Saturday, January 03, 2015

Acceptable Practice for Metal Detecting Excavations

Archaeological Snobs Criticize Significant Reported Find
by Peter Tompa

While the rest of the world is celebrating the discovery of a large hoard of Anglo-Saxon coins that was excavated with the help of a trained Portable Antiquities Scheme finds liaison officer, the archaeological snobosphere is going full out criticizing everything about the find. Yet, the finders were detecting on private land with the permission of the landowner. It's highly unlikely that any British archaeologists would have ever surveyed the site on their own and if the find were made in a country like Greece it's also highly unlikely any such find would ever have been properly reported much less recorded.


In this observer's opinion, it is unwise to arbitrarily dismiss archaeological criticism of the methodology of this excavation as "jealous resentment."

I believe that it would instead be valuable to have ongoing discussion of how excavations could best be conducted to preserve as much archaeological context as possible, whilst still addressing the realities of metal detecting practices.

I do not believe that Gill and Barford are arbiters of acceptable practice, but surely British archaeologists with an open-minded practical perspective could and should be consulted as to how important finds such as this ought to be excavated.

If a cooperative international approach to managing discovery and disposition of artifacts is ever to emerge, it is vital to have ongoing communication and serious discussion between detectorist, collecting and archaeology interests.


The above was submitted as a comment to Peter Tompa's blog. To further pursue these thoughts, I believe that the interests of all parties would best be served by cooperative monitoring (and constructive criticism) of metal detectorist excavation practices by trained field archaeologists.

No one can be expected to achieve optimum practices in any field of endeavor immediately without helpful monitoring and coaching.

Gill and Barford have raised a point worth considering in their criticism. Whether it is valid and ought to become part of an effort to improve metal detecting practices can, in this observer's opinion, best be determined by involving field archaeologists who have established relations with detectorist clubs, and can constructively communicate suggestions for improvement in a manner that will be understood and respected by detectorists. When approached in a constructive and helpful manner, detectorists are likely to demonstrate a desire to cooperate with archaeology interests.

This observer views confrontational, repressive attitudes and policies as the enemy of progress toward resolving problems of illicit excavation, smuggling and trafficking in antiquities and other archaeological artifacts. Cooperation is a far more effective approach, and ought to be pursued to the maximum extent humanly possible. Once that has been done, the limits of the cooperative approach will be clear and whatever confrontational, repressive attitudes and policies are still needed can then be cooperatively agreed upon.

The New Year

2014 was a difficult year for many, especially for Classical Coins and the Welsh family due to our difficult relocation to Temecula ( see ). These difficulties are now behind us, and Classical Coins had a successful holiday season. Many orders, however, were shipped late (although before Christmas) and we sincerely thank our loyal customers for their patience and understanding.

Among those who had a difficult year were both sides of what Wayne Sayles has described as the "Cultural Property War" [ ]. Collectors' rights advocates were once again disappointed when the ACCG's efforts to bring State Department officials responsible for the flood of US import restrictions on ancient artifacts (including coins) into court to explain their actions were frustrated [
unmoved_by_extralegal_seizure.aspx ], by another judicial decision based upon arcane legal technicalities.

It is inexcusable that the State Department Cultural Heritage Center has secretively and deceptively conspired with the archaeology lobby (and cultural officials of foreign governments) to suppress importation of minor antiquities including ancient coins into the USA, without respecting the clear legislative intent and spirit of the 1983 CPIA authorizing such restrictions, or the legitimate rights of collectors and firms engaged in the antiquities trade. It is still worse that the State Department Cultural Heritage Center has subsequently compounded this unjustified conduct by resorting to every possible legal stratagem in order to prevent the actions of its officials from being subjected to judicial review. That is not fair play or ethical conduct. Putting the private agenda of individual bureaucrats ahead of the intent of the law is shameful, and neither "cultural heritage" nor preservation of the "archaeological record" are nearly as important as the inherent obligation of government to treat all citizens fairly and equitably.

The result has become an outrageous example of government by regulation, rather than by legislation. Bureaucrats of the State Department Cultural Heritage Center have a bias against private collecting of antiquities and the international trade in these objects, and are doing everything in their power to strangle it by regulation, without consideration for the legislative intent of Congress -- that collectors and firms engaged in the trade should be protected from arbitrary decisions of this sort by open public hearings held before a panel of experts representing all points of view.

That this odious conduct is being allowed to continue by the judiciary without review clearly indicates that the US government is gradually being transformed into a government of the bureaucrats, by the bureaucrats and for the bureaucrats.

Meanwhile "preservationists" opposed to private collecting of antiquities and the antiquities trade also had a difficult 2014. Looting of artifacts continues unabated in many areas, notably those controlled by Islamic fundamentalists who have no interest in preserving relics of pre-Islamic civilizations. Although most Western societies consider this attitude unacceptable, there is no real possibility of stopping this looting by police action. It is, in fact, very difficult to prevent looting by police action even in "source nations" committed to preserving the relics of past civilizations.

"Preservationists" opposed to private collecting of antiquities and the antiquities trade however believe that the evident failure of repressive policies to control looting should be addressed by even more stringent restrictive measures aimed at "protecting sites from damage and destruction due to collection-driven exploitation." The basis of this belief is the delusion that if collecting antiquities by Western European citizens and those in English-speaking nations can be suppressed, looting will cease because there will be no market for antiquities. No one who really understands the antiquities trade believes that this would actually be the outcome. There will always be a market for such antiquities somewhere, even if only through their destruction to obtain valuable metals as bullion and gemstones that are not traceable and can be sold without hindrance, or converted into salable articles.

This anticollecting perspective has become a tenet of archaeological ideology rather than an objectively considered, realistically assessed viewpoint. There is no evidence that it would ever work, and the "collateral damage" inherent in violating legitimate property rights and the personal freedom of numerous citizens for the sake of attempting to preserve the interests of archaeology by such unproven methods, is completely ignored. Those objecting to such unreasonable treatment are criticized in pejorative and misleading language which seeks to portray them as "wealthy people [desiring] to have an ancient piece of culture to boast about."

This observer does not believe that Europeans and Britons (including citizens of other British Commonwealth nations) are likely to go nearly as far as extreme "preservationists" wish in implementing stringent restrictive measures upon the antiquities trade. That approach is having more success in the U.S., where it is unclear whether the ACCG and other collectors' rights advocates can ever succeed in having their day in court. Penetration of the State Department and de facto control of its cultural affairs officials by the archaeology lobby has been effective. In this observer's opinion that is primarily due to the efforts of CHC director and archaeologist Maria Kouroupas, who is now approaching retirement.

2015 brings new possibilities to change old problems and old attitudes. It does not seem likely to knowledgeable observers that presently strife-torn areas of the Islamic world such as Iraq, Syria, Pakistan and Afghanistan will soon become pacified to an extent that would permit policing of imperiled archaeological sites. Nor does it seem likely that extreme demands for repressive measures against the antiquities trade will soon be enacted.

Meanwhile there is a genuine success story in the effort to preserve cultural heritage, while respecting legitimate property rights and the personal freedom of citizens - the British approach embodied in the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme. It has significant accomplishments to its credit and in many respects has revitalized British archaeology, giving archaeologists new resources to draw upon. The PAS has harmonized with longstanding British traditions of local archaeology interest groups and antiquarian collecting, and has offered important guidance to British metal detectorists on how detectorist clubs can educate their members to practice their hobby responsibly.

One would think that an objective observer would not have very much difficulty in drawing the conclusion that a cooperative approach such as this is far more likely to get results than the confrontational methods advocated by "preservationists," which are in effect in most source nations and are embodied in the 1970 UNESCO Convention. Whether common sense and a practical approach will eventually prevail remains to be seen.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Archaeomania in Action

In an earlier post,
I described Paul Barford as being a sort of caricature of the archaeomaniac - an archaeologist to whom a rigid, doctrinaire approach to archaeology transcends common sense and normal human values, leading to the delusion that his warped vision of "archaeology" is the most important thing in the world.

The reader can find this clearly illustrated in these recent posts to Mr. Barford's blog:

These are only the latest examples of a ceaseless flood of complaints against the cooperative interface between the hobby of metal detecting (which Mr. Barford hates more than the Devil hates holy water) and British archaeology, which overfill his blog.

As I earlier observed in "Archaeomania," I am not among "the legion of Barford-haters. I actually believe that this Hyperbolos of archaeology has become a very useful expression of what I will term archaeomania, the compulsive delusion of thinking that archaeology trumps all other human activities and concerns in its importance." 

I have previously observed that Mr. Barford is not by any means a lightweight. He is very knowledgeable, and has authored a well-respected book, The Early Slavs

Unfortunately his knowledge and abilities became part of a confrontational, abrasive personality that could not have helped his career in British archaeology, and might perhaps have something to do with his decision to leave Britain for Poland in 1986 -- where he was briefly employed by the Communist regime prior to its fall three years later. Mr. Barford's employment and achievements as an archaeologist have not been the subject of a curriculum vitae or any other public document so details are unclear, which is evidently how Mr. Barford desires they should be.

In my view Mr. Barford does perform a public service as a notorious advocate of an extreme point of view. His blog is a sort of lightning-rod attracting charged attention both from supporters and opponents, which in this observer's perspective highlights the collision between compulsive archaeocentrism and the practical, common-sense approach beneficially adopted by most British archaeologists.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Cultural Theft

Stemming a Tide of Cultural Theft


They have always been among the spoils of war, alluring in their beauty, tantalizing in their value to dealers, museums and collectors. And after a decade of turmoil, and a longer stretch of willful destruction, the world’s antiquities are in such jeopardy that preservationists are sounding a screeching alarm.

At a gathering in Berlin last week, 250 experts discussed ways to help Syria, Iraq and Egypt, as well as Afghanistan and other threatened regions, protect cultural property. ...

Many participants called for tightening laws to make it more difficult for the very wealthy to acquire tangible bits of world history. Or, as the German commissioner for culture, Monika Grütters, put it, while proposing far-reaching new German curbs on the murky antiquities market, “the cultural heritage of all humanity” is something everyone should help preserve. ...

Ms. Grütters outlined plans for a new law that would require documented provenance for any object entering or leaving Germany, long among the laxest of regulators of the art market. Among other measures, dealers would be required to show a valid export permit from the source of the piece’s origins when entering Germany.

Countries like Switzerland, and European Union members like France, Italy and Britain, have in recent years considerably tightened their rules, and are now re-examining them.

Vincent Geerling, chairman of the International Association of Dealers in ancient art, insisted that “we don’t need an extra German law.” Museums and serious collectors can police themselves, he suggested.

Yet the German proposal could be “a big step,” said Neil Brodie, an antiquities expert at the Scottish Center for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow. “In a way, the United States was the most advanced” in curbing illicit trade in cultural goods, through five-year, renewable agreements with about a dozen affected countries, he said. “But the Germans are now looking to go one step further,” he said. “You don’t just have to prove something is not guilty, but show that it is innocent.”

... many experts blame illicit cultural deals on the desire of wealthy people to have an ancient piece of culture to boast about.

“There is no business if there are no buyers,” said France Desmarais, a Canadian expert with the International Museum Conference in Paris, which has 33,000 members worldwide. “Don’t buy this stuff!” At a lecture, [Neil] Brodie took cases from Italy in the 1990s, India and New York from 2010 and Cambodia in 2009 to illustrate his charge that perhaps 95 percent of dealings in the international antiquities market are tainted by crime. One step needed to curtail such trade, he suggested, is to focus on experts who perhaps unwittingly lend their knowledge to serve what he called organized crime — defined by the United Nations as a structure of at least three people who band together to break the law.

“These experts are operating without any thought to being criminally involved,” he said. “I think this is a choke point. I think these people would be quite easy to deter.” He suggested that social media have helped in the case of Syria to sound immediate alarms, because people post evidence of looting on Facebook or Twitter almost as it occurs. But other experts suggested that the presence of foreigners can signal to cultural criminals where the treasures are.

Once European archaeologists leave a site in Afghanistan, for example, illicit dealers move in, alerted to the presence of potential treasure, said Christian Manhart, a veteran of Unesco, who has long experience with Afghanistan and is now based in Nepal, trying to stem a fresh flow of cultural theft. Mr. Manhart, addressing the Berlin conference, at one point showed a slide of Afghans at an antiquity site under a banner written in Dari and English — “A nation stays alive when its culture stays alive.” “We should all meditate on that,” he said.


Indeed, we should all meditate on that -- archaeologists, collectors, "antiquities experts" such as Brodie, art dealers such as Geerling, coin dealers such as myself and Wayne Sayles, cultural property law experts such as Peter Tompa, culture commissioners such as Grütters, officials such as Manhart and reporters such as Alison Smale. 

We should meditate on the indisputable fact that this situation not only involves Afghans, Syrians, Iraqis and Egyptians -- it also involves Germans, Swiss, French, Italians, Britons, Canadians and Americans whose antiquarian interest in acquiring and studying ancient artifacts is resented, criticized and endangered by "preservationists" such as those meeting in Berlin, and their rigidly anticollecting views and actions.

The above article tellingly refers to "...  the desire of wealthy people to have an ancient piece of culture to boast about." Here is one flagrant example of pejorative, deceptive propaganda terminology being habitually used by "preservationists" who are ideologically opposed to the private ownership of antiquities (and for that matter, anything that can be described as an "archaeological artifact"). 

In reality there are a few wealthy people who collect antiquities, and a great many ordinary people who also collect antiquities -- in their case not fine-art statues and Greek vases, such as would be treasured by museums, but instead minor antiquities such as coins, amulets, seals, oil lamps, weapons and the like. Very few of the minor antiquities collected by such people would be put on display by any museum, if donated. They are individually important only to their owners after they have been discovered and after entry into the international antiquities market. Such artifacts would in very few cases be considered as being significant enough for "nations of origin" in "threatened regions" to want to go to the trouble of seeking their return. 

What is really at stake here is not pursuit and return of a few valuable (or otherwise important) antiquities "looted" from Syria, Iraq, Egypt or Afghanistan. It is the concept that “You don’t just have to prove something is not guilty, but show that it is innocent.” In other words, you have to prove a negative. That is notoriously difficult to do, and in a great many situations the eventual outcome of legal proceedings is practically determined by which side bears the burden of proof.

It has long been a fundamental principle of English common law and its descendants (which govern the legal affairs of the English-speaking world) that a person is innocent until proven guilty. The burden of proof rests upon the accuser. The concept is simple (although details of its implementation are not). "Innocent until proven guilty" means that a person must be considered innocent of an offence, until the offence has been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

This principle contrasts sharply with legal practice in many European nations, which have adopted an investigatory legal system originating in the Napoleonic code [itself derived from the Roman Corpus Juris Civilis and the Codex Justinianus]. These nations formally declare that individuals are innocent until proven guilty, however once it is decided that an individual shall be investigated, the actual practices followed may (and often do) display many attributes of de facto presumption of guilt.

A very clear example occurred in Germany, when Sylvio Müller was investigated by the Kriminaldirektion Gießen for purchasing ancient coins to clean them, and sell them on eBay afterwards. The inquiries of the police prompted 347 preliminary investigations against everyone who had bought coins on eBay from Müller. Like Müller, they were all accused of receiving stolen property. Alexander Krombach was one of them. 

On December 4th, 2008 Krombach's home was searched by the Kriminaldirektion Gießen. His entire coin collection, comprising 821 coins valued at Euros 8.000 to 13.000, was seized as evidence. The search report stated that the owner could not furnish “proof of origin”. However, certain objects were recorded as being accompanied by notes of the firms they were acquired from, e.g. well-known coin dealers (Künker, Lanz, Ritter et al.). 

Alexander Krombach was then subjected to a bureaucratic and legal ordeal lasting a year and a half, during which he was first required to prove his innocence of any intentional misconduct.Next he refused to accept a proposed settlement involving confiscation of his collection and a fine of 1000 Euros. He hired a lawyer, and then sued in administrative court for the return of his collection -- ultimately prevailing in May 2010. All this was detailed in this blog:

Alexander Krombach is by no means a "wealthy person who desires to have an ancient piece of culture to boast about." He is instead an ordinary individual, ruthlessly mistreated by the German cultural bureaucracy and its doctrinaire archaeologists and officials, whose ideological aversion to private collecting of "archaeological artifacts" caused them to act in a manner contrary to common sense, contrary to anything remotely resembling fairness, and ultimately contrary to German law.

These archaeologists and officials are the same sort of "preservationists" who met in Berlin to "sound the alarm" and called for tightening laws to "make it more difficult for the very wealthy to acquire tangible bits of world history." Or, as culture  commissioner Monika Grütters put it (in proposing far-reaching new German curbs on the antiquities market) to save “the cultural heritage of all humanity.”

High-sounding words, those. The reality behind these idealistic words is however not in any way likely to be compatible with the lofty vision of protecting human heritage they seek to convey. That reality will not be noble cultural watchdogs heroically foiling illicit art-market tycoons seeking to sell fabulous stolen artifacts to rich and unscrupulous collectors. That reality will instead be poor old Alexander Krombach's ordeal, repeated again and again as ordinary collectors (and the businesses supplying them) are abused and tormented by a preservationist bureaucracy run amok.

It isn't only art-market tycoons and rich, unscrupulous collectors who are affected by new regulations and prohibitions advocated by preservationists seeking to strangle the art and antiquities markets. Nearly all of the burden will instead be felt by ordinary individuals interested in collecting, and small businesses supplying art objects and minor antiquities.

New restrictive regulations making it difficult (if not impossible) to import any antiquity into, or export it from Germany would entail the prospective ruin of long established and respected German businesses supplying antiquities and ancient coins to collectors. That ruin will include loss of German jobs and lessening of the quality of life for many Germans.

Perhaps the tocsin of this Berlin conference will lead to renewed efforts to inflict such consequences not only upon Germans, but on people of other European nations who share an investigatory legal system with Germany. I am very glad that this does not include Britons, or the rest of the English-speaking world whose legal heritage is common law.

"Culture Heritage" is a phrase with a narrow meaning to "preservationists," who apparently view it as extending only to artifacts. However, the cultural heritage of humanity unquestionably extends far beyond artifacts themselves. It necessarily also includes the development of individual interest in the origins of humanity and its history; universal museums where those interested in human culture can find its relics and products assembled in an organized manner that instructively recounts the story of humanity; and it also includes ethical collecting and personal study of artifacts and history by many individual persons intensely interested in aspects of human culture, whose interest is more extensive and focused than occasional visits to local museums can possibly satisfy.

"Cultural Heritage" is indeed endangered by criminals -- looters of artifacts (those who actually dig them up in a manner contrary to law), and local middlemen and smugglers who buy looted artifacts to profit from their entry into antiquities and art markets. Such criminals are enemies of archaeologists and cultural officials, and they are also the deadly enemies of ethical and responsible collectors, dealers and auction houses -- who are honestly endeavoring (to the best of their ability) to pursue their activities in a constructive manner, duly respecting heritage and the archaeological record.

It is this observer's opinion that cultural heritage is also endangered by overzealous and narrowly focused preservationists who do not take a sufficiently broad and liberal view of what cultural heritage includes.

The "antiquities market" and the "art market" -- so often criticized by archaeologists and cultural officials in scathing terms -- are on the whole better, more honestly and more diligently managed than critics would have their audience believe. There are admittedly a few collectors and dealers whose conduct transgresses against ethics -- and even against the law. There are similarly errant individuals in every field of human endeavor, not excepting archaeology.

When automobile salesmen employ unethical tactics to sell vehicles, and a few auto dealers acquire and "launder" stolen vehicles, shall we abolish the market in automobiles because we cannot completely suppress such behavior?

When liquor stores fail to scrupulously check ID documents and sell alcoholic beverages to minors, or when alcoholic beverages are illicitly distilled and sold evading taxation, should we abolish the market in alcohol because we cannot completely suppress such behavior?

When electronic devices, software and branded luxury merchandise are counterfeited and illicitly marketed, should we abolish the market in these items because we cannot completely suppress such behavior?

It must be recognized that healthy and properly functioning antiquities markets and art markets are themselves important parts of mankind's cultural heritage. They should be policed, just as automobile sales, liquor sales and commerce in electronic devices, software and branded luxury merchandise are monitored and policed.

In the monitoring and policing of antiquities markets and art markets, it is essential to realize that standards of verification must be both reasonable to apply and feasible to implement. They must not become so doctrinaire and rigid as to prevent the market from functioning. Common sense must supersede ideological purity.

De facto presumption of guilt, and a standard that “you don’t just have to prove something is not guilty, but show that it is innocent” do not conform to that principle, being neither reasonable to apply nor feasible to implement. They are instead impractical concepts proposed by narrow-minded idealists concerned only with one area of heritage preservation, who are seemingly uninterested in collateral damage which their proposals would inflict upon others honestly and laudably pursuing a better understanding and appreciation of mankind's cultural heritage.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Act

Advocates of collectors' rights point to the cultural property laws prevailing in the United Kingdom as being the most effective approach yet devised for effectively reconciling the many disparate, often conflicting goals, interests and concerns of all those interested in discovery and ownership of antiquities.

The PAS/Treasure Act scheme is very much in the British tradition of working things out in a practical, cooperative manner whenever possible -- preferably one which attracts a maximum of local interest and support -- as distinguished from a rigid, confrontational approach ending in enforcement by compulsion with significant unresolved grievances and conflicts remaining. The latter approach unfortunately prevails in most other nations.

The PAS/Treasure Act scheme has many significant accomplishments to its credit; indeed in many respects it has revitalized British archaeology, and given archaeologists significant new resources to draw upon.

Perhaps most importantly, the PAS has harmonized very well with the longstanding British traditions of local archaeology interest groups and antiquarian collecting. In particular it has had a beneficial effect on British metal detectorists, offering guidance on how detectorist clubs can educate their members to practice their hobby responsibly.

Every collector and numismatic professional should become familiar with the PAS and Treasure Act, which provides a clear example of why cultural cooperation is far more effective than confrontation.

     The Portable Antiquities Scheme website
     a brief Wikipedia overview
     The British Museum Department of Portable Antiquities and Treasure administers the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
     A comprehensive 2008 review of the PAS by Kate Clark for the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council
     Derek Fincham's blog -- thoughtful, perceptive and not overly doctrinaire
     Derek Fincham's well thought out proposal to extend the Cultural Heritage Policy of England and Wales to other nations of origin
     Tom Brindle's informative book about the process of integrating vast quantities of seemingly random finds scattered across the English and Welsh countryside, to indicate the presence of 240 previously unknown Roman sites.
     Archaeology student Steve Ashby's favorable overview of the PAS.  (Intarch 33)
     A particularly significant and penetrating issue of Internet Archaeology, the premier international e-journal for archaeology (peer-reviewed). Three important citations follow:
     Ideology, governance and consequences from a collector's point of view: author Wayne Sayles' pro-collecting perspective on the Cultural Property War that rages in America, and its antecedents.
     Who controls the past?: Penny English perceptively reviews "... the intangible and seemingly insoluble question of who should have the right to control access to the past."
     Roger Bland (Keeper, Departments of Prehistory & Europe and Portable Antiquities & Treasure, British Museum) responds to other articles in Intarch 33, providing a magisterial perspective on these articles and also upon the origins and development of the Treasure Act and the PAS. Dr. Bland's perspective is not pro-collecting (as his criticism of Sayles' article proves), but his administration of the PAS and Treasure Act has been fair-minded and very effective in the manner in which it has brought British detectorists into a constructive and useful relationship with archaeology.
     Ben Miller presents ten of the best archaeological discoveries made in Britain by the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
     The Frome Hoard,  discovered by Dave Crisp near Frome in Somerset, England, is often referred to as the "Somerset Hoard" and is one of the largest ever found in Britain. It was reported to the PAS and excavated under the supervision of archaeologist Alan Graham. This Wikipedia article details how a responsible detectorist interacting with the PAS discovered and assisted in the excavation of this very important find, now exhibited at the Museum of Somerset in Taunton,
     Significant finds by British detectorists between 1998 and 2009.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014


There is no common sense in Warsaw or, apparently, anywhere else in the archaeological blogosphere -- which presently seems to have degenerated into a rabid, delusional sort of monomania. All that comes to this observer's attention from it these days is a ceaseless flood of negative, carping whining about this or that event, omission or inaction -- which impressed the archaeoblogger as violating his personal perspective that archaeology is the most important (perhaps the only important) thing, not only for archaeologists but also for all mankind. I suppose a psychologist (such as my wife) must find such compulsive expressions of monomania fascinating.

 To the rest of mankind they are instead likely to bring to mind thoughts of rabid dogs running about seeking someone to bite, in order to spread their affliction.

It would be wrong to convey an impression that Paul Barford is important. He is not now (nor was he ever) taken seriously as an archaeologist by anyone of significance in that field. However, his volume of blog posts and their content are so extreme as to furnish a very useful and instructive example of archaeomania.

Like a lightning rod he has extended his cyberpresence up far beyond other parts of the archaeological blogosphere, to such a rarified height of extremism as to attract not only supporters but also (and more importantly) opponents. Constant, deliberate, provocative offensiveness is the point at the tip of Barford's nasty cyberpresence, designed to maximize tension and hopefully, to attract a strike. His psychological compulsions are gratified by attracting opponents, calling them out by postings in his blog calculated to provoke as much controversy as possible. He glorifies being hated, measuring "success" by the growing number of Barford-haters and the intensity of their animadversions. His blog slyly masquerades as informed commentary, however it is not really a forum for anything other than propaganda. He provided a very useful example of this in responding to a comment I submitted to one of his posts:

"I really do not know what Dealer Dave Welsh imagines he is doing sending a comment about hoards to this blog. 

When I was told he was seriously ill, several months ago, I sent him two messages of concern and support, neither of which was acknowledged, fair enough. But when he recovers his health his reaction was to publish verbatim on his blog a text copied and pasted from a metal detectorist's blog which he considers to be "this brilliant bit of analysis" (that I leave up to the reader to judge):

However I am blocked from replying on his blog - as is the case with all the ACCG blogs, Tompa, Sayles. ... Instead of discussion of the issues, the intellectual legacy of Dave Welsh is to drop to detectorist-level and continue to use his "Ancient Coins" blog as a means merely to launch a number of small-minded ad hominem attacks.

Welsh now apparently wants to exhibit his ancient-coiney pseud-erudition by telling us all where hoards occur in the archaeological record, acting as if he wants a normal discussion while elsewhere showing that it is the last thing he wants. He can do that on his own blog, not mine while he continues to act in this manner. 

As for his views appended to the comment on how I "should" treat artefact hunters and collectors on this blog, for the nine hundredth and forty fourth (or fifth) time, this blog is about collectors, not for them. OK? Comment rejected."

For the record: Mr. Barford is NOT "blocked" from replying to my blog, and Peter Tompa has allowed him to comment to his blog. Barford's comments, like all others, are dealt with according to their content and intent. Propaganda is unwelcome, substantive remarks are likely to appear when relevant. It would be fair for Barford to extend the same terms to his opponents -- but that presupposes that he is a reasonable person.

I have no idea why Barford sent email messages while I was hospitalized, and certainly don't think any rational person would expect me to respond. I had no access to the Internet at that time and many far more pressing issues to deal with -- as I have had ever since recovering my health (now good, and improving).

"... this blog is about collectors, not for them. OK?"  

NO!!!  It is decidedly NOT "OK" to masquerade as a knowledgeable commentator, whilst actually being a mere bigoted propagandist uninterested in anything resembling fair and open discussion of issues. Barford has his blog and will do what he wants with it, but others then have the right and duty to expose it for what it actually is.

Don't however think this observer is one of the legion of Barford-haters. I actually believe that this Hyperbolos of archaeology has become a very useful expression of what I will term archaeomania, the compulsive delusion of thinking that archaeology trumps all other human activities and concerns in its importance.

Mr. Barford has in fact become a sort of caricature of the archaeomaniac, a radical sort of archaeologist whose slanted musings regularly appear in his blog -- among whose useful attributes is the extent to which it has become a catalogue of archaeomaniacs on the one side and ethical collectors (and their advocates) on the other.

Saturday, December 06, 2014

Mr. Congeniality

From the blog "Stout Standards" comes this brilliant bit of analysis:

Paul Barford, a.k.a. ‘Mr. Congeniality’

Today’s post is written by John Howland and it’s about good ole ‘Warsaw Wally’.  You remember him don’t you? He’s the self-anointed, self-ordained savior of the archaeological blogosphere. The man who wakes up each morning to battle the ever evil detectorist/collector!
by John Howland
That’s what some ‘archaeologists’ call YOU behind your back – for no better reason than they lack the moral fibre to say it to your face. It comes via their international gobby mouthpiece, the arkie-oaf, Paul Barford, one of the more undistinguished members of their community. In keeping with his kindergarten-style of abuse so typical of the narcissistic, and so lacking in any academic intelligence, he penned (and I use that word in its loosest sense) on Friday 28th November, the following :-
“Heritage Action, referring to my post about the tenth century ‘York Area’ hoard the finder “just had to” flog off, remarks “surely there’s a better way for a First World country to deal with heritage blackmail?” A new term is proposed for a certain category of artefact hunter well illustrated by many of those commenting in the thread:
(Short for Selfish Undeserving Ignorami)”
Amazing, eh? All this bile from a man who calls YOU ignorant whilst simultaneously claiming elsewhere on his vile blog to be an academic, whose intelligence he thinks (wrongly) is far above that of the average detectorist and collector. What it shows is that here’s a man who can only express his offensive views in terms that would even disgrace the limited lexicon of a ten-year old. Like a façade, Barford has length and breadth, but no depth; typical ‘know-nothings’ of limited learning.
‘Stupcommiebast’ springs to mind.
The impressionable among us – yes, they do exist – might imagine he has a point, but significantly, many scholars do not. Here’s John Boardmans’ take on what Barford terms illicit antiquities:-
“Objects cannot be “tainted” or “illicit”, but only be so described by scholars who do not understand them, or by legislators. Objects are testaments of antiquity, whether handled by a thief or scholar; their integrity must be respected and their safety assured. To suggest that they should even be destroyed rather than kept in a museum betrays an appalling vacuum of scholarly integrity and responsibility, even philistinism.”
While James Cuno commenting of the matter of ‘context’ (of Barford’s favourite soapboxes) is less than impressed by the propagandist Barford, Gill, Swift, view of things:-
“Archaeologists often argue that antiquities have no meaning outside their archaeological contexts. If we don’t know where they were found, they argue, antiquities are meaningless and only of aesthetic value, which they judge to be subjective and inferior to the “objective” value of the excavated antique artifact. But of course antiquities have all kinds of meanings outside their specific, archaeological context: aesthetic, technological, iconographic, even, in the case of those with writing on them, epigraphic.”
David I. Owen is less than impressed with fanatical opinions prostituted by archaeological radicals:-
“So extreme have these positions become that one archaeologist has gone so far as to equate those who publish unprovenanced finds with drug dealers, murderers, and supporters of terrorists, and another has even advocated the killing of looters.”
Perhaps the most telling piece is written by John Boardman, on the topic of modern censorship that appeals to the hermetically sealed skulls of the usual suspects.
“A major threat to scholarship in all this is the censorship practised by those scholars and others convinced of the wickedness of collecting. Distinguished scholars have had their lectures in Cambridge cancelled because someone has thought some material involved had not been properly, in their terms, acquired. Elsewhere international and other conferences forbid allusion to “suspect” material. The Archaeological Institute of America will not publish or review scholarly work deemed to be contaminated by such material. This is pure censorship. The German Archaeological Institute now takes the same line, admitting that it has to safeguard its status with countries where it excavates. I suppose in these days, when we no longer trust our politicians to tell us the truth, censorship may seem a slight offence. I was brought up to believe that censorship is worse than theft, and especially so where scholarship is concerned.”
So what about the scandal of excavation reports never seeing the light of day? John Boardman is again unequivocal:-
“The results of my investigation were depressing. Although the British record was better than many – more with regard to their excavations overseas than at home – I would judge that, over the last fifty years, far less than 25 percent of material and results of professional archaeological excavations has been properly published, and the rest will never get beyond preliminary reports, if that…[…] The scandal of unpublished and inadequately published material from excavations is one that archaeologists, quick to decry collecting, are willing to acknowledge but do nothing about, while the fact that it is some way regarded as “my material” will often encourage an excavator from withholding information – an attitude shared by no museum that I know outside source countries, and very few private collectors. […[ It is particularly ironic that those who often do not publish their own excavations are the very ones who are most committed to stopping the publication of inscriptions and other unprovenanced artifacts.”
So who is this Paul Barford some of you in the US ask? To cut a long story short, he’s an archaeo-blogger who likes to describe himself as an ‘archaeologist’ but one who’s extremely coy about his past and qualifications (if indeed he has any). He decamped the Free West in 1986 to live and work for Poland’s then Communist regime in their ancient monuments inspectorate. He resides in Warsaw in a fine example of Warsaw Bloc architecture. He occasionally tip-toes back to England.
He regularly, and variously, abuses detectorists describing them as ‘thugwits,’ of low IQ, frequently portraying them as thieves, or destroyers of the heritage, and generally exhibits narcissistic traits (of superiority) towards anyone with views contrary to his own. He detests and insults the Portable Antiquities Scheme and everyone connected with it, collectors, and regularly berates internationally renowned numismatists in the most offensive manner. His own archaeological career is undistinguished compared to the many diverse experts within the detecting community and the Portable Antiquities Scheme.
Here on Stout Standards, we mostly ignore his fallacious ‘anti’ ranting but think it only right to bring this nitwit to a wider audience. Occasionally however, after he’s thrown his toys out of the pram in a particularly spiteful outpouring, we bring him up sharply to remind him that he’s overstepped the bounds of what is acceptable in a polite society.
His kindergarten-style blog, constantly echoes that perennial teenage rant familiar to many parents, “it’s soooo unfair,” and is invariably the epitome of boorishness:-
“…The first is the obvious one of the digging up of stuff to flog off to unscrupulous dealers (who are patronised by equally unscrupulous collectors) to raise cash to finance their operations […] When however a group in an attempt to impose a new identity attempts to wipe away national identities, the heritage that supports them also suffers. Wiping out monuments to national identity and a common past is what the Nazis did in Poland, its what ISIS appears to be attempting in Syria.”
Barford supports the view that ISIS terrorists, the same ones who decapitated US and UK hostages, are subsidised by ‘unscrupulous’ coin collectors (mostly in the US apparently) aided and abetted by equally ‘unscrupulous’ detectorists.
It’s increasingly transparent that ISIS fills its war chest from the proceeds of ‘hot oil’. The allegations that these terrorists profit to the tune of $-millions from the sale of illicit antiquities is a fantasy, spun in the main by radical archaeological lobbyists anxious to bolster their propagandist agenda. Their aim is to swing legislative opinion in favour of draconian legislation to limit the legal antiquities trade using collectors and detectorists as the excuse. Some legislators are being led by the nose while others can spot the con from a mile off. Paul Barford is in the vanguard of the movement. So no surprises here then.
Indeed, the internationally respected Gainesville (MO) based, numismatist Wayne G Sayles, wrote on his influential blog, Ancient Coin Collecting:-
“While the evidence of ISIS looting and/or intentional destruction of cultural property is undeniable, the connection to ISIS funding through the sale of antiquities is far more spurious. That evidence is conspicuously lacking and the trade is essentially devoid of material that could conceivably have come through the hands of ISIS.”
I commented on Sayles’ blog about a prime example of archaeological ‘evidence’ conspicuously lacking facts:
“It seems that the fabrication of statistics on cultural property issues has become another cottage industry in the field of archaeology,” you write. You are too generous.
“There’s no ‘it seems’ about it…fabricated statistics were alive and well in the UK in the form of the now-widely discredited Artifact Erosion Counter, the brainchild(?)
of unsurprisingly, Paul Barford and Nigel Swift, with the tacit approval of David Gill, and the CBA’s Mike Heyworth.
“Though the AEC is now in the trash can, it illustrates the lengths some in the archaeo-sphere will go to present a false picture, but leaving a lot of egg on a lot of faces.
“Best wishes
“John Howland”
All of which spurred Jessica Dietzler, to comment (about my post) on Barford’s blog, “I read the snippet you referenced in your post and he’s right that evidence is lacking. He’s also right to question things.”
Dietzler is a PhD student in the College of Social Sciences at the University of Glasgow, who was awarded the ‘Illicit Antiquities and Global Criminal Markets Scholarship’ to analyse comparative criminal market control mechanisms in order to learn if there are more optimal modes of governance at our disposal that may be effective in treating the illicit cultural objects market. I doubt she has much time for collectors and detectorists either, but at least she plays a straight bat.
Much to Barford’s chagrin, and in an effort to deflect Dietzler ‘s defence of my comments, offensively dismisses her as being ‘young’, and ‘fluffy’ alongside a picture of a rabbit, inspiring another commentator to take Barford to task:-
“Transparency and cooperation at all levels is required, and to be honest, by posting items on a fellow professional in the field, claiming her to have a ‘fluffy bunny’ point of view—a view that actually represents a humanistic take on deeply rooted socio-economic problems and their criminogenic effects the poorest in the world—is highly unprofessional and offensive.”
It seems Barford never tires of making a prat of himself in that while he condemns collectors as ‘unscrupulous’ without a shred of supporting evidence, makes no condemnation of those who buy ISIS’s stolen ‘hot oil’ raising multi-billions of dollars for its war chest along with funds raised from general criminality. It naturally follows that anyone buying ‘hot oil’, or petroleum products refined from that oil, or anything else derived from it, are the truly ‘unscrupulous’ operators.
Of course, those archaeo-bloggers running automobiles on petrol processed from ‘hot oil’ might well be, albeit and unknowingly, supporting ISIS terrorism, murder, kidnap, and rape.
On Thursday, 27 November 2014, in denial that ISIS/ISIL terrorists’ main source of income is NOT from illicit antiquities, Barford trots out this garbage:-
“The notion that coin collectors are homegrown scholars, doing important “research into the past” is a recurrent leitmotif in their attempts to justify the continuance of the damaging status quo. So let us have a look at this scholarly “exhaustive investigation”. Does it consist of an exhaustive literature search of where claims have been made and the verification of their sources?  Does it perhaps consist of a breakdown of the information we have about the mechanisms of ISIL funding in general? Well, heck, no. “during the last week, two articles have been published by independent parties supporting our point of view, one from Suddeutsche Zeitung, the other the blog ‘Chasing Aphrodite’”. So this “exhaustive investigation” consists of just a single newspaper article and a single blog post. The author of this text (Ursula Kampmann) actually cannot even manage to quote either of those accurately in support of her thesis.”
Barford, the principal architect behind the now discredited AEC, shows once again he is no position to disparage the research of others.
Nevertheless, on current form, he’s treasure hunting’s BFF!


When a genuinely interested scholar does take the time and trouble to carefully dig into the details (as Mr. Barford constantly exhorts readers of his notorious blog to do) it very often turns out that the details uncovered do not support Mr. Barford's take on things.

It is perfectly futile to attempt to engage in a reasoned debate with this man. He has been run out of every online discussion forum on antiquities collecting in which he has participated, by outraged listmembers who find his constant drumbeat of sneering anti-collecting propaganda intolerable. Now he confines his acidulous remarks to his own blog and a few carefully selected venues highly sympathetic to his views.

This observer has previously commented upon Mr. Barford's own undistinguished (and apparently carefully concealed) career as an archaeologist:

Those observations met with a howl of outrage from Warsaw (of a magnitude perhaps exceeded only by the Krakatoa eruption, also heard around the world). Mr. Howland's remarks will no doubt attract a similar reaction. I view that as an indication of the truth of the observations in question, and also as an honor.

Let us all encourage readers of Mr. Barford's blog to dig into the details and verify for themselves whether its observations present the truth, and a fair picture of the situation in question. Sometimes they do. But often, those more knowledgeable than Mr. Barford regarding the actual facts of matters upon which he comments are appalled by the ignorance and bias revealed in his intemperate remarks.

Friday, September 26, 2014


Classical Coins has relocated to Temecula, CA. Details