From your last line, it is obvious that you intended the message to go
to Britarch, rather than my personal email, as your last couple of
messages have done. Thus, I am posting your email in its entirety so
that everyone can catch up on this thread. I'm sorry not to have
realized this earlier.
"tom wilson" <[log in to unmask]> says:
> thanks for the pointer but, no, I think I knew what I meant,
>and I would be surprised if more than a few others didn't too. Just so
>everyone knows what we're skirting around here, I have pasted the relevant
>mail onto the end of this message.
>I can't say I speak for John Clark, but this is the way I see it.
>I suspect that we may have to agree to disagree on the issue of buying
>antiquities from unprovenanced and illegal sources. I can see the argument
>that one may be saving those objects from obscurity and in so doing even
>promoting a certain amount of good practice by those who might otherwise not
>know better. The problem, as I and many others see it, is that I myself
>should know better than to collude in illegal acts that, by the
>commodification of intellectually 'priceless' data, will ultimately lead to
>a great deal more harm than good.
Unprovenanced is not synonymous with illegal. The vast majority of
coins and artifacts on the market have been in collections for many
years, sometimes centuries. The exceptions that I have seen fall
mainly into two categories: hoards of coins, and accumulations of
stray finds obtained through MD and field walking. The majority of
these are from disturbed ground and are of types that have been well
studied in every way. A very small percentage are from looted graves,
stratifiable settlements, temples etc. There is rarely any way to
discover the type of source from the nature of the items.
With coin hoards this is sometimes possible though, we know that if a
large number of similar coins appear on the market, then we are seeing
a recent hoard. These hoards are most often Greek -- there are so many
of every category of Roman coins on the market, that even a hoard of
gold coins is often not noticeable. I have mentioned the theft of
Bactrian coins from a museum in Afghanistan. That many dealers now can
supply these hitherto rare coins in some numbers is indicative that
the stolen coins are on the market. The fact of these numbers does not
provide proof, however, just a strong suspicion. I also have a
suspicion that this "theft" was orchestrated by the Taliban regime,
and that the money went to terrorists. Suspicions do not hold up in
the courts though, so without proof, very little can be done. If my
suspicion is correct, and we could find proof that the coins on the
market are stolen, and that the theft was "official", then we are in
an area that yet has to be properly defined by international law. What
do we do?
In all but military law, the assumption of innocence is always made,
and guilt must be proven. If you have lost the receipt for your
television set, then the police will not assume it is stolen will
they? When I managed a building years ago, someone was seen going up
to the roof with a box of nails. Nails were dumped into a ventilation
pipe that day. Because no one saw this person dump them, and because
the nails would not yield any fingerprints, the police told me that
they could not arrest this person -- even though he had a motive for
his vandalism. It might have been better in a civil action, the
requirements of evidence are less stringent. The sale or possession of
artifacts does not establish any proof that a law has been broken.
The insistence on provenance is also problematical, as even if we know
that 100 coins were found at a site, and came onto the market legally,
unscrupulous dealers could easily include another thousand coins of
the type under this protective umbrella and seriously skew our
statistics. Provenances might be false, and researchers such as myself
are always uncomfortable in dealing with them. We invent our own
scales of reliability, but we can never be sure how accurate we are .
Unprovenanced items, in many ways, are easier to deal with, as even
though we have less data, the data that we do have comes from the
items themselves and as such is as reliable as our ability to properly
classify these things.
Provenance and context are of the utmost importance to myself and many
other researchers, but as our methodologies improve, then what was
adequate for many years ceases to be so. I find sometimes that
archaeological reports do not provide me with the information I need.
A site might yield a Celtic coin, and that coin could be described
variously: "Celtic silver coin" -- useless, "Silver coin of the Iceni"
-- almost useless, what type?, "Face/horse silver unit of the Iceni",
better, but Van Arsdell lists eight types under this category, and his
catalogue is rapidly becoming obsolete. For my purposes, a photograph
is ideal, and sometimes even essential.
