Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Gill Inspired Papers Provide More Heat than Light on Benefits of PAS

Archaeo-blogger David Gill has evidently helped organize a forum on the PAS. See

Gill obviously drove the agenda: some faint praise for the system combined with much rehashing of various (mostly old) complaints about it.

The papers speak for themselves. Overall, this all would have been more useful if there were an effort to compare the number of finds reported in England and Wales with those in Greece, a country whose cultural policy Gill apparently holds in high esteem. Does Greek law-- as it is actually administered by its bureaucracy-- encourage the reporting of finds? From what I heard at the recent CPAC hearing on Greece's proposed MOU with the US, I think not.

As an aside, I wonder about Mr. Barford's stated affiliation with the Institute of Archaeology, Warsaw, Poland. Other information suggests that this affiliation is quite dated. If so, it certainly should not be used to somehow elevate Barford's status. [This affiliation was subsequently deleted in favor of just identifying Mr. Barford as an "archaeoblogger".]

I also question Gill's obsession with "lobbyists" promoting PAS before CPAC. In point of fact, this idea also has also been heavily promoted by numismatic groups who employ no registered lobbyists, and, indeed, its greatest proponent is a private collector who has spent his own time and money to travel to Washington, D.C. to speak on the issue. See

To his credit, Gill and UCL did invite some speakers with opposing views, but I still must agree with Gabriel Moshenska of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, who stated, "It is a measure of this [the archaeological] community’s widespread elitism and class snobbery that the most feckless professor of prehistory with a string of unpublished excavations is likely to be afforded a thousand times more respect than the most diligent member of a metal detecting club."

Addendum: In some end of the year foolishness, Prof. Gill has suggested he had nothing at all to do with organizing the above submissions of academic papers. See
I suspect he is being far too modest and have asked him to clarify in the comments section of his blog. He has yet to do so and instead is harping on the fact that UCL "initiated" the conference, but this certainly does not foreclose Gill's help in "organizing" it. Of course, all this is just another diversion from the major issues at hand. The papers were purportedly designed to help assess the PAS, but they failed to do so because there was no effort to compare PAS to other systems like that in Greece. Ultimately, PAS needs to be judged not by any perceived shortcomings, but by how it compares with other systems in fostering the recording of artifacts from the past. In this, I'm quite confident the record speaks quite well of the PAS.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cypriot Corruption Not Like PAS

Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford has put up a story on his blog about wealthy Cypriot collectors getting their collections of antiquities looted from Northern Cyprus "legalized" by the Cypriot antiquities authority. Subsequently, these same collectors purchased materials looted from a cemetary in the Greek controlled area of Cyprus and nothing was done. Inexplicably, Barford claims this is just like the PAS. See and

No, Mr. Barford, the Treasure Act and PAS is predicated on the rule of law. Everyone is treated equally and society as a whole benefits. This, in contrast, exemplifies the corrupt nature of the Greek-Cypriot state where how the law is applied depends on who you are, and the connected few are allowed to collect as much looted material as they want.

It is also worth noting that the archaeological community's unqualified support for import restrictions on behalf of the Republic of Cyprus only helps prop up such a corrupt system. Hopefully, the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and CPAC will take notice when the current Cypriot MOU comes up for renewal.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

State Department Meddles in Court Case to Help Foreign Power Against American Treasure Hunters

Discovery News has more information about Wikileaks cables detailing the assistance the US State Department secretly provided to the Spanish Government in litigation with Odyssey Marine, a US based treasure hunting concern. See

As PhDiva notes on her blog, this story provides more information than previously reported.

Hopefully, Congress or the courts will investigate whether the State Department violated any laws. The archaeological allies of the State Department in the cultural property debate have made no bones about their opposition to Odyssey's treasure hunting. One wonders to what extent they helped influence the State Department to assist Spain in the case secretly.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Priceless" Has a Price After All

Law enforcement and the archaeological community are fond of claiming that repatriated artifacts are "priceless." Indeed, this term has such a nice ring to it that retired FBI Agent and SAFE honoree Robert Wittman named the book about his 20 year career as an art sleuth, "Priceless."

Well, it turns out at least the movie rights to Wittman's book do indeed have a price, at least according to a lawsuit Wittman filed against a would-be filmmaker of the story. See

More importantly, one also wonders if it is appropriate for a federal law enforcement official to be allowed to make money off his career in such a fashion. I'm sure Mr. Wittman is personally above reproach, but one can easily imagine the scenario where the prospect of fame and a movie deal might impact enforcement priorities in some fashion.

No Christmas Truce

Pompeii is falling down through gross mismanagement and neglect. The Greek cultural establishment is as bankrupt as the Hellenic Republic. Yet,archaeological busybodies Gill and Barford (along with a sympathetic journalist) would rather rehash an old story about a pot in the collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. See

Why? Apparently, the only reason this is being brought up-- yet again-- is the fact that the MIA's Director wrote a letter to the New York Times in her capacity of President of the AAMD about repatriation issues.

