Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Cultural Property Fascism

Going too far?

by Wayne Sayles

The question posed by Lee Rosenbaum  "When do cultural-property demands go too far?"  is one that easily flows off the lips when considering the Elgin Marbles or the Mona Lisa.  But the demands go too far in the other direction as well.  Neither UNESCO nor the U.S. Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act that enables some of its 1970 resolution provisions ever intended that ubiquitous personal and commercial objects like common jewelry, arrowheads, oil lamps, coins and myriad other utilitarian objects should be treated as national patrimony.  To do so is just as inane as to believe that every work of art that ever was produced by man belongs in the geographic confines of a modern geo-political entity that lays claim to its inheritance.  This modern day nationalist penchant for restricting the international transfer of ownership of objects that were fully intended at the time of manufacture to traverse freely across international borders is nothing short of bizarre.  Those who falsely characterize the legitimate trade in such objects as being unethical are really just saying "You must be like me, think like me and follow my rules" even when those rules run contrary to common law.   Upon reflection, that is in fact the nature of National Socialism -- is it not? 


> Those who falsely characterize the legitimate trade in such objects [ancient coins] as being unethical are really just saying "You must be like me, think like me and follow my rules" even when those rules run contrary to common law.  

> Upon reflection, that is in fact the nature of National Socialism -- is it not? 

Indeed it is, and I observe that Wayne's well justified disgust with the "Cultural Property Establishment" has now reached the point where he is now publicly pointing out the essentially Fascist character of the "crusade against looting" being carried on by such diverse personalities as archaeo-blogger Paul Barford and State Department bureaucrat Maria Kouroupas.

There is not, nor has there ever been, one shred of scientifically validated evidence supporting Colin Renfrew's hypothesis that antiquities collectors and the trade supplying them are the root cause of illicit excavation of antiquities. Renfrew was, perhaps, justified in advancing this radical hypothesis for discussion before his canonization as an archaeological saint, however no public authority is justified in accepting it as a basis for public policy.

Renfrew's unproven hypothesis is in my view just as nonsensical as the spurious concept of "Aryan Physics" -- and I suppose I must now go through the obligatory ritual of stating that neither Renfrew nor anyone else on the anticollecting side of these issues is a Nazi, and that apart from disposition of artifacts, none of them have anything at all in common with National Socialism.

To me, that only heightens the irrationality of such well-educated, well-intentioned individuals being willing to adopt quasi-Fascist methods to advance and protect the cause of "preserving the archaeological record." That willingness demonstrates a view that "the end justifies the means," a perspective which has caused immense destruction and human misery throughout recorded history.

Fascism and Fascist methods have no place in a democratic society, and it is past time to recognize that the "crusade against looting" of Maria Kouroupas and her State Department cohorts violates that principle.


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Tomographic Reconstruction of the Selby Hoard

Tomography Analyzes Roman Coin Hoards

By Richard Giedroyc

X-ray computed tomography is now being used to examine damaged or corroded coin hoards in a major scientific breakthrough recently announced through the University of Southampton in collaboration with the British Museum. Tomography involves imaging by sections or sectioning using waves.

Until now, the primary use of tomography has been in archaeology, astrophysics, biology, geophysics, materials science, oceanography, quantum information and in radiology. Numismatics, as a science related to archaeology, can now be added to the list using what is generally called tomographic reconstruction.

The Selby Hoard of ancient Roman coins discovered with a metal detector near Selby, East Riding, York, in England was the subject of the first tomographic reconstruction of a coin hoard. In this case the coins were lumped together in the ground when first encountered. Eleanor Ghey is the archaeologist who has been studying this hoard. 


It has been determined that the coins date between the time of Roman Emperors Vespasian and Hadrian, and include coins of Marcus Aurelius and Trajan as well. The Southampton’s µ-VIS Centre for Computed Tomography used an x-ray technique that takes thousands of two-dimensional scans from which a compilation resulted in the 3D animation images of the coin hoard. 


The high energy/high resolution ability of the Southampton facility allowed the coins to be examined in detail without having been cleaned or examined physically. Visualization capabilities were used to identify the rulers depicted on the coins through the iconography and inscriptions on the coins.

Dr. Graeme Earl is an archaeologist with the University of Southampton. He was recently quoted as saying, “Excavating and cleaning just a single coin can take hours or even days, but this technology gives us the opportunity to examine and identify them quickly and without the need for conservation treatment at this stage. It also has potential for examining many other archaeological objects.”


 The availability of tomographic reconstruction to examine concreted coin hoards is an important development which promises to be of significant benefit to archaeologists, hoard discoverers and collectors alike. In these days of bitter political stalemate and oppositional confrontation regarding the disposition and repatriation of excavated artifacts, a development such as this that everyone can welcome is a rarity. 

In addition to the benefits to archaeology discussed above, tomographic reconstruction promises to make it feasible to rapidly determine whether conservation treatment to remove the coins in a hoard from their concretion mass is warranted, from a balanced perspective taking into account all legitimate interests including those of the discoverer and landowner. 

Since this beneficial assessment process requires a major scientific laboratory, it will of course not be available to "nighthawkers" and others who illicitly excavate coins. That would in this observer's view become one more step in the direction of discouraging illicit excavation of coins through economic pressure, by far the most effective approach (as I have often pointed out, in the end everyone obeys the laws of economics).

Cheers to the University of Southampton, the British Museum, Eleanor Ghey and all others involved in the extension of this technique to study of the Selby Hoard. Their pioneering work promises to have far-reaching impact in putting the study and eventual disposition of concreted artifacts on a more scientifically sound and rational footing.