Friday, March 04, 2016


Here is an obviously coined word that, along with many other coined words which are employed in a sort of archaeocentric doublespeak, has repeatedly been uttered in the notorious anticollecting blog of sometime archaeologist (and present day Warsaw English teacher) Paul Barford. It seems worthy of comment here because of the manner in which it is used, and the implications and insinuations involved in its use.

The specific use in this case referred to a coin: CE. (Year 14), AE prutah, 18mm, 2.30gm. Name of Julia Agrippina within wreath  / Two crossed palm branches, name of Claudius. Fine with nice green patina.  Hendin 651. Ex: Triskeles 2, lot 249

This example is. like most of the type, hastily and imperfectly struck. The small bronze prutot and lepta issued as everyday currency in Judaea under the Syrians and Romans did not have much purchasing power, and large quantities were needed. Imagine having to go through life today, not being allowed to use paper money or coins of higher denomination than a US five cent piece.

Apart from the strike it is a nice example with an attractive patina, offered at a very reasonable price.

Mr. Barford captioned this image
"Artefact decontextuialised [sic] by no-questions-asked commerce."

What this means, in plain English, is that the archaeological [situational] context in which this coin was long ago unearthed by someone who presumably did not care about archaeology, has not been preserved. This coin, like nearly all other ancient coins, is "unprovenanced."

It seems highly questionable whether it is appropriate to attribute the "decontextualization" of this coin and nearly all other ancient coins offered for sale to "commerce." The reader should recognize that Mr. Barford uses "loaded language." "Commerce" is a pejorative term as used here.

Although Mr. Barford has not disclosed his actual political affiliation, I have frequently pointed out that if he were a Communist, his opinions and writings could hardly be expected to be more critical of private discovery and ownership of antiquities, and free commerce in antiquities carried on for profit by private individuals. His perspective is clearly and unabashedly Marxist.

"Decontextualization" is presented by Mr. Barford as a sin against the Marxist notion that "collectors and dealers are stakeholders in the past." Reference is made to this article:

"The past," to continue Mr. Barford's Marxist theme, belongs to "everyone" under the principle of collective ownership of cultural heritage. The "artefacts" of the past being principal physical evidence, together with excavation sites and monuments, of the nature and activities of the past, they are also "collectively owned" at least in a moral sense by "everyone." Thus, "everyone" has the right to take an inquisitive critical interest in how "artefacts" are possessed and traded in by private individuals.

As the self-appointed spokesperson for "everyone," Mr. Barford has devised a neat theoretical framework within which to carry on his perverse intention of  gaining recognition as a world-class pest plaguing the activities of antiquities collectors, antiquities dealers, and above all, metal detectorists. Mr. Barford's notorious antipathy toward British metal detectorists is warmly reciprocated:

Meanwhile, US dealers in ancient coins have long noted Mr. Barford's consistent and absolute refusal to take into account the realities of the numismatic trade. Briefly, only a very small fraction of ancient coins that come to market have provenance traceable beyond the seller and perhaps, the source the seller acquired a coin from. They are "unprovenanced" and "decontextualized," and according to his Marxist ethics, it is sinful to collect them and even more sinful to trade in them.

Having the honor of inspiring (through an image on my website) Mr. Barford's characterization of "coin fondling" as "heap-of-loose-coins-on-a-table collecting," and therefore being an arch-sinner against his principles of what "ethical collecting" and "ethical dealing" ought to be, one might think that I should be worried about my prospects in the hereafter. That is, however, a moot point. Marxists do not believe in a hereafter.

I shall accordingly go on offering unprovenanced, decontextualized ancient coins to collectors without concerning myself about Mr. Barford's disapproval. I know and treasure the good that is being done by exposing collectors to these innocent artifacts of the past, and the lessons they have to teach us about life in antiquity. It is well worth putting up with the pestering of a crankish curmudgeon to carry on that worthy and socially beneficial exposure.