Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Differing Viewpoints on the Value of Import Restrictions

The Hill has reported on the discussion surrounding China's request for U.S. import restrictions on Chinese antiquities, including ancient Chinese coins (K. Bogardus, "Coin Collectors, Art Dealers Fear Restrictions on Chinese Imports," 27 May 2008). The article addresses the controversy raised by collectors and dealers, alleged diplomatic concerns intertwined with proposed legislation, and the endorsement of import restrictions as useful protective measures by archaeological professional groups and SAFE, a public advocacy group.

Image: Chinese Coin of the Western Han dynasty, 73-47 BC, in the collection of the British Museum.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Even Stonehenge Can Fall Victim to Souvenir Hunters

From "Souvenir Hunters Vandalise Stonehenge," The Guardian, 22 May 2008:

Suspected souvenir hunters broke into Stonehenge and vandalised the ancient monument, English Heritage said today.

Two men used a hammer and screwdriver to chip away at the Heel Stone - a 16ft (4.8m) megalith at the 5,000-year-old site - before they were spotted by security guards and chased away.

The vandals managed to hack off a small 10p-sized piece from the sarsen stone. The two men got away in a red Rover 400.

The incident is thought to be the first act of vandalism at the world-renowned site for decades.

A spokeswoman for English Heritage said: "Thanks to the vigilance and quick action of the security team at Stonehenge, very minimal damage was caused to the Heel Stone at Stonehenge.

"A tiny chip was taken from the north side of the Heel Stone with a screwdriver and hammer, but as soon as the two men were spotted by security guards they escaped over the fence and drove off.

"This is now a matter for the police."

English Heritage said the men may have been after a souvenir from the prehistoric landmark. This was once a legitimate practice and guides would even hand out chisels to visitors.

The raiders struck at around 10pm on May 15 but news of the offence has only just been released.

Police said it is believed the men could be the same two people caught on CCTV acting suspiciously a few days earlier.

A spokeswoman for Wiltshire police said: "Two male offenders were seen disturbing the monument with a hammer and screwdriver.

"A two-and-a-half-inch line was left on the stone. It is believed they could be two men seen acting suspiciously on a previous occasion.

"They left the site in a red Rover, with plastic sheeting covering the driver's side window."

Archaeologists have been excavating the ancient site to discover more about its mysterious origins. The dig is the first to take place at Stonehenge for more than 40 years.

Photograph: Richard Nowitz/Corbis

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Coins from the Martberg

The occasion for this posting is somewhat celebratory. I have been identifying coins, part-time, with Fundmünzen der Antike (FdA) since the beginning of February to fund my studies in Germany this year. The material I have been working on comes from the Martberg and I finally finished identifying and entering the material into the database. My contribution was in identifying 1,279 coins ranging from the Iron Age to the late fourth century AD. The next step in my work will be regularizing the data in the database so it may move to book production. The coin finds should also be added on the online database in the future. Systematizing the database will undoubtedly be a great deal of work since several people have been working on the coin finds and sometimes entering the material in different ways (e.g. using different abbreviations or spellings in references, legends, etc.).

I have been processing the coin finds from Yotvata, Israel as well and so it was quite interesting for me to see what sorts of 4th century coin types were circulating in this part of the Empire compared to the East. I also enjoyed the opportunity to familiarize myself with some Iron Age coin types since I've typically focused on Greek and Roman coinage in my studies.

For those who are not familiar with FdA, it has been producing the well-known inventories of coin finds from Germany, in the easily recognizable blue hard covers since 1960; the series is called: Die Fundmünzen der römischen Zeit in Deutschland (FMRD) and is further divided into various volumes by modern federal regions and individual sites. This important series, founded by Hans Gebhart and Konrad Kraft, and now edited by Maria R.-Alföldi and Hans-Markus von Kaenel, has no doubt had some influence in prompting similar projects such as Fundmünzen der römischen Zeit in Österreich (FMRÖ), and several others.

The Martberg is a Gallo-Roman temple complex near modern Koblenz. The first volume on the Martberg coins (FMRD IV: 4,1) was published in 2005 and inventoried around 5,000 coin finds. The forthcoming volume on the Martberg coins will contain an additional 6,000-7,000 coins. Such a large number of finds from a single cult site are not as well documented anywhere else in the Roman world as from the Martberg.

Apart from my attribution work, I am not actively studying the coins from the Martberg, but I have tried to keep up on some of the literature and the research. Already, the systematic study of coin finds from this site has produced fruitful results, including evidence for the presence of an Iron Age mint. It is also an important site for the study of 'barbarous' imitations and even reverse types from the site have been analyzed in relation to material context. Several previously unrecorded types have been identified in various publications and some new types that were discovered in preparation of the second FMRD volume will also be published. Here is a sample bibliography of some publications (the front matter of the present and forthcoming FMRD volumes should provide a more complete bibliography) :

Kaczynski, B. and M. Nüsse. (forthcoming 2008/2009). "Reverse Type Selection in Sanctuaries? A Study of Antoniniani found in Various Contexts," in H.-M. von Kaenel and F. Kemmers (eds.), Coins in Context I: New Approaches in Interpreting Coin Finds (provisional title). Mainz: von Zabern, Studien zu Fundmünzen der Antike.

Kaczynski, B. (in progress). Münzen im Kontext. Die keltischen und römischen Münzfunde vom Castellberg bei Wallendorf – Ein Beitrag zu Genese, Entwicklung und Ende eines treverischen Siedlungszentrums sowie zu Münzwesen und Münzumlauf im Gebiet der Treverer vom 1. Jh. v.Chr. bis 5. Jh. n. Chr. Ph.D. Dissertation: Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität, Frankfurt

Wigg, D.G. 1998. "Ein neuer treverischer Bronzemünztyp vom Martberg an der Mosel und die Frage des Martbergs als Münzstätte," Trierer Zeitschrift für Geschichte und Kunst des Trierer Landes und seiner Nachbargebiete Trier 61: 73-81.

Wigg, D.G. 2000. "The Martberg on the Lower Mosel and the Development of the Coin-Using Economy in North Gaul in the Late Latène and Early Roman Period," in B. Kluge and B. Weisser (eds.), XII. Internationaler Numismatischer Kongress, Berlin 1997. Akten - Proceedings - Actes. Berlin: Staatlichen Museen zu Berlin--Preussischer Kulturbesitz: 447-452.

Wigg, D.G. 2000. "Der Beitrag des Martbergs zur eisenzeitlichen Numismatik," in A. Haffner and S. von Schnurbein (eds.), Kelten, Germanen, Römer im Mittelgebirgsraum zwischen Luxemburg und Thüringen. Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt, GmbH: 485-496.

Wigg-Wolf, D.G. 2004. "Zur Interpretation und Bedeutung der 'Barbarasierungen' der römischen Kaiserzeit," in A.F. Auberson, H.R. Derschka, and S. Frey-Kupper (eds.), Fälschungen - Beischläge - Imitationen: Sitzungsbericht der vierten internationalen Kolloquiums der Schweizerischen Arbeitsgemeinscaft für Fundmünzen. Lausanne: Éditions de Zèbre, Untersuchungen zur Numismatik und Geldgeschichte 5: 55-75.

Wigg-Wolf, D. 2005. "Coins and Ritual in Late Iron Age and Early Roman Sanctuaries in the Territory of the Treviri," in C. Haselgrove and D. Wigg-Wolf (eds), Iron Age Coinage and Ritual Practices. Mainz: von Zabern, Studien zu Fundmünzen der Antike 20: 361-379.

Zedelius, V. 1984. "Die keltischen Silbermünzen vom "Marberger Typus" aus dem östlichen Trevererland," in Trier - Augustusstadt der Treverer. Stadt und Umland in vor- und frührömischer Zeit. Ausstellungskatalog des Rheinischen Landesmuseums Trier 1984. Mainz: Rheinisches Landesmuseum.

"Oldest Bust" of Julius Caesar Found in France?

Updated 15 May 2008: Bust is probably not that of Caesar, see comments at the end of the post.

While I am abroad, remains my primary source of news. This morning I saw an interesting headline: "Divers find marble bust of Caesar that may date to 64 B.C." Upon reading this article it is clear that "64 B.C.," which indeed would be a very early bust for Caesar, is meant to be "46 B.C." - just two years before his assassination on the Ides of March in 44 B.C. Apart from the coins, I believe virtually every known portrait of Caesar is dated posthumously - but I don't have my references on sculpture and portraiture at hand, so that statement needs to be checked.

The bust was recovered from the Rhône River by underwater archaeologists near the town of Arles, which was founded by Caesar in 46 B.C. At present French authorities seem to be dating the bust to the foundation in 46 B.C., making it the oldest known bust of Caesar, but it is unclear on what material evidence they are dating it to the foundation. Hopefully, future publication will clarify the context of the bust and provide more detailed information.

According to the CNN report, the bust was recovered along with a life-size statue of Neptune from the third century AD and two small bronze statues, one of which is described as "a satyr with his hands tied behind his back, 'doubtless' originat[ing] in Hellenic Greece," according the French Culture Ministry. Unfortunately, there are no photographs of the other finds at this time. I wonder if the bound satyr statue is a variant of one of many representations of the "Punishment of Marsyas" [link to Wikipedia article - 'buyer beware']. Sculptural representations of these mythological scenes were widely produced by Hellenistic sculptors, but also copied by the Romans. It is unclear to me whether the statement, attributed to the French Culture Ministry, implies the sculpture itself came from Greece or if the type simply comes from Hellenistic Greece.

Hopefully future publication will provide more information on these important finds. One important question archaeologists are trying to determine is the context in which the group of statues were put into the river.

(AP Photo from CNN article)

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

'Dilettanti and Shopmen': Divergent Interests in Looting and Cultural Heritage Issues

Debate over cultural heritage issues has been heating-up over the past few years. Archaeologists and other professionals are concerned about looting, which has dramatically increased with the exploitation of the internet as a sales-platform and advances in metal detector technology, amongst other things. Museums are beginning to understand the issues and concerns and are increasingly taking steps to avoid dealing in illicitly excavated and traded antiquities. However, there are still some holdouts from that community who have argued against efforts designed to protect archaeological sites and the destruction of information for commercial profit.

In a completely different category are the much more personalized diatribes that have been made by certain dealers of ancient objects against scholars and advocates who are concerned about the plunder of the ancient world. Those with a financial interest in maintaining an unchecked trade in undocumented and illicitly excavated and exported antiquities have attempted to distort the issues by claiming that there is some other motivation apart from concern for the destruction of information and the vandalization of historical sites. For example, it is often asserted that archaeologists support “nationalist” claims to cultural heritage because it is the only way they can get permission to excavate in foreign nations. They claim that the AIA, the leading professional organization for classical archaeologists in the USA, has been “hijacked by zealots” who subscribe to the absurd philosophy that looting destroys scientific and historical information, which systematic excavation preserves. They claim that archaeologists simply want to “control scholarship” on the ancient world and that an anti-looting stance is a direct attack against independent scholarship. Can one not be concerned about the systematic destruction of the foundations of a historical science?

While there have been several erudite ancient coin dealers in the past, and even some today, who have made scholarly contributions to historical sciences, it is not typical today and most dealers do not actively participate in scholarly discourses; their primary interest is in buying and selling. For example, there are over one hundred ancient coin and antiquities dealers on websites like VCoins, but only a few have published in peer-reviewed journals or actively conduct research intended for publication in a journal or scholarly press. Nevertheless, some of the most outspoken members of the dealer lobby constantly call each other “scholars” and claim to be “independent scholars,” criticizing archaeologists, and especially the AIA, for “exclusion.” Personally, I have met several independent scholars, and at-large-members, at the AIA Annual Meetings. I have read scholarly articles in archaeological and numismatic journals that have been written by unaffiliated scholars. Therefore, I do not understand this assertion that the AIA and others have excluded independent scholars. There is a simplistic equation that some dealers are drawing: collector/dealer = scholar, which may be true in some instances, but certainly not all. One dealer has even attempted to elevate a hobbyist magazine to a scholarly publication on par with serious numismatic and archaeological journals in an attempt to imply that dealers (and also collectors) know what is best for coins in regard to cultural heritage legislation and issues (see "Archaeologists don't care about coins?" and the comments). Is this not like equating Cat Fancy magazine (a quality publication I have enjoyed by the way) with the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery? These publications both cater to people involved with cats (cat lovers/hobbyists on the one hand, and veternarians/scientists on the other), but we would not confuse them as both being “scholarly” and serving the same purposes.

