to be taken into account. [...] the museum has worked to address its colonial legacy, and the issue of possessing cultural artefacts taken during the pomp [sic] of empire. [...] When asked why treasures cannot simply be handed back, Mr Fischer referenced the complex histories of many of the displays. Items from the Sutton Hoo hoard were gifted by Edith Pretty, the landowner of the site where the famous ship burial was found, and pieces like the Bronze Age Ringlemere cup were given to the museum after being legally declared as treasure finds.
See the text by Kwame Opoku: "
Did British Museum Buy Most Of Its Thirteen Million Artefacts?" in Modern Ghana who analyses Mr Fischer's apologism.
It is depressing to realize that those who often preach the rule of law and human rights seem not to care much for the human rights of others to an independent cultural development and the right to determine freely the location and use of their artefacts. If the British Museum wants to discard its reputation as a citadel of looted and stolen artefacts of others, it should stop trying to advance baseless arguments and justifications for its illegitimate and unjustifiable detention of artefacts of others. [...] A large portion of the 13 million artefacts in the British Museum were clearly acquired under colonial rule with all the force at the disposal of the defunct violent British Empire.
Also, in the relationship to the debate on "who owns?", note the issues that it runs the Portable Antiquities Scheme handling finds for the most part dug and brought in by artefact hunters. Has legal title of the many individual objects the PAS handles been cleared with the owners of the property they were taken from? Or do PAS not really bother about title assignment and provenance documentation? 


Thursday, 27 August 2020



Accidentally and independently put on eBay at the same time so they appear on the page next to each other:

Top one eBay seller from Oxford UK (antiquiti 11771)
Bottom one, eBay seller from Thailand (persian.era 189

There is a third one, being sold by ancientantique92 from Aylesbury UK for $184.67 

The "Looting Question" Bibliography

Last time I looked, this very important resource was not available, but just now have discovered that it has moved and is available in all its glory. Make use of it while it is still there...

Compiled by Hugh Jarvis (PhD, MLS) University at Buffalo

Tuesday, 25 August 2020

Looters destroy 2000-year-old archaeological site in Sudan in search for gold

The trench and spoil heaps [Getty]
Gold seekers with giant diggers have destroyed the 2,000-year-old historical site of Jabal Maragha deep in the desert of Bayouda, some 270 kilometres north of the capital Khartoum (The New Arab, ' Looters destroy 2000-year-old Sudan archaeological site in search for gold'    25 August, 2020 ). The damage was discovered when a team of archaeologists arrived at the ancient site last month and saw that the site had vanished. They found two mechanical diggers and five men at work in a vast trench 17 metres deep, and 20 metres long. The site, dating from the Meroitic period between 350 BC and 350 AD, is on sandstone in which there are layers of pyrite, which presumably they mistook for gold.
The archaeologists were accompanied by a police escort, who took the treasure-hunters to a police station but were freed within hours. "They should have been put in jail and their machines confiscated. There are laws," said Mahmoud Al-Tayeb, a former expert from Sudan's antiquities department. Instead, the men left without charge and their diggers were released too. "It is the saddest thing," said Tayeb, who is also a professor of archaeology at the University of Warsaw. Tayeb believes that the real culprit is the workers' employer, someone who can pull strings and circumvent justice.
Sudan's archaeologists warn that this was not a unique case, but part of a systematic looting of ancient sites. Now, in hundreds of remote places ranging from cemeteries to temples, diggers are hunting for anything to sell on the antiquities market. At Sai, a 12-kilometre-long river island in the Nile, hundreds of graves have been ransacked and destroyed by looters. Some of them date back to the times of the pharaohs. "Out of a thousand more or less well-known sites in Sudan, at least a hundred have been destroyed or damaged," said Hatem al-Nour, Sudan's director of antiquities and museums. He added that the lack of security at the sites made them easy targets for looters.

Monday, 24 August 2020

PAS Dealing with Issues of Trust: A Little Birdy Told Me


Two FLOs are having a go at a commentator that questioned the number of artefacts recorded on the PAS database that might not be from the place the finder claims he found them. That seems to have touched a raw nerve and the two of them have been thrashing around trying to avoid the question of whether they do in fact demand documentation (such as a protocol assigning title from the landowner as recommended by the 2009 Nighthawking Report). I suspect that we all know the answer to that... this would mean that PAS handles antiquities with no proof that they are not stolen.  If they can't do it, why should we expect dealers to? 

Anyway, something emerged from this. Baz Thugwit comes to the FLO, "...'ere mate, found this anchint broach in this field, 'ere" [stabs map with flabby finger]. FLO looks at him, "We trust you to always supply honest information, based on us building relationships of trust, and obviously Baz, old pal, if there was anything dodgy in what you say, I'd immediately see it as clear as day. but I trust you, good fellow, come again soon, bring me more stuff". More stuff I say! Happy Hunting!" And Baz turns on his heel, and off he goes, smiling to himself, "fooled the stuck-up arkie again", he thought. But no. Felix the wily FLO has a little secret... "It's a good job Baz does not know about my secret naughty-box. Now I'll just put this on the database, 42 this week!... There! and now, Baz..THIS is for lying to me!". Baz does not know there's a special box for Baz-finds: "there's a little info box we can fill in on the Db if we've any spatial doubts, and there's plenty of examples where this is used. And even in these few cases, at least there's a record of an object where previously it would be unknown, advancing archaeological knowledge". Make your mind up Felix old boy.. either there's "plenty of examples where this is used" or they are few. Few-plenty, plenty-few? (Oh, I feel a FOI coming on).

