Friday, September 27, 2013

Missing the Point

ACCG Singing from Same Songsheet as UK's Irresponsible Artefact Hunters

by Paul Barford

  Now we have the ACCG and the dissident detectorists in bed together let us see how they get on singing from the same songsheet.  Dave Welsh lauds the champions of free hate-speech ("Freedom of Speech "California style"...", Ancient Coins (sic) blog, Friday, September 27, 2013). He claims he is a "leading" blog owner:

due to my well known and consistent opposition to Mr. Barford's [...] views, and to his vocal insistence that an unrealistic, rigid requirement for provenance documentation of every artifact (however minor and inexpensive) is a necessity for "ethical collecting." 
But wait a second... That is precisely what in the UK is the definition of responsible artefact hunting, isn't it? The requirement for provenance documentation of every artefact (however minor and inexpensive) taken out of the archaeological record to be collected, the information loss is to be mitigated by reporting the object together with its findspot to the relevant institutions, through the Treasure Trove law in Scotland, the PAS in England and (for the moment) Wales.

The ACCG say they "support" the PAS in England and (while they still have one), in Wales. They constantly say they think every country producing collectable coins and artefacts "should have one". Yet here an ACCG officer distances himself from the underlying principle of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which is the recording of minor (ie non-Treasure) objects together with their findspots - irrespective of financial value.  )

So, if the UK Code  of Responsible metal Detecting in England and Wales brands those who collect archaeological artefacts (including coins) and do not do these things "irresponsible", surely we would now be justified in applying the PAS message more widely and saying that artefact collectors of any kind who acquire material without such information and curating that information are also irresponsible. That would explain the ACCG's current interest in uniting with the dissident artefact hunters of the UK which reject the concerns we have with rather sketchy application of best practice we see to be the effect of over fifteen years of PAS outreach in much of Britain.


 Mr. Barford has entirely missed the point of my remarks regarding provenance.

To a collector or dealer, provenance is NOT the recording of a findspot. It is instead the collecting history of a coin or other antiquity.

 Collectors acquire these things for their intrinsic value, not because they have an interest in the archaeological context in which they are found. That is the domain of archaeologists. Collectors are not opposed to archaeologists getting all the information possible, and are inclined to cooperate with moderate, reasonable requests -- sometimes volunteering to assist in attributing coins discovered in digs.

The problem dividing collectors and archaeologists today is that the provenance of collectible antiquities such as coins does not begin with their being excavated subsequent to 1970. It instead begins with their being excavated without any record of the date and findspot, and in the vast majority of cases this happened long before 1970. But there are no extant records to prove this.

All that collectors and the trade can do about these unprovenanced antiquities is to start to record their collecting history -- what numismatists think of as their provenance.

My proposal was that Classical Coins would introduce a type of coin "ticket" that is folded (as our tickets presently are), but with a record of sale form, including any known prior history, inside the folded over ticket, I went so far as to have a stamp made up for that purpose and still intend to pursue this, however the pressure of events during 2012 and thus far in 2013 has been such that this has not yet been possible.

Meanwhile Mr. Barford clearly is only able to think about artifacts being illicitly excavated today and later being sold to collectors. He does not consider the immense numbers of unprovenanced coins and other artifacts that were excavated long before he was born and in a great many cases, before archaeology was born. These unprovenanced artifacts are the reality that collectors and the dealers who supply them encounter whenever they do business. Very few ancient  coins or other minor collectible artifacts have a provenance record.



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