Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Numismatics and Archaeology on Facebook

The Numismatics and Archaeology weblog has been listed for some time in the NetworkedBlogs application on Facebook. I have just added a widget to the lefthand side of this website so that Facebookers can easily follow this blog via the NetworkedBlogs application, simply by clicking on "Follow this blog" on the widget.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Some Recent Discussions about Nighthawking and the Ancient Coin Trade

One of the perks of working in Europe is nationalized health care. Eight years ago or more, I was told my wisdom teeth needed to come out, but I could not afford the two thousand dollars it was going to cost. Fortunately, this long overdue dental work is done (all only for a 10 Euro copay!), but the pain and the painkillers have hindered my work over the past week, including posting to this website.

Therefore, I just wanted to draw the attention of my readers to some recent discussions that have developed regarding the "Nighthawking Survey," referenced in my previous post, as well as some other discussion relevant to the ancient coin trade and ethical collecting.

David Gill and Paul Barford have been providing some interesting and enlightening observations on nighthawking in Britain:

"'To Say the Problem is Gone is Absolutely Untrue'" (Gill)
"What Kind of Nighthawking (sic) has Declined?" (Barford)
"The Tide Turns for the British Antiquities Market" (Barford)
"What is Illegal Artefact Hunting in the UK?" (Barford)
"Damage to Archaeological Sites in the UK caused by Illegal Searching and Removal of Antiquities" (Barford)
"Prominent Metal Detectorists says 'Illegal Metal Detecting is Now Virtually Non-Existent'" (Barford)
"British Nighthawks on Facebook" (Barford)
"Regulating the Sales of Artefacts in Britain Soon?" (Barford)

David Gill draws attention to the fact that some ancient coin dealers in the U.S. still completely misunderstand the issues at stake in the dialogue about looting and indiscriminate market demand:

"'Some Activist Archaeologists...[are] too left wing in their approach'"

Paul Barford points out two blogs by antiquities collectors ("Two New Blogs and a Website"). Unlike the blogs of disciples of the ancient coin dealer lobby in the U.S. that have been cropping up left and right, trying to excuse unethical and indiscriminate collecting, these two collector blogs highlight how collectors can be proactive and collect ethically. For a long time I have received a lot of private feedback and encouragment from collectors of ancient coins and antiquities and it is, in my view, now quite refreshing to see that some collectors are starting to come out publicly and combat the mantras and deceptions of tradesmen and those who wish to paint looters as humanitiarians and indiscriminate collectors as erudite rescue archaeologists.

I have been particularly interested in following the blog "Pieces of the Past: Ethical Antiquities Collecting" and I have added it to the feed on the lefthand side of this website.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Illegal Metal Detecting in Britain and the World

Today the nighthawking survey in Britain is released and already there have been several news reports. Although the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in the Britain has been successful in deterring some irresponsible metal detecting, the media reports demonstrate that illegal metal detecting persists in that country. Ill-gotten finds are typically sought after to supply dealers and collectors who are not so concerned about due diligence and where material is coming from. The PAS is a wonderful scheme, but this shows that, as long as some collectors and dealers do not really value its goals or mission, and do not conduct due diligence, its real effectiveness is minimized.

We should also keep in mind that in other nations, illegal metal detecting is even more rampant and damaging, as is the case in Bulgaria and other Balkan nations which are the primary suppliers for the indiscriminate trade in portable antiquities (ancient coins, fibulae, buckles, weapons, and other small metal finds).

Nighthawks and illegal metal detectorists around the world largely supply the voracious and unquestioning market, not those operating ethically within the Britain's PAS scheme.

For some news reports on nighthawking in Britain visit: D.W.J. Gill, "From an Illicit Hobby to a Semi-Professional Criminal Industry," Looting Matters (16 Feb. 2009).

For some recent discussions here on Numismatics and Archaeology about looting in Bulgaria and the Balkans and its relationship to the indiscriminate trade in ancient coins and antiquities see:

The lecture, "The Trade in Ancient Coins in the USA: Scale and Structure" also addresses Bulgarian and Balkan sources.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Police Action with Antiquities and Ancient Coins in Germany: Some Clarifications and a Call for Reason

Over the past week I have been observing North American discussion lists about ancient coin collecting; last week it came to the attention of some of these groups that police action in Germany has involved the confiscation of certain private collections of ancient coins. Since American dealers and collectors have found out about these events, there has been little reason in the ensuing discussions or little desire to understand the issues or circumstances involved. On the other hand, there has been ample amounts of speculation and some of the more outspoken dealers leading the dealer lobby in the United States (ACCG) have returned to familiar alarmist tactics to recruit more supporters. The discussions on the lists are not currently presenting a very balanced view of the actual situation in Germany, nor is reason prevailing. Therefore, I should like to take the opportunity to make some rather important clarifications. I feel I am able to provide such clarifications since I am currently living and working in Germany, I have personally met and had discussions with some of the law enforcement officers involved in these seizures, and I have heard some of their presentations about their work at cultural heritage protection conferences and workshops.

1) The current discussion in the United States is painting the picture of police going door to door, seizing any ancient coin collection they come across. This is pure Panikmache (fear-mongering). The seizures are being made with lawful cause.

