David Knell's recent comments on this blog raise questions about what it means to be an "ethical collector" as far as the archaeological blogosphere is concerned. I'm not sure whether or not David is an academic or museum professional, but on his informative blog he indicates that his collection of oil lamps was largely formed long ago and suggests that any more recent additions have a provenance back to 1970 as required by recent museum accession rules.
So then,what does an "ethical collection" of ancient coins look like as far as the archaeological blogosphere is concerned?
Would it be limited to coins with a secure pre-1970 provenance? If so, it might have a few high priced Greek coins, but little else-- only very few Greek coins have secure provenances pre-dating 1970 and hardly any Roman coins do.
How about a collection of coins recorded under the PAS and Treasure Act? There would certainly be more material to collect. Such a collection could include a wide variety of Celtic, Roman Imperial and Medieval British issues. On the other hand, it would contain virtually nothing from the Greek world and only a few Roman Republican coins. In any event, would the fact that the coins were recorded under the PAS or Treasure Act make collecting them "ethical" as far as Paul Barford, Nathan Elkins or David Gill would be concerned? CPO doubts it given their qualms with the system in place in Britain and Wales.
How about a collection of unprovenanced coins of the sort widely and openly available in places like Italy, China and Bulgaria? Building such a collection might make sense to the non-archaeologist.
One might ask, "Why shouldn't we be able to buy anything that is freely available for sale in such countries? " And better still, such a collection would certainly include a wide variety of coins, indeed, much of what is collected today in the United States.
But, of course, common sense does not appear to be the primary consideration here, but rather one of "ethics." And what's the problem with "ethics?" Well, ethics is in the eye of the beholder, and it's all too easy to make such ethical rules for others.
And more practically, can one really create an "ethical collection" of ancient coins today that meets the criteria of the archaeological blogosphere and still find anything to collect? Probably not.
Saturday, February 8, 2014
What is Ethical Collecting as Far as the Archaeological Blogosphere is Concerned?
Posted by Cultural Property Observer at 7:01 PM
Labels: Blogging, coin collection, Collectors, Provenance information
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Mr Tompa, you wrote...."Can anyone really create an "ethical collection" of ancient coins today that meets the criteria of the archaeological blogosphere and still find anything to collect? Probably not."
I agree and I am not alone.
There is no reason why any collector should doff his cap to the Ersatz 'ethics' of archaeo-bloggers. Perhaps we pay too much attention to these people, who often say one thing in public and collect another thing in private?
One's first obligation is adherence to the law.
Paul Barford put this on his blog: http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2014/02/thoughts-on-ethical-collection-of-coins.html
It seems more constructive than what I've seen before from him, but also ultimately begs the question if there is room for discussion related to the ACCG guidelines why all the vitriol whenever he discusses the ACCG?
Now, it would be interesting to hear Nathan Elkins' and David Gills' views on the subject. Based on what I've read previously, I would suspect Nathan Elkins might be a bit less concerned with the 1970 date than David Gill.
There is a larger issue, though. Messrs. Barford, Elkins and Gill are obviously obviously very interested in this area, but they certainly don't speak directly for the AIA, which is the organization with real influence with the State Department. Unfortunately, that organization (despite cracks in the wall so to speak-- see below) seems wedded to a 1970 date for "ethical collection" of all archaeological material, an obvious non-starter for coin collectors.
Peter, what constitutes an "ethical collection" is not only down to the AIA. It's down to the general public and to us ourselves. Abiding by the Code of Ethics adopted by the Museums Association was simply my own PERSONAL target. There is nothing to stop other collectors from setting another target.
Someone in the "archaeological blogosphere" praised a Code of Ethics created by other collectors way back in 2009: http://paul-barford.blogspot.co.uk/2009/03/code-of-ethics-for-collectors-of.html
That same person has also drawn attention to the ACCG Code of Ethics: http://www.accg.us/background/ACCGCodeofEthics.aspx
Or a collector can set their own rules.
