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Paul

If I were to admit to having a large three sided stone tablet, inscribed
in Latin on one side and in what appears to be a Brythonic Celtic
language on the other, and an unknown language on the third. Initial
reports seem to suggest that the Latin and Celtic sides tell the same
story, and that third has indications that it is in Pictish; though of
course this is dependant on further detailed study and comparison with
the very few fragments of possible incised Pictish script.

Full details of location of find and context are available and provable.

Since this tablet was acquired by nefarious means, and indeed I believe
a previous owner was murdered in order to get hold of it, I assume that
no responsible archaeologist will be interested in looking at it.

If I sell it to an irresponsible archaeologist, and use the money to
fund my gun running operation, will his findings when eventually
published be of any interest to the Britarch community?

Dave Tooke

-----Original Message-----
From: British archaeology discussion list
[mailto:[log in to unmask]] On Behalf Of Paul Barford
Sent: Friday, July 02, 2004 10:08 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Illicit antiquities in collections (was: Re: PAS critique parts
one and two)

John Hooker mentions the ethical problems of handling illicitly obtained
antiquities, I think the answer deserves a new thread should anyone want
to
continue discussion on this side issue (not quite related to the PAS).
He
writes:
> Objects of the past have to be studied as objects devoid of modern
> human connections as much as possible, otherwise we are allowing
> criminals to, in essence, dictate what we can and cannot study. This
> gives them even greater power in reality.
So if one of the Wansborough thieves wrote to you offering to let you
study
506 of "his" coins as long as you authenticate them for him and supply a
report so he can get a good price when he sells them to invest the money
in
supplying illicit drugs to a developing market in Iraq (for example) you
would have no scruples in doing so? Surely there are limits to what one
will
stoop to in order to get "knowledge"? Even if you agreed to look at
these
coins in the interests in adding to the record of the assemblage, you
actually have no way of checking that all of those coins did come from
Wansborough, or whether that provenance was being used to hide the fact
that
the destruction of part of the Wansborough site was not he only
misdemeanour
of this 'nighthawk' and to tempt you into collaboration.

As for the criminals "gaining power" if you refuse to collaborate with
them
surely (a) if you authenticate and identify all these coins for them,
they
are  going to find it easier to get a market for them, and (b) there
would
be no market if NOBODY agreed to co-operate with them - that means the
dealers would not buy them off him, because they know that collectors
would
not purchase them from the dealer (unless they dishonestly hid the
details
of where the finds came from). Now of course I realise that it would be
idealistic to expect that dealers and collectors would have such
scruples,
but that is only from a firm conviction that they *do not*. The whole
area
is as we know riddled with double standards and self-deception.

"Self deception" because each collector - if he thinks of the issue at
all -
must convince himself that "his" few, few dozen, few hundred or few
thousand
objects or coins will not make a difference, "there are lots of them out
there, some of them made in millions" or "they are lying all over the
surface of sites just waiting to be picked up". This is by no means as
universally true as these collectors like to think. A few decades ago
farmers near Ephesus and other Turkish sites could make a bit of money
picking up the coins they found abundantly in the fields around the
site.
These days they are reduced to selling tourists copies that somebody has
made (cast in bronze) and then patinated (some quite cleverly and with
some
effort). One interpretation of this is that there are no longer the
coins as
abundant in the fields around these sites, they have mostly already gone
into the antiquities market. It is interesting to note that some
collectors
have been fooled and then disappointed by these forgeries, and one is
astonished to find them complaining on collectors' forums about how they
had
been taken in by these dishonest foreign traders - conveniently
forgetting
how they themselves when returning from their foreign holiday carefully
hid
these "antiquities" deep in their luggage so they would not have trouble
at
the border smuggling antiquities out of the country... Obviously fooling
an
unknowledgable, unprincipled and greedy collector is for them a greater
"crime" than ignoring Turkey's strict antiquities laws. Obviously they
feel
that these laws are made to apply to everybody else, except that
individual.
Astounding, but of course quite typical of the double standards which
surround the whole trade and use of these objects.

Another argument often used is the "only giving them a good home" one,
shrugging one's shoulders to the fact that they had been (or may have
been)
illicitly obtained. But the same people would presumably not buy a video
camera, a car or jewellery which they suspect had been obtained by the
seller in less than legal circumstances. Where is the difference? Is
this
not again applying double standards?

In this sense the detectorist-collector is better than the ones who buy
stuff on the market without ensuring that it really IS from that
mythical
"old European collection" or has been obtained and exported in
accordance
with the law of the country of origin. At least in the case of the
material
they themselves have found, they know where the material comes from, and
have the opportunity to legitimise their possession of it through
applying
certain principles to its collection and allowing it to be properly
recorded. If some way could be found of ensuring that this information
is
not separated from the object in its subsequent wanderings through other
later collections, this would be a useful way to counteract the problem
of
the profits that are made from the illicitly obtained artefacts on the
market.

Paul Barford