Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Is this Science?
Let CPO say it respects archaeology and all it has contributed to the understanding of the human past. On the other hand, CPO also questions whether archaeology is really a "hard science," as has been claimed by activists who believe that private collecting should be suppressed in "the name of furthering knowledge." In this regard, CPO notes that the latest on Paul Barford's and David Gill's blogs suggest that it's not really about "science" at all, but about rumor mongering in order to further an agenda. It's one thing to have principled concerns about the Portable Antiquity Scheme and the publication of poems found on an unprovenanced artifact. But it's quite another to imply -- based on little more than rank speculation-- that the Crosby Garrett Helmet was actually found outside the British Isles or that the "Sappho papyrus" was possibly part of a cache from a Turkish eBay seller Is this science?
Posted by Cultural Property Observer at 7:50 AM
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Saving Antiquities For Everyone (SAFE)recently posted a survey or poll that purports to show that the public, or at leasts archaeologists themselves, think all trade in objects from antiquity should stop. In other words, they should be protected by stewards from (guess where). It would be interesting to see what the SAFE polling system would conclude about Archaeology being a science or archaeologists acting scientifically. Having known many legitimate scientists—particularly within the academic community—and discussed this very topic candidly, my general recollection is that they look with disdain upon Archaeology as a discipline. They take personal offense when they hear claims of Archaeology as a science. Of course, there are exceptions. An archaeologist may also be a scientist and a scientist may also be an archaeologist, but on the whole Science and Archaeology are not passionate bedfellows. Admittedly, my anecdotal evidence is no more scientific than the SAFE poll is. There may very well be a scientist somewhere who considers archaeologists in general to be his or her academic peers. The simple observation that most don't does not seem to me an insult. They do not consider me a scientist either and I am not offended by that. I'm reminded of the old saying "If the shoe fits, wear it." Is it not better to have others shower one with praise and respect than to pour it over one's own head?
"Archaeology a science?" Obviously not. An undistinguished archaeo-blogger of our mutual acquaintance invented what he dubbed the Artifact Erosion Counter (AEC), with the headlong support of the Council for British Archaeology. So far, so bad.
It turns out that the AEC is not fact-based at all, but relies for its 'data' on the guesses, and imagination of Paul Barford, and his UK-based fantasist, Nigel Swift, NEITHER of whom are practicing scientists, let alone archaeologists.
So much one has to say, for the 'authority' of the CBA to hold court over private collectors or detectorists.
Thank God for the Portable Antiquities Scheme where accuracy is paramount.
hi peter,if people were %100 certain that the portable antiquities scheme was not being used to launder stolen or looted pieces than maybe these rumours would desist.sadly the way the PAS operates does leave it open to abuse from unscrupulous people.a few years ago we had the case of the silver penny of edward the cofessor being stolen from the malmesbury abbey museum by a "fanatical metal detector"who after stealing the coin,handed it to a PAS finds liaison officer in surrey and claimnd he had found it in a field in tetbury.the PAS gave him a find number and he was all set to sell the coin for $2500 with other museums interested.he only got caught because he boasted to another MD who reported him to the police,otherwise he would have got away with it.a common roman coin worth $5 would be worth $50 on ebay to someone in the us with a nice PAS finds number attached.i collect ancient helmets and the crosby garrett helmet without all the publicity from the PAS and a nice finds spot/number would have sold for £200k max.im not saying the roman helmet was planted but the way the find spot was hidden for weeks from the PAS and the british museum was denied access to the helmet before restoration adds up to a big own goal for the credibility of the PAS.on the black market,sold as found with no provanance the finder would have been lucky to get £5k.sometimes it just comes down to good old economics and hard cash.
Hi Kyri, most people are probably quite honest, but perhaps there is something akin to a a false claims act in the UK that would dissuade this-- the PAS may not be perfect but it has led to the recording of a lot of artifacts that otherwise would not be recorded. So, I think its superior to what happens in many other countries.
