Friday, June 24, 2016

New German Cultural Heritage Protection Legislation

Germany Passes Massively Controversial Cultural Heritage Legislation

State Minister Monika Gruetters (CDU) arrives for the weekly German federal Cabinet meeting on June 1, 2016 in Berlin, Germany. High on the meeting's agenda was discussion of the German military's presence abroad. Courtesy of Adam Berry/Getty Images.
State Minister Monika Gruetters (CDU)

"Despite protest from all quarters of Germany's art scene, the country's parliament, the Bundestag, approved the passage of the controversial cultural heritage protection legislation today, reports Deutsche Presse-Agentur.

The ruling Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party and its coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), voted for culture minister Monika Grütters's proposed amendment without challenge from the opposition, which abstained.
The law seeks to prevent the export of nationally significant cultural goods. However, the legislation was fiercely opposed by Germany's art dealers, artists, private collectors, art fairs, auction houses, museums, and just about everyone else working in the country's cultural sector."
This legislation was the subject of a petition organized by Ursula Kampmann, who courageously pressed the objections of collectors and the trade in an openPetition that ultimately amassed some 46,000 signatures worldwide.
"The stipulations of the amendment of the law on the Protection of Cultural Heritage threaten the collecting of cultural objects by private individuals. This law will effect everybody specialized in traditional collecting fields, such as books, stamps, furniture, ceramics, coins, classic cars and paintings. Retroactively, this new law will impose due diligence guidelines that are impossible to follow even for the most meticulous collector. When it comes to a dispute, the law will require, by reversing the burden of proof, the owner of a “cultural good” with a value of at least 2,500 euros to provide proof as to the item’s provenance for the previous 20 years; this affects “archaeological cultural goods” with a value as low as 100 euros. 
This is an unrealistic demand which misrepresents most of the objects that are currently traded on the domestic and the international art market in full accordance with the law as being illegal, and will result in a considerable decline in value of the objects in question." 
The petition, and with it the concerns and welfare of the large German collecting community and the important German art and antiquities trades, was ignored by the German government and the Bundestag. The legislation was not even discussed in the Bundestag, but was adopted without opposition.
It seems to this observer to be very probable that the German art, antiquities and numismatic trades will in large part shift to London, and that many long established German firms of high reputation will face a choice between relocation and going out of business.
It also seems probable that some other European nations will adopt similar cultural heritage legislation.
In this observer's opinion, such legislation clearly reflects a Socialist perspective that "cultural property" is to a significant extent the property of the State in which it is located, and that private individuals who collect or trade in such objects do not have full rights of ownership.
The manner in which this legislation was proposed and adopted is of course a matter for Germans to deal with. Others, however, who reside outside Germany are observing such arbitrary proceedings with concern, and forming their own opinions regarding whether this sort of government is what they would wish to be subjected to.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Pecunia non olet

"Money doesn't stink" is Vespasian's famous dictum - almost his motto.

Vespasianus01 pushkin edit.png
His famous aphorism “Pecunia non olet” (Money does not smell) refers to the terse response he gave to his son Titus, who was complaining about the unpleasant nature of the Urine Tax (vectigal urinae) his father had imposed on the product of the city’s urinals. (The first public toilets ever, by the way, were introduced by Vespasian in 74 A.D).

Here's what he may have had in his hand when he said that:
Vespasian Aureus Fortuna (75-79 AD)

Up until then, Romans had simply urinated into pots that were emptied into cesspools.  With the introduction of public urinals, the liquid waste could be collected and sold as a source of ammonia, which was used for tanning leather and by launderers to clean the patricians’ white woolen togas.
Today the Latin phrase is used to mean that the value of money is not tainted by its origins and even though public urinals have become a rarity, to this day they are still known in Italy as Vespasiani (Vespasians).
The following are photos of an old-fashioned Vespasiano, or public urinal, still in use in the tiny town Morcone, province of Benevento. Their French equivalents are Vespasiennes.

What a legacy ... remembrance after two thousand years, for taxing urine. It was actually a highly practical thing to do in those times, and after the profligate reign of Nero and the "Year of Four Emperors" ran the imperial treasury (fiscus) down to nothing, practicality was in order.

A pisser of an idea, that! And a concept that's been remembered in certain irreverent circles:


There's even a card game about it:

Reconstruction drawing of the communal latrines at Housesteads Roman fort (Vercovicium) on Hadrian's Wall. This site is now in the care of English Heritage (2010).

Using a Roman public restroom (forica) involved sitting cheek to cheek with your neighbor, discussing the political events of the week, planning dinner parties, scheming for invitations to said dinner parties.  You sat on the long marble bench with key-hole shaped cutouts, a small trough in the floor in front of you running with clean water, the trench directly under you flushing, often with grey water from a nearby bath complex, the waste of the latrine out to the main sewer.  Depending on the quality of the facility, a slave may be on hand ready to offer you a sea sponge, freshly cleaned in vinegar, attached to the end of a stick.  
Sponge On A Stick
No wasteful use of trees to make toilet paper here, the sea sponge gets cleaned off after use to be offered to the next “customer.”  

Public latrines in Italy date back to the 2nd century BC. Whether intentionally or not, they became places to socialize. Long bench-like seats with keyhole-shaped openings cut in rows offered little privacy. Some latrines were free, for others small charges were made. They had to be maintained, and slaves had to be fed. If some public benefactor had not immortalized himself by endowing a latrine - far cheaper than a therma, or public bath-house - you might be asked to pay the usual small fee for a public convenience: a quadrans, or farthing.

Quadrans of Claudius

A quadrans was 1/64 of a denarius, or 1/16 HS (sestertius). You might think of a sestertius, the unit of Roman accounts in Vespasian's time, as being roughly a dollar in purchasing power, so a quadrans would have been a bit more than a US nickel.

Which brings us back to the days when public pay toilets were common, in the twentieth century, and were coin operated:
Image result for coin toilet five cents

Nothing new under the sun ... very few of these are left now.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Barford the Detectorist

The heritage preservationist community has been staggered by news that archfoe of metal detecting Paul Barford has purchased a metal detector:

While Mr. Barford says that he doesn't actually intend to use his new toy, other than experimenting with it and as a prop, those gadgets (developed from WWII mine sweeping detectors) have proven to be highly addictive.

Who knows, next thing we hear may be that he will be taken in flagrante delicto, out looting archaeological sites with it, or prospecting for hoards of ancient coins.

Meanwhile, glancing out the window, I think I see swarms of pigs flying by ...


Tuesday, March 08, 2016

Decontextualization: The Warsaw Connection

David Knell felt the urge to get into this:

"A genuine provenance is a guarantee that an item was not recently looted. Every time you deal in an ancient coin with no regard for where it came from, you are encouraging others to do likewise and encouraging looters to continue destroying the evidence on which history is built in order to supply more of them. That continues in a never-ending cycle until every undisturbed site has gone. It really is that simple!

No amount of fluff and no amount of flannel can alter that fundamental fact. It really is that simple!

If Dave Welsh seriously wants to protect the future of ancient coin collecting as a socially-acceptable hobby, I suggest he opposes those who would ban it altogether with sound arguments and rational compromise rather than expose the trade to ridicule by consistently flying in the face of common sense. As it stands, he is in danger of being one of the coin trade's own worst enemies."

If David Knell had any real interest in protecting the future of ancient coin collecting as a hobby, he would take the trouble to actually learn something about it, before making pronouncements regarding "obligations" which he contends that collectors of, and dealers in, ancient coins have. His basis for making such contentions is clearly a belief that looting of archaeological sites is caused by collecting of unprovenanced artifacts. Although Mr. Knell does not explicitly say so, it is obvious that he believes collecting of unprovenanced artifacts in Europe and North America to be the causation factor at issue.

My reason for saying this is that it is clear that no one in most of the rest of the world has yet shown an inclination to pay any attention to the heritage-preservation advocacy's contentions that collecting of unprovenanced artifacts is reprehensible. If Mr. Knell had a genuine interest in ancient coin collecting, and accordingly took the trouble to study it and learn what ancient coin collectors and dealers in these objects actually do, he would not suggest that they are morally obligated to restrict their activities to objects which are practically unobtainable, for no better reason than the ceaseless braying of a few ignorant and arrogant individuals (mostly archaeologists and academics) about a subject they don't understand, because of their belief in an unproven and unprovable hypothesis. It really is that simple! 

Another aspect of Mr. Knell's blog observations which is troubling for those who have a genuine interest iin ancient coin collecting as an avocation, is the connection to Paul Barford's blog and what I have to say regarding certain matters discussed there.

Mr. Barford is justifiably detested by almost everyone involved in collecting ancient coins and the numismatic trade. He has received some support from Dr. Nathan Elkins, but it is hard to bring to mind others with credentials in the field who give any credence to Barford's anticollecting rants.

If Mr. Knell had a genuine interest in influencing the opinions of ancient coin collectors and dealers, he would not want to risk being thought of as someone with a connection to Mr. Barford. As things stand, he does appear to be very much in Mr. Barford's corner.

Friday, March 04, 2016


Here is an obviously coined word that, along with many other coined words which are employed in a sort of archaeocentric doublespeak, has repeatedly been uttered in the notorious anticollecting blog of sometime archaeologist (and present day Warsaw English teacher) Paul Barford. It seems worthy of comment here because of the manner in which it is used, and the implications and insinuations involved in its use.

The specific use in this case referred to a coin: CE. (Year 14), AE prutah, 18mm, 2.30gm. Name of Julia Agrippina within wreath  / Two crossed palm branches, name of Claudius. Fine with nice green patina.  Hendin 651. Ex: Triskeles 2, lot 249

This example is. like most of the type, hastily and imperfectly struck. The small bronze prutot and lepta issued as everyday currency in Judaea under the Syrians and Romans did not have much purchasing power, and large quantities were needed. Imagine having to go through life today, not being allowed to use paper money or coins of higher denomination than a US five cent piece.

Apart from the strike it is a nice example with an attractive patina, offered at a very reasonable price.

Mr. Barford captioned this image
"Artefact decontextuialised [sic] by no-questions-asked commerce."

What this means, in plain English, is that the archaeological [situational] context in which this coin was long ago unearthed by someone who presumably did not care about archaeology, has not been preserved. This coin, like nearly all other ancient coins, is "unprovenanced."

It seems highly questionable whether it is appropriate to attribute the "decontextualization" of this coin and nearly all other ancient coins offered for sale to "commerce." The reader should recognize that Mr. Barford uses "loaded language." "Commerce" is a pejorative term as used here.

Although Mr. Barford has not disclosed his actual political affiliation, I have frequently pointed out that if he were a Communist, his opinions and writings could hardly be expected to be more critical of private discovery and ownership of antiquities, and free commerce in antiquities carried on for profit by private individuals. His perspective is clearly and unabashedly Marxist.

"Decontextualization" is presented by Mr. Barford as a sin against the Marxist notion that "collectors and dealers are stakeholders in the past." Reference is made to this article:

"The past," to continue Mr. Barford's Marxist theme, belongs to "everyone" under the principle of collective ownership of cultural heritage. The "artefacts" of the past being principal physical evidence, together with excavation sites and monuments, of the nature and activities of the past, they are also "collectively owned" at least in a moral sense by "everyone." Thus, "everyone" has the right to take an inquisitive critical interest in how "artefacts" are possessed and traded in by private individuals.

As the self-appointed spokesperson for "everyone," Mr. Barford has devised a neat theoretical framework within which to carry on his perverse intention of  gaining recognition as a world-class pest plaguing the activities of antiquities collectors, antiquities dealers, and above all, metal detectorists. Mr. Barford's notorious antipathy toward British metal detectorists is warmly reciprocated:

Meanwhile, US dealers in ancient coins have long noted Mr. Barford's consistent and absolute refusal to take into account the realities of the numismatic trade. Briefly, only a very small fraction of ancient coins that come to market have provenance traceable beyond the seller and perhaps, the source the seller acquired a coin from. They are "unprovenanced" and "decontextualized," and according to his Marxist ethics, it is sinful to collect them and even more sinful to trade in them.

Having the honor of inspiring (through an image on my website) Mr. Barford's characterization of "coin fondling" as "heap-of-loose-coins-on-a-table collecting," and therefore being an arch-sinner against his principles of what "ethical collecting" and "ethical dealing" ought to be, one might think that I should be worried about my prospects in the hereafter. That is, however, a moot point. Marxists do not believe in a hereafter.

I shall accordingly go on offering unprovenanced, decontextualized ancient coins to collectors without concerning myself about Mr. Barford's disapproval. I know and treasure the good that is being done by exposing collectors to these innocent artifacts of the past, and the lessons they have to teach us about life in antiquity. It is well worth putting up with the pestering of a crankish curmudgeon to carry on that worthy and socially beneficial exposure.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015


Merthyr Tydfil Detectorist Excavations

British metal detectorist Anthony Thomas has apparently discovered significant indications of Roman civilization in Merthyr Tydfil, town in Wales with a population of about 59,500, situated approximately 23 miles (37 km) north of Cardiff.
Local historian Anthony Thomas, 45, has found a series of crop marks believed to date back to Roman times.
The find has been hailed as a discovery which could "rewrite" the history of the town. Mr Thomas first noticed the "unusual, rectangular crop marks" after studying aerial photographs of the land.
He contacted the Glamorgan-Gwent Archaeological Trust (GGAT) who confirmed that it could be Roman, most likely linked to metal working in the area. The location has not yet been revealed so more exploration can be carried out.