Contrary to the assertions of one ancient coin dealer and lobby leader, different veins of interest can be traced back well before the UNESCO Conventions and the notion of cultural property issues. Scholars were concerned about understanding the past while dealers often had a different interest at heart. Yes, many did make some valuable scientific contributions, but this was not a universal rule by any means. For example, in his letter to accept the Medal of the Numismatic Society of London (now the Royal Numismatic Society), which was read at the General Meeting in 1895 by Dr. Barclay Head, Theodor Mommsen seems to have recognized the differing interests:

“Dear Sir, - You inform me, that the medal of the London Numismatic Society has been awarded to me by the Council. I accept, not without some inward contrition. Though I have published several works, I have never pretended to be a numismatist. My historical researches led me in early years to understand that history cannot be worked at without the coins, the only department of the records of civilised ages which has come down to us in comparative integrity. The soil is a better and surer recipient of ancient remains than the libraries, and the coins, by good fortune rarely unique, present a complete series as compared with the detached fragments preserved by the epigraphical tradition. So I came to study numismatics. But very soon I saw that what I wanted was not to be found in a literature which, after Eckhel, has been left mostly to dilettanti and shopmen; and, as a young man and a rash one, I tried to write, myself, what I wanted to get written. I am fully aware that my numismatic works are far from satisfactory; nevertheless, they have contributed to bridge over the chasm between numismatics and history, and in this sense I accept with sincere gratitude the distinction the London Society is about to confer upon me” ("Proceedings of the Numismatic Society," Numismatic Chronicle 15, 1895, pp. 20-21).

A few comments by the president of the society, Sir John Evans, following the reading of Mommsen’s letter may be also relevant:

“For my own part, after reading this interesting letter in which Mommsen tells us how he came to write his History of the Coinage of Rome, I may say that what amazes me most in it is the modest disclaimer of the writer to rank as a numismatist."

"Though he may be neither a collector nor a dilettante attracted to the study by an instinctive delight in coins as specimens of the die-engraver’s art, and though he may not care on “rap”…whether such and such coin be rare or common, beautiful or barbarous, he, nevertheless has always recognized the inestimable value of ancient cons as permanent historical documents…"

"No one numismatist is able to boast of a thorough knowledge of all the multifarious branches of this wide study nor do we all seek from coins the same sort of information. Some of us consult them as grammar of art and archaeology, others admire them as galleries of portraits, others have recourse to them as a storehouse of mythological lore, while others, again, are interested in them chiefly as illustrating the history of currency in past ages, and some others, simply as an article of commerce to be turned into the currency of the present day, at a profit" ("Proceedings of the Numismatic Society," Numismatic Chronicle 15, 1895, p. 21). [italics are in the original text].

Later, another historian, Moses Finley, commented:

“The second example is the history of money and coinage in antiquity. Systematic study began in the eighteenth century, but it was dominated, almost monopolized, by the interests of collectors until the last few decades, and that interest still retains a strong hold. However, the function of coins, as distinct from their rarity or their aesthetics, has become an increasingly prominent subject of research and the results have been considerable” (M.I. Finley, The Use and Abuse of History. London, 1975. p. 96).

Robert Göbl, who was in fact somewhat sympathetic to collecting and dealing, also recognized the following about numismatic scholarship:

“Auch zur Numismatik führt kein Königsweg, sie muß zu einem gewissen Grad erlernt werden. Bei allem Respekt, den die numismatische Wissenschaft ihren großen Laien schuldet, denen sie oft genug methodische Innovationen verdankte, muß dennoch betont werden, daß Numismatik als Wissenschaft nicht in der Art eines Hobby’s betrieben werden kann. Die Archäologie, in teilweise sehr ähnlicher Lage wie wir, hat sich erst kürzlicher mit Recht gegen den Begriff des Hobby-Archäologen gewendet und darauf hingewiesen, daß es ja auch keine Hobby-Mediziner u.ä. gäbe. Es ist also die Festigkeit des methodischen Lehrgebäudes und seiner Anerkennung allein, an der Gebrauch oder Mißbrauch hängen....Aber es würde den Hobby-Betrieb der Numismatik ehren, wenn er theoretisch wie praktisch von jener Art von Kurpfuschertum Abstand nähme, die immer wieder und oft penetrant auftritt” (R. Göbl, Numismatik. Grundriß und wissenschaftliches System. Munich, 1987. p. 75, see also relevant discussion from 74-78).

My quick and rough translation:

“No ideal process gives rise to the study of numismatics, but it must be studied on a conscious level. In all respects, numismatics owes much to laypeople with their methodical innovations; nevertheless, it must be emphasized that numismatics as a science cannot be applied within the framework of a hobby. To some extent, archaeology is in a very similar situation as well; we first turned against, with reference to the law, the concept of the “hobby-archaeologist” and pointed out that there is no such thing as a “hobby-physician,” etc. It is therefore the cohesiveness of methodical educational premises and its acknowledgment alone on which its use or misuse depends…. But it would add dignity to the numismatic trade interest if it would refrain from every style of charlatanry practically and theoretically, which appears over and over and is obtrusive.”