"But it's quite another to imply -- based on little more than rank speculation-- that the Crosby Garrett Helmet was actually found outside the British Isles or that the "Sappho papyrus" was possibly part of a cache from a Turkish eBay seller Is this science?"
Huh? You appear to have scored an own goal here, Peter. One of the MAIN POINTS of the speculation on the Crosby Garrett Helmet and the Sappho Papyrus was to emphasise and bemoan the fact that since neither was found in an archaeological excavation, we cannot apply the same scientific methodology to them as artfacts that are. We are only left with speculation without archaeological evidence. THAT'S THE POINT!
David, I think I've noted principled concerns raised about the poem and the helmet are one thing, but then to jump from there to rank speculation seems to fly in the face of the scientific theory that is said to be the basis of the concerns-- so I think we may be hinting at the same things. The problem with the rank speculation here is that it impugns the integrity of the Oxford scholar and the finder of the helmet, without any basis in fact. Why not just stick to the issue of scientific excavation and leave it at that? Peter
David Knell raises the spectre of academic envy. It's as plain as a pikestaff that because the Crosby Garrett Helmet was not found by orthodox archaeology (and indeed, could never be found by them) and subsequently accompanied by a positive press, each and everyone opposed to either private collecting or metal detecting hitches a ride on the 'anti' bandwagon.
For them, innuendo, false rumour, and lies, is paramount to undermining the artefact itself and to undermine the PAS. It's a well-thought tactic by desperate men with one last throw of the dice.
I'm afraid this kind of thing goes with the territory.
A knowledgeable collector from the Chicago area gave me permission to post this:
Archaeology is a mixture of science, art and interpretation. It takes careful and agile expertise in languages, history, sociology, anthropology and artistic endeavors that are only partially understood. And for those who dig, sometimes greater care is taken measuring the straightness of the excavation lines than in dealing with the artifacts themselves. (As our friend noted in Europe on a dig, bones are tossed almost contemptuously into plastic containers, but the edges of the dig are cookie cutter sliced 90 degrees from horizontal with greatest care.)
As we have both have reflected many times, archaeologists are not high on the "respect spectrum" in academe. They are indeed in the ivory tower. They attempt to capitalize on something like collecting as a way of drawing attention to themselves and self-ratifying their value.
Another truism: Archaeologists are at odds with collectors because they see "amateurs" interfering with their areas of expertise (not to mention access to excavation rights), and with regard to numismatists, generally they know (or sense) that collectors are invading their turf, and doing a better job of analysis, curating and preservation of artifacts that archaeologists have trivialized in the past. In a sense they are playing catch up with numismatists..and are profoundly embarrassed that collectors not having their degree "credentials" have been analyzing and preserving the past much better than they have (and in the case of some museums, ever will.)
So, what do they do....wrap themselves in righteous indignation, and lump legitimate collectors with the criminals without any thoughtful analysis and discrimination. The fact that money changes hands over coins makes it easy for them to define all coin acquisitions as illicit deals. Unfortunately, the looting and illicit coin deals adds fuel to their fires. I am amazed and shocked into disbelief when lawyers representing the interests of the archaeological community ignore simple commercial reality and legitimate transactions made in good faith (not to mention the letter of the CPAC statute and regulations) and engage in illogical generalities that all collectors are crooks engaged in the looting of valuable cultural patrimony.
Peter, I am aware of the point you were making but the speculation serves the purpose of highlighting frustration. In the absence of information, it would be irresponsible NOT to question the integrity of these artefacts.
Re: the helmet. I understand the finder(s) took the item to Christie's long before PAS found out about it. Given that preoccupation with financial gain, it is right to raise the possibility that the circumstances of its discovery may have been fabricated to enhance its auction value.
