Sunday, 25 June 2017

Seller Sayles Demands 1417 Methods of Dealing with Art Traffickers

This is how they dealt with things in 1417
Dealer Wayne Sales has a go at the participants of the hearing on The Exploitation of Cultural Property: Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade" in the US House of Representatives. He calls it 'A Sad Day for America' (Ancient Coin Collecting, Friday June 23, 2017) and takes a tub-thumping populist stance:
it may say something about the very nature of representative government and who is actually represented versus who the electorate is. The three bureaucrats testifiying before Congress in this hearing presented one point of view. They [...] essentially blamed that loss on private ownership [of artefacts].
Well, no they do not. They place the blame on the business methods of the antiquities trade, the trade which Sayles is part of and party to. The blame is on the dealers who fail to take adequate steps to avoid trade with illicit sources - "traffickers". It may be argued that if all dealers and collectors took these steps, there could be a substantial reduction in trafficking. Sayles wants to see the blame placed on those no-good foreigners:
Nobody in the room talked about the failure of law enforcement worldwide to stop "trafficking". [...] Academia and Bureaucracy have no actual control over foreign governments, so they turn their attack instead toward the innocent who are blameless. [...] The failure of governments and law enforcement in foreign lands to eliminate looting and wanton destruction has become a harpoon in the side of law abiding Americans who love the past.
I really do not see any dealer or collector who buys portable antiquities on today's contaminated market without ensuring that the items they handle have documentation of licit origins as in any way 'blameless'. On the contrary, it is precisely this no-questions-asked approach which is responsible for the ease with which freshly surfaced objects of illicit origin (stolen, looted, faked or smuggled) can be monetised by being clandestinely slipped onto the undiscriminating market. The no-questions-asked approach is to be directly lamed for the existence of a market for illicit antiquities. That is a fact that must be obvious to all (it seems) except excessively unreflexive people like Mr Sayles. He whinges on:
How is any buyer in an international market able to distinguish between an object recirculating in a vibrant and venerable trade from one stolen yesterday? That is not the "buyer's" job, it is the role of law enforcement [...]

No, it is a function of the market's functioning based on verifiable evidence of the legitimacy of each object surfacing on it. If no verifiable evidence is available that an object is of licit origins (even in the 'absence of direct information that it is not'), that object cannot be acquired - because due diligence cannot be applied. This means producing a proper and verifiable collecting history on any object offered for sale by a reputable (repute-worthy) dealer, even in the case of so-called minor antiquities. This is the only reasonable response to the recent flooding of the international market by the products of cultural crimes such as theft, looting, falsification and smuggling.   Relying on a 'gut-feeling' that an object 'does not look like a freshly dug antiquity' is quite obviously not enough. In such a situation as the contaminated market of the 21st century, the burden of proof that something is licit quite clearly remains with the seller.

Henry V - king of England 1414-1422,
not known to have collected coins
Who gives a tinkers how long people have been collecting antiquities in the same way as '600 years ago'? This is the pathetically weak justification of the dealers today - they want to carry on doing things like it was still 1417. I doubt there are many other professions (apart from thatchers, fletchers and coracle builders) who'll use the same kind of argument. Yet the whinging goes on:
What those few elected representatives in Congress present did not hear [...] was the six-hundred-year-old story of how private collectors of antiquities have saved countless objects from loss through physical destruction for intrinsic metal value (for example, melting down silver and gold coins) or the countless museums worldwide that are populated with cultural property donated by private collectors. Why was that perspective not made clear? [...] The actual truth is that private collectors do far more to save the past than the loose-lipped academics ever dreamed of doing.
Mr Sayles needs to take a deep breath and a step back to reflect that the topic of the meeting was not 'antiques and antiquities in culture today', but specifically Collection-driven Exploitation of cultural property, and specifically, 'Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade'. Collection-driven exploitation of historical sites destroys culture. Rows of headless buddhas, the sources of the loose heads in many a western 'art' gallery, are just one expression of this. Dug-over sites which produce the type of metal artefacts Mr Sayles sells are another.

