Saturday, March 31, 2012

AIA Young Patrons Treated to Undocumented Coins at ANS

AIA Young Patrons have been treated to a visit of the ANS and its vast collection of ancient coins, which includes hundreds of thousands undocumented coins of the sort the AIA has condemned before the State Department's Cultural Property Advisory Committee. See

The ANS only exists because of the generous contributions of collectors and dealers, though archaeologists associated with the AIA have also condemned them as no better than looters.

Yet, condemning collectors and dealers has not stopped the AIA from profiting from the ANS' wonderful collection of unprovenanced coins.

Hopefully, the more inquisitive of the AIA's young patrons will question the hypocrisy of the the AIA's actions.

Or, perhaps, this experience will be treated as a bit of a "guilty pleasure."

Friday, March 30, 2012

American Digger: Worth A Watch

I watched the first episode of American Digger last evening.

I wonder what all the fuss was about.

It was entertaining. Ric Savage, a former wrestler, has a rather straightforward business plan. Do some research about sites of historic interest. Ask landowners for permission to dig in return for a piece of the action. Look for artifacts. Recover them. Sell them.

In the first episode, Savage and his crew flew up to Alaska. He negotiated a deal with a landowner to explore his property, which was on the site of an old mine. He excavated some old mining equipment and a saw, which he then sold to a local antiques store for $6,000. He then split the proceeds with the landowner, who could use the money to help him build an addition to his house.

Were the artifacts of great historic value? No.

Is the property one where archaeologists were likely to tread? No.

Would the artifacts slowly rust away if Ric did not salvage them? Yes.

Would it have been nice if the artifacts were recorded at a local historical society? Yes, but they are now recorded on video.

What is the big deal?

Let Ric and the boys have some fun, tell us something about American history, and make some money.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

PAS on Tour

Roger Bland of the PAS will be speaking about the PAS and Treasure Act before a number of AIA chapters around the country. See

Given the audience, the lectures will touch not only successes of the system but gaps in the system as far as archaeologists are concerned. See

No system is perfect, but hopefully the AIA grandees will also pause to consider how the system in Britain and Wales compares with the systems (such as they are) in places like Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, and Italy, when it comes to encouraging members of the public to report their finds.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Archaeological Blather Obscures Rational Approaches to Metal Detectors

The archaeological blogosphere has been filled with rather colorful denunciations of metal detecting in response to popular TV shows about the practice in both the US and the UK.

Though metal detecting has been widely popular since the 1970's, apparently some archaeologists still can't accept that reality or perhaps the fact that the devices make it easier for amateurs to encroach on their turf.

There is even some real question whether metal detecting really harms archaeology at all. In the UK at least, most metal detecting takes place on ploughed land, i.e., land where the archaeological context has already been disturbed. Second, though metal detectors are becoming more accurate, most metal detectorists still only excavate items found quite near the surface, i.e., an area that archaeologists would in any event likely dig through on their way to far "juicer" strata below.

The issue of metal detectors is also relevant to the State Department's process for imposing import restrictions on coins. Coins can typically only be found with metal detectors. This begs the question why we are imposing import restrictions on all coins of a given type coming here to the United States when it would be far more effective (and fair) to regulate metal detectors at the source. The CPIA is quite clear that self help measures like effective regulation of metal detectors should be tried first before import restrictions, but the State Department regularly reads this requirement out of the CPIA (as it does with most every other requirement).

What does effective regulation look like?

Look no further than Ireland, Scotland, Britain and Wales.

Ireland has banned the use of the metal detector, and critically it did so before the use of the metal detector took off in that country.

In contrast, Scotland has a common law system of treasure trove and Britain and Wales have statutory requirements of the Treasure Act along with the voluntary Portable Antiquities Scheme.

I much prefer these systems to that of Ireland as they encourage the discovery of coins that would otherwise never be found by archaeologists (who are limited in number and who are only interested in relatively few sites) their recordation into a database accessible to all (in Britain and Wales), and depending on the circumstances, their display in museums or their return to finders who can then sell them to collectors who will cherish them.

Yet, I must acknowledge that the Irish system is at least a coherent one.

And what does ineffective regulation look like?

Look no further than Cyprus and Bulgaria.

