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These activists want buyers and dealers of stolen relics to face criminal charges


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Why not. It would have to work like 'handling stolen goods', where you must have had reason to believe they were stolen to break the law. So buying from reputable dealers and auction houses, or apparently honest eBay sellers, would exempt you.

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As a blanket statement? Of course not. I can understand there being cases where punishing the seller, buyer, or both might be justified. But lots of honest and innocent people might be fooled into buying looted stuff. If they aren't complicit then they aren't guilty of a crime and shouldn't be punished.

 

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I think it’s complicated.

First, what are the facts?  They say that the third most money for armed groups in the Middle East comes from “the plunder and sale of antiquities,” and that it’s continuing despite the waning presence of these groups.  Then they link an article as evidence, which says “some estimates put it at billions of dollars a year”… with a dead link. 😐  It would be nice to have some hard facts about this, but almost anything I’ve read is trying to promote an agenda.

Second, what’s the goal?  How do we really want things to be?

I think we’d probably all agree the UK Portable Antiquities Scheme has been a smashing success.  All sorts of excellent data are recorded, finders benefit, collectors benefit, museums benefit, archaeologists benefit.  It’s awesome.  So the goal should be to make that the international standard, no?

I think some archaeologists might say  “No, no, no!  Only we get to do that because we’re the only ones who are competent to dig!”  Sure, let’s all wait while you transfer the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific using an eyedropper.  (Or not.)

So how do we get there, eventually?  What measures are justified?  Well that’s a pretty huge question.

I think we’d all agree that funding terrorism through the antiquities trade is something that should be stopped asap.  And illegal looting of past or ongoing archaeological digs. This might justify temporary extreme measures like the proposal in the article.

On the other hand, what about poor Ahmad in Eastern Turkey who digs up some stuff on unused, ignored land and sells it to feed his family?  In a country where they don’t give a damn about that particular archaeological context and will never allow or fund a dig there in a million years?  Where they have stupid, draconian laws against export that are about as far from the smoothly-running PAS as the German train system is from the chaotic streets of ancient Rome?  I don’t know about you but I have a heck of a lot of sympathy for Ahmad.  Words like “pillage,” “theft,” “looted,” and “illicit” get thrown around a lot, but what do they really correspond to in the real world in particular cases?  Often the terms are drastically misapplied, I suspect.

One thing that clearly needs to happen is that Turkey et al. need to be pressured to adopt something like the PAS.  The recent MOUs etc. are not helping with this as far as I can tell.

Back to how to stop fueling terrorism… one good point the article makes is that there’s a big problem with “the presence of freeports (places to store shipments that are essentially jurisdictional black holes) in places like Geneva or Dubai.”  (I’m reminded of tax havens…)  But here is another place where governments can put pressure to require documentation – PAS type documentation – before export is allowed.  Find the bottlenecks and apply a choke-hold if you need action asap.

So I think it’s a policy question and right now I don’t see much movement in the right directions.  It would be nice if collectors and archaeologists could talk to one another and get together on this, because if we can agree on the ultimate PAS type goal maybe we can actually make some progress!

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One thing that might help would be if countries such as the UK enacted laws requiring antiquities to be registered. The register, minus the identity of the owner could be public available for researchers, and the owners' identities only available to the police. Owners could download their own pieces onto the register. A photo would be necessary, downloaded by the owner. After a certain grace period to allow people to do it it would be hard for newly looted items to be added, and buyers would expect to find the item in question on the register. I am not envisaging raids on houses to find unregistered antiquities: the police don't have the capacity! This would have to go with an amnesty, or people might be afraid to register.  But what is more important - punishing past misdeeds or stopping new ones.

Two dealers I have put the idea to said they would sign up to it.  They also thought dealers should be registered.

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1 hour ago, David Johnson said:

One thing that might help would be if countries such as the UK enacted laws requiring antiquities to be registered. The register, minus the identity of the owner could be public available for researchers, and the owners' identities only available to the police. Owners could download their own pieces onto the register. A photo would be necessary, downloaded by the owner. After a certain grace period to allow people to do it it would be hard for newly looted items to be added, and buyers would expect to find the item in question on the register. I am not envisaging raids on houses to find unregistered antiquities: the police don't have the capacity! This would have to go with an amnesty, or people might be afraid to register.  But what is more important - punishing past misdeeds or stopping new ones.

Two dealers I have put the idea to said they would sign up to it.  They also thought dealers should be registered.

