Saturday, 25 July 2015

The subtle art of passing the buck: it's always someone else's fault

Dave Welsh, a coin dealer in Temecula, California, and a member of the ACCG, has posted on his blog about a proposed law that is rumoured to involve new due diligence requirements in Germany. (Parts of the proposal are controversial and details need to be ironed out but it is important to bear in mind that Germany has long been notorious as a prime market hub for looted antiquities due to its previously lax legislation.) Welsh also repeated his opposition to the proposed German law on a discussion list. Urging people to sign a petition against it, he intoned a dire warning:

"The strategy of the opponents of collecting is "divide and conquer." First Germany, tomorrow the world - one nation at a time."

Oh, I do wish he would spare us the melodramatic histrionics. Temecula is almost 100 miles away from Hollywood.

Curiously enough, although the fight against looting is already a worldwide concern, laws are normally passed by individual nations - one nation at a time. That's typically how law works. We don't yet live in a single World Empire (the UN is merely advisory); there's nothing to "divide".

After giving valid reasons why dealers prefer not to divulge their sources, he then went on to rant that the "anticollecting ideologues [...]  aren't interested in arriving at a reasonable compromise" and bitterly cried that "Barford and his ilk" will have triumphed if the law is passed.

Ah! I'm hoping that Welsh appreciated the usual meaning of the word 'compromise' - an agreement reached by both sides making concessions. It's a two-way street. Surely he wasn't suggesting that all the concessions should come solely from those concerned about looting and smuggling while the antiquities trade should do absolutely nothing to meet them halfway.

Let's assume he was being sensible. Well, I hate to say I told you so but ...

I proposed a "reasonable compromise" years ago - long before the present looting crisis in the Middle East - and I predicted what would happen if dealers ignored it. As it happens, Paul Barford was quite amenable to the proposal. It was Welsh and his "ilk" who were not "interested". He opposed it. He opposes pretty much everything except the status quo.

The current German law of 2007 concerns objects imported into Germany from another EU nation after 31 December 1992 or imported into Germany from any other UNESCO Convention signatory after 26 April 2007. Those dates are the current thresholds. The proposed amendment is rumoured to demand a provenance of twenty years (it is unclear which category this refers to; the EU category already extends back 23 years). At any rate, the legal thresholds are considerably more recent than 1970. Welsh's excuse for ignoring my scheme was purportedly based on his assumption that any laws would inevitably insist on the same threshold as the ideal mooted by the "archaeological community" and that is clearly not the case. So much for that irrelevant condition.

I patiently tried to explain years ago that laws are passed by politicians, not archaeologists. And the only people that politicians really care about are the electorate. Show the public that all dealers care about looting enough to have taken a "reasonable compromise" to combat it and I dare say the politicians representing the public might feel less urgency to tighten existing laws and be more open to accommodation on matters such as publicly divulging sources and graduating thresholds. But no, it seems that this dealer would rather pretend that proposals such as mine are impossible in the hope that he can just carry on with the status quo forever and not have to do anything.

And now, when events in Germany suggest my prediction may have been only too accurate, he complains that it's all the fault of "anticollecting ideologues" and everyone else. Sigh ...

Compromise means compromise; it involves mutual concessions. I wonder if Welsh has questioned why I, as a former collector myself and someone ardently in favour of collecting, so often ridicule the ACCG. I wonder if he realises that my criticism of them is based on my perception that, in a world where public image is so vital, the blinkered, arrogant, hideously uninformed, rabidly anti-academic and recklessly intransigent attitudes of that lobby group pose as great, if not greater, a threat to the future of collecting than most of the "anticollecting ideologues" put together.

Maybe if the ACCG and other groups like them actually got off their backsides, showed that they themselves genuinely cared about the looting crisis by proactively taking concrete steps to combat it instead of merely whining when someone else does, things would be different. And the public - represented by the politicians who actually pass laws - might take them more sympathetically and less cynically.

My proposal may not have made a huge practical difference, beyond improving image, to the antiquities trade in Germany itself (the legal thresholds already predate it) but the advantage of it as a universal database and deterrent to looting is undeniable. And, if the "tomorrow the world" prediction is correct and artefacts currently unrecorded apart from on precarious bits of paper are to stand a realistic chance of being traded almost anywhere in future, the adoption of such a secure and permanent scheme is patently urgent.


Regarding the IAR: I have no huge personal incentive to develop it into reality. I no longer collect antiquities myself. If people want me to develop it, they will have to back it enthusiastically and consider eventually forming a way to support it financially. I have already explained its potential. But I am not prepared to go it alone.

Thursday, 16 July 2015

US "returns" Syrian lamp to ... Iraq

After seizing antiquities in a raid at Deir ez-Zor in Syria, it seems the US Government handed over ALL the items to Iraq in a well-publicised ceremony.

One problem with that ceremony is highlighted by a lamp displayed with other items on a triangular blue sheet in one of the photographs (see image). It appears to be authentic and is a Syro-Palestinian type of the 3rd - 4th centuries AD. In other words, the lamp which was seized in Syria is likely to have been made and found in Syria.

The bits and bobs handed over to Iraq are a strange assortment - including a tiny fake bust of Nefertiti, a modern metal-smelting crucible, a leather manuscript in Aramaic, pieces looted from Mosul Museum, Islamic coins, and so on. After a proper analysis of what the items really are, it is intended that any Syrian antiquities will eventually be transferred on to Syria.


Paul Barford and Sam Hardy have covered this topic in admirable depth.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Blogwarts: the fantasy world of blogging in California

You thought 19th-century pomposity was long dead after a hundred years? Think again. It lives on in a certain blog (and it just cracks me up sometimes!). The blog is run by Dave Welsh, an engineer who lives in California and deals in coins - the same ACCG member who in all seriousness refuses to accept that the looting of antiquities is primarily driven by those who pay for them. He, backed by a coin-collecting lawyer and a metal detectorist, insists that anyone who presumes to oppose his views about ancient artefacts must be able to prove they are nothing less than a qualified archaeologist with a plethora of diplomas before they are even allowed to speak.

Indeed, those who engage with his fantasy world may be excused for hallucinating that they are not that far from a snooty version of Hogwarts under Dolores Umbridge. To appreciate the full majesty of his blog, we have to understand that Welsh regards his blog not as a mere digital platform for his opinions but as some kind of august institution where he reigns as provost and a select few who fall in line with the institution's way of thinking are admitted as fellows or adulating students (presumably suitably attired in its regalia while sitting at their laptops).

After a personal attack on the credentials of Paul Barford (déjà vu?), he graciously granted him permission to enter the institution briefly and reply as a "guest". Welsh posted a special notice - grandly entitled "Comments Policy Exception" - in what to mere mortals like you or me would be just a blog comment. Under the title, in characteristically sententious and laboured prose reminiscent of a 19th-century schoolmarm, he solemnly announced the official edict to the gathered assembly:

"I have decided to permit Mr. Barford's comments to be published here even though I consider them to contravene the policy of this blog that comments must shed more light, not more heat, upon the subject of the discussion. This is an important subject, and Mr. Barford must be given every opportunity to defend his position, even if his remarks transgress blog policy.

"This is a one-time exception and it is not likely that I will extend it to other subjects Mr. Barford may be interested in commenting upon. He must realize that commenters are guests, and have an obligation to "follow the rules" of the venue. Mr. Barford does not determine the rules here, nor does anyone else who comments to my blog."

I gather that even if the "subject of the discussion" in this august institution is nothing less than a personal attack ("heat" itself surely?), the person discussed should think it a deep privilege to be allowed to enter its hallowed portals and be granted permission to speak. Ah, and there was innocent 21st-century me, naively thinking a blog was just a blog. I feel truly humbled.


But on a serious note: I am avidly in favour of an intelligent and thoughtful approach to collecting antiquities and thus protect its future. Do these people really think that posing as some pompous institution and fatuously inviting ridicule is the best way to promote its image?


Barford has also replied here and here on his own blog - though be warned: readers may find its more relaxed "policy" and down-to-earth format a shocking return to reality.



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