Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Is That It?

Archaeo-blogger David Gill is making much of the fact that two lots have been withdrawn from auction based on the work of a confederate who combed through the April catalogues at Bonham's and Christie's.

Is that it?  Bonham's has 496 lots in their two sales and Christie's has 199.  Of course there are many lots with multiple objects but after their effort it appears at most only 0.288% of the objects appear problematical.  Even then, appearance of the photos in the archive don't necessarily prove looting.    But even assuming it does, that's still one-quarter of one percent of this particular market.  

So what do these numbers really tell  us?   That an epidemic looting continues in Italy?  Of course not.  That auctions are filled with looted material?  Of course not.  Or that Italy long ago won its war on looting and its time to rethink the need for its MOU with the US?  Most certainly.  

6 comments:

John H said...

I don't know about you Mr Tompa, but Prof.Gill reminds me of a drowning man clutching at straws.

Note too, that for a campaigner anxious to rid the world of what might be termed, 'artefact abuse.'

Prof. Gill remains curiously mute about the current British scandal where hundreds of thousands of artefacts discovered by archaeologists are currently languishing, stockpiled, unreported, and unclassified, in hangars across the land following the highly damaging revelations by the BBC.

Additionally, his old pal from Warsaw has thrown gasoline onto the fire by alleging the situation is widespread throughout museums in Britain.

Prof.Gill should in my view at least -- if he wants greater gravitas for his crusade -- turn his gaze more towards his own kind, and spend less time insulting the PAS which is doing a far better job of recording artefacts found by detectorists, than his colleagues ever will with the material they discover.

Regards
John Howland
England

Paul Barford said...

Mr Tompa, I am sure you will share my confusion concerning where your metal detectorist pal perceives a connection between Becchina and Medici artefacts on the London market and problems finding space in Northern Irish museums for storage of the archives of recent rescue excavations. The link seems an extremely tenuous one at best.

I am sure you will also agree with me that there is a great difference between storage in a museum and mere recording by PAS of freshly dug items that are then scattered - who knows where. Chalk and cheese, surely.

So what is the solution, abandon in the UK a system where the state (through local governments) accepts the responsibility for maintaining of any public collections of archaeological material? Maybe you and Mr Howland think the whole lot should be sold off to private collectors? But then this is Britain where there is already highly selective retention of finds. Perhaps the answer is to insist that local governments give some thought to the degree they fund museums and their facilities. Are they not important to all who care about culture and the past?

Since Britain has, according to you, the best system or dealing with fresh finds, perhaps you would be interesting in supporting calls to improve the system, not side with those who trash it?

Mr Howland is I think wrong accusing Professor Gill of "insulting the PAS", I wonder if he can justify the use of that rather specific verb?

Cultural Property Observer said...

For Mr. Barford-- Yes, part of the contract should be that archaeologists that dig are responsible for ensuring that what they find is properly recorded and preserved.

Mr. Howland can speak for himself, but I suspect he may smell some hypocrisy. And certainly Professor Gill has been critical of the PAS, though in less strident terms than you

Cultural Property Observer said...

Another point should be made that has been mentioned before. Only part of the archive has been made available to auction houses, but resarchers associated with the archaeological community apparently have access to the entire thing from Italian authorities. This allows them to play gotcha, something the gullible press buys into. Why not instead release the entire archive to at least the auction houses so they can police themselves?

John H said...

Mr Barford just doesn't 'get' it:-
" I am sure you will also agree with me that there is a great difference between storage in a museum and mere recording by PAS of freshly dug items that are then scattered - who knows where. Chalk and cheese, surely." No, Mr Barford, not in the wake of the current scandal -- it's Cheese and cheese I'm afraid as well I suspect you know!

There is a world of difference between a properly recorded artifact a la PAS, and any one of the hundreds of thousands of important items at the center of the scandal to which Mr Barford claims is 'widespread' in Britain's museums not just in Northern Ireland.

He goes on to say that,"Maybe you and Mr Howland think the whole lot should be sold off to private collectors?". I can't speak for you Mr Tompa, but at last, Mr Barford has come up with a notion that makes a deal of sense. I hope he moves it on to the next stage.

Regards

John Howland
England

stoutstandards said...

"Are they not important to all who care about culture and the past?".....

Indeed they are but from the looks of that photo in the article it will be a real cold day before the public gets to see any of it.

(http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-northern-ireland-26725969) photo