Each country has laws on the books that in theory at least limit the use of metal detectors, but in practice they are widely used, often right under the nose of the authorities.

In Cyprus, they even turn a blind eye to British tourists bringing them to the Island on holiday.

And to exacerbate the problem, both countries have few, if any incentives for metal detectorists to report their finds, or any coherent system to record them even if they were reported.

Yet, some archaeologists still hold up such countries as some sort of model.

And what of the United States? Here, our Constitution protects our liberty to exploit our own land, but you would not know that from the AIA's indictment of a popular show on Spike TV. I do think that historical artifacts should at least be recorded, but American archaeologists should work with American detectorists to create a system of voluntary recording, rather than making wild claims about their supposed "rights" to control what people do on their own land based upon their self-appointed status as stewards of the past.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

As Brit-TV Celebrates PAS and Treasure Act, Cranks Come Out to Throw Stones

It's a bit amazing that purportedly serious journalists sometimes take cranks seriously. See

I guess its all about contrast, but if archaeologists like Lord Renfrew have accepted the UK's system as a workable compromise, why give such heed to the ravings of lunatics?

Monday, March 26, 2012

SAFE: Keeping its Own Secrets Safe?

Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) has relaunched its website:

But the snazzy graphics can't hide the fact that the website tells little about who really runs the operation or how it is financed.

There is a ghostly drop down menu under "about us," but it is difficult to access.

After a few tries, I was able to access this page entitled, "Who is Safe?"

And though they state,

"We do not represent or advocate for any particular profession, or academic discipline. We call for open discussions that examine practices and behavior that destroy cultural heritage. We have no “special interest” at stake except for the future of our past."

I beg to differ based on their advocacy program which seems to mark SAFE as merely an adjunct of the AIA.

And who exactly funds SAFE?

Is it solely funded on small donations of individuals, or are there any direct or indirect governmental funders?

An organization that regularly demands transparency from private collectors and dealers should do a better job of providing some basic information about itself.

Friday, March 23, 2012

At least Give Them a Decent Burial

The Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation is apparently advocating reburial for repatriated objects. See ("[I]n other circumstances only an outright return and reburial of artifacts will satisfy the wronged side.")

However, CPO must claim first credit for that proposal in a post dated, April 1, 2009:

But at the time, CPO suggested it as an April Fools' Joke!

Hopefully, the Lawyers' Committee's [serious?] thinking about such a proposal will be revealed on its website, but without more, doesn't this all suggest that as far as the self-identified "preservation community" is concerned, "context" is indeed far more important than preserving artifacts themselves?

But, if so, is it really all about preservation or control?

Asia Society: Collecting Art in the 21st Century

The Art Newspaper has this short piece about this discussion that took place at the Asia Society. See

In addition, the Asia Society website has uploaded the discussion here:

Meanwhile, as politically correct complaints from archaeologists and over regulation from the US Government have put a damper on collecting Asian antiquities here, China has now surpassed the US as the art market leader. See

Both the Obama Administration and the archaeological community should ask themselves if their efforts have done anything other than to move the trade oversees to the detriment of the public interest.

Addendum: Jason Felch has posted this summary of the Asia Society event on the "Chasing Aphrodite" blog:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

PLA Poly's Long March to NY

This invitation was forwarded to me:

You are cordially invited to join us in celebrating the opening of
Poly International Auction’s New York Office
Monday, March 19th, 2012

4:30 - 6:30 pm
The Harvard Club
27 West 44th Street
New York, NY 10036
Please RSVP at
Admittance by invitation only. Business attire requested.
Food and beverages will be served.

This office will for the moment at least seek consignments for Poly auctions in China. But presumably in the not so distant future Poly may decide to auction off Chinese material here. If so, Poly will presumably use its connections at home to secure any necessary export permits -- something that no doubt will be much harder-- if not impossible-- for its US competitors to secure.

More evidence that the State Department's MOU with China and CBP's import restrictions on a wide variety of Chinese cultural goods have done nothing but provide connected Chinese auction houses with a competitive advantage against US based auction houses.

Poly International Auctions was formed by officers of the Chinese People's Liberation Army.

For more, see

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

An Archaeologist in Every Backyard?

