Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Barford attacks Wayne Sayles

Wagsant on "Antiquities control"
by Paul Barford

In the comments under the recent Forbes article about antiquities collecting there are currently two comments, one by Larry Rothfield about establishing a registration system to identify material already on the established market (making it possible to spot freshly-surfaced looted items). The idea is a no-brainer [as are the REAL reasons why antiquities dealers oppose it so vehemently]. The other comment - apparently from just such a dealer - is telling. It is obvious that behind the screen name "wgsant" is the pen of Wayne Gerald Sayles, veteran antiquities dealer from Missouri. Commenting on the Forbes article titled "There's Big Money And The Need For Reform In The Antiquities Trade" he concentrates on the first aspect and clumsily skips the second. [Sayles] writes:

"Big $ values always stimulate interest and commentary about cultural property and its control. The resulting laws and mindset unfortunately extend down-chain to the most common of utilitarian objects like clay pots and coins that survive in huge quantities. As a result, many collectors of relatively insignificant objects are characterized as supporters of looting and pillaging. They are not, and the failure to make this distinction is a travesty in itself."


Is the trade in these so-called "minor artefacts" like "clay pots and coins" really so "insignificant"? Today on just ONE internet portal selling precisely one of these categories of so-called "minor" artefacts in just ONE country where they are sold, we finds there are "159 Ancient [dugup antiquities] Dealers" offering 107,679 Items with a total value of $23,418,999. Twenty-three point four million dollars is not an "insignificant" sum (enough to buy a combat-ready Chinook helicopter, or - to put the scale of this in a more proper context - keep the PAS running for 12 years at current costs). More to the point, 107 000 holes in the archaeological record just to put this week's coins on offer in one venue in one country is not "insignificant damage" when it is an ongoing erosive process. This one portal selling coins of undocumented provenance represents very major damage to the archaeological record. V-coins was set up in 2008, but ebay through which hundreds of thousands of similarly undocumented antiquities pass annually has been going since 1995. The scale of items passing undocumented from the (finite and fragile) archaeological record onto the global antiquities market (and the history-gobbling US one in particular) is incontrovertibly MASSIVE. Holes are being dug all over the place to keep the market which Mr Sayles represents supplied with fresh commodities, of major saleability and minor 'potboiler' status.


Yes Mr Sayles (who claims to have done an archaeology 101 course at a Wisconsin university), the "resulting laws and mindset" do indeed apply to all "portable antiquities" which are looted from archaeological sites to supply the collectors market. For the "most common of utilitarian objects like clay pots and coins that survive in huge quantities" are archaeological evidence while they are in the archaeological record (ground) and cease to be the moment they are hoiked out to join many thousands others of undocumented and freshly-surfaced dugups in a dealer's stockroom. Like that of Sayles and Lavender - where DID all that stuff come from, really? It is the "most common of utilitarian objects like clay pots and coins that survive in huge quantities" which keep the market ticking over, keep dealers like Mr Sayles in business. It is the affordability in the era of large scale commercial looting of archaeological sites of the "most common of utilitarian objects like clay pots and coins that survive in huge quantities" which allows the market to expand, persuading more and more individuals that they too an afford a "piece of history" in their homes and emulate and get the kudos in a small way of being collectors like Levy and White. What Sayles is arguing is that the vast bulk of the transactions on the no-questions-asked market should remain unregulatable, should remain no-questions-asked. That is precisely what he set up the ACCG to fight for.

Sayles bemoans the situation that [as a result of the fact that archaeological evidence and the objects of conservationists' efforts are not defined by the commercial value of the elements traded]: "many collectors of relatively insignificant objects are characterized as supporters of looting and pillaging". Note the sleight of hand. Sayles likes to pretend (note the name of the dealers' lobbying group he set up in 2004) that it is just collectors who are allegedly "victimised" thus. The DEALERS are as guilty as collectors, if not more so; who buys the stuff with undocumented provenances on a dodgy market? Who will not declare their sources, or reveal what process was used to ascertain (and verify) kosher provenance? Who actively discourages any discussion of these issues (even on the closed coiney forums)? Dealers, dealers, dealers.