I've said more than once that the "1970 watershed advocated by the AIA is indeed unrealistic for minor artefacts". Collectors could set another watershed; 1990, 2000 or even 2010 would be better than nothing at all. Again, some people in the "archaeological blogosphere" were sympathetic to that view. I dare say some other people (the AIA and others) never will be - but one thing is for certain ...
Dealers and collectors need to adopt a serious Code of Ethics for its own sake, even if it is only offered as a compromise, regardless of whether it pleases the AIA or not. Continue to arrogantly ignore the rest of society and contribute to wiping out the evidence of their history in a selfish pursuit of your own hobby without even a vague attempt to meet them halfway, and you will end up pissing off not only a few archaeologists but every thinking human being on the planet.
I genuinely DO support private collecting - and I really don't want to see its future wrecked by arrogant intransigence. We're not in 1950 anymore. The world has moved on: http://ancient-heritage.blogspot.co.uk/2011/01/changing-world.html
"It seems more constructive than what I've seen before from him, but also ultimately begs the question if there is room for discussion related to the ACCG guidelines why all the vitriol whenever he discusses the ACCG?"
I suspect the ACCG Code of Ethics would attract less scorn if it was not perceived as merely a deceptive smokescreen, a lip service of high ideals designed to placate the public but in reality without even a hint of concrete proposals on how the ACCG intends to carry out those ideals in practice.
A few less empty words (and a lot less childish attacks on archaeology) and a bit more genuine proactive action might go a long way towards convincing people the ACCG is not just a disingenuous lobby front for dealers fighting to preserve the old thoughtless status quo.
David, thanks for your comments. Wayne Sayles made a genuine effort when he got started to reach out to archaeologists from the AIA about their concerns. The problem is that they wouldn't even talk to him because they've adopted an ideological approach to the issue and quite frankly a snobby attitude to anyone who is not another academic.
Years ago the ACCG also offered to set up a website to help the Afghans track artifacts missing from their museum. This was well received by the Embassy but got no where with the Afghan cultural bureaucracy. Wonder why.
In my view, cultural bureaucracies in countries like Afghanistan, Greece, Cyprus, Italy and China are the real problems. They are more concerned with controlling everything rather than real conservation. This translates to draconian laws that are only applied to foreigners and the little guy. Much better to "protect" only the most important artifacts they can actually take care of.
I'd also note the US museums have basically capitulated to the demands of the AIA and foreign cultural bureaucracies like that of Italy. But it has not brought them peace, just more hassles and backtracking on things that should be easy like long-term loans.
So, the real problem is and always has been at the source. Perhaps we should be holding the feet of source countries to the fire and demand they reform their laws before we disadvantage ourselves all for nothing in the end given the realities on the ground.
Peter, much of the gist of your reply echoes the question you posed in your original post so I'll briefly address that ...
"Why shouldn't we be able to buy anything that is freely available for sale in such countries?"
Hmmm, that's pretty much akin to asking, "Why shouldn't I be allowed to go round breaking peoples' windows if the parents of little Billy next door allow him to?" I always thought that petulant envy was something best grown out of. Just because the government of one Asian country blew up some statues of Buddha a few years ago, does that mean we should too? No matter what the real situation is or is not in other countries and no matter how corrupt their bureaucracy is or is not, I'm not quite sure how you feel that justifies YOU contributing to damaging the evidence of history.
If a hypothetical country in Africa allowed its citizens to slaughter as many elephants as they wanted and encouraged an open trade in ivory within its own borders, would you then be moaning that US law did not permit the ivory to be "freely available for sale" in the US? Or would you be proud that the US took a higher moral stand in trying to preserve an endangered species by refusing to provide an even larger market?
If a hypothetical country in Africa allowed its citizens to plunder and destroy as many archaeological sites as they wanted and encouraged an open trade in the artefacts within its own borders, would you then be moaning that US law did not permit the artefacts to be "freely available for sale" in the US? Or would you be proud that the US took a higher moral stand in trying to preserve a fragile resource (that could have added to the history of all mankind if excavated properly) by refusing to provide an even larger market?
Yes, taking an ethical stance can be a "disadvantage" sometimes - a choice between ethics and greed.