These are just a few of the several examples where numismatists themselves have commented on divergent commercial/personal and scholarly interests in numismatics.

We all have a passion for the material culture of the ancient world, but the expression of that passion varies from scholar, to dealer, to collector, and to layperson. If real progress is to be made by all concerned parties on protecting the physical remnants and knowledge of the ancient world from destruction, then the trade interest needs to be more transparent about its activities, abandon the deceptive sorts of charlatanry described above, and address the issues outright. The question is about the material and intellectual consequences of looting and what WE all can do to reduce the destruction of historical sites and the resulting loss of information.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Materielle Kultur

One of the great things about studying in Frankfurt, apart from the scholarly resources available in the libraries, is that there are many scholars working in different - but related - fields who collaborate regularly. Although we may study ancient coins or ceramics, for example, we should be aware of theoretical and methodological advances in art history, archaeological field methods, economic theory, anthropology, sociology, etc.

One interesting book that I recently came across, after seeing a colleague's copy and later purchasing a copy of my own, is Hahn, H.P. 2005. Materielle Kultur. Eine Einführung. Berlin: Dietrich Reimer Verlag [also available on AbeBooks]. The author is a professor in the Institut für Historische Ethnologie at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität in Frankfurt.

In my view the book should be an important resource for more than just anthropologists and enthnologists; archaeologists, numismatists, art historians, sociologists, and others who study material culture should find something of interest here. Yes, it's a book on theory and the information is densely packed, but it is always good to reevaluate our approaches to material objects. Sometimes in our various researches, we have a tendency to move away from attention Quellenkritik - the rigorous examination of our sources. Often times, we take certain ideas, interpretations, and assumptions for granted without questioning the circumstances in which they arose or the society in which they were conceived. We can sometimes fall into the trap of unawarely imposing modern understanding of objects or concepts onto ancient cultures. This book addresses the use and study of material culture in a systematic, historiographic, and theoretical fashion, prompting us to a more conscious state of awareness of some of the perils involved in the interpretation of material objects and the many dimensions governing their interpretation and meaning. Since I have been working with the meaning of images and their semantic character, I've been finding discussions in his fourth chapter, "Bedeutungen der Dinge,"particularly useful.

Prof. Dr. Hahn also runs a web resource on the research discussed in his book.

For those who do not have a copy of the book in a nearby library, the table of contents might be useful for anyone curious about the subject matter:

  1. Perspketiven auf materielle Kultur. Zum Aufbau dieser Einführung; Ding, Sache, Gegenstand: Begrifflichkeiten materieller Kultur; Versuche der systematischen Dokumentation
  2. Die Materialität der Dinge und ihre Wahrnehmung. Bedingungen der Wahrnehmung von Gegenständen; Objekte und Errinerung; Objektbiographien; Zum Eigensinn der Dinge
  3. Zum Umgang mit Dingen. Lebensstile und Motive des Konsums; Georg Simmel; Thorstein Veblen; Pierre Bourdieu; Neuere Schicht- und milieubezogene Ansätze; Konsumkritik ("Use less things"); Konsumwandel; Güterexpansion und das "Bild der Begrenztheit der Güter"; Begrenzte Bedürfnisse und Luxusgüter; "Echte" und "Falsche" Bedürfnisse?; Geringer und großer Sachbesitz; Interpretationen des Konsumwandels; Warenform, Waren- und Gabentausch; Aneignung von Dingen; Zum Umgang mit Dingen in Haushalten
  4. Bedeutungen der Dinge. Materielle Kultur als Zeichensystem und Objektbedeutungen; Zeichensysteme; Objektzeichen als "unscharfe" Zeichen; Beispiele für die Beschreibung von Objekten und ihren Bedeutungen; Petr Bogatyrev; Roland Barthes; Mary Douglas; Sprache und Dinge; Dinge sind kein Text - Grenzen der kommunikativen Dimension von Objekten; Worter und Sachen; Objektkategorien und Stil als Bedeutungsträger; Ethnische Identität und materielle Kultur; Metonyme und Metaphern
  5. Epilog.