Re: the papyrus. The artefact may well have a perfectly legal and ethical origin that would help to place it in context (the latest TLS article suggests that it does). But since the scholar publicising it initially failed to reveal that information, I can understand the controversy until he did. The speculation served to prompt him into doing what it might have been wiser to do in the first place.
(Sidenote: For the record, I am personally not in favour of suppressing or ignoring knowledge that may be gained from an artefact - no matter what its source - but that is an entirely different matter and the source of the artefact does need to be established.)
I see your anonymous "knowledgeable collector from the Chicago area" makes some wild assumptions and generalisations without any balanced attempt to address the real issues. "Is this science?"
John, I am staunchly in favour of private collecting, and also support metal detecting within certain limits. The crux of the matter with both those pursuits lies in acting responsibly - so as to avoid destroying or distorting the archaeological record and thus mangling the evidence of history for the rest of us.
hi peter.i agree with you that the PAS is better than what other countrys have abroad but it certainly is not perfect.in reply to john h a fellow brit,allthough david has aleady commented, i would just like to vouch that david is very well known in collecting circles/forums hear in the uk.he has a magnificent collection of ancient oil lamps and has published many articles on-line about them,offering his time and knowledge to new collectors.if you google david knell ancient lamps you will see he has a website dedicated to ancient lamp collecting.he is certainly not anti collecting.
Ah, David,you say. "I am staunchly in favor of private collecting, and also support metal detecting within certain limits," Your limits? What about mine? What makes 'yours' right?
Don't patronize me, I was fighting your kind and your arguments well over three decades ago. Nothing has changed.
Whatever you term 'responsible' is a moot point. In terms of philosophy, I have to say that if 'archaeology' were to end tomorrow, would it affect the world one jot? No, it wouldn't! Life would go on and amateurs, if they were interested enough, would continue to explore the past.
It is my sincere belief - and no disrespect to you - that 'archaeology' is a luxury that we could survive without. Is it, or indeed archaeologists really so important as you'd have us all believe?
For example, were someone to be marooned on a desert island who would be the perfect companion? An archaeologist or a carpenter?
But it might enhance your further education(with the greatest of respect) if you were come down from your ivory tower, and take employment with real people and see the world at street level.
john h,david is not an archaeologist,he has a regular job.i know he did some work for sothebys in their furniture dept but he certainly is not an archeologist."your kind"?? wanting to be an ethical collector and careing about the archaeological record should be all "our kind"
My wise collector friend from Chicago asked me to reply to David as follows:
Mr. Knell...I am unashamedly an advocate for a position....why would I ever want to do anything but generalize and assumptions? An advocate doesn't balance anything. An advocate isn't fair. An advocate make assumptions. The anti-collector factions of archaeology are advocates as well...they generalize, make assumptions, are manifestly unfair, and are, oddly, unwilling to compromise on any aspect of collecting.
Given this, why on earth would any collector make any effort to be fair and balanced? Especially given the skewed and unfair generalities advanced by anti-collector archaeologists.
The anti-collector advocates would have us accept that all collectors are 1. Not entitled to own or collect coins regardless of their provenance, indeed, no provenance satisfies them; and, 2. thieves, or are aiding and abetting thieves...I find both assertions to be wildly laughable, not to mention, if you wish to become pointed, actionably libelous. (It is especially disingenuous of British anti collector archaeologists to make such arguments when English law, unlike U.S. law, makes all bona fide purchases for value valid even if an item is stolen.)
Anti-collector Archaeologists argue that all coins found in a geographical area are cultural patrimony of the greatest value to the current geographical inhabitants. That is likely specious in most, if not all, cases. There is much specific and convincing evidence to the contrary before CPAC.
Anti-collector Archaeologists argue that all such coins should be vetted, analyzed, curated, and preserved by archaeologists only. Archaeologists' reputation in the area of numismatics is checkered at best. Peter and I know some archaeologists who are exceptionally gifted numismatists. However, we can all cite instances of poor conservation, curation, and preservation of coins in museums..... museums run by...archaeologists.
