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BRITARCH  July 2003

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Subject:

Re: private collecting by archaeologists: was in praise of metal detecting: was (no subject) private collections

From:

John Hooker <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

British archaeology discussion list <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Sat, 19 Jul 2003 14:51:50 -0600

Content-Type:

text/plain

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Parts/Attachments

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Paul Barford writes:

>Concerning John Hooker's comments on the destruction of material which is
>not destined for retention in museum collections:
>
>> I would call it psychotic [...].
>I think rather than psychosis, this is analogous to the fate of the 'soft'
>drugs seized by the customs. If the seized material was sold, it would
>provide
>revenue for increasing the effectiveness of controls on the illegal transit
>of cultural property (for example). It is obvious though why this does not
>take place, even though there are those (perhaps on this list too) who would
>argue that 'soft' drugs can and should be legalised. In a similar manner -

I really don't think that the burning of a few kilograms of marijuana can
be equated with smashing a pile of Etruscan pottery because the
archaeologists and museums did not think the pots were pretty enough to
keep. (A sad comment on boorish people that can only see aesthetic or
intellectual value in decoration and not in form). It worries me that you
can make this equation.

A large number of BA ribbon torcs were melted down in the nineteenth
century after they had been drawn, and perhaps assayed. Nowadays, the study
of the gold can tell a lot more than the fineness, but the conceit of the
present can make people think they can predict both the questions of the
future, and the technologies that can make these questions possible. What
amazing things we might discover from studying the forms of a very large
localized collection of Etruscan pottery in the future, I cannot say. I can
think of a few studies that could be done with that sort of material in the
present, but this must be beyond the ken of those who took the hammers to it.


>although
>collectors like John and like-minded list members may not agree - for some
>members of the archaeological community and museum world the existence of a
>market in antiquities is not acceptable and they will not willingly supply
>it with merchandise to line the pockets of those who profit from the dealing
>in this sort of material.

There are a large number of flaws in this argument, providing that an "end
product" of greater good is what you are after, rather than a resentment
over people making profits, generally.

If archaeologists and museums provided antiquities to the trade, these
antiquities would have been recorded, studied, and have provenance data.
From a commercial perspective, such an item would have greater monetary
value than an identical item without this information.

The same applies to sea shells: while "looters" in the Phillipines dredge
the sea bottom and bring up tons of shellfish that are sold internationally
as curiosities and craft supplies, serious conchologists only buy shells
that have a data slip showing the location, depth and environment. The
divers who turn over a stone to find a shell beneath it, replace that stone
afterward. They do not take immature specimens, nor do they take enough to
do damage to the population. They behave in a more responsible manner than
do the fisherman that provided the clams for your last Linguini Vongole. I
know one collector that dives for cowries in Hawaii, brings up live
specimens and studies their behaviour in his salt water aquarium at home.
He publishes his findings.

Unfortunately, most antiquity collectors have not yet advanced to these
levels of responsibility. Coin collectors have done better, and have
advanced numismatics to a greater degree than has the non-collecting
academic world. The bulk of coins in museums come from these private
collectors who have left their collections to them. Arthur S Dewing left
his collection to a public collection in New York, along with his valuable
documentation.


If I buy a Celtic coin from Chris Rudd in Norfolk, I know that the coin
will likely have a provenance and will always have a Celtic Coin Index
number. Perhaps a number of you have contributed some of your knowledge in
a paper published in his monthly sales list, I have.

If you look at the Celtic coin stock offered by Michel Prieur in Paris, you
will find proper documentation about the type, and accurate references will
be given. You will not find that each of these coins has been recorded in a
central registry like the CCI, nor will you find any provenances given.
Why? This is not Michel's fault. He offered to make such a registry for the
Bibliotheque Nationale at his own expense and was turned down because
French Academia treats these objects as their own property and restricts
access to the public. They control just who studies these things for their
own political, career-minded agendas.

Some of Michel's stock might be metal-detector finds that are not reported,
so they cannot include a provenance which would reveal that they were in
violation of the law. As a serious Celtic numismatist, I can assure you all
that studying French material is incredibly more difficult than studying
British material. I also happen to know that some French finds, such as
what the British call Gallo-Belgic, are smuggled into England where they
are sold to dealers as British finds (the same types are found on both
sides of the channel). Eventually this will skew British statistics,
especially if a false provenance is given. Fortunately, I do not see much
evidence of false provenances and most of the French material comes from,
ahem -- "old collections".


Now if dealing in antiquities is made illegal, then starting to collect is
also then illegal. The problem here is that an activity -- collecting, is
illegal for most of the society, but not for a priviliged few -- the
museums. The only way to avoid such elitism and political injustice, I
suppose, would be for the archaeologists to enter all of the museums armed
with hammers...

In reality, making collecting and metal detecting illegal would only really
prevent proper documentation as has happened in France. If archaeologists
claim that the artifact is not the important thing, then the release of
such items to the trade after they have been recorded should not be a great
problem for them. One might envision some sort of legal registry where the
articles could be tracked to current owners for further study when the
knowledge and technology progresses. We in Canada have such a registry for
firearms, the types of objects does not matter, such things can be done for
anything.

A few years ago, fragments of Roman roof tiles from Caerleon bearing the
Legio II stamp were being sold, and the funds were used to finance more
excavations of that site. This seems a very sensible solution. Some claim
that selling antiquities "encourages" more collecting and thus looting. If
it were that simple all dealers would be very rich, and just about everyone
would collect coins and antiquities. In fact, most dealers go out of
business for the lack of business, and most dealers for collectors make
very little income from their business. My friend Robert, here in Calgary,
deals in ancient coins. He used to be a geologist but he gave it up because
he liked studying ancient coins. As a geologist he was taking home ten
times the income that he now draws from his business. I would wager that he
makes a lot less than you do Paul. Also, he has created the best up to date
resource for the study of Chinese coins in the world, and it is on his web
site for all to use:


http://www.calgarycoin.com/reference/china/china.htm

When the Patching late Roman hoard was discovered in Britain, I arranged
for an American collector of Roman coins (Tony Bergantino) to publish a
study of it on the web:


http://www.wrds.uwyo.edu/coinnet/hoards/Britain/Patching/Patching.html

This is the only freely available study of that hoard. He has done a
wonderful job.

The Iron Age Alton hoard (in the British Museum) is briefly (a few
paragraphs in three documents) described by the British Museum:


http://www.google.ca/search?hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&q=+site:www.thebrit
ishmuseum.ac.uk+alton+hoard

Compare this to the 250 documents concerning the same hoard on my site:


http://www.google.ca/search?q=alton+hoard+%22coin+no%22&hl=en&lr=&ie=UTF-8&
oe=UTF-8&filter=0

You will also notice that I did not need to specify my domain in the search
terms.

Am I getting through to anyone yet? Britain is doing a better job than any
country I know of. The Portable Antiquity Scheme is still in its infancy,
give it a fair chance. Find ways to make it all more efficient without
resorting to blanket laws that drives the trade underground. You can choose
to ignore this underground trade - stick your heads in the sand, but this
will not make it go away. Some of us know about the goverment corruption in
various countries that feeds the looting/smuggling trade. It needs these
stiff laws for its profit, and that profit is huge. We know where the
bodies are buried, but sometimes choose not to tell you all about this for
fear of joining their ranks in a more literal sense!

Regards,

John

http://www.writer2001.com/
Hooker & Perron, Total Project Coordination
Database-Web...Graphics...Custom Maps...Colour Suites...Expert Systems
Building the Celtic Coin Index on the Web:
http://www.writer2001.com/cciwriter2001/

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