Now, forgive me for asking what kind of "data" are decontextualised artefacts that nobody is sure where they are from? What kind of "database" is it that has "grounded" artefacts alongside artefacts of doubtful provenance? I'd like to see the official PAS-exegesis on why an artefact of doubtful provenance (like the Piltdown skull, or Sevso hoard) "advances archaeological knowledge".

FLO Struggles With Decontextualised Thingy [updated]

Photo PAS
Object type certainty: Possibly
Workflow status: Find awaiting validation
A possible fragment of a Roman (Bronze Age?) copper-alloy saw, similar to BM-AF446A.SF 688.The Piercebridge Divers [sic]
The fragment is slightly concave and has a square piercing at one end. The object is 38.47mm long; 18.55mm wide; 1.04mm thick and weighs 3.05g
Subsequent action after recording: Returned to finder
Broad period: ROMAN
Period from: ROMAN
Period to: ROMAN 

Submit your error report:
It is not a saw (or a "possible fragment of saw", what does that actually mean?). The object is too small and the teeth too coarse (it would jam) - it could not be used as such with no hafting, and yet there is no way to secure a haft, is there? Depending on "what" copper alloy it is, it could also be too soft and the teeth would bend. Neither does it appear from your photos to be a fragment. One possible use is as a potter's or modeller's tool, for removing excess clay, for example in forming a base ring, or applying grooved or stamped decoration. The hole would allow a cord to be attached to avoid losing it during work. But the fact that the site context of this decontextualised item found by a metal detectorist does not allow you to say whether it is Bronze Age or Roman is a bit of a hindrance in offering any kind of an interpretation. What would it have been found with?   

Now tell us please, if the find has already gone back to the finder, how is that description going to be 'validated'? And the findspot information, how was/will that be validated? 

the name has come back to me, it looks like a potter's rib (images). Of course if it as not now in some private collection, you could perhaps look and see if the original surface is well-enough preserved to exhibit diagnostic use-wear marks.

Sunday, 23 August 2020

Americans Shamelessly Loot Europe's Past


Charles Garrett (2009) 'Introduction To EuropeanMetal Detecting', Garland Texas. Quite an eye-opener to see how a US metal detector manufacturer sees Europe as being a free-for-all:  

p. 10:'During my years of testing metal detectors, I have had the pleasure of recovering treasures in England, Scotland, France, Spain, Germany and Italy. Finding my first Roman coin is an experience I shall never forget'.
How were the search permits organised for these trips, if - as the forums attest - locals find getting landowners' permissions so difficult? In particular specific permits are needed for Italy, Spain, some lands of Germany, and the fate of the artefacts is different in each country - how was this dealt with, an agent? 
p.15: I found a coin cache in a plowed field in during one of my European trips. I was scanning near an old embankment [where?] when I dug the first coin. In an area of about an arm’s width, I had soon unearthed another 20 ancient coins. The coins are from the 400 BC period and I figure they had once been in some sort of bag when they were buried.[...] Some of these coins from the cache are on display in the Garrett Museum in Garland, Texas'.
Alongside the export licence I trust. Because without it, this is what we call "looting", whichever 'European country' it was found in.
pp 15-16: 'My son Vaughan accompanied me on a two-week detecting expedition through Spain, France, Italy, Germany, England and Scotland. Among other places, we visited the stone and turf fortification in northern England known as Hadrian’s wall. [...] its remnants are now a popular tourist site [...] Searching along this ancient frontier border [where?] was certainly a highlight of my European hunting experiences.
Apart from being tautology, it is also illegal. How were the permits arranged for Spain, France, Italy and Germany? What happened to the finds from these countries? Were the English finds recorded by the PAS and was an export licence applied for? Why is there no mention of this in the book (though there is a reference to (only) the English/Welsh Code of Best Practice for Responsible Metal Detecting (pp 58-62). Then he goes on to talk about targeting known sites:  
pp 48-9: 'where a structure is well known to have existed you can search the areas surrounding it. I spent a week one time just to search the area around an early English fort site used in the late 1700s to defend against French troops [where?]. I was by myself and I literally worked from dusk to dawn to make the most of my limited time. By the end of the week I had accumulated some 500 relics. [...] My preferred metal detecting method was in the All-Metal mode with my sensitivity set to detect as deep as possible. Nothing was overlooked. Fortunately, I did not have to fight heavily mineralized ground conditions in this area. Because of this fort’s somewhat remote location, I had little tourist trash (cans, pop tops) to contend with'.
This site was not, actually, 'protected' in some way was it that there was still so much material to be found? Where are these artefacts now stored, and how are they labelled? How did Mr Garrett determine who the landowner was? In the entire book, there is no mention of this (see p. 53 about what he considers to be a "treasure hunting opportunity")
Again, pp. 53-4: 'The caretaker of an old castle in Spain we visited [where?] offered to let me come back sometime and do some thorough searching. Knowing how things often worked out, I decided to at least scan a few minutes before we had to leave. In the end, we did not make it back there but I did make a great recovery during that short time of searching: an ancient crossbow point. For once, I was proud of myself for seizing the moment! Never pass up a chance to scan.
Of course, though it seems the brash Texan is oblivious to that, the 'caretaker' has no legal authority either to allow access to a property, nor allow the removal of artefacts from it. There is no cure for stupidity either:
I made a hunting trip to an area near Koblenz, Germany. Some of our German friends were proud to show us various World War II German Army relics they had discovered with their metal detectors. We returned to one of these areas and I was thrilled with the number of items we were able to detect. In all, our detecting team recovered an estimated 2,000 pounds of relics. We dug up countless bullets and ammunition clips as well as some helmets and even hand grenades. Such military artifacts should be treated with great caution. When in doubt about discovered ordnance, notify your local authorities versus attempting to dig it up. European antiquity laws[sic] have become more stringent regarding exactly how such discoveries must be reported
He shows a photo of an intact clip of Mauser bullets that he'd found. We trust he did not take them on the aeroplane home in that state. And, from a metal detector manufacturer (p. 63):
Take advantage of new metal detector technology. There’s more treasure to be found today than you could find 40 years ago. I know this to be true because the technology of today’s metal detectors is superior to those I used decades ago. Deeper ground penetration and better target discrimination allow European detectorists to find items they simply could not detect years ago.
So more archaeological evidence than ever before is threatened by these carefree people.

For Some, Metal Detectors are "New technology"


Grow Your Own Life ♿ @Shrop_Allotment·51 min

W odpowiedzi do @PortantIssues i @Bexx_FLO
It's sad really that a man in your profession has such a closed mind to new techniques and is happy to tar all with the same brush. You are the archaeologist equalivant of a Gammon.

Metal detectors have been around now for coming up to sixty years, so using them to find bits of metal can hardly be considered a "new technique" by anyone aware of teh world around him! As for finding gradation in collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record (think about that a moment), maybe Mr Minton would like to tell us all how he'd see me doing that. 

For non-native speakers:

Studying Broken Bits of Metal


One 'Flipper' (@flipper865: 'Metal detecting, History, Gardening, Photography, being outdoors... finding and studying broken bits of metal since 2010') from the South Wales Valleys does not seem to like the way this archaeologist discusses the trashing of the archaeological record by its collection-driven exploitation:

flipper@flipper865·7 g.
W odpowiedzi do @FLODurhamFLO @PortantIssues i @Bexx_FLO
[...] he's had a run in with almost every detectorist out there. Never a kind word to say! Tars us all with the same brush 
Hmm, basically collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record is collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record. A blue spade is still a spade. I don't think we can paint it any other way without bending the truth. Ask an FLO. And then, the Welsh guy gets more abusive:  

flipper@flipper865·27 min
W odpowiedzi do @PortantIssues @FLODurhamFLO i @Bexx_FLO
I "reckon" you need to chill the feck out and stop antagonising people that are clearly passionate about what they have studied and are sharing with the rest of the world. Positivity springs to mind, you gotta get some ffs
Actually Mr Flipper, this archaeologist has studied a bit more than "bits of broken metal since 2010", and is in his own little corner of the Internet sharing with those in the world that visit it the reflections that engenders on what a minority of self-centred people with an overdose of entitlement are doing to the archaeological resource. OK?

And here's a thing, Flipper shows us all his idea of a systematic search of a productive site (Painting a picture with the @Minelab #ctx3030 gps over 2 years):

So, the finds distribution in that field will look like... (a line going towards the modern gate)?

Grab a Coin, Sit Down, and Tell us About it


Dr Matthew Ball, Oxford academic:

Matthew Ball@Matt0791·1 g. 
W odpowiedzi do @FLODurhamFLO @PortantIssues i jeszcze 3 osób
Its beyond his ability to be civil. Treat a mention in his vile blog as a badge of honour. The pr*ck called me “coin fondler” — was tempted to stick it in my bio.

are you addressing me, Sir? I do wonder just how it is that the Leverhulme DPhil 'Studying the dissemination of imperial messages through coin circulation in the Roman Empire') considers fondling an unpleasant activity. But anyway, if instead of harbouring a grudge because I pointed out that a FLO's coin of Theodora was not 'that' Theodora, he'd look it is not addressed to him personally, but is an engagement with the dealers (incl numismatic ones) spiel about having a "piece of the past in your hand". As for "Vile" and "pr*ck", that must be Oxford/Cummings' Brexity academic talk I guess.

And for the record:

1) The term I used on the blog was in fact "coiney".

2) At the end of that nonsense the Durham FLO snorted and said that nobody would be faking cheap bronze coins like that, which shows how little said "specialist" actually knows about what goes on in the numismatic market today. They do. And to show him that was not idle talk, a few days after that, I bought him several very nice fakes of Late Roman Bronzes that a Polish seller had at the time (they are made either in Bulgaria or the Balkans), I put them in a padded envelope and sent them to his office address with a perfectly civil and, I thought, conciliatory letter... and the lack-culture bounder did not even acknowledge receipt. That shows what kind of people the PAS are employing now. 

Monday, 17 August 2020

How "Hot" Should the PAS Database be?

A PAS FLO has a go at David Knell for "describing a colleagues work as vacuous because you disagree with the way he has chosen to engage with current debate". It seems to me that the adjective vacuous is perfectly apposite to the described case, which is that article about the Shropshire seal matrix that the British Museum really, really wanted to link with the slave trade.