There was a news article just the other day about the antiquities registration system in India. Some 350,000 objects have been registered but registration of coins has been suspended due to sheer volume. The standard in India is objects more than 100 years old, the same standard as set in the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

https://www.deccanherald.com/national/35l-antiquities-over-100-years-old-privately-registered-in-india-asi-1117887.htm

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3 hours ago, DLTcoins said:

There was a news article just the other day about the antiquities registration system in India. Some 350,000 objects have been registered but registration of coins has been suspended due to sheer volume. The standard in India is objects more than 100 years old, the same standard as set in the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

https://www.deccanherald.com/national/35l-antiquities-over-100-years-old-privately-registered-in-india-asi-1117887.htm

So is the current impossibility to export coins from India just a "temporary" thing?  (though currently permanent, in effect.)  So: good in principle, but not in practice?

Certainly such a system would need to be funded somehow... it would be fair for governments to tax finders a small amount on their sales, for example.  Then there wouldn't be backlogs like this, plus it could fund catching those trying to evade the system.  (I hasten to add that I know very little about this issue in India.)

Edited by Severus Alexander
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Yes but what's the point if the museums are deliberately withholding knowledge of their treasures and the study of them. I call; out the MUSEO  ARCHAEOLOGICA  CHIETI ABRUZZO ITALY. Some 70 ( yes SEVENTY) years ago a portion of the seized POGGIO PICENZE HOARD IGCH 2056 has been held prisoner by this so called museum. I tried to get photographic records of the NewStyle portion of this hoard, but have been led up the garden path, forms sent, more requested wrong or non-existent email addresses supplied. The knowledge is sitting there but wont allow access. They own it and F*** you, its mine, I don't know what it is, and I don't care. I will dedicate my life to being as awkward and obstructive as possible. so there!   All coins in my possession are in the majority fresh within the last 10 years. I guess mostly dug up in Bulgaria or Turkey  and smuggled to Germany and dispersed. Well if the MUSEO ARCHAEOLOGICA CHIETI   is not the proper place, my smuggled coins have hit the right home! Who needs experts and curators and Italian bureaucrats, place fillers etc. 

See my article The Odyssey of the Poggio Picenze Hoard IGCH 2056 

                        The pointless pursuit of numismatical knowledge

                        The NewStyle Athens problem

All mini articles by me under the name John Arnold Nisbet on academia.edu

 

The image is the only picture of the said NewStyles from the poggio picenze hoard. It is apparently from an exhibition of them  by a lady called Campanella . I looked it up and can find nothing on the web about it. So the Italian authorities did not advertise the exhibition. The Lady herself is a top line bureaucrat who never deigned to answer my requests! WTF! 

Collezione_numismatica_(Chieti).jpg

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One thing to note about this photograph is that someone, with knowledge, has placed them in an up to date sequence. And that the controversial " 2 Ears of Corn" appears to be the 5th coin from the right bottom row! That coin is hard  to see though and so are the rest after Gorgon are just a guess. Its interesting since it shows gaps. I shall peruse the ANS portion of the hoard for the missing. Wish it all went to the ANS,  I have always found them most helpful. Maybe the Italians can learn everything from them. The BM can be a bit arsey too but Oxbridge are friendly. And the Austrian coin cabinet. The Museo ARCHAEOLOGICA Chieti is a disgrace. I has to be deliberate. 

Edited by NewStyleKing
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Access confessional mode.  Complacent as I was about my opinions on the subject, it's taken me this long to look at this thread.  But people here have raised sufficient levels of nuance, along with some resonant factual context, to make it a pretty, that's, Pretty Darn compelling read. 

First, many thanks, @robinjojo, for the OP, with the heads up about the ongoing global gravity of the problem.  (...@Ed Snible, I'd lost track of 99% Invisible since the local, mostly NPR station quit airing it.  Looks like they've only gotten better!  Bookmarked and tabbed.)

Regarding collectors, I started out thinking along the lines of @ominus1, particularly in terms of the breadth of the spectrum, where we (along with present company, among dealers) are concerned.  Obviously, at the level of seriously high-end antiquities, the buyer has to have enough of a clue about any given, unmistakably nefarious provenance to be as culpable as the dealer.  This is reminiscent of buyers of paintings stolen from major art museums, which never again see the light of day ...unless the world is fortunate enough for them to be recovered.  (Thanks, @NewStyleKing, for the comparably ominous instance of an ostensible museum behaving in the same way.)