I cannot lay blame for inadequate recording. I developed methodologies
myself, and continue to do so. Some are improvements on old methods,
others are entirely new. Some are gaining acceptance while others are
still considered too "way out" by people that do not wish to spend the
time properly learning them, and draw their conclusions from outdated
paradigms. I can explain some of what I do by a comparison of my data
sets with those of archaeology:
If you dig a cemetery, then the contents of each grave must be
compared with all the other graves at that site, and then broader
comparisons might be made with other cemeteries. A single find will be
important only for its context, as, if a particular brooch type is
most often associated with a particular type of pot, then one might be
dated by the other, and also associated in other ways, by culture,
Similarly, a Celtic coin is like a single grave, the details of design
and iconography are each like contents in that grave, and the general
type is like an entire cemetery. Other types of coins are like related
cemeteries: I might find an association of certain devices from coin
to coin and tribe to tribe -- When X is seen, it is always in
association with Y, so while we know the meaning of X and not Y, we
can start with the useful hypothesis that Y is related to X. In other
cases we might see that X is never associated with Y, or that there is
no statistically valid connection between X and Y. All of this is
As an excavator, you don't have any idea that I might find X and Y
useful, and Z of no importance at all -- until I have done a lot of
work on one series, I don't know either! So the only solution is to
record everything. With a coin, this has to be done with a good
photographic enlargement, and all the data -- weight, and ideally
metal content. If you tell me that all of this is not practical
because it is too expensive, then you are essentially giving me
unprovenanced items that have no context, and I can't do my work. If
you cannot provide a metal analysis, then I might find a few similar
items elsewhere and at least come up with a general idea. Design types
are more specific than metal types, and the most important part for me
is the visual record. A reference to a class is not useful if I am
going to break that class into more categories, or if I might see that
the definition of the class is not well thought out. I am a severe
critic of classification systems.
Many researchers such as myself find that auction catalogues and
dealers sales lists are not just a useful resource, but an essential
one. Many provide photographs, and this is our source material. If
museums can hold and photograph more of these items, and make these
freely available, such as what I am doing with the Celtic Coin Index
On-line, then we can get about our work. If the data is driven
underground through laws, hidden away unrecorded in storage boxes
because of the lack of funding, or allowed to be destroyed by
archaeologists who don't want pots to end up on the market, or
corroded away to oxides and chlorides by the environment, then we
cannot do our work.
If we cannot find enough records, as is the case with very scarce
types of artifacts and coins that are not well studied, then the only
solution is to collect these ourselves over many decades, and hope
that we can accumulate enough in our lifetimes to do this research.
The act of collecting, itself, can provide importance to various
classes of items that, otherwise, would not be studied. If a collector
can be persuaded to leave his collection to a museum, then others
might add to it and complete the research. A good working relationship
between collectors, museums, and archaeologists is essential for
proper research to take place.
These are the problems as I see them. All disciplines have to become
more aware of each others concerns, and laws and customs should better
address the needs of all. It is not only unworkable to stop
collectors, it is undesirable. To put it bluntly, increased control
makes for increased criminality, and criminals do not share their
>The argument is therefore unsustainable.
>I would prefer that people didn't engage in this type of activity and when
>given the chance I will try to dissuade or prevent them from into entering
>what I see as fundamentally anti-social behaveour. Should I be able, I will
>see them punished for it.
Whereas I don't want to see archaeologists punished for smashing pots
and making the assumption that what they know about these pots is all
there is to know, and that they do not thus, all need to be preserved.
Also, I don't want the improper description of a Celtic coin to be a
criminal offence. I just want to go about my work and let others go
about theirs without declaring that some work is more important than
other work, and I want these subjects discussed, and better solutions
>I feel that I ought to add that I do not know you, and that my views are not
>specifically leveled at you. The issue is somewhat bigger than that. You do
>however seem to be generating the bulk of 'pro-commodification' traffic into
That's because this venue is predominantly of one mind -- most will
not say anything one way or the other, but just grumble to themselves.
