BIBLE HISTORY DAILY

Ancient Coins and Looting

Preserving the context

Ancient coins provide a precise chronology when discovered in context. Unfortunately, they are also some of the most frequently looted artifacts and are often traded without regulation.

Ancient coins provide a precise chronology when discovered in context. Unfortunately, they are also some of the most frequently looted artifacts and are often traded without regulation.

“Let’s think of an ancient coin as a murder weapon. No one would disagree that going into a crime scene before the investigators arrive and absconding with the bloody knife, cleaning it and then putting it in a private collection would seriously compromise the case. But this is what happens when looters descend on an archaeological site and remove coins and other artifacts: They disturb objects, their relationships with one another and remove evidence that may well be the ‘smoking gun’ for an excavation.”

So writes Baylor University professor and Huqoq numismatist Nathan T. Elkins in Investigating the Crime Scene: Looting and Ancient Coins in the July/August 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review. In his Archaeological Views column, Elkins describes the importance of ancient coins as primary chronological indicators. When found under sealed floors, foundations or walls, they can provide definitive chronological evidence. Unfortunately, they are also the most widely collected and sought-after artifact type, and millions of coins enter the market each year from unrecorded digs.


Do museums and educational organizations have the right to sell antiquities from their collections? This was the question the AIA-St. Louis Society faced when artifacts from its Egyptian collection were put up for auction. Learn more >>


Looted ancient coins do still provide information for numismatists who want to study, say, iconography. But Elkins notes that ancient coins’ iconography, archaeology, text and inscription are all pieces of the same historical puzzle, and we must “endeavor to preserve, and encourage the preservation of, as much information as possible.”

If archaeologists are the detectives of history, then ancient coins are the “smoking guns” of the ancient crime scene, according to Elkins. Detectives reconstruct crimes by looking at the relationships between weapons, footprints, fingerprints, broken glass and other evidence. Archaeologists do the same by analyzing artifacts within their find contexts. Looting not only removes valuable evidence from the equation—such as dates or imperial faces inscribed on ancient coins—but also scatters the primary context of the disturbed area, destroying our ability to recreate the story behind the evidence.

——————

BAS Library Members: Read Investigating the Crime Scene: Looting and