Dealer held "98% of objects without supporting documents": Sentenced in France

A 49-year old French collector-turned dealer sold 'archaeological objects of doubtful provenance' and remains of protected animal species on the Internet  between February 2013 and January 2017 in  Tanneron, near Draguignan in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur region, in southeastern France (G. D. , 'Il vendait des objets d'archéologie de provenance douteuse et des restes d'espèces animales protégées sur Internet' Varmatin 23/06/2017). Since he was unable to produce documentation of licit origins of the objects he stocked and sold, he got an eight months suspended sentence and fined 30,000 € for the possession, importation and sale on Internet of objects of archaeological interest and protected animal species. The authorities seized from his home a group of twelve thousand objects.
L'affaire est partie d'une plainte de la Direction Régionale des Affaires Culturelles (DRAC), qui a constaté sur son site la mise en vente de diverses pièces, principalement des lampes à huile, provenant d'un site de fouilles archéologiques, dans un centre antique des Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, propriété de l'État, classée au titre des monuments historiques.
The dealer, M. Laurent sold a large quantity of archaeological objects (such as Gallic coins) that could have come from unauthorized excavations. There were also gold rings and other metal objects. His house had been searched in February 2016 and all suspect objects were seized then, but a second search last January showed that Laurent, despite being under investigation, had continued his activity. New seizures were made, bringing the number of objects seized to twelve thousand. The dealer was unable to produce evidence that the objects he had were legally obtained.

Pour justifier le fait qu'il n'avait pas été en mesure de produire les attestations de légalité, qu'il aurait dû exiger de la part des personnes auxquelles il avait acheté ces pièces, Laurent a expliqué qu'il se les était procurées auprès de professionnels reconnus, en toute confiance.
Yep, we know this one, in order to justify the fact that he had not been able to produce the certificates of legality which he should have required from the persons from whom he had bought these documents, Laurent explained that he had procured them from recognized professionals, in whom he had full confidence. But of course the court saw this matter differently and declared it unprofessional:
Insuffisant de la part d'un vendeur professionnel, a estimé le tribunal. Tout comme l'absence d'un livre de police, d'un livre d'achats et de recettes, d'un registre de vente d'or et d'autorisations douanières pour des objets du néolithique et du précolombien qu'il importait des États-Unis. Laurent n'a pas non plus pu présenter au tribunal les factures de ses acquisitions, ce qui a conduit le procureur Michael Darras à remarquer : "En fait vous détenez 98 % d'objets sans justificatifs." Impossible dès lors de prouver que les objets qu'il vendait n'étaient pas d'origine frauduleuse.
His defence lawyer, Mr. Ludovic Serée de Roch, used the tired old argument that while Monsieur Laurent had lacked rigour, especially from an accounting point of view, 'que des milliers d'objets circulaient en France depuis des siècles, dont on était incapable de justifier la provenance'. For him, his client was an accidental victim of a "complaint on principle" filed by the Drac, to counter international trafficking. According to him, the case is flawed because the authorities had not been able to give a precise place of origin for the objects in dispute, and the investigation had therefore been insufficient. He is planning to appeal this judgment.

In addition to objects of doubtful origin, this same dealer also handled trophies of animal species (such as a monkey skull and  jaws of the Nile crocodile) protected by the Washington Convention.

Hat tip, David Knell

Saturday, 24 June 2017

International Art Market Helps Finance Terrorism, Experts Tell Congress

In the US, Officials from the State Department, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Smithsonian testified before the House Financial Services’s Terrorism and Illicit Finance Sub-Committee on Friday morning at a hearing dedicated to  'The Exploitation of Cultural Property: Examining Illicit Activity in the Antiquities and Art Trade' (Leo Doran, 'International Art Market Helps Finance Terrorism, Experts Tell Congress' Inside sources, June 24, 2017.
Knowingly or unknowingly, super-wealthy art collectors in the United States and Western Europe are propping up terrorist groups like Al-Qaeda and ISIS through the purchase of looted cultural artifacts from war zones. The challenge for law-enforcement, customs officials, and art dealers is the opaque nature of the international art market. The longstanding problem of black and grey-market transactions among dealers and collectors famously led one critic, Robert Hughes, to declare “apart from drugs, art is the biggest unregulated market in the world.”
Brian Daniels, of the Smithsonian Institution and one of the expert witnesses invited to testify, added more details of hos the trade operates, including adding:
Indonesia, Thailand Singapore
experts have a rough sense of the path the stolen goods take before eventually ending up in private and public collections. Daniels testified that to his knowledge, most stolen art goods make their way to Southeast Asia, in countries like Indonesia, Thailand, or Singapore, before being distributed back to major art-trading centers like the U.S., Europe, China, and the Gulf States. Of particular concern to experts like Daniels is increasing cooperation between organized crime in Western countries and terrorist-linked smugglers. He noted an uptick in looting of archeological sites in Libya, which are then transferred to Europe through powerful organized crime syndicates like the ‘Ndrangheta in Southern Italy. The ‘Ndrangheta, or the Calabrian cousin of the Sicilian mafia, is the primary supplier of hard drugs like cocaine and heroin to most of continental Europe. The difficulty for art dealers is that without proper documentation explaining an object’s provenance, it is often extremely difficult to tell whether an object is being sold legally or illegally. 
So they handle it anyway. It seems that here is the crux of the matter. Dealers habitually ignore the risk (with no threat to their 'reputation'), instead of being sensitive to it. They cannot be bothered to obtain documentation of licit origins, as it is irrelevant to their purpose.
Further complicating the situation is a culture of secrecy that pervades the art world, which has, by tradition, awarded extraordinary privacy to buyers and sellers trading artworks at auction. Top auction houses, like Sotheby’s in the 1990’s have been accused of turning a blind eye to illegally stolen artworks and artifacts in order to pocket healthy commission fees
Law enforcement official Raymond Villanueva of the Homeland Security Department was another witness on the panel and 'highlighted a joint operation, Hidden Idols, which recently took down an art-crime ring in New York that was attempting to sell artifacts at Christie’s. Hmm, that's not the entire truth. The US only started an investigation into the gallery involved, operating openly under their noses for two decades, when the US dealer was arrested in Germany (reportedly after a tip-off by a jilted ex-girlfriend) and extradited to India, forcing the hand of the US authorities.
The panel also touched at times on instances of domestic art smuggling—in particular from traditional Native American burial grounds. Like the international crime rings, the experts indicated that they believe that the domestic illegal art trade is also often linked to organized drug trafficking, particularly in methamphetamine. 
The key point:
Unless they receive far more serious cooperation from the art community, the experts did not seem particularly optimistic that the illegal trade will be significantly curtailed in the near future.
And there would be no incentive for that collaboration if dealers and collectors had good grounds for a fear that is illicit sources were excluded, the market would cease to expand and dry up. Do they? 