No Mr. Knell...it is the anti-collector archaeologists who are making skewed assumptions out of control, indeed "wildly" so; and they are answerable to no one.
When the anti-collector archaeologists want to get specific and advance reasonable compromises, I will wholeheartedly support doing the same. Until then...I have nothing but contempt for the unreasonable and unrelenting suggestions leveled at collectors. I have never looted or stolen a coin or acquired one, to my knowledge, that was looted or stolen. To do so would destroy the fascination of numismatics...not to mention my ethical fabric.
We collectors have suggested reasonable approaches regarding ancient coins (indeed, Great Britain has found a workable balance), but I have heard nothing so far from the anti-collector archaeologists that would seem at all reasonable. In the US, they have chosen to take a view that warps the CPAC statute and regulations.
Given this situation....why balance anything?
As someone who has spent a bit of time in the Ivory Tower and a whole lot of time in "the world at street level," I believe David Knell has the right idea. Context IS important and when it is lost an important piece of data goes with it.
I think it is the very desire of archaeologists to be as "scientific" as possible that motivates them to oppose publication of unprovenanced finds, since there is so much about them that is inherently unknown and unknowable. It's a fine ideal, but generally breaks down in the reality of the messy real world where many important artifacts come to light in shady circumstances.
As to whether archaeology is a science, I think most archaeologists themselves would say that it is a mixture of science and informed speculation. Science is used as a tool in analyzing sites and finds. For example, analysis of bones to determine who or what they came from, approximate age, evidence of disease; analysis of the geology of a site; analysis of residues found in pottery, etc. Any scientific discipline with a possible application to a given site and assemblage of finds can be undertaken if circumstances allow.
Now comes the informed speculation--what does any of this data mean? In my opinion this is where the discipline of archaeology is at its weakest. Does a weapon recovered from a tomb mean the occupant was a warrior, was it purely ceremonial or did it hold some other meaning of which we are clueless?
In the absence of documents or ancient narrative accounts archaeology often boils down to who can come up with the most plausible story to account for a given assemblage of finds and the associated data from scientific analysis of said assemblage and site. If you are a particularly good story teller or just have a strong personality, your view might win out and a whole generation of scholars will be citing your opinions until they retire and the next generation throws out your work with contemptuous laughter and wonders how anyone could have ever believed such rubbish.
I am quite sure that most archaeologists do desire to be "as scientific" as possible. That, however does not make them scientists and they should not claim to be. The very fact that they live and work in a world of "informed speculation" is contrary to the methods and goals of science. Ironically, that same informed speculation by a non-academic collector (irrespective of personal or professional education and expertise) is often criticized by archaeologists who represent their discipline institutionally and in the blogosphere. In my experience, archaeologists in the UK are more open-minded and reasonable in their approach to the public than those in the U.S. and that is probably why the PAS does work better than some of the alternatives.
Kyri, thanks for your kind words.
""your kind"?? wanting to be an ethical collector and careing about the archaeological record should be all "our kind"" Spot on, Kyri!
John, responsible collecting and detecting is all about respect and thoughtfulness for the rest of society, including those who have the intellect to appreciate archaeology for what it actually is and resent the damage done to it by people who destroy evidence in a selfish pursuit of 'treasure'. But hey, if the penny still hasn't dropped after "well over three decades", I'd hazard a guess that it never will.
Incidentally, if I were marooned on a desert island, I would be delighted to have an archaeologist as my companion. Not only could we share common interests but having someone who knew from ethnography and their experience in experimental
archaeology techniques how to pick up a pebble and knap it into a sharp-edged tool, create fire, find water, procure food and meet life's basic necessities in different environments could be a decided advantage. Perhaps somewhat better than a carpenter who spent most of the time wailing about a lack of wood, a saw and nails and forever moaning "If I Had a Hammer" all day long.
