Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Paying People to Loot?

Archaeologist/children's author Jordan Jacobs suggests that the UK pays people to loot.   But what the UK does instead is to give the State a right of first refusal for artifacts found on private land that are properly reported to the authorities.  That's called fair compensation for a taking.

Doesn't Jacobs believe the State should compensate people for what it takes?  After all, the alternative is state sanctioned theft of the sort found under Communism.  Does Jacobs really believe the State should steal from its own citizens?  Or, has he not thought through his tweet?


Anonymous said...

And what do they think would happen if the PAS went away?

Cultural Property Observer said...

Think what happens in the archaeological lobby's favorite places, Bulgaria, Greece, Cyprus, Italy and Turkey. The stuff still gets found but is not reported, but smuggled out of country.

JordanJacobs said...

Mr. Tompa,

Some context might be helpful here. My tweet quotes a 14-year-old character in my second book, “Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen.” On encountering some metal detector enthusiasts within an unscheduled Bronze Age ringwork, young Evan is horrified to learn of a system that incentivizes otherwise ethical citizens to trawl through the countryside, despoiling the archaeological record, robbing their countrymen of their past…in hopes of a ransom for their efforts.

Evan’s outrage mirrors that in correspondence from my young readers, and in questions from the many school classrooms and assemblies I’ve visited since the 2012 publication of “Samantha Sutton and the Labyrinth of Lies” (which also deals with looting, but in Peru). Lenborough provides a particularly illustrative example, and I’ll be making frequent use of it in future presentations.

I’d be happy to provide copies of both books for your review, in advance of my Cambodia-set sequel’s mid-2015 release. I hope the series will continue to foster my young readership’s appreciation for archaeology and conservation. Perhaps you’ll find the books informative, as well?


Jordan Jacobs

Dave Welsh said...

The PAS "going away" is exactly what Mr. Barford thinks should take place. He considers it to be a failed experiment and a waste of resources.

I believe that his reasoning is that the PAS has been in place for about 20 years now and has not yet succeeded in educating metal detectorists to follow good field practice for excavations. He cites the excavation of the Lenborough hoard as a glaring example of artifacts being roughly "hoiked" out of the soil without preservation of context.

In my opinion there is some merit to this particular criticism, because the FLO did not insist upon a methodical excavation such as was performed in the case of the Seaton Down hoard, or in the case of the Bath Beau Street Hoard where the entire find soil complex was lifted out as a unit in a crate.

One suspects that the Beau Street Hoard was treated in this manner so as to get it out of the way of the construction project, and that this would not have been practicable in the case of the Lenborough hoard. But there is no obvious reason why the Seaton Down excavation praxis model could not have been followed.

According to Mr. Barford the Treasure Act 1996 Code of Practice is being violated in such excavations ("hoiks"), specifically page 20, Paragraph 33.

I am not convinced that in this case the finder or landowner were at fault, however I wonder why the FLO did not ensure that the excavation practice was more appropriate to the importance of the find.

As it happened, context was indeed lost and some of that related to numismatic information preserved in the hoard, one example being the order of deposition of the coins.

I do not subscribe to the notion that the PAS is a failure simply because FLOs are not more rigorously enforcing the Treasure Act Code of Practice. No doubt, in most coin hoard cases, the context is not nearly so important as in this case and a simple, relatively rapid excavation would be appropriate.

There are however exceptions, and in this case I am not convinced that the right decision was made.

John H said...

Mr Tompa, you write that "Archaeologist/children's author Jordan Jacobs suggests that the UK pays people to loot."

Perhaps she could tell us how we UK citizens can claim this allowance to loot? Is it taxable? Can we claim for backdated nighthawking excursions?

I think we should be told.

Best wishes

John Howland

Cultural Property Observer said...

Mr. Jacobs, feel free to send your books to my work address. 1015 18th Street, NW, Ste 204, DC 20036. Would be happy to peruse them.

I have to disagree that the UK incentivizes looting. Rather, it recognizes the reality that metal dectectors are out there and are used on private land with the permission of the landowner. It's also a reality that most metal detecting takes place on farmland that has already had any context disturbed. Despite the nits you and Messrs. Barford and Gill may have with the system, it's my understanding most UK archaeologists-- including prominent ones like Lord Renfrew-- believes its positive aspects greatly outweigh any problems. And certainly we know much more about coin circulation in Britain and Wales than we do in other places like Greece, Italy and Cyprus on account of it.

Dave Welsh said...

Jordan Jacobs is an archaeologist with a gift for popularizing the subject - see http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5992474.Jordan_Jacobs .

Without criticizing his devotion to his passion, it is appropriate to question whether he presents a balanced picture of the entirety of "cultural property" policy including "metal detector enthusiasts" and antiquities collectors (such as coin collectors).

It seems to this observer that Mr. Jacobs' comment regarding “Samantha Sutton and the Winter of the Warrior Queen” indicates a very unbalanced perspective toward the Treasure Act and PAS, i.e. they comprise "a system that incentivizes otherwise ethical citizens to trawl through the countryside, despoiling the archaeological record, robbing their countrymen of their past…in hopes of a ransom for their efforts."

Reading this, one might think the whole countryside is the "archaeological record," and using a metal detector to look for buried metal objects is "despoiling the archaeological record, robbing their countrymen of their past."

In reality the Treasure Act and PAS comprise a system which codifies and administers a sensible, balanced approach to reality: archaeology does not own everything in the world and preservation of the archaeological record, although very important, does not automatically trump all other human rights, such as pursuing the metal detecting hobby and antiquities collecting including ancient coins.

Mr. Jacobs does not seem to be inclined to realize (or acknowledge in his books) that there are several sides to these issues, and that the overly simplified version presented in the "Samantha Sutton" series is at best misleading and in important respects, perhaps actually untrue.