The problem is that the PAS database is supposed above all to be a repository of permanent record about all the artefacts that have been hoiked by metal detectorists and landed in scattered ephemeral personal collections. That is its primary function. That's a long-term process. To use it in the short term for "engaging in current debates" conflicts with that. If we look back at the early posts of this long-running blog, we can see texts about such engagement. What is very clear is that ten years on, the main reaction is "who cares?". The burning matters of 2008/9 are no longer topical subjects of discussion. The same will be the case with the hot topics of 2020. 

Sunday, 16 August 2020

Some Numbers About Metal Detecting


A few months ago supporters of collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record were ridiculing Sam Hardy's estimate of '27000 detectorists'. Perhaps they'd like to take a look at Facebook today. Mr Fudge's 'Metal Detecting' page, 26,102 members. That 27000 does not look at all unlikely does it?  And how many metal detectorists did the PAS say they'd recorded finds from in 2019? Half that, even? 

And what about the doddery old NCMD that has resigned from the forums and wants its members to use its Facebook page? 4,313 total likes,  5,536 total followers. So less than one third of them goes out with third party insurance? (FID has far fewer members than that, it has 154 members). That's not very "responsible is it?

Saturday, 15 August 2020

Critical Issues Concerning Using Danish Metal-Detector Finds as Archaeological Evidence


Most accounts of the "use" of "metal detected finds" as archaeological evidence in countries with liberal heritage legislation are gushingly enthusiastic. It is refreshing to see that not everywhere have archaeologists swallowed the blue pill. 

Torben Trier Christiansen 2016, Recreational Metal Detecting and Archaeological Research: Critical Issues Concerning Danish Metal-Detector Finds pp 23-36 in J. Martens, and M. Ravn (Eds.) 2016, Pl?yejord som Kontekst: Nye perspektiver for forskning, forvaltning og formidling Oslo


Thirty-five years of private metal detecting have had a profound impact on the field of archaeology in Denmark. In particular, the areas of Iron Age and Early Medieval research have benefited from the extensive new find material. Although the detector finds constitute a genuine revelation in archaeology, the handling and use of Danish detector finds for research purposes is not without obstacles. This article discusses several of the critical issues that limit the research value of the detector finds on the basis of find material recovered in the eastern Limfjord region, northern Jutland.


Screwed Minoan Sherd from Palace of Minos on eBay


EBay seller lantz_industries (81) from Reno, Nevada, United States has a Minoan Archeological Shard from Palace of Minos for sale, yours for US $9,850.00. That is all the description says. On the back of the naff homemade wooden plaque to which it is screwed is a label: "found under mud on actual site of palace in spring, 1954". The 'traditional' date for Thera explosion of c 1500 is referred to here. Somehow the mention of the export licence disappeared from the sales offer... The sherd is nice, should not have left the palace site, but the price - apparently for smuggling it off the island and handling stolen goods, hmm. 

Reader's Contribution


Friday, 14 August 2020

British Dumbdown of Egyptian Archaeological Heritage


More colonialism from Britain, an interactive resource to 'learn' about ancient Egypt (creator: Joyce Tyldesley: "Professor, author and archaeologist, teaching Egyptology on-line to students worldwide from the University of Manchester"). Some really inane questions here, they seem less designed to actually teach anything by setting any kind of a challenge, but to give the dullest dullard English kid the chance to "succeed" by answering them all.

I doubt whether we'd see the Egyptians for some reason doing the same ridiculous thing with the British archaeological heritage. 

Different Views of the Same Thing


There are several different versions of this on the internet, all on the same lines, this one is from (by?) Paul Tubb:

Now, readers, where would I put the PAS and its supporters and their attempts to use loose decontextualised objects as 'data'? Where would I put the critics of the PAS? And where would YOU put them (and where would they)? 

Clue, the FLO's recent blog post on 'PAS and the slave trade' and their attempts to explain away the criticism is in pink. 


Thursday, 13 August 2020

Penn Cultural Heritage Centre to Help Investigate US-bound Antiquities Trafficking

Press release:
Today, Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs Marie Royce and Williams Director of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology Dr. Julian Siggers signed a Memorandum of Understanding to establish a new public-private partnership. Under this partnership, the Department of State and the Penn Cultural Heritage Center will cooperate to combat international cultural property trafficking. The United States is unwavering in its commitment to protect and preserve cultural heritage around the world and to combat the trafficking in cultural property that funds criminal and terrorist networks. This new partnership will facilitate consultations between U.S. law enforcement officials from the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Homeland Security Investigations, and U.S. Customs and Border Protection and experts in archaeology and art history when expertise is needed during the course of investigations. Experts from the faculty and staff of the University of Pennsylvania and other relevant universities, museums, libraries, archives, and nonprofit organizations will also participate.
Note the maintenance of the "trafficking in cultural property that funds criminal and terrorist networks" story and its presentation as a hard fact. One wonders however why a formal agreement is necessary, and whether it means that from now on, expertise in art history and archaeology will (have to) be exclusively drawn from the University of Pennsylvania?