"wise collector friend from Chicago", again with the generalisations! You seem to have confused your dislike of the attitudes of some archaeologists as a reason to attack and discredit archaeology in general. I sense an irrational resentment derailing balanced logic.
As I'm sure you really know, there are several attitudes to collecting among the archaeological community - among them are those who are anti-collecting altogether, those who are anti-irresponsible-collecting, and those who sit on the fence or don't really care. Most of the archaeologists I know fit in the middle; they are anti-irresponsible-collecting but not against thoughtful collecting. If you find their conditions for thoughtful collecting too onerous, perhaps you need to take a closer look at the way you collect and discuss that rather than taking resentful snipes at archaeology in general.
"I have never looted or stolen a coin or acquired one, to my knowledge, that was looted or stolen."
That attitude is what those who want thoughtful collecting are getting at. The phrase "to my knowledge" is merely a convenient way of salving your conscience; what it REALLY means is that you haven't got the foggiest idea where the coin originated. If you really do care about the tremendous damage done by looting, your energy would be better spent on nagging dealers to provide proper collecting histories for the things you buy rather than sniping at archaeologists who want to prevent looting too.
Voz, I pretty much agree with what you say. I'm just disappointed I can't argue with you! :)
(Written from my "ivory tower", otherwise known as my girlfriend's tiny one-bedroom flat on a council estate.)
"In my experience, archaeologists in the UK are more open-minded and reasonable in their approach to the public than those in the U.S. ..."
Yes, I get that impression too, Wayne. People tend to be pretty laid back over here.
kyri makes a good point: How can anyone be sure the PAS is not being used to launder stolen items? We can't. Then again, how can we be sure that the trade in ancient Greek helmets, or ancient lamps, for example, is pure and crime-free? We can't.
But one aspect is certain; at one time or another, these ancient lamps and helmets, where liberated from an excavation somewhere, then somehow given a provenance to make them saleable. We can be sure their 'liberators' were not private collectors!
The Crosby Garrett Helmet is not an own goal for the PAS. Far from it. The find spot was entitled to be hidden and the secrecy surrounding it broke no laws. It was a very sensible move.
Any controversy surrounding this magnificent find seems to have its DNA traceable to those with the agenda to denigrate the PAS along with those who administer this fine Scheme.
"any controversy surrounding this magnificent find seems to have its dna traceable to those with an agenda to denigrate the pas along with those who administer this fine scheme"
ha ha ha,john h i had a good laugh after reading that.have you read what dr.roger bland the head of the PAS wrote about this fiasco.have you read sally worrels[national finds advisor for the PAS] report on how she was pleading to the finders not to sell through christies,have you seen what she thinks about the way this was handled.you can even go one tier lower to the PAS finds liaison officer for lancashire and cumbria,dot boughton,she wrote a paper on the find and she doesnt pull any punches,read what she thinks about our outdated treasure act,that its not fit for purpose.senior PAS people are hanging their heads in shame at the one that got away.even trevor austin the general secretary of the national council for metal detectors thought the helmet should have gone to tullie house museum and that the whole crosby garette helmet episode was bad publicity for the hobby.i agree,no law was broken but that is due to our inept treasure laws,where a magna carta,a lewis chessman or a roman helmet could be out of the ground and into auction within a month.google the names i gave you,especially dot boughtons paper ,its all out there,sometimes its good to take the blinkers off and look at the bigger picture.
With the greatest respect, I lost the thread of your comment after about three sentences in.
Yyou write, "i agree,no law was broken but that is due to our inept treasure laws,where a magna carta,a lewis chessman or a roman helmet could be out of the ground and into auction within a month."
The current treasure legislation is only inept in your view. The current Treasure Act covers the situation exceedingly well.
However, whilst you are so keen to see the Crosby Garret Helmet in a museum, why don't you start a trend among collectors who share your views,and boldly donate your Greek helmet collect to any museum that will have them for display?
Is it not better to have others shower one with praise and respect than to pour it over one's own head?
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