From the looks of it, the archaeological establishment wants an archaeologist in every backyard to make sure you are not excavating anything of historical value on your own land: See

The Spike TV show "American Digger" takes place on private land, but that is of little moment to Susan Gillespie, an associate professor of anthropology at the University of Florida. She is quoted as stating:

“Our main issue is that these shows promote the destruction and selling of artifacts which are part of our cultural heritage and patrimony.”

But Spike TV's star, Ric Savage, counters that,

“I’ve been a digger my whole life,” he said in a telephone interview on Monday. “But I never had the funds to get the right kind of detector or the time to go out and do it.” After he retired from wrestling more than a decade ago, he devoted himself to digging.

“When you find something of value and hold it in your hands, that’s what it’s all about for me,” he said. “It’s about touching history. You can read or watch history, but the only way you can touch or feel it is to dig it out of the ground.”

That’s about what the anthropologists and archaeologists would say as well. They just argue that this sort of entrepreneurial artifact hunting is antithetical to the more straightforward goal of preserving the past. And also that shows like this could, as Dr. Gillespie put it, “encourage people to dig not on private property” but on federal land, battlefields and American Indian burial grounds.

Mr. Savage said he avoided such areas. He seeks out private property, makes a deal with an owner to, say, dig up his yard or pool, and split with him the proceeds from the finds.
Before any dig takes place, his team, led by his wife, Rita Savage, researches the historical record of an area, compares period maps with contemporary maps and makes a guess about sites where something of value might be found.

That value is mainly derived from what private collectors might pay. For example, Mr. Savage, a Civil War buff, said that buttons from Confederate uniforms are so plentiful that museums have boxes of them that they no longer bother to put on display. But a private collector might still pay him several thousand dollars.

Is the archaeological establishment's campaign really about preserving artifacts or is it instead motivated by snobbery, self-promotion and a desire for control?

Perhaps Spike TV should start its own campaign: Archaeologists: NIMBY! And, of course, use the controversy to increase buzz and ratings.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

More Evidence 1970 No Safe Harbor

Turkey's demand that the Met return artifacts from a collection formed as far back as the 1960's again demonstrates that 1970 is no safe harbor for museums as the AIA claimed to induce the AAMD to accept a 1970 provenance rule for new acquistions. See

Will the AIA support the AAMD or Turkey in this dispute?

Monday, March 19, 2012

As WikiLeak Diversion Continues, Greece Faces Meltdown

The proposed Wikileak vigilante effort to reclaim lost antiquities for Greece and Italy must be considered a diversion compared to the meltdown facing Greece's cultural establishment. See

The sad thing is that archaeologists seem as out of touch as ever. They are apparently hoping that a poster campaign will stave off massive budget cuts.

What is actually needed is a dose of reality and recognition that conservation can no longer be associated with control by the bankrupt Greek state. Turkey has finally recognized that not all artifacts should be in museums; it's okay to sell duplicates. Greece should do the same.

It's also interesting to note that Jack Davis, director of the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, argues that collectors in the Middle East and China are the real drivers of any looting.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Harvard Protects its Own?

This is how the AIA has described the public testimony of Prof. Carmen Arnold-Biucchi of Harvard at January's CPAC meeting:

"Carmen Arnold-Biucchi, representing the Harvard Art Museums, noted that she was not arguing against collecting coins, but that the looting on the island was now such a problem that extraordinary steps must be taken to combat the loss of knowledge that comes when coins are taken out of context."

Professor Biucchi's and Harvard's appearance at this CPAC meeting was unexpected. The Harvard Coin Collection has been the beneficiary of money and donations from both dealers and serious collectors, and it contains thousands of unprovenanced coins of the sort Arnold-Biucchi apparently now condemns.

Interestingly, Nicholas Burns, the former Undersecretary of State who apparently ordered import restrictions on Cypriot coins over CPAC's objections as a "thank you" to Cypriot advocacy groups who had given him an award is now a professor of "good government" at Harvard.

Why did Harvard and Arnold-Biucchi now decide to provide vocal support for import restrictions on Cypriot coins? Was it done to help protect Nicholas Burns' reputation?

State Department Indirectly Funding Testimony in Support of Cyprus MOU?

The AIA and archaeo-bloggers are highlighting the fact "[O]ver a dozen experts – former diplomats, scholars, field archaeologists, art historians – testified in the public hearing before the Committee on January 18 (many more submitted letters to the public file at"

Left unstated was the fact that some 77% of the public comment recorded on the regulations. gov website was either opposed to the extension of the MOU or import restrictions on coins.