David Knell on PAS Story-telling [UPDATED]

The discussion of the politicised story-telling of the PAS on a ring from Shropshire goes on. FLO Peter Reavill published a moral tale about a seal matrix with a man's head on it and said it related to slave-owning, PACHI criticised it, David Knell added his comments to my post. That prompted another FLO to come rushing over to attack my adjectives, those of David Knell and generally claim in effect that the FLOs are experts and have British Museum expert advice, and how dare anyone question their interpretation. Wow. I updated my original post, but David Knell has continued the discussion in a way that raises the question of the reliability of the PAS recording (David Knell, 'PAS: Truth be damned, let's just be topical!' Thursday, 13 August 2020)

Apparently in a misguided attempt to be topical, the author gave his article the subtitle "How a single artefact can shed light on the transatlantic slave trade" and tagged it as 'Atlantic Slave Trade, Black Lives Matter, Enslaved Person'. Excited by that theme, the author then went on to make wild assumptions in the text - "... design depicting a Black man – most probably an enslaved person", "the depiction of an enslaved person on this seal" - while desperately trying to link the seal to "the enslavement of African people". [...] I now see Ben Westwood, another FLO, is apparently outraged that anyone dared to challenge the nonsense in the PAS article.
There are some (justifiable) sharp comments in this response ("Perhaps my standard for drawing a line between fact and wild flights of uninformed imagination is somewhat stricter than that of the PAS". "a PAS article that favours sensationalist speculation over sound scholarly objectivity"). Basically it boils down to Knell asserting (and I think correctly) "that any chance of an intelligent "debate" requires the immediate ditching of that "Slave Trade" narrative; it's a false accretion founded on an ignorance of armorial art [...] forcefully foisting topicality onto the artefact". In my original post I suggested that the bust on this seal might have been a classical reference, and while it's still possible, having read Knell's comment to that post and now his enlargement on his blog, I am persuaded that his is the more likely interpretation. 

In a previous generation of archaeologists, there was a much wider knowledge of heraldry than seems to be the case today. So in his blog post, Knell gives a brief account of armorial art - pointing slyly to some examples on the PAS database, including one seal matrix (NLM-0D2C6D) remarkably like the Shropshire one, though better finished. That one is dated by another FLO to  1750-1825 (not "1713") - the significance of that is that slavery was abolished in the UK in 1807. Knell goes on to explain to the FLO ("expert") the significance of the "Moor's Head" emblem, elements the FLO evidently had not considered, and all those experts he consulted (names, please) did not remind him of: 
Although the device is by no means as common as a lion rampant, it is not exactly rare either [...] and it's rather surprising that it threw the PAS team into a shocked wobbly [...] despite Mr Reavill's strenuous effort to make it topical, the device is most unlikely to have even the remotest connection with the "transatlantic slave trade". [...] Despite the misleading subtitle of the Reavill article, the artefact has not shed an iota of light on the transatlantic slave trade (hardly surprising since the artefact has nothing to do with it); the article merely illustrates the validity of Paul Barford's warning about narrativisation. It is a reckless reversal of archaeological practice: instead of dispassionately allowing an artefact to speak for itself and learning from it, a largely irrelevant sermon based on misinformed guesswork and irrational assumption has been clumsily piggybacked onto it. There is already more than enough pseudo-archaeology in the world, please don't add to it.

Update 17th August 2020

The sorry saga goes on and on and the PAS FLOs (particularly the Durham one) are digging themselves deeper and deeper into a hole (David Knell, 'Reply to Twitter feedback' Ancient Heritage blog, Monday, 17 August 2020).    

'Context matters: Collating the past’

Declaration of interest, a couple of days ago, I received from the author a complimentary copy of a volume I know he'd been working on for some time and came out recently. I thought I'd write a few words about it here. 
The book is David W.J. Gill, 2020 'Context matters: Collating the past’ ARCA Publications (place of publication: probably Columbia SC, USA) 291 pp index ISBN-13: 978-1734302615.

This handsome volume is a collation of some 30 essays, reviews and articles by Professor David Gill that had been published in ARCA's Journal of Art Crime (JAC) in the past decade, but here set out in thematic blocks with a linking commentary. 

These essays (in a JAC feature called 'context matters') revolve around museum objects and ancient art, mainly from the classical world with a strong focus on issues concerning the relationships between museums (US ones in particular) and source countries. The author points out that the texts that were published in JAC did not cover in much detail the broader aspects of ‘repatriation’ of objects and indeed whole architectural elements taken to foreign museums as Grand Tour trophies in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, nor of the degree to which products of modern fakery ‘can be inserted into and corrupt the corpus of knowledge’ (p. 13). 

I have long followed David’s work, and have probably read a fair number of these texts before in one form or another over the last decade or so, and of course consider that each of them is an important contribution to the field. His readers will know that David’s approach is an unassuming one of quiet, logical objectivity, and in his texts many of the touchier issues tend to be formulated as questions, inviting the reader to use the information presented to form their own opinions and ask their own questions. This perhaps can seduce the reader into not seeing their immediate impact. Having these texts collated (see title) in a single volume grouped thematically gives them a new resonance. The intertextualities and pattern of the author’s thought become more visible. Indeed one might say that there could be no better illustration of the concept „context matters” than what these individually meaningful texts say when they are all presented in the context of each other. 

The introduction, pp 9-16, sets out the story of how the author became involved in research on these topics, going back a quarter of a century, but also relating the essays here to wider issues. There are eight sections: I, International agreements; II, The AAMD and its members; III, Returning antiquities; IV, Compliance and due diligence (introducing the concept “collecting histories”); V, Curators; VI, Looting and the market; VII, Perspectives from England; VIII, Debating cultural property (reviews of books by Cuno, Waxman and Jenkins). Some of the sections and essays have separate bibliographies, with the main one at the end of the volume, but it makes sense once you see how the volume is put together. 

