Sunday, July 8, 2018

In Britain, Archeologists Should Follow Patterns Pioneered by Collectors

Where the archeology ends up in Britain
John Howland in England writes "Dump it or Sell it?" Detecting and Collecting June 21, 2018
Britain’s archaeologists are dumping tens of thousands of unrecorded finds; pottery fragments; flint tools; medieval coins; for no better reason – they claim – than a lack of proper storage facilities. This deplorable situation was first revealed back in June 2016, by Patrick Sawer, the Daily Telegraph’s Senior Reporter. Whereas the UK’s detectorists have and are documenting well over a million artefacts on the UK Government-financed Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS), or, with the privately run the United Kingdom Detector Finds Database (UKDFD), the reverse is catastrophically occurring in the archaeological world. 

Thousands of historical fragments are simply being dumped in skips. It seems there needs to be a system so that archeology’ can become in part, self-funding by selling off what it doesn’t need to collectors after having been properly recorded. Howland makes an important point about ownership:
Equally important perhaps, is the urgent need for farmers and landowners to know precisely what artefacts they have allowed excavators to be carted off and equally vital, whether they want them returned. Artefacts dumped without the knowledge of their owners is theft and might well place a well-meaning archaeologist in an invidious position. It would be equitable if landowners, farmers, and archaeologists entered into negotiated Finds Agreements of the kind pioneered by Britain’s detectorists to protect everyone’s interests. 

Friday, July 6, 2018

Some Things Never Change. A Letter of Complaint

One of the best historical documents ever. This Old Babylonian clay tablet, written in cuneiform 3,700 years ago, may be the oldest customer complaint letter yet discovered. The copper merchant Nanni details at length his anger at a sour deal, and his dissatisfaction with the quality assurance and service of Ea-nasir. Nanni complained that the wrong grade of copper ore has been delivered after a gulf voyage and that there was a misdirection and a delay of a further shipment. Assyriologist Leo Oppenheim translated and published the letter; Tell Ea-nasir:
Nanni sends the following message: When you came, you said to me as follows: “I will give Gimil-Sin (when he comes) fine quality copper ingots.” You left then but you did not do what you promised me. You put ingots which were not good before my messenger (Sit-Sin) and said: “If you want to take them, take them; if you do not want to take them, go away!” What do you take me for, that you treat somebody like me with such contempt? I have sent as messengers gentlemen like ourselves to collect the bag with my money (deposited with you) but you have treated me with contempt by sending them back to me empty-handed several times, and that through enemy territory. Is there anyone among the merchants who trade with Telmun who has treated me in this way? You alone treat my messenger with contempt! On account of that one (trifling) mina of silver which I owe(?) you, you feel free to speak in such a way, while I have given to the palace on your behalf 1,080 pounds of copper, and umi-abum has likewise given 1,080 pounds of copper, apart from what we both have had written on a sealed tablet to be kept in the temple of Samas. How have you treated me for that copper? You have withheld my money bag from me in enemy territory; it is now up to you to restore (my money) to me in full. Take cognizance that (from now on) I will not accept here any copper from you that is not of fine quality. I shall (from now on) select and take the ingots individually in my own yard, and I shall exercise against you my right of rejection because you have treated me with contempt.

Thursday, July 5, 2018

Museum under fire over decaying artifacts

An increasing number of objects stored by Danish museums are falling apart, a report shows. The acceleration of mold and decay is blamed on "changing climate patterns" (Stephen Gadd, "National Museum under fire over decaying artefacts Sub-standard storage facilities a problem for Denmark’s museums" July 5, 2018).
Storage facilities are often old building such as redundant schools, cellars, lofts or barns that don’t have air conditioning systems installed to control damp and temperature. A note from the Danish national auditor, Rigsrevisionen, reveals that around 1,000 historical arteficts have been thrown away by Denmark’s National Museum due to damage from mold, rats or insects, reports DR Nyheder. The report goes on to criticise the museum for not solving its storage problems, despite them being pointed out as long ago as 2007.
It has been suggested that none of the lost items were particularly irreplaceable from a historical or cultural point of view, the objects "deaccessioned" were things that are very well represented in collections already. The problem, of course, is money – or the lack of it for proper care.  There is therefore a risk of further items being lost or damaged before the problem is sorted out. Measures need to be taken by those responsible for museums in that country so that items will not be lost to decay but it will also be easier to locate things needed for exhibitions as they will be know better what they have got and where it is, which seems not to be the case at present.

Why can they not sell what is not needed to collectors to preserve asnd display, rather than keep everything jumbled together in stores that are not fit for the purpose?