The Dealer and the Heritage Debate

Hans Memling, a man
with an earnest expression
 and silly hat holds an
archaeological artefact
'What happened to the Debate?' asks a US dealer and activist for the no-quewstions-asked antiquities trade. He thinks that the reason for there being a lack of debate is the fault of cultural property professionals:
After founding the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild in 2004, I started attending U.S. State Department hearings of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) in Washington DC.  My intention was to establish a dialogue with Archaeologists who opposed the 600-year tradition of private ownership of ancient coins and members of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs that was then becoming proactive in adding ancient coins to designated lists of material restricted from importation into the United States. 
Really? What kind of a 'dialogue' would that be, and about what? I would say that by authoring and publishing an article called 'Archaeology, a wolf in sheep\'s clothing' Sayles hardly made a start in establishing his credentials as somebody members of the discipline would want to talk with, and does nothing to show that he actually understands the point archaeologists are making - and without that understanding there is no debate.

The problem is that the CPAC is not in any way engaged in debating (still less opposed to)  'the 600-year tradition of private ownership of ancient coins'  (since 1404). That statement shows a clear misunderstanding about the role of the CPAC and the CCPIA.

As for the adding of ancient coins 'to designated lists of material restricted from importation into the United States', again the narrow focus of the dealer distorts his view of what the CCPIA does. Ancient coins are just as much archaeological artefacts as glass beads, bronze fibulae and all the rest when it comes to the pillaging of the cultural heritage of the country concerned. No manner of weak self-serving arguments conjured up by the coineys to suggest they and the things they collect are in any way 'exceptional;' will hold water.  Burt the very fact that they expect them to immediately makes them a tiresome partner in any form of debate ("yes, everybody else should follow the rules, of course, but not us"). They then go from that to calling into question what exactly US lawmakers really deep down in the back of their consciences had in mind when they wrote the CCPIA.

In fact, the CCPIA is only about undocumented artefacts/cultural property. It establishes the need to have documentation of the licit origins of items a dealer wants to import into the US. In true Disney-bred fashion, the requirements are not in fact onerous. But even for the no-questions-asked dealers Sayles represents, this is too much bother.

But then where is the debate? The CCPIA sets out a procedure for importing certain items into teh US, ACCG challenge this. Tha arguments are rather like the Russian delegation to a meeting to discuss the principles of exploiting mining minerals from the Moon demanding recognition of their claim to be exempt from the treaty because "Russian astronmers discovered the Moon in 1404".

Sayles quotes an anecdote which to his mind epitomises the arrogance of the professionals:

I had in fact sent a formal letter to Prof. Jane Waldbaum, then president of the Archaeological Institute of America, suggesting that our respective organizations had common interests and might explore areas of potential cooperation.  [...]  I never did receive a reply (in retrospect, no great surprise).  At one of the CPAC meetings about six months later, while waiting in the lobby for clearance to enter, I happened to recognize Professor Waldbaum standing alone in the room.  I walked over and introduced myself.  I mentioned that I had recently sent her a letter and wondered if she had received it.  She looked me straight in the eye and said "yes", then without another word, turned and walked away.  At that point, I had a pretty clear indication where we were headed. [...] I had by that time become fairly well recognized in the field of Numismatics as an author, publisher and collector advocate.  She knew very well who I was and who I represented. 