Much of the emphasis in the first part of the volume is on the trade in objects from Italy and Greece and the USA as a voracious consumer, and the Sotheby’s and Medici scandal (with its cache of polaroids) as the link between the two. Along the way we are treated to cameos on the Ny Carlesberg Glyptotek, and my two favourite as-yet unresolved cases of the Ka Nefer Nefer mummy fragment and the Leutwitz (“Cleveland”) Apollo, both of which the art market somehow believes to have physically existed in two different places at the same time (like the herm in Chapter 17). This is often a problem when the antiquities trade attempts to produce documents for collecting histories, they so often give the impression of (ahem) having been simply made up. 

Section V introduces the issue of the role and importance of academics in the antiquities trade, a topic raised by Renfrew two decades ago, but a lesson we are still learning (in particular now in the fields of cunies and papyri – the ‘Gospel of Jesus’ Wife’ is a case in point). But it seems that we are slow learners, this is still an area that needs much more discussion and, especially, a much closer formulation of codes of practice /ethics for archaeologists (and not only).

Section VI introduces the issues of conflict antiquities. The first essay goes into looting in the Balkans, the role of Bulgaria (and its mafia) in the supply of the antiquities market in the early 1990s, the second touches on the acquisition of objects from war-torn Syria and Iraq, the third on looting of museums and storerooms in Libya and Egypt as well as Italy and Greece. 

There are not many other authors from whom in the context of portable antiquities I’d be glad to see a section labelled ‘perspectives from England’ (normally, on seeing such a title in English, as we say in Poland “the knife already opens in my pocket”). This is because most British colleagues would just parrot some vacant stuff about the ‘benefits’ of collaboration and partnership and ‘public engagement with the past’, without putting that in any context. Gill is far more astute and takes two cases of recent discoveries where the Portable Antiquities Scheme was involved in notable finds, the so-called Crosby Garrett Helmet and the Lenborough Hoard, both of them tragic fiascos in archaeological terms. Few other archaeologists have had the gumption to have called-out these two finds in this way. My main regret is that David’s pieces on the PAS (2010a and 2010b) were not in JAC but elsewhere so they do not appear here. 

The final section rehearses some of David’s responses to the very curious reasoning of other supporters of portable antiquities collecting (though in the museum context). 

I like very much the way some of the information is presented in the form of tabulation. What is revealing is that in most cases these are not tabulations of known collecting histories, but rather the steps by which we reconstruct what really happened (or what we do not know). We need to come up with a term for this process (because we can't call it "provenance research" really).* 

What I find missing is a comprehensive presentation here of David's thoughts on one puzzling aspect. Since even before we read this book, we'd most of us say yes, "context matters" (and "looting matters"). So why, actually are there all these illustrious people and institutions described here behaving as though it's utterly unimportant, that what is important is some trophy "artwork" to display and brag about. Yet as Elizabeth Marlowe (2013) shows (and should have been well-known before that publication too), context and 'grounding' are by no means a problem relating to legitimacy of ownership, but the very interpretation of the object (even one that is treated as 'art'). It affects the interpretation in research, the manner of representation in display and museum practice - so why was it so gaily ignored in all the cases Gill discusses? 

This book deserves to be on the reading lists of students in a number of fields (archaeology, cultural heritage studies, museology, and criminology come to mind). It provides a useful summary of a series of matters that are difficult to follow from the scattered sources (just look at the size of his bibliography) and is useful in that it focuses attention on a specific set of material that highlight the core issues and can provide the foundations for further discussions. 

 As a booklover, I cannot fail to mention the book’s appealing design (by Ur?ka Charney). This volume entrances, from the subtle restraint of the very tactile cover and the page setup that unites the separate sections, gives them a robust but open character that makes the volume a delightful object in its own right. 


David Gill 2010a The Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act: Protecting the Archaeology of England and Wales? Papers from the Institute of Archaeology (PIA) vol 20, 1-11 

Elizabeth Marlowe 2013, Shaky Ground: Context, Connoisseurship and the History of Roman Art. Debates in archaeology. London; New York: Bloomsbury Academic

Colin Renfrew, 2000. Loot, legitimacy and ownership: The ethical crisis in archaeology.London. London: Duckworth. 

* [Having said that, in my opinion, the collecting history of the Leutwitz Apollo as presented by Professor Gill p.44 is missing one important sighting, which in fact changes everything, but I may have written about this after his original article went to press].  

UK' National Council for Metal Detecting Abandons Forum Members

Metal detectorists, always running away

On a popular metal detecting forum near you, the NCMD has once again demonstrated its total incompetence and unpreparedness (post by mrix » Wed Aug 12, 2020 6:45 pm):
N.C.M.D Notice 
The NCMD have decided that they no longer wish to have a dedicated forum on MDF. This is primarily because they currently do not have sufficient staff available to respond directly to the questions from the MDF membership. The MDF has always tried to make it clear that responses to our membership are the views of NCMD and not necessarily those of the MDF. This has, sometimes in the past, caused problems for the MDF and therefore this move by the NCMD is welcomed.
Hopefully, when the NCMD have sufficient staffing this situation may change, but in the meantime we would suggest that our members contact the NCMD directly with any queries. Our members are, of course, welcome to discuss any issues regarding their NCMD membership in the 'General Chat' forum, as was previously the case.
Regards MDF Team

Does this mean that an organisation set up to communicate between the hobbyists and the rest of us and act as spokesmen no longer has any kind of a communications team? That's pretty pathetic.