But @Severus Alexander, as amplified by @David Johnson, succeeded in talking me down from thinking about this only on that scale, raher than more mundane ones.  (--Here, another precedent might be 'blood diamonds.')  The ethos of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, along with the UK Detector Find Database and British 'Treasure Trove' law generally, are collectively the best model we have for how to do this in real time.  Call me naive, but my ongoing impression of the PAS and UKDFD, along with news coverage of major hoards in the UK, going back years, is of detectorists effectively acting as a 'fifth column' on behalf of archaeologists and museums.  And, from the distance of a middling continent and a small ocean, it seems to work for everyone!  The finders get to keep what isn't irreplaceable, and some of them even turn a profit (often enough to the joy of collectors)!

Fortunately, thanks to the BBC, there's a recent, conspicuous instance of a dealer acting from comparably enlightened motives. 

(One caveat is called for, regarding the dating of the Ife bronzes, and similar portrait sculpture in terra cotta.  Drewal, Pemberton, et al., Yoruba: Nine Centuries of Art and Thought  (New York: The Center for African Art /Abrams, 1989) dates the earliest and most naturalistic of them to c. 1000-1200.  This is based on radiocarbon dating of the potsherds which were used to tile the various floor levels of the sites where the sculptures were originally found.  See esp. 46, for the operant chronological intervals (c. 800 -1600 CE), and 61, for the methodology.)

https://www.bbc.com/news/world-africa-61826273

Edited by JeandAcre
Typos, and a little actual rewriting in the process.
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How on Earth did the Belgian state sell it off for a fistfull of dollars. Even I could years ago roughly ascribe it as a Benin type product and very valuable as a cultural and financial object. Thieves are thieves and I guess money talks and the people who robbed the museum at Jos were local Benin people. Look what happened at the national Iraqi museum, plundered by its own staff, The Egyptian version of the Arab spring that got entered and slightly robbed, plus storehouses all over. Sadly but, inevitably, museums are banks. The transition of Eastern Europe saw curators pilfering coins under their care for day to day living. Gold, Tumbago(?) items in  the America's replaced with replicas! yep they are targets.

 

NSK= John

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Welp, John, it's like that many of us, obviously including you, have known for that long.  The worst criminals run to being the ones with too much power (and, often enough, attendant, collective narcissism) to take the moral dimension of their actions seriously.  ...Right, for anyone with a grain of historical literacy, the Belgian government is already primed to set off alarm bells.  Regarding the transaction in question, it's just more confirmation than anyone who's paying attention really needs of the commensurate, endlessly symbiotic relationship between ignorance and arrogance.  To the point that 'willful ignorance' is effectively synonymous with the latter.

By comparison, I can almost empathize with the curators in the former Soviet countries.

Meanwhile, the sculpture in the BBC article is from Ife.  It's Yoruban, considerably earlier than the neighboring Benin bronzes --from further east in southern Nigeria; the country of the same name is an unfortunate, arbitrary, irreducibly revisionist accident of the first years of Postcolonial government. 

...There are a couple of improbably world-class collections of African sculpture in my part of the country.  They're both magnificent ...and now I have to wonder exactly how the original collectors came by them.

Edited by JeandAcre
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Yes, I think that the UK Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) is a model for a reasonable approach to the discovery and dissemination of finds, while also addressing archeological interests.  But, as noted, so many archeological finds come from conflict zones or countries/regions that are experiencing upheavals for various reasons; war in all of its permutations, climate catastrophe and other natural disasters, economic collapse, social/religious upheaval, population displacements, pandemics, famine, or all or a combination of these factors.  These conditions are not conducive to the establishment of a PAS-like system. 

This is, as noted a complicated issue. There is a need to document finds, especially finds of major antiquarian and artistic import, if not just for the sake of the historical record.  As for coins, which have travel hither and beyond in ancient times, I find that it is virtually impossible to enforce a PAS model law in the countries/regions that experiencing virtually existential struggles.  The governmental infrastructures just don't exist. 

While it would be very helpful to have documentation of hoards discovered, this is a pipe dream under the current conditions and for the foreseeable future.  As noted, people need to survive, first and foremost.  The groups of coins discovered by them, and the meager amount of money they generally receive, relative to the actual value of many coins, are simply a means to put food on the table and a roof over their heads.

I wonder now long long it will be before looted objects from Ukraine appear on the market, black or otherwise.

Dark times, indeed....

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Thanks, @robinjojo, for reemphasizing just how extreme the range is, regarding the multiple, dramatically divergent contexts in which this is an issue in the first place.  ...From a part of the world where the best a detectorist is likely to find is a college ring, I for one can really use multiple reminders of that.  

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The current system just incentivizes smugglers to find people who dig up coins/artifacts 

they pay them a small fraction of their value while making huge profits for themselves and they can never report any findings

 

if there were better laws diggers could legally dig up + report significant finds + get better prices (even if the government took a percentage)

 

Edited by arnoldoe
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