There is absolutely no doubt, given the current state of the no-questions-asked antiquities market, collectors who buy freshly surfaced material without ascertaining and verifying it has a clean collecting history are indeed guilty of supporting the looting, pillaging and smuggling and trading of looted and pillaged artefacts. That is irrespective of whether the items concerned are the "most common of utilitarian objects like clay pots and coins" that are looted "in huge quantities" or whether it is a one-off pot like the Euphranios krater (pulled from the same tomb by a robber as many other more "utilitarian" vessels which also end up on the clandestine market). Or an Athenian deka that might (arguably) be found in a Turkish hoard with many thousand other more "mundane" issues. It is not the coin that matters, it is the context; once separated from the rest and smuggled into the US its just a chunk of metal (which is not to say that those handling it all down the chain of illegal activity should not be punished - they all should end up in jail, I'd like to see a few US coin dealers in a Turkish or Bulgarian jail for knowingly handling stolen property).



It's hardly surprising to learn that Mr. Barford would "like to see a few US coin dealers in a Turkish or Bulgarian jail for knowingly handling stolen property)." Those who have read what he has to say over the years can hardly have any illusions regarding how he views anyone who deals in antiquities. From Mr. Barford's one-sided anticollecting perspective, dealing in or collecting unprovenanced portable antiquities such as ancient coins is a crime, and such objects are by definition "stolen property."

The most misleading and unreasonable aspect of this particular rant is the manner in which it presents Mr. Barford's point of view as though it were fact. It is extremely difficult in reading his blog to distinguish between what is actually the law, what Mr. Barford wishes the law to be, and what he is fantasizing about at the moment. Everything is blurred together in a manner that tends to be very confusing and unclear.

This particular bit of rabidly anticollecting propaganda is especially obnoxious because in this altogether unjustified and perhaps libelous rant, Mr. Barford attacks an extremely ethical, upright man for whom I have always had a great deal of respect, as though Wayne Sayles were some sort of criminal. The "crime" Wayne is allegedly guilty of is standing up for the rights of collectors, as well as those of the dealers who supply them. Whilst both Wayne and I are among the ranks of such dealers, and are firmly in the ranks of those who endeavor to defend the rights of collectors, neither of us is really in this for the money and the picture painted of our motives and of our profession by Mr. Barford is as unfair and misleading as everything else he has to say.

The "silent majority" of archaeologists know very well that coin collectors and the dealers who support them are not any significant threat to archaeology. They instead perceive antiquities collectors and dealers who seek major objects such as statues, fine ceramic art and other very valuable collectibles as being those whose activities tend to support a view that the collecting of such objects creates a market that motivates looting of archaeological sites. Not drawing a line between this rational point of view which (whether or not one entirely agrees with it) does have something to be said in its favor, and the utterly unreasonable perspective of Mr. Barford, tends to discredit the whole argument that "collecting equals looting." In a sense that perspective could be justly compared to characterizing those who may perhaps inadvertently park an automobile in a manner that might violate the law, for example by a parking meter's flag coming up before they return to the vehicle, as being in the same class of lawbreakers as wanton murderers and terrorists.

Whilst I can't speak for Wayne, I am personally grateful to Mr. Barford for his uncontrollable urge to so violently rant in his blog about the perceived iniquities of coin collectors and coin dealers. In doing this, he does not merely present a very false and unjust picture of the collecting community, he also presents a very false and unjust picture of the anti-collecting faction in the archaeological community. Whilst I intensely disagree with the principles and views of that faction and have made no secret of that disagreement, I have always believed that such views are sincerely held and are based upon a philosophy that can rationally be argued for, even if in my opinion it is not in the best interests of society.

So please do keep up the good work, Mr. Barford. Every other word you post in your notorious blog does, in my view, drive yet another nail in the already very securely fastened coffin of the long since exploded myth that "collecting equals looting." The public may perhaps often be uninformed, but is not so foolish as to be unable to distinguish the difference between what you have to say (in your inimitable manner) and objective truth. In your unceasing efforts to "fool all of the people all of the time," you are instead doing a very effective job of discrediting the point of view you profess to espouse, and your rabidly anti-collecting blogging rants have perhaps become the most valuable propaganda resource the pro-collecting advocacy could possibly hope for.


Post a Comment

<< Home