Museums Reassessed Due to Lockdown?

Martha Gill 'Museums’ grip on stolen goods is loosening' (Times August 12 2020) points out that the success of virtual tours shows that institutions are running out of excuses over the restitution of colonial artefacts

It’s perhaps one of the stranger successes of lockdown. Museums are opening up virtual galleries online and visitors are turning up to nip around them. Strange because “virtual museum” would be one way to describe what the internet does already. It certainly seems to defeat the purpose of painstakingly gathering objects together in the same building. Still, it has worked so well that someone has taken the concept to its logical conclusion. Voma, the world’s first “fully interactive virtual museum” opens on Friday. It will cherry-pick the best exhibits from the Musée d’Orsay in Paris, Moma in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago. All without the bore of having to dust them.

So basically all that encyclopedic museum guff that the BM and Cuno and others were once banging on about is being sidestepped.  Then of course is the other issue, museums really are not all that educational any more. That's not the way they are treated by the majority of its audience, and its not the way it is treated by those that run them and try to provide an attractive service for the publ;ic. So, as Ms Gill points out, despite their protestations, no priceless knowledge will be lost if they send all that colonial stuff back.

Heritage Action: 'German eBay protects Germany but Damages Britain'


Heritage Action: 'German eBay protects Germany but damages Britain! (HJ 08/08/2020). Twelve years ago, HA wrote about German eBay's new regulations on the sale of archaeological artefacts that stipulate that anything sold must be accompanied by proper documentation showing the seller’s title and proof that it has been properly reported:
As a result, there are now zero Metalldetektionsfunde (metal detecting finds) directly offered on German eBay. Providing “proper documentation” has turned out to be too difficult, it seems. However, you CAN buy thousands of finds via eBay. They are the ones designated as from international sellers, people who aren’t obliged to provide proper documentation. They’re nearly all based in Gro?britannien! . . [2291 Articles found by international eBay sellers] . Makes you proud to be British, does it? Maybe those considering post-PAS options should take note.

Wednesday, 12 August 2020

UK Dealer Shows Disrespect for the Dead


While on the topic of colonialism and dehumanisation in the no-questions-asked international antiquities market, take a look at how a UK dealer not only disrespects the cultural patrimony of a modern nation in the Middle East, but callously disrespects the dead, a death-themed "Christmas card to all my customers":

I do not think most of us are really having a very good 2020. I really have issues here with this. Those "mummy masks" are not artefacts in their own rights. They are just part (about 15/20%) of just the front of a more complex timber artefact, somebody's coffin, from which they've been callously levered off to sell (while the rest ends up dumped, together with the disturbed human remains). But these are not just any old coffins, mummy cases have a specific form for a reason, and just as the "mummy mask" (sic) has been "portableised" from the coffin itself, wrecking it, so the coffin was an integral part of the whole human burial. To those that respectfully buried the dead, the coffin and mummy within meant that the corpse was transformed into the 'justified Osiris' that is mentioned on the inscriptions that accompanied it. These ensured that the deceased will have eternal life. But no, Rothwell is flogging off the shattered remnants of the Osiris so he can roleplay being an "Oldschool adventurer and lover of history", but it's also about control, controlling the past and controlling the message that these remnants carry. So what does he do? Puts them on a message celebrating the birth of another figure (one associated with his own culture, not those of the deceased) that also claims to offer eternal life to his followers. That is just downright disrespectful, first to the memory of the four unfortunates that ended up losing their afterlife to Mr Rothwells's profit margins and his greedy customer's acquisitiveness, but also to the beliefs of Christians that Rothwell has just cheapened by this stunt.

Maybe Time for British Archaeologists to Start telling it Like it IS.

UK metal detectorist: "everyone knows artefact hunting is a wholesome, valuable, legitimate, and educational leisure pursuit". IS it? DO they? And whose fault is that @findsorguk ; @archaeologyuk ; @rescue_news ; @InstituteArch ?

Tuesday, 11 August 2020

UK "Antiquities" Dealer Seems not to Like my Work [Updated]

A dealer whose anonymous website and social media 'contributions' [on antiquities and how wonderful the antiquities trade actually is and how super collectors are]  claims to have read a text of mine on the trade in North African lithics within hours of it going online. That's keenness for you. Here is their anonymous verdict:
 Oh well, you can't please them all. There is no real explanation of why it is "nonsense" to analyse open source data in this way, and I really do not understand the comment "at eBay prices, trade in genuine ancient North African lithics is unviable. Consider the economics!". Is the seller claiming that all the pieces are fake? I discuss this question. I discuss the eBay prices, the economics and scale of the trade, and I attempt to follow how many are sold in what time span. Certainly the material is selling "at eBay prices", so I really don't know what the comment was supposed to mean. Neither is it clear how "obscure" a journal is that not only exists in paper form and present in many European academic libraries (that's what it's published for), but can be accessed free of charge anywhere where there is internet access.