Such foolishness does little but divert attention away from the poor stewardship of archaeological treasures in countries like Greece and Italy. If Gill, Barford and friends really care about protecting the archaeological record, perhaps they should devote at least some of their considerable talents to publicizing these larger issues in 2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More on Pompeii Neglect

The New York Times has published another article about the longstanding neglect of Pompeii that has received attention due to recent building collapses at the site. See

Meanwhile, cynical efforts to use the tragedy as a political club against the Berlusconi government have evidently failed; the Prime Minister has just narrowly prevailed in a no confidence vote. See

If anything, mixing up Pompeii's problems with politics does no good for the site. Neither does Italy's efforts to control anything and everything old badly rather than seeking achievable results to protect national treasures like Pompeii.

Addendum: Dorothy King (PhDiva) has also drawn attention to this insightful article about the problems plaguing Pompeii:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

AIA Building Up Lobbying War Chest?

The Archaeological Institute of America ("AIA") has emailed this end of year solicitation to its supporters:

Dear Friend,

The AIA Site Preservation Program works to safeguard the world's archaeological heritage for future generations through direct preservation, raising awareness of threats to sites, education, outreach, and by facilitating the spread of best practices.

Currently, we support eight site preservation projects around the world. Over the past year we have greatly increased our advocacy efforts, organizing campaigns that sent hundreds of letters to Washington in support of renewing import restrictions on archaeological materials from Italy and Greece. These initiatives are critical to the mission of the AIA Site Preservation Program—but we cannot continue these important efforts without the support of friends like you who understand the value of our threatened cultural heritage.

In 2010 we have raised $100,000 for Site Preservation and need an additional $50,000 to reach our goal for the year. Please consider a tax-deductible donation before the end of the calendar year, so that you can become a part of our mission to secure archaeological sites for tomorrow. Please click here to signify your support for the preservation of our ancient heritage.
With much thanks and warm wishes,

Peter Herdrich

Comment: The highlighted material suggests that the AIA is commingling funds for advocacy purposes with funds specifically donated to help preserve archaeological sites. It is unclear what amount is devoted to the former and what amount is devoted to the latter purpose. It is clear that despite claims to the contrary, archaeologists do lobby, and potentially spend significant monies on that effort. How much money is involved, and where is that money going? The AIA has, after all, been granted tax exempt status as being operated solely for educational and scientific purposes. Under the circumstances, shouldn't details of its lobbying efforts be made public?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sour Grapes

Archaeologists rightly view themselves as custodians of the past, but their institutional arrogance, their disdain for collectors [who historically were welcome allies in their pursuits] or other "amateurs" [such as metal detectorists in the U.K.] and their tendency to create and disseminate knowledge largely to and for only their own peers will not serve them or their discipline well in lean economic times.

Unfortunately, instead of the recognition of the benefits of greater outreach and working with collectors and metal detectorists rather than demonizing them, we probably can expect little but more sour grapes, at least from the purists in the archaeological field. See and

The truth is programs like the Treasure Act and PAS get public money and support even in lean economic times because they are popular with large segments of the public at large. In contrast, it will become increasingly difficult to justify funding for conservation projects that only seem to benefit small groups of archaeological professionals.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Greek Neglect of Major Sites Argues for Less State Control Over Minor Artifacts

The Guardian has reported on further neglect of major archaeological sites in Greece. See

Based upon the article, the Greek cultural establishment appears to be hoping that another EU bailout will fund needed repairs, but that seems unlikely. The EU's banker, Germany, is already fed up after helping to bail out Greece's bankrupt economy, and the EU is facing other serious financial meltdowns in countries like Ireland and Spain.

All this once again seriously undercuts the proposition behind the proposed MOU with Greece that state control means protection for ancient artifacts.

Perhaps, countries like Greece should focus on proper funding for major artifacts and forget about "control" over redundant minor artifacts that frankly are likely to be better cared for by collectors.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Morgantina Treasure Goes on Display in Sicily

The Morgantina treasure has gone on display in a small provincial museum in Sicily. See

It remains to be seen whether a promised spike in local tourism develops or how Italy's cash strapped cultural establishment will care for the treasure and other artifacts that have been or will be "recontextualized" at the site.

In any event, after years of finger pointing at American collectors and museums, it is refreshing to read Italians acknowledging that "looting was a tolerated sport" and that their own country's "negligence and silence" also had a part to play in the sale of these significant artifacts abroad.

For more about the treasure, see

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Theft in Germany

Forty-four valuable ancient coins were stolen from a museum exhibition in Turbingen, Germany. For more details, including pictures of the missing coins, see