Undistinguished former archaeologist Paul Barford, an English teacher in Warsaw now on holiday in London, reacted predictably and almost violently to this news as a sort of archaeological sacrilege:
Telling it like it is?
Well, that depends upon one's perspective. To Barfy and his ilk, this is archaeosacrilege punishable by whatever sort of ultimate punishment archaeology can devise, e.g. becoming the object of Barfordian blog-scorn.
This observer, not afflicted by such delusions regarding the supreme importance of archaeology, views the actions of Mr. Thomas as being quite reasonable and responsible.
In a way it is regrettable that the ancient British tradition of trial by combat was discarded during the 19th century. Mr. Thomas appears to be a very well set-up gentleman who, according to Barfy, is employed as a "bouncer."
It would be interesting indeed to be present at a confrontation between Barfy and this incarnation of his imaginary image of a "loutish British metal detectorist."
Somehow I doubt whether this particular detectorist would take Barfy seriously enough for actual combat to occur. A "bouncer," to be successful, needs practical and responsible good judgement. It is necessary to distinguish between a real threat to the peace and dignity of the community, and a loudmouthed nuisance.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Illiterate Detectorists among the Great Unwashed

A characteristically sneering blog utterance, by the inimitably arrogant and offensive prince of archaeology-centrism, predicts wailing and gnashing of teeth among collectors and detectorists ignorant of historiography:

"There’s going to be a wailing and gnashing of teeth in certain [...] quarters following a detector-found mixed hoard. Note the words ‘metal detectorist’ and not amateur archaeologist, or even, professional archaeologist. Detectorist James Mather’s hoard find in Watlington, Oxfordshire, is set to rewrite the medieval history books with his spectacular find of 186 Anglo-Saxon coin, seven pieces of jewellery, and fifteen ingots. Why? Experts are saying that the find shows that Alfred the Great – one of England’s most revered historical figures – ‘airbrushed’ a rival king from history. The little known Mercian king, Ceolwulf II, mostly forgotten by history and known only as the “Unwise,” helped Alfred to historical prominence not to mention a battle victory or two, but who Alfred later dropped faster than one of his hot, burnt cakes (US readers check put the Burnt Cakes story)."

The fountain of snark goes on to observe:

"Yes, do read some books metal detecting blog readers.  I think if you did you might find some that discuss the redaction of the various versions of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (in fact going back to something like the 1860s) which discuss precisely this aspect - it is called Quellenforschung and historians are actually quite good at it and really don't need guffawing metal detectorists to provide a coin with "a picture on it" to tell us what they already know. But to find out what they (we) know, metal detectorists (allegedly "passinitly intrestid in th' 'istry") would have to read about it in more than a comic book in Simple English "How Alfred Burnt the Cakes"."


When the subject of reading of books is brought up, the former archaeologist who is the author of the above remarks is himself vulnerable. He makes resounding pronouncements upon subjects in which he has no apparent qualifications, without himself reading and mastering the fundamental literature, upon ancient numismatics for one very important example.

This observer, who has acquired a reasonable working knowledge of ancient history from his formal education in the classics and long time specialization in classical numismatics, also has very good reason to suspect whether this particular archaeology-centric blogger has a similar working knowledge of classical literature relating to history, or ancient history as a general subject.

Perhaps he does have competent knowledge regarding Anglo-Saxon history, in which this observer claims no particular expertise, and also regarding early Slavic archaeology. But that narrow expertise by no means establishes him as an expert upon the general subjects of ancient and early medieval history.

Fairness requires observing that this blogger does not explicitly claim such expertise in this post. However, readers should be acutely aware that the subject of historiography goes very far beyond the scope of this particular observation, and that in the broad scope of this subject, this blogger has yet to demonstrate expertise clearly distinguishing himself from those at whom he sneers in the above condescending remarks.

This observer knows a number of respected collectors of ancient coins whose knowledge of ancient history, as well as numismatics, is quite impressive. It would be reasonable to suppose that some collectors of other ancient artifacts have similar expertise.