"Much better to "protect" only the most important artifacts they can actually take care of."
Protecting the archaeological record has nothing to do with "only the most important artifacts". You are thinking purely in terms of subjective art value. An archaeological record consists of the WHOLE site, of which the artefacts are only a part. Their "importance" is judged on entirely different criteria; a pot of desiccated seeds may have a far higher value than a marble statue.
The archaeological record is all about historical evidence (akin to the forensics in a crime scene). It is a major (and sometimes only) way we can learn the story of our past. If you cannot understand what it is that preservationists are trying to preserve, then perhaps the ethics of trying to preserve it rather than merely exploiting it for profit are lost on you?
If you do understand what it is that preservationists are trying to preserve, then your cavalier attitude to its destruction suggests that you have already made a conscious choice between ethics and greed.
David, I won't speak to other artifacts, but for coins your views are an example of the tail wagging the dog. The archaeological community has a view that everything should be left in situ for future archaeologists to recover, but archaeologists are few and they will never get to 98% of the places where coins are found. And as Roger Bland has pointed out most of what deterctorists do recover is found in places where the context has already been disturbed by other human activity such as farming. As for morals, you and everyone else is free to apply your own criteria to your own collections, but I'm wary of getting moral advice from others, particularly archaeologists with a vested interest in the corrupt status quo in source countries.
As for open markets, you seem to assume somehow they are illicit in some fashion, rather than a result of a conscious choice of the government in power.
Just so I can get a better sense of where you are coming from, perhaps you can let me know whether your background. It would be interesting to learn if you have any links with the archaeological community. Of course, there is nothing wrong with that but it would be interesting to learn any context behind your views.
"And as Roger Bland has pointed out most of what deterctorists do recover is found in places where the context has already been disturbed by other human activity such as farming."
Does that explain where all those massive lots of coins from Bulgaria come from? All from random innocent finds on ploughed fields and no connection whatsoever with organised loot from targetting and bulldozing Roman sites such as Ratiaria?
"As for open markets, you seem to assume somehow they are illicit in some fashion, rather than a result of a conscious choice of the government in power."
I think you rather missed the point I was making but I'm glad you have far more faith in the judgement of government bureaucracies than I do. Makes moral decisions so much easier than having to think for yourself.
I am a furniture historian, not an archaeologist. The only direct links I have to the "archaeological community" relate to the post-medieval period (Tudor and later), primarily through connections to bodies such as the Mary Rose Trust and the Royal Archaeological Institute. No conflict of interests, Peter. But as a furniture (and thus social) historian I am only too well aware of the vital importance of context in trying to reconstruct a worthwhile vision of our past. No matter how pretty it may be, take a piece of furniture (or a coin) out of its context and you have lost most of the story it could have told us.
In addition, coins in particular typically play a wider role in excavations. Time and time again, it is the coins that provide a terminus post quem or terminus ante quem for a site. Lose the coins and the whole assemblage loses.
But hey, I'm sure nothing I say will convince you or the dealers you represent to bother taking steps to distinguish between coins that really were random innocent finds on ploughed fields and those that came from targetted and bulldozed sites. I'll leave you to your blog, Peter.
More tail wagging dog. The use of coins to date sites is limited given the long periods coins circulated and the fact that only coins from secure contexts have any value in dating artifacts.
I'm glad you share my views of the dubious nature of cultural bureaucracies. In Bulgaria, they are so corrupt that collectors are wary of registering their collections lest they be robbed. (See US Center for Democracy Report linked elsewhere on this blog). But the fact remains, ancient coin collecting is quite legal there. So why should we be holier than the pope to speak?
I wonder if you would feel differently if the same rules used against coin collectors were used against furniture collectors. Antique furniture certainly falls under the definition of cultural property under UNESCO and certain countries certainly limit its export and import. And I daresay many early pieces of furniture are far more culturally significant than coins, which were struck in multiples with thousands upon thousands and even millions of some issues still extant. Anyway, I guess we will need to agree to disagree on these issues.
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