Indeed, and probably recognized that there was nothing she wanted to say to this impudent little man. We do not know which areas Sayles had presented the idea that his dealers' lobbying group shared any 'interests' with the AIA. Obviously it was not all that convincing - my guess is that it contained a reference to a 600-year tradition of doing it like in the fifteenth century, and this is in some way supposed to convince an upstart discipline like archaeology (though they are all wolves in sheep's clothing) that it is worth discussing things with the loony fringe of coin fondling.

I would say that what the story indicates is the arrogance of the dealers and their lobby, demanding exemption from measures to clean up the antiquities trade because they are in some undefinably unique way special, and also 'interested in the past (like archaeologists)'. that's a pretty pathetic arguing point - especially when it is intended to cut across and trump all other arguments about why we should clean up the antiquities market.

There is one area of potential co-operation from coin dealers and coin collectors which would interest us, and that involves only handling items with the documentation required to show individual items are of licit origins. No other offers of help or 'friendly advice;' from these clowns is needed. Ithink we all need to turn our backs on their whingeing until they actually get round to getting their house in order and cleaned up their corner of the market. When they've shown they can do it, we can co-operate. But co-operation will not be built on us saying: "all right, you lot carry on as if it was still the fifteenth century".

The coin dealers have worked hard to alienate themselves from any discussions of how to bring coin collecting kicking and screaming into the 21st century. Take for example the disgusting way they (Sayles and Tompa included) treated any suggestions by one of their own number, Nathan Elkins. I do not think we have to look very far from an answer to the question posed disingenuously by the ACCG, 'What happened to the debate?'. The ACCG happened to the debate.

Questions for a US Dealer

A US dealer disapprovingly writes of the foreigners:
"The failure of governments and law enforcement in foreign lands to eliminate looting and wanton destruction ..."
Tell us, has your OWN government and law enforcement eliminated it in the US and territories under their control (eg Iraq in 2003)? Is there no wanton destruction of petroglyphs, ancient burial sites and sites producing collectable pots and lithic items in the US? To what do you attribute looting and destruction back at home, and is it in any way different to what happens in other lands driven by the same mechanisms? So how would you deal with it in the US?

Friday, 23 June 2017

Investigating Metal Detecting: Big Funding, No Results Again?

Remember this (PACHI Thursday, 23 June 2016)?
Investigating Metal Detecting: Big Funding, No Results Again?Where is the final document of the Leverhulme Trust funded project 'ThePortable Antiquities Scheme Database as a tool for archaeological research' in which Roger Bland was principal investigator? It was due to finish last year and all we have from it so far is a rather slim and tentative "Guide to Researchers' which says mainly what we already knew.
Still no results published, still no answer to the question. Surely that slim booklet is not the product of a project funded on the scale this one was? Is it?

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Caring for the Archaeological Record?

"Provenance Creations"
Metal Detecting Finds...Transformed! My husband "Chicago Ron" Guinazzo leads metal detecting tours twice a year to England. We met in 2012, and I joined him on these trips. We dig all types of items; coins, tokens, buttons, watch winders, buckles, bells, clothing fasteners, etc. All of the artifacts we find are reported to the British Museum, and exported with proper documentation. I personally research, sort, clean, and polish the artifacts. In designing the jewelry piece, I try to maintain the integrity of the artifact. You are receiving [buying] a real piece of wearable history!
Yes, by stripping, drilling, mounting them on thongs, a tidy profit can be made in Chicago of bits ripped out of the archaeological record of another country. Please, give a link to the records of all of these items 'reported to the British Museum' - do the buyers of Ms Guinazzo's twee jewellery get a certificate giving the PAS numbers and link to that description of what it is in the PAS record? And a copy of the export licence?

So here we have it, detectorists claim indignantly "we ain't in it fer the munny", except when they are. Chicago Ron makes money from Britain's heritage by organizing metal detecting holidays for his paying American pals to go over to England to fill their pockets with artefacts ripped out of sites known-to-be-productive and take them out of the country, his wife takes the things these collectors reject and makes more cash by turning the 'non-collectable' artefacts into tacky trophy jewellery. It's a win-win situation for the artefact coveters, but what loses out is archaeological preservation and the British heritage.

When are these metal detecting holidays organized for legal-innit-looting parties from abroad going to be banned?

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