Also left unstated was the fact that the President of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute ("CAARI") let it slip that his organization receives State Department funding. That, of course, raises the possibility that US tax dollars are at least indirectly supporting testimony in front of a State Department body in support of import restrictions.

There is a larger question of who or what entity is paying for all the travel costs associated with the cumulative testimony from multiple witnesses representing the same organisations-- CAARI and AIA?

The individuals themselves? If so, I applaud their personal commitment to their cause.

Their Universities? If so, as a parent or student I would be concerned that my tuition dollars are being misused.

The AIA? If so, that would be more understandable, but it does raise other questions about the use of not for profit dollars to lobby on behalf of foreign governments.

The State Department through CAARI? If so, this would raise serious questions indeed.

Selective Memory

Months after the fact, the AIA has produced this highly selective and rather condescending account of what happened at the CPAC meeting to discuss the renewal of the current MOU with Cyprus.

For a far more complete and hence accurate summary, see my own here:

Addendum (4/20/12): Archaeo-Bloggers David Gill (Suffolk University) and Nathan Elkins (Baylor University) have publicised the AIA's summary of the CPAC Meeting on Cyprus, but have so far refused to post my comment linking my own far more complete report. Do Suffolk and Baylor support such efforts to suppress alternate views? Is that what Universities are about?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Questions About Provenance of WikiLoot Documents Remain

Jason Felch has now responded to my request for details about the provenance of his WikiLoot archive as follows:

As with our reporting for the LA Times and in Chasing Aphrodite, our information was obtained from a wide variety of sources over several years of reporting. Some of it is public record and has come to light through various court cases. Some comes from sources who have asked to remain confidential. Our hope is that users may eventually contribute additional information to the project to expand its reach.

My suggestion would be that to the extent WikiLoot uploads information on the web, it identifies its specific source, and only if necessary states that the source is "confidential."

Why is this necessary?

Simply, not all documentary evidence has the same evidentary value. One would hope the WikiLoot agrees, particularly because of the proposal as now framed carries with it the danger of provoking a "witch hunt."


I note Jason Felch posted this on his WikiLeak Facebook page in response to my questions:

Jason Felch
2:15pm Mar 16
I like your suggestion, Peter. Attribution of sources is an important part of journalism.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Questions About Provenance of WikiLoot Documents “Silly”?

“Chasing Aphrodite” author Jason Felch has called my questions about the provenance of the source documents for his “WikiLoot” project “silly.” But are they?

Specifically, I asked Mr. Felch on his “Chasing Aphrodite” blog:

“What is the source of these documents? Were they released legally or leaked unofficially? There would be some considerable irony if you are going to hunt looted material with “looted” documents. If the latter, shouldn't the NSPA apply?”

He responded:

“Your crack about nspa and "looted" documents is silly. I know you're used to fighting for your cause in the trenches, but hope you have more constructive thoughts to contribute about WikiLoot soon. We're open to them.”


Yet, Mr. Felch strongly made the point at a recent talk in Washington, D.C., that museums holding artifacts illicitly excavated under Italian or Greek law were holding stolen goods and were subject to potential prosecution by the US Department of Justice under the National Stolen Property Act.


Moreover, the “Chasing Aphrodite” blog has discussed Professor Urice’s article on the subject.


Why wouldn’t the same analysis apply to illicitly obtained Italian and Greek government documents?

WikiLoot is a serious project that deserves some serious questions asked about it. To ask such questions, particularly at the invitation of WikiLoot itself, is not silly.

Help David Take on Goliath

Obviously, I agree with this World Coin News editorial:

I would also note if any of the political appointees in the Obama State Department or US Customs actually studied the issues, they might also question how their agency's actions comport with President Obama's promises to curb over regulation, particularly when it harms small businesses. Are grossly overbroad import restrictions doing anything other than killing off small businesses and discriminating against American collectors compared to their European and Chinese counterparts?