Antiquities Online is a trading arm of Ancient Relics ("Old World Antiquities, Precolumbian Art and Historical Collectables"). And if you want to see what kind of a posh gallery space they display their artefacts in, google their address: Suite 25, 151 High Street, Southampton, Hampshire SO14 2BT, United Kingdom. What a dump. PACHI believes this grumpy old dealer wannabe is Guy Rothwell ("Old school adventurer and lover of history and all the wonderful weird eccentricities of life. Old Caterhamian, Bachelor of Science, Doctor of Philosophy, owner of Antiquities Online Ancient Art Gallery"), but it's  not clear from the website itself who is behind it (so much for "reputable dealers" when you cant even work out who that dealer is). The use of social media is rather typical of antiquities dealers, they all do much the same, a great deal of repetition, mostly reposting other people's stuff, attacking critics of the market, very little original content. It looks like their social media account is just there so the account owner can say they are there... There is also however a rather inactive blog (8 posts all from last year): "Collecting antiquities - a long and honourable tradition", the usual stuff too.

Anyway, don't take a dealer's word for it (don't take an antiquities dealer's word for anything!) read my text on the trade in North African lithics and see for yourselves, comments always welcome, substantive ones even more so. 

Update 12 Aug 2020
The meaning behind "at eBay prices, trade in genuine ancient North African lithics is unviable. Consider the economics" was revealed in a later tweet.
Antiquities Online@AncientRelics · 10 g.   W odpowiedzi do @PortantIssues
You note majority of NA 'Neolithic' arrowheads sell at $1-3 each! Consider dealer needs profit, middlemen need profit, finders need recompense and collecting expeditions and international transport needs finance. At eBay prices, trade in GENIUNE ancient NA arrowheads not viable.
Yet, it actually goes on, despite Mr Rothwell's disbelief. So really, since we know it goes on, the question is how? It's not true that, as this dealer apparently wants to tell his clients, only high-priced antiquities are real. He seems to ignore that this really depends on how they are obtained, from whom, how exploitatively, and in what quantities. Also of course one of the appeals of collecting artefacts like these is the affordability. Also, if Guy Rothwell had actually read the article rather than just the title and the bit about prices (money, money, money) some of his doubts might have been answered.

Apples also have a low unit cost, yet commercial orchards thrive.  

And when we look at the gentleman's website and see the prices he's asking for his North African artefacts, we might understand his disquiet that I give teh range of priices most other dealers offer artefacts of certain types for... I'd also draw attention to a certain quartzite Middle Palaeolithic cordi[form] handaxe he has there for the upper price range I identified in my ("nonsense") paper... the dealer says it has "some smoothing due to exposure to the desert winds", I suggest he looks again. The one from Nigeria... Look also at which ones have cited provenances and try and group those that do not. Do you see a pattern here? Look at the ones with dark patinas, why have so few of them got a collecting history at all, when these in particular should?   

Monday, 10 August 2020

$15 million to Get Hobby Lobby off the Hook?

Those "clay tiles" turned out to be an additionally expensive purchase for Mr Green. Iraq says it has just agreed to a $15 million settlement with HobbyLobby over thousands of Museum of Bible antiquities believed to have been looted from Iraq. Iraqi government says it has dropped lawsuits in exchange. The Hobby Lobby Antiquities Smuggling Scandal now has its own Wikipedia page.

Douglas Latchford Dies

Douglas Latchford in his London home (export licences?)

 Douglas Latchford, a central character in a long-going case of antiquities smuggling has died, aged 89 in Bangkok. He was a leading dealer in the trade in Cambodian art in the 1970s, but last year was accused of allegedly creating false provenances for antiquities.  The Art Newspaper article covering this story (Vincent Noce, ' ' The Art Newspaper 10th August 2020 ) shows how embedded colonialism is in today's art market. 

A self-described "adventurer scholar", Douglas Latchford was born in Bombay (now present day Mumbai) to British parents. He settled in Thailand in 1951, where he became successful in the pharmaceutical and property businesses, before running body-building competitions. He was himself a large man, who took pleasure in telling journalists visiting his house full of statues of Buddha and Siamese or Burmese gods, how he became interested in South-Eastern art while travelling dirt roads in Thailand and Cambodia to explore fabulous ruins and local antiquities’ markets. Latchford built a reputation as a world expert in Khmer antiquities, co-writing three reference books with the American academic Emma Bunker. In the 1970s he became one of the most prominent suppliers of Cambodian art to museums and collectors in the US and Europe, notably through Spink’s in London. [...] In 2010, Latchford told the Bangkok Post that “most of the pieces he has come across have been found and dug up by farmers in fields”. He liked to see himself as a rescuer of works of art which were long abandoned and might have been destroyed in Cambodia’s civil wars.
Latchford was mixed up in the sale of a number of statues from the Khmer capital Koh Ker that ended up in US museums like the Metropolitan and the Norton Collection. These have in the past decade now been identified as stolen and been returned to Cambodia. Once attention was on the topic, another item being sold by Sotheby's was withdrawn from sale and returned  to Cambodia. Yet it was only in November last year that a New York District Attorney announced the indictment of Douglas Latchford for alleged the smuggling and trafficking into the US of stolen and looted Cambodian antiquities. If these charges had come to court, it would have shown the degree to which he was a foreign war profiteer who trafficked in "blood antiquities" and capitalized on destabilisation and genocide. The Art newspaper article tries to make the issue merely one of incorrect paperwork.
Latchford always denied any wrongdoing and any involvement in smuggling. “His collection was substantially put together long before cultural heritage laws were introduced. The world was very different in those days, it is wrong to perceive his actions solely through a 2020s’ lens", a close friend of Latchford tells The Art Newspaper, adding that "without the passion and attention of people like him, vital objects would have been lost to the world".

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