Monday, July 2, 2018

Guilt Killing the West from within

Figures from the East Pediment of the Parthenon, exhibited as
part of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum.
(Image source: Andrew Dunn/Wikimedia Commons)
Italian writer Giulio Meotti addresses the problem of the crisis of the West ("Is Guilt Killing the West from Within?"  Gatestone Institute July 1, 2018):
  A "sense of guilt" for colonialism is debasing the West from within, according to Professor Bruce Gilley, and authoritarian regimes such as Iran, Russia, China and Turkey are profiting from this weakness. [...] The cultural elite in the West now seem so haunted by feelings of imperialist guilt that they are no longer confident that our civilization is something to be proud of. [...] The French scholar Shmuel Trigano suggested that this ideology is turning the Westerners into "post-colonial subjects" who no longer believe in their own civilization, but instead what will destroy it: multiculturalism.  
The antiquities we collect are also involved in this existential struggle, the campaign to repatriate cultural artifacts is born of this guilt artifacts taken out of Third World countries for safekeeping in former times are seen now as "thefts" committed by the colonial powers at the time. Not everyone agrees,  Zareer Masani, a historian of Indian origins, writing in the British newspaper The Telegraph, took a different position. It was the colonialists, he said, who had a decisive role in preserving the antiquities of the civilization:
"It was their dedication, often at huge personal sacrifice, that unlocked the wonders of many lost classical civilisations... The fact is that we have no idea what would have become of the world's 'looted' antiquities if they hadn't been preserved in Western collections. Would the treasures of Beijing's Summer palace have survived Mao's Cultural Revolution? Would the Elgin marbles have survived Turkish tour guides chopping off chunks to sell as souvenirs? Would Daesh [ISIS] have spared those Middle Eastern artefacts that survive in European museums?".
This has repercussions, western elites have excused many crimes committed in the name for example of political Islam, as if these were the consequences of our own colonial crimes. In 2015, ISIS destroyed Palmyra, one of the most important cities of the ancient world. But the West watched this cultural destruction passively and nothing was done to stop them.  As was stated by France's most important scholar of Islamism, Gilles Kepel:
Unfortunately, what we are "returning" are not only the colonial artifacts, but our very pride in Western civilization. A new "damnation of the memory" is taking place in our own museums, academia and chattering classes -- and it has deep consequences for our ability to deal with the enemies of civilization. "Postcolonial material provides an important fuel for jihadism." 

Saturday, June 30, 2018

A Moment in Time from a Vanished Life...

A find by the excavators at the Isola Sacra necropolis - a toddler’s footprint in an ancient Roman roof tile. You can imagine the children playing in the workshop and running across the wet clay tiles while their parents shout at them! This is the appeal of collecting antiquities, a moment in time frozen in tangible form for eternity.

Moslem Egypt Shuns its Ancient History

Mohammed Nosseir  a liberal politician from Egypt, is a strong advocate of political participation and economic freedom. He has written an important article acknowledging the truth about the capabilities of the Egyptians to look after the heritage of their land ('Egypt will pay a steep price for shunning its ancient history', Arab News June 29, 2018)
Egypt possesses millions of highly valuable and universally admired artifacts, and has always had a smuggling problem. The current tendency to favor government megaprojects while overlooking the importance of ancient Egyptian antiquities to the development of our country has encouraged many to engage in the illicit trafficking of antiquities, a practice that has been increasing substantially, especially in the last few years.  [...] Meanwhile, as it focuses on projects that might help to feed citizens in the future, the government is paying less attention to protecting and promoting our antiquities [...]. Our government has still not provided proper professional management for the astonishing monuments and artifacts built by the pharaohs thousands of years ago — this kind of shunning of our history has prompted several nations to claim that the ancient civilization of the pharaohs does not belong to us. Minimal effort is needed to better protect and promote our ancient history, which could potentially generate billions in revenues. Instead, we have entrusted the management of our most valuable antiquities to a handful of bureaucrats, some of whom are engaged in smuggling. The Egyptian government needs to be extremely firm with antiquities smugglers. This is more a matter of enforcing existing laws than promulgating new ones. Many nations whose antiquities are certainly less valuable than ours are significantly more knowledgeable about the protection and promotion of antiquities than we are. Egypt needs to assign these nations as the caretakers of our antiquities to better display them to international visitors

Friday, June 22, 2018

Who Guards the Guardians?

Museum night watchman from the Archaeological Museum of Santorini in Greece is one of two people charged with stealing/possessing a number of artifacts taken from the museum's storage facility ( Santorini museum guard arrested over stolen artifacts).
Authorities said they found the man in possession of 15 clay pots dating to the 17th century BC that had been discovered at the prehistoric settlement of Akrotiri, as well as three figurines (two stone and one clay) and a crystal glass object from the Sanctuary of Aphrodite in Ancient Thera, among other valuable artifacts. A second person has been arrested in connection with the same case, according to the police, but no details have been released regarding his or her identity or role. An investigation into the suspects’ activities is under way, though the police said that they are believed to have been active for at least a year, stealing valuable objects from the museum’s collection that are not on display and selling them on the illegal antiquities market.