Thursday 8 October 2009

Concerned collectors – just a tiny voice in the wilderness?

Well, my draft proposal for an International Antiquities Registry went down like a lead balloon on the forum I posted it to.

It seems there is no real wish to consider such a scheme. But there are three other things to consider in the meantime...

1) Collectors making a purchase will continue to have to rely on former owners and their heirs keeping and passing on those extremely rare and easily faked little scraps of paper to know the provenance of an item (uncertain even then unless accompanied by photos) instead of simply looking up its IAR number.

2) Since the huge majority of minor antiquities do not even have the little scraps of paper anyway, collectors will continue to have no real way of knowing if most of the items they buy are really from old collections or from fresh digs - and thus still no way of knowing if they are contributing to the ongoing wholesale destruction of the world's heritage or not.

3) When registration of antiquities does come (and it surely will) it will be forced on us by government legislation - very likely with all the draconian bureaucracy and overkill such laws normally entail, and almost certainly including owner details (bureaucrats love that sort of thing even if there is no reason for it) - instead of being a self-regulated voluntary scheme which would have given collectors an excellent image.

Oh well...

I think Nathan Elkins has highlighted part of the root of the problem on his own blog. I suspect that many dealers have no strong desire to upset the status quo and some American coin dealers (who represent a large proportion of the trade in antiquities) have indeed organised a lobby which actively campaigns not to upset the status quo. Concerned collectors, on the other hand, have no lobby and no organisation.

It is true of course that dealers rely on collectors for their livelihood. But until concerned collectors become a large and organised group with a united front many in the trade will continue to ignore them.

Friday 2 October 2009

Heritage destroyed - and a missed opportunity

The destruction of the ancient heritage of Bulgaria is a tragedy not only for Bulgarians but for all mankind. The devastation is highlighted by Ivan Dikov, a journalist involved in an Australian TV documentary.

Bulgaria has an enormous archaeological heritage from many cultures and nearly all of it is being looted at an alarming rate but the Roman city of Ratiaria (Colonia Ulpia Ratiaria) is "the ultimate example of the carnage that has been going on in the last 20 years".

"... Ratiaria, once a symbol of the glory and might of Rome, has been reduced to a huge field of 20 hectares covered with craters and hills. The sight is unbelievable: the land has been overturned again and again, by machines and by hand. [...] At one particular time there were 17 bulldozers plowing Ratiaria at the same time!"

While the TV team were there, a busload of tourists arrived and Dikov comments sadly that "The poor people really believed that the craters they saw were what Ratiaria was supposed to look like; they had no idea that 20 years ago it had standing walls and everything else". Ratiaria had looked very different only a couple of decades ago.

Bulgaria has been blighted by unemployment and widespread poverty since the fall of the communist system, and the tragedy (and irony) of places like Ratiaria is not only the destruction of heritage for the sake of short-term profit but a sickeningly missed opportunity for a real money-spinner - a project that would have preserved the heritage and provided far more financial gain in the long term.

As the Australian journalist, David O'Shea, noted: "The real tragedy in a place like Ratiaria is that the people searching for treasure are looking for a couple of bucks here and there, where what they could be doing is sitting in a thriving tourist center. There could be hotels, and bars, and restaurants, and tourists everywhere just like there are in Rome, or Athens. That's the real tragedy."



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