You, and some others have my respect because you are willing to stand
up and be counted, and by airing your views I can better understand
your concerns and thus address them. To experience what I experience,
you would have to start a discussion of this subject on one of the
many lists populated by dealers and collectors.
>Having made my point I shall leave you to draw your own conclusions and say
>no more about it.
That's your choice.
>Now, did anyone have anything else they wanted to talk about?
Or even more of the same ;-) I would like to see some more discussion
about these issues. It's O.K. to just say how we all feel, but I think
that progress lies in developing better methods. It's not that the
subjects of Cultural Heritage, proper recording, preservation, and
future research are unimportant is it?
>----- Original Message -----
>From: "John Hooker" <[log in to unmask]>
>To: "tom wilson" <[log in to unmask]>
>Sent: Thursday, October 04, 2001 2:55 AM
>Subject: Re: Re: Cultural property collections
>> Hi Tom,
>> >Dear John H,
>> > with the greatest of respect, if you re-read John C's
>> >comments I rather think you may discover that you have missed the
>> >Tom Wilson
>> No, the quote you sent was from John's other email. I have copied the
>> relevant email from him below (within the quotes):
>> "John Hooker wrote:
>> >The local MD clubs will likely be the best sources, as if you go to
>> them cap in hand and ask them for their help, you might be surprised
>> at how willing they will be. <
>> Thanks for the advice, John, but no, I wouldn't be surprised - after all,
>> it's one of the
>> features of the voluntary reporting of antiquities scheme, and even those
>> of us who aren't
>> directly involved in that scheme encourage such contacts. For example, I
>> gave a talk to a
>> detectorist club in the Home Counties a couple of weeks ago - just part of
>> the job. As usual
>> I found myself doing a few on the spot identifications - though this time
>> managed to escape
>> having to choose the 'artefact of the month' or draw the winning raffle
>> ticket. One member
>> was very pleased when I explained what his fragmentary find was and why it
>> was interesting -
>> and he lent it to me to study properly. When I returned it to him a few
>> days later together
>> with some further comments and pictures of parallels he phoned to ask if I
>> would like to have
>> the object - he would be pleased to give it to me. I explained it was
>> outside our museum's
>> collecting area, and he should think of giving it to the local museum He
>> said he intended to
>> do that any way, but wanted to give me the first option. So, I have a
>> record of the object [a
>> piece of late medieval horse equipment that is actually a typological
>> 'missing link' that I
>> had not seen before] and if all goes well it will finish up in the local
>> museum, with a
>> recorded findspot and my note about its identity and dating."
>> Hooker & Perron, Total Project Coordination
>> Database-Web...Graphics...Custom Maps...Colour Suites...Expert Systems
>> Building the Celtic Coin Index on the Web:
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>> Checked by AVG anti-virus system (http://www.grisoft.com).
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>> John Hooker wrote
>>One interesting exception that I do know about was a
>brooch fragment that I bought that came from the banks of the Thames.
>The exact location was not recorded, but it was a La Tene II brooch
>from a small area on the Danube. This type of brooch was not traded
>widely, but some were carried elsewhere by Roman soldiers that served
>in that area. The brooch went out of fashion in about 50 B.C. so if it
>was lost by a Roman soldier in the Thames at about that time it would
>have been by one of Caesar's troops. It certainly would be interesting
>to know what part of the Thames it did come from. The patina was
>typical of other Thames finds that I have seen -- a rather "grayed
>down" and smooth green colour. It's too bad the finder was not better
>I don't quite understand the last sentence. Surely it doesn't take much
>education for the finder to know if they are in Wapping, Wandsworth or
>On the other hand the finder may well have an excuse for being ignorant of
>the law about the ownership and sale of finds from the Thames!
>Incoming mail is certified Virus Free.
>Checked by AVG anti-virus system (http://www.grisoft.com).
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Building the Celtic Coin Index on the Web: