Friday, May 28, 2010

Looting: The Essence of the Lie

Those who assail private antiquities collectors and the trade that supplies them, Paul Barford for example, as being responsible for what everyone accepts as being the great evil of looting of archaeological sites, must first understand the problem. Mr. Barford has a very simplistic and inherently irrational approach, i.e. that anyone who acquires anything that might conceivably have been looted is guilty of supporting looting.

One might attempt to make a case for such an approach in the case of a major antiquity such as a statue, whose value would dictate that any prudent acquirer would pay considerable attention to its provenance. However, common sense (not often encountered in the case of ideologues such as Mr. Barford) dictates that no one is likely to pay such attention to the provenance of a common ancient coin that may be worth no more than one pound sterling.

The truth of the matter is that the vast majority of artifacts in existing collections would, if anyone were paid to investigate them in enough detail to objectively ascertain their origin, be determined to be either of licit origin, or of unknown and unknowable origin.

Mr. Barford would, consistently with his past excesses, portray such a result as supporting his view that no one should be allowed to collect unprovenanced artifacts.

The truth however is that nearly all ancient artifacts that are not of significant value are unprovenanced, and have historically always been so, and that it is not economically possible for every artifact to have a documented provenance unless some governmental authority creates that provenance.

Mr. Barford has consistently attempted, in his remarks on provenance, to present that as being the responsibility of the trade. This is however simplistic and unrealistic. The trade cannot unilaterally set provenance standards, they must first be agreed upon by the collecting community and by relevant authorities. It is in every respect fair and truthful to observe that nothing Barford has done has in any way advanced the acceptance of widely recognized provenance standards. Instead he immoderately, incessantly belabors collectors for not conforming to his own views.

No one has ever advanced scientifically valid evidence demonstrating that private collecting of antiquities actually causes looting. If Mr. Barford desires to establish that point, he would be well advised to adopt an approach that demonstrates that his views are sustained by evidence conforming to the scientific method and by arguments conforming to the rules of logic. Until that has happened, it is in every respect justifiable to declare that the whole attack upon private collecting is nothing more than a lie.

Dave Welsh
Unidroit-L Listowner

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Barford: Prince of the Liars

Self styled "Archaeologist" Paul Barford is a liar. Not merely an occasional or accidental liar, but a chronic, habitual liar whose delusions and lack of respect for truth distinguish him as among the most prevaricating, untruthful, and unscrupulous individuals I have ever encountered. No one who reads anything Barford writes should be so foolish as to accept it as truth until it has been independently verified.

That's a significant indictment which no fair minded person should accept without evidence to back it up. Here is that evidence:

1) Barford has consistently and continually accused collectors of antiquities, and the trade that supplies them, of trafficking in "illicit" artifacts. He elaborates that accusation by asserting that artifacts are illicit unless their provenance documents clearly prove that they were not excavated or exported from the nation in which they were originally discovered contrary to its laws.

Lest anyone should think that collectors and the trade have any desire to be involved in anything that is actually illicit, here are the facts:

1) For many types of artifacts, in particular those which have relatively low values for individual specimens, there has historically been no economically valid reason to keep provenance records. Existing collections contain large numbers of such specimens, which in some cases have been held in collections for many centuries without documentation of provenance. This is especially true of ancient coins, which have been actively collected since the 14th century, with hundreds of millions of specimens presently residing in extant collections.

2) Collectors of and dealers in ancient artifacts are governed by laws of nations in which they reside and carry on their commercial and collecting activities. No one is morally justified in using the term "illicit" to describe commercial or collecting activities that are lawful in the nations in which they are conducted. Describing such activities as "illicit" because they do not conform to an ideal which the alleging party wishes were the law, but in actuality is not the law, is undeniably an untruth - in plain language, a lie.

3) In the case of the United States of America (which represents roughly half of the worldwide market for antiquities) an antiquity is not "illicit" if its provenance is unknown and cannot be determined. That is also the case in nations such as the United Kingdom and the rest of the British Commonwealth. Nations in which the majority of worldwide antiquities collectors reside do not accept a "guilty until proven innocent" licitness standard, which condemns everything that cannot be documented to the standards Mr. Barford desires to impose.

4) Despite the demonstrated fact that "licitness" is clearly not internationally recognized as being the same thing as "provenanced" according to Mr. Barford's desires, Mr. Barford has nevertheless publicly made a great many unjustifiable and utterly irresponsible allegations attacking collectors of and dealers in antiquities as being immoral, supporting "looting," and other iniquities, without ever mentioning the truth: that the individuals he was attacking had every right to do what they had done under the laws governing their activities. Such unjustifiable and utterly irresponsible allegations cannot be intelligently characterized as anything other than lies.

Having established (in a manner that I do not believe any fair minded individual can contest) that Mr. Barford is a liar, the question becomes what should be done about that.

In former (and possibly better) days, an individual who had given such affronts would receive an invitation to "take the Air in the Country," a meeting from which only one would return. These are not former days and such a resolution is no longer possible.

In fact we now suffer from an environment in which destructive, irresponsible pests such as Mr. Barford can say whatever they like without being liable to any sort of consequences or sanctions. Mr. Barford can publicly assert that black is white without anyone being able to call him to account for uttering such a lie, or for uttering the innumerable other lies which he has in fact voiced.

I really do not know what is to be done about this other than presenting the facts. Barford is a liar, and anyone who credulously believes what he has to say, without first carefully verifying all of the particulars, is a fool.

Dave Welsh
Unidroit-L Listowner

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

An all time low

Rabid anticollecting archaeologist-blogger Paul Barford took his irrational, corrosive hatred of private antiquities collecting to an all time low with this below-the-belt screed:

"Coin-Scholars, You Can Even Wear Your Data!

California "professional numismatist" Dave Welsh says that archaeologists do not "understand" coins and that the so-called "numismatic context" needs to be protected AGAINST them. Welsh also claims in his lobbying activity that restricting coin sales to those that are of demonstrable licit provenance would "destroy" a discipline that has been developing snce Petrarch collected coins all those years ago, the science of numismatics. One research scholar from his circle protested that he does not need to know where the data he uses in his research come from. Now somebody has drawn my attention to a subsidary of Mr Welsh's "professional" activity which suggests you can wear them too.

A Susan Welsh of "Santa Barbara, California" has a firm called "Classical creations" which makes bead jewellery, necklaces earrings etc. Interestingly it has the same phone number as Dave Welsh's coin shop in Goleta, 11 km from Santa Barbara. Its website describes Welsh's "Classical Coins" as its "parent company". ("Classical Collections is a division of Classical Coins"). The pendants frequently have Middle Eastern or Far Eastern connotations, which is interesting given the general preponderance of ancient coins from the same region in Welsh's coin shop stock and no explanation of how they got there.

No explanation of "how they got there" is owing to Mr. Barford or anyone else. The items in question were licitly acquired under the laws of the United States of America. The collecting community has put up with a great deal of unmerited and immoderate abuse from Mr. Barford, but this latest extreme example of the depths to which he is capable of descending in his ceaseless attempts to provoke the collecting community merely highlights his own utter lack of civility and common decency.

I do not mind Mr. Barford's many defamatory remarks directed at me because he has in fact become an embarrassment to more respectable members of the archaeological community, who in many cases are just as much disgusted and repelled by the tactics of this bigoted and irrational extremist as are the collectors at whom his rants are directed.

I do however very much mind Mr. Barford's foul remarks directed at my wife. It is really a pity that the present day standards of society do not make it possible for me to invite Mr. Barford to "take the air in the country."

Dave Welsh
Classical Coins