2) Some have asserted that the new German ordinance of 15 October 2008, "Verordnung über das Verzeichnis wertvollen Kulturgutes nach demKulturgüterrückgabegesetz," is responsible for the seizures. This is false. In fact, seizures have regularly been made well before the enactment of this ordinance (see below, point 4, for the legal basis).

3) Rogue German police are not making the seizures, but some Police Arbeitsgemeinschaften within the structure of Germany's federal states are charged with investigating and enforcing laws related to looting and antiquities crimes. Sales of antiquities and ancient coins are monitored for goods that are clearly stolen or looted in Germany or are looted in foreign countries (e.g. Balkan countries) and smuggled into Germany and sold. In addition to antiquities sales monitoring, the police have also caught several metal detectorists who are illegally operating in Germany and selling their goods.

4) Police investigations and actions also include the recovery of stolen goods and so this is where the seizure of certain private collections has come in. Once a dealer or smuggler has been identified selling stolen goods, police have the duty to recover that stolen property. This is done through a German law (§ 259 StGb) that is very similar to our National Stolen Property Act in the U.S., whereby it is illegal to handle or buy stolen property (knowingly or unknowingly). Pertinent to archaeological goods, see also § 929 and § 932. In one recent article, M. Müller-Karpe discusses how these laws work in relation to antiquities sales ("Dekontextualisierung in der Archäologie." In: Das Denkmal als Fragment - das Fragment als Denkmal. Denkmale also Attraktion. Jahrestagung der Vereinigung der Landesdenkmalpfleger (VdL) und des Verbandes der Landesarchäologen (VLA) und 75. Tag für Denkmalpflege 10.-13. Juni 2007 in Esslingen am Neckar. Arbeitsheft 21, Regierungspräsidium Stuttgart, Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (Stuttgart 2008), 443-451).

5) Müller-Karpe, cited above, argues that buyers of antiquities should know that virtually everything on the market is stolen and looted. However, it is my impression that although stolen property ought to be recovered, criminal charges are not filed unless the receiver of stolen goods is aware that the goods are in fact stolen. In any case, this does not mean that the buyer is entitled to retain stolen goods.

6) Ancient coin collectors are not being singled out. Other antiquities have also been seized. I recall seeing a presentation in November by one police officer who showed photographs from a house that was searched following the sale of suspect items on the internet. Every room in the house was filled with antiquities (pottery and metal objects) on shelves stacked to the ceilings. Investigations determined he operated illegally as a metal detector and looted locally to fill his collection. It was also discovered he looted abroad while vacationing in different European countries.

7) Seizures are not restricted to ancient coins or antiquities. Under the law cited above, any stolen goods are subject to seizure and the receiver may face criminal charges dependent on the circumstances (i.e. whether or not the intent was to buy stolen goods). This means that if someone buys a car stereo at a flea market and the police determine the seller in fencing stolen goods, the police will confiscate the stolen stereos that were sold by this individual. There is no doubt that other Police Arbeitsgemeinschaften are responsible for investigating and recovering other types of stolen property.

While I understand the frustration of private collectors in light of these events, it does highlight the need for some standard due diligence processes so that the inventories of indiscriminate dealers are not stocked with looted material and so that collectors do not end up paying the price. The recent statement from the Deutsche Numismatische Gesellschaft does include the recommendation that collectors conduct greater due diligence in buying ancient coins and maintain records for their purchases:

"Das Sammeln antiker, mittelalterlicher und neuzeitlicher Münzen und Medaillen sowie von Papiergeld ist nicht strafwürdig. Ein Herkunftsnachweis für die einzelne Münze ist nicht vorgeschrieben. Dennoch fordern wir unsere Sammler auf, mehr als bisher die Herkunft ihrer Münzen zu dokumentieren, auch wenn sie diese bei Sammlerbörsen oder an anderer Stelle erworben haben bzw. erwerben."

German police are working within their job description and are enforcing the law as related to their special assignments and their criminal investigation divisions. The receipt of any stolen material is subject to confiscation. These events should not be exploited by certain dealers in the U.S. simply to recruit supporters and raise funds for their own lobbying activities, but rather should be viewed as both a lesson and an opportunity. Stolen and looted material easily makes its way into the antiquities and ancient coin market since there is a general lack of due diligence and regulation. It has been demonstrated over and over how easily it is for looted and stolen ancient coins to make their way to dealer inventories, auction houses, and ultimately the cabinets of collectors. If dealers are not practicing due diligence, then collectors unfortunately may pay the price as these private internet sales are the most traceable. Some dealers routinely fill their inventories by purchasing from "wholesalers" who import looted material directly from source countries and this sort of "back door dealing" is simply not as traceable as everyday internet transactions. Good for the dealer who buys from these people, but bad for the collector who buys the wholesaler's leftovers on eBay. Collectors are, therefore, more likely to suffer than your average dealership or auction house that quietly buys from suspect wholesalers and suppliers. When it comes to both law and ethics, "good faith" is simply not a substitute for due diligence. It is up to collectors to demand greater transparency and due diligence from dealers and/or to be more vigilant about the coins they choose to buy for themselves and where they are coming from. These events provide an opportunity for dialogue about how collectors can avoid buying recently looted and stolen goods and how they can insist on change in the current state of the "no questions asked" market. Consumers have the power to change the way the market operates.