Dave Harper believes ACCG is David, the underdog, in this battle against the bureaucratic Goliath. The latest political news is that President Obama apparently thinks he is an underdog too. Perhaps, that will encourage his political appointees to take a serious and independent look at what the bureaucracy has wrought. At a minimum, Harper's editorial should put world coin collectors on notice-- it's ancient coins today, early modern coins tomorrow.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

PLA Poly Seeks Consignments World-Wide

Poly Auction Co. Ltd. in Beijing—which is the largest art auction house in China, founded by officers of the People’s Liberation Army with strong support from the friends in the PRC government, is seeking consignments for its antiquity and coin auctions.

The front of the card shows several items recently sold at the Poly Auctions in Beijing, including:

A Silver One Dollar Coin (Commemorative) Portrait of Zhang Zuoling,
Early Republic Period, dated 1926
sold for RMB 2,300,000 (US $364,000)

Ancient Han Dynasty Bronze “Guobao jinkui zhiwan” Coin
Xin Mang Period (A.D. 9-23)
sold for RMB 1,150,000 (US $182,000)

Kunlun Bank 50 Liang Silver Ingot
Imperial Qing Dynasty Xuantong era (1908-1912)
sold for RMB 1,150,000 (US $182,000)

Ancient Chinese Bronze “Qing Yang” Mirror
Eastern Han Dynasty – Three Kingdoms Period, A.D. Late 2nd-3rd Century
sold for RMB 5,175,000 (US $819,000)

The purpose of this mailing, distributed throughout China, Asia and around the world, is to solicit property for sale in Poly Art Auctions in Beijing in Spring 2012.

Is the State Department’s MOU and import restrictions on wide ranges of Chinese cultural goods doing anything other than providing "connected" Chinese auction houses with a major competitive advantage over their US competitors?

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

High Tech Witch Hunt?

The authors of Chasing Aphrodite have now embarked on a new plan. Apparently, they hope to put out documentation received from Italian and Greek law enforcement onto the web, and then rely on activists to play the part of vigilantes in identifying looted material on the market and in museums. See

I agree with the following comment on their blog:

Elizabeth Marlowe March 12, 2012 at 6:33 pm Reply

Has the photo archive been made available to the museums, dealers and auction houses yet? The ‘gotcha’ approach of this project seems unnecessarily antagonistic. If the goal is to embarrass museums, then yes, let members of the public catch them with their pants down. But if the goal is to track down as many of the pieces in the Medici archive as possible, then wouldn’t it be more productive to let the museums check the archives against their own inventories and come clean first? And THEN post the photos of whatever pieces still haven’t been located?

I would also note that this project presumably blurs the lines between investigative journalism and activism. But that is more an issue of journalistic ethics than cultural property law.

If It's Good Enough for Lord Renfrew...

Roger Bland's paper in the ABA Art & Cultural Heritage Law newsletter notes that eminent archaeologist Lord Renfrew of Kaimsthorn currently chairs the Treasure Act's valuation committee.

Lord Renfrew's engagement with the Treasure Act reflects the fact that archaeologists in the UK have largely made peace with metal detectorists.

Yet, vehement critics of the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme remain within the archaeological community, though mostly in the United States and Poland, apparently. Perhaps they should mind their own business.

Monday, March 12, 2012

CPAC To Meet

The Federal Register reports that the Cultural Property Advisory Committee will meet to discuss renewals of current MOU's with Guatemala and Mali, and to conduct further discussion in secret about a request from Bulgaria. See

Archaeo-blogger Rick St. Hilaire's post about the upcoming meeting seeks to portray the secrecy and culture creep that has marked the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs'administration of the CPIA as both necessary and consistent with the statutory mandate. See

However, others-- including several former CPAC members-- have questioned this, most recently during a public forum on Capitol Hill. See

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Half-Truths from a Self-Styled "Cultural Heritage Lawyer?"

Self-styled "Cultural Heritage Lawyer" and past SAFE VP/ New Hampshire Prosecutor Rick St. Hilaire thinks that more people should go to jail for "crimes against cultural property." As evidence, St. Hilaire notes that while CBP reports some 2,500 artifacts have been seized and returned to their supposed countries of origin, actual criminal prosecutions are few. See

Yet, St. Hilaire is wrong to assume that any artifact seized by Customs "must be looted." Instead, as I noted in a comment to his blog that he has so far refused to publish:

You might also note that much, if not most, of the material seized and returned is abandoned by the importer. You assume it is because it is looted; in actuality it may very well be because the litigation costs of fighting CBP greatly exceed the value of the artifact. As for the lack of prosecutions, that likely has to do with the fact that the Government cannot show criminal intent. Thankfully, that is still required despite efforts of archaeological fanatics to diminish this bedrock protection of American law.

And if anything, three knowledgeable practitioners confirmed at a DC Bar program I just attended, entitled "What Every Lawyer Needs to Know About Customs and Customs Law 2012," that CBP's modus operandi is all too often to seize all sorts of things for the slimmest of reasons (mostly for supposed "trade mark" or drug importation violations), confident in the knowledge that it is often not worth the trouble to fight to get them back.

This is a national disgrace that has much to do with CBP's change in focus from a "revenue collecting agency" under Treasury to a "national security agency" under Homeland Security. As such, statistics on repatriations are nothing CBP should be bragging about, let alone being used to support a claim that more criminal prosecutions are warranted.

Addendum (3-9-12): Apparently Mr. St. Hilaire is so threatened by alternate views that he has now disabled comments to his blog. He has also deleted an automatic link to this blog, but has retained a link that of fellow archaeo-blogger Paul Barford's work. Talk about half-truths! This is a major problem with the approach of the archaeological community and their supporters to this discussion. All too often they consider their own "archaeology over all" world view as the only legitimate one and seek to suppress the views of others, particularly those representing so-called "commercial interests." But isn't this just archaeological snobbery?

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

The Future of Recording the Past in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the United States

On October 12, 2011, the American Bar Association International Law Section and its Art and Cultural Heritage Law Committee sponsored a panel about the law of finds in England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland and the United States for ABA members attending a fall meeting in Dublin:Program Chair and Speaker: Patty Gerstenblith, DePaul University College of Law.Program Chair and Moderator: Peter K. Tompa, Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC.Speakers:Roger Bland , British Museum.Stuart Campbell, Treasure Trove Unit, Scottish National Heritage.Eamonn Kelly, Irish National Heritage. The panel brought together these experts to consider the benefits and disadvantages of the systems in each of these countries, the policy goals fostered by each, and the effect the current economic crisis on the implementation of these different systems.

Eamonn Kelly (“EK”) spoke first about Irish law. After Independence the new Irish Republic looked to recognized experts to help formulate policy towards finds of archaeological artifacts. In 1928 a Government Select Committee under the chairmanship of Nils Litberg, (a Swedish ethnologist and museum director), began looking at these issues. Based on the Select Committee’s recommendations, the Irish Republic passed a Monuments Law in 1930 that regulated, by license, the excavation, export and conservation of archaeological objects and required that the finding of archaeological objects be reported to the National Museum.

Subsequent legislation dating from 1994 made it illegal to be in possession of an unreported archaeological object or to trade in unreported antiquities. Unreported antiquities could be seized as State property. There is broad consensus in Ireland that newly found archaeological objects should be treated as State property and that finders should receive discretionary awards. Irish maintain a direct connection to their land and their ancestors that helps make looting taboo.

Patty Gerstenblith (“PG”) spoke next about American law. PG explained that there is a division of responsibility between the federal and state governments. The federal government regulates federally-owned and controlled lands, including Native American tribal lands, and also controls interstate and international commerce in archaeological resources. In contrast, State governments maintain responsibility for state-owned and controlled lands.

The federal government owns approximately 30 percent of the landmass in the United States. State and local governments indirectly control activity on private land, in part through zoning and other land-use regulations, but archaeological resources located on private land remain largely unregulated. Most federal government landholdings are in the West, which means that this land receives more protections than the land in the Eastern part of the country.

The Constitution's “takings clause” limits the ability of state and federal governments to protect archaeological artifacts on private land. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (“NAGPRA”) generally precludes the removal of Native American artifacts from federal land. The Archaeological Resources Protection Act (“ARPA”) also governs removal of artifacts from federal land. Most states have equivalents of each statute.

Stuart Campbell (“SC”) next discussed Scottish law. The Scots have retained common law treasure trove. Treasure trove derives from medieval law. Awarding found treasure to the King was a way to add money to the treasury. The concept is similar to an intestate estate going to the crown. Over time, rewards were offered to finders. Today, Scotland offers fair market awards to finders who comply with the law. The weakness of common law is its lack of definition. However, this lack of definition also allows for flexibility. Any system needs public buy-in making it essential to offer awards. The general public typically views illicit excavation as being no worse than a traffic violation. Over time, public education can make people change behavior. For example, drunk driving is no longer publicly acceptable. There are only about 400 metal detectorists in Scotland. In contrast, there are approximately 10,000 in England and Wales. Accordingly, Scottish officials have to deal with fewer finds and fewer problems than their English and Welsh counterparts.

Roger Bland (“RB”) spoke last about English and Welsh law. The Treasure Act mandates that most significant metal detector finds be reported. If the state decides to keep the find, it must pay a fair market reward. Many finds (typically of ancient coins) are returned to the finder. There are approximately 20,000 protected sites in the United Kingdom that are off limits to metal detectorists. There has been a significant increase in reported finds since the Treasure Act went into effect in 1996. There also is a voluntary “Portable Antiquities Scheme” (“PAS”) which encourages finders to report artifacts not subject to mandatory reporting under the Treasure Act. A recent significant find is the Stratfordshire Hoard of Anglo-Saxon artifacts. Gaps in the law get addressed when the Treasure Act is reviewed every five (5) years. There was a recent controversy about the Crosby Garrett Roman Parade Helmet. Because it did not fit the legal definition of “treasure,” it was auctioned off. However, PAS recorded its find spot.

Question and Answer Period

EK noted that the Irish sought to distance themselves from the British system when they sought advice from experts in archaeology. There was already a regulatory system in place before the advent of the metal detector. The Irish feel close to the land of their ancestors so looting is rare. Moreover, unlike England, most Irish land is not plough land but pasture land, which is much more difficult to dig.

Tight government spending has impacted the Irish, Scots, English and Welsh. The popularity of PAS and the Treasure Act has meant that its funding has been preserved. However, it has become more difficult to raise money to pay a fair market rewards so that artifacts can be kept in museums. RB still believes that no important finds covered under the Treasure Act have been returned to the finder for lack of funds. It’s harder to attract interest in less significant finds of coins and these often are returned to the finder. In Ireland, there has been a fall off in construction projects and hence rescue archaeology funded by developers.

EK, SC and RB discussed their favorite finds. EK described a 4th Century burial of a trader of African origin who lived among the Irish. SC described a find of antique toys. This find was not valuable but nevertheless was a touching reminder of children who lived long ago. RB mentioned both the Stratfordshire Hoard of Anglo Saxon artifacts and the immense Fromme hoard of late Roman coins. The Fromme Hoard contained rare issues of Usurper Emperors who controlled Roman Britain. Careful excavation of the pot containing the hoard has led to a reevaluation of such hoards as votive deposits.

Papers from this conference have been just posted here under "Winter 2012 Newsletter":

Monday, March 5, 2012

A Useful Diversion?

The archaeo-blogger world is on fire over news of a bust of an alleged antiquities smuggling ring in Greece. See

Yet, it should not be lost on anyone that the alleged ringleader of the smuggling operation is a retired customs official and that municipal workers count amongst his alleged accomplices.

The Greek cultural establishment has been harshly criticised in the wake of thefts from the museum at Olympia. That establishment will no doubt promote these arrests as a diversion from its ongoing funding woes, but this news should not be used as an excuse not to consider a real liberalization of Greece's draconian laws on the subject.

There was never enough money to properly preserve Greece's cultural patrimony even when times were good. Now, there is even less. Yet, the Greek state still insists on claiming title to everything and anything old, even artifacts found on private property.

Greece is certainly entitled to enforce its own laws, but I'm afraid this news will be just another excuse for more of the same rather than a major rethink as to whether Greece's draconian laws really help save the past or only encourage smuggling and public corruption.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Snob Appeal

The AIA has put American metal detectorists in its sights with its protest of two new TV shows, “Diggers” and “American Digger,” on the National Geographic Channel and Spike TV. See

Instead of acting like archaeological snobs, why doesn’t the AIA take a more positive approach and work with the show’s producers to encourage American metal detectorists to properly record their finds and share any significant information they find with the archaeological community?

The AIA might not like it, but with some very limited exceptions, people can do pretty much what they want on their own private land. It’s the American way.