Sunday 25 May 2014

And what's wrong with that?

Peter Tompa, a lawyer lobbying on behalf of American coin dealers, enthuses over the coin collection of Eric Newman, an elderly authority in the hobby. Apparently lamenting the old carefree days when coin collectors were largely unaware of the damage their hobby may encourage, Tompa ends with the wistful cry: "And what's wrong with that?"

Absolutely nothing wrong - coin collecting is a great hobby - so long as the collector of today can ensure that the coins he collects are not encouraging the ongoing mass destruction of archaeological evidence to provide them. I hope no sane collector would want to "gain learning about the past and appreciations of other cultures" by contributing to the obliteration of the evidence of those past cultures at the same time. A modern collector will be well aware that the destruction has increased exponentially since Newman's heyday and, spurred by his keen interest in history and his regard for the rest of society, a responsible modern collector will ensure his actions are not adding to the carnage of that fragile and finite resource.

Since Peter Tompa is a modern collector himself, I look forward to reading about his own method of ensuring that his acquisitions have not derived from recent devastation. And since he is also a lobbyist for the coin trade, no doubt he will be exhorting the dealers he represents to adopt a similar thoughtful approach - scrupulously examining the sources of their stock and keeping meticulous records of every item (perhaps along the lines of a publicly accessible registry to date-stamp them) so that other collectors can avoid buying fresh loot too.

After all, progress is not all bad. Modern technology has abetted looting but it has also increased our awareness of its appalling result. We can no longer claim the excuse of living in an isolated bubble; global information is now instantly at our fingertips. Any caring modern collector or dealer will be far more aware of the desperate need to conserve what remains of our archaeological heritage than people were a few decades ago. They can still experience the joys of collecting but they now know the dangers of their hobby and can aim to avoid them. And what's wrong with that?

Wednesday 14 May 2014

Santa Maria found - but recently looted

The Independent reports that archaeologists have found what may be the remains of Christopher Columbus’s flagship the Santa Maria, wrecked off the coast of Haiti in 1492. The team, headed by Barry Clifford, have been surveying the site since 2003 but when they returned to it earlier this month, with the intention of definitively identifying a cannon and other surface artefacts that had been photographed back then, "all the key visible diagnostic objects including the cannon had been looted by illicit raiders".

If the artefacts are still around, they are likely to be in a hidden collection of bits and bobs somewhere, utterly decontextualised and unrecognised for what they really are. Worse still, the wreck has been deprived of objects that may have helped to definitively identify it. Yet "treasure hunters" are urged to carry on looting by one blogger on the warped premise that "It's your history too!".

(Image: 1892 replica)

Monday 12 May 2014

Trip to the Horniman Museum

London is incredibly rich in museums and while tourists make a beeline to the more famous ones, some of the lesser known exhibitions get overlooked. The Horniman Museum and Gardens, founded by Frederick Horniman in 1901 and tucked away in Forest Hill, is an eccentric place, very much in the antiquarian "cabinet of curiosities" tradition. Some might call it "delightfully" eccentric though I found its unstructured Victorian eclecticism slightly giddy at times. At any rate, it certainly has a decided charm and it is well worth visiting.

Included in a large gallery with Benin bronze plaques, Haitian voodoo items and other assorted objects, are a few display cases filled with artefacts from Egypt. Ancient Egypt has never been one of my favourite interests but I took one or two photos of some of the artefacts and I am posting a tiny selection here. My apologies for my awful photography!

Crash course on flying in the face of logic

Following the serious debates about conservation issues can be a bit humdrum sometimes so now and then I take a quick glance at a certain metal detecting blog for a truly bizarre perspective. It seldom fails to disappoint and a recent post about "Treasure Hunting" (2 May 2014) was a gem of twisted logic. After the usual bitter rant against archaeologists and other people who criticise the more destructive members of his hobby, the blogger attempts to justify his cavalier attitude to archaeology by appealing to fellow detectorists with this ...

"It’s YOUR history too! More people own metal detectors than dabble in archaeology as a pastime….so don’t let the tail wag the dog!"

Hmm, that priceless thought is pretty much akin to saying ...

It’s YOUR hospital too! More people pop pills than follow medicine as a profession ... so don’t let a few doctors supervise the health service instead of thousands of patients!

Or perhaps ...

It’s YOUR atmosphere too! More people travel by air than take up aeronautical training ... so don’t let a couple of pilots fly a plane instead of the dozens of passengers!

I dare say metal detecting - if carried out responsibly and in moderation - is an enjoyable hobby. But to present it as an everyman crusade against government monopoly - and cloak it as an altruistic method of "saving history" by sheer force of numbers - is not only self-deluding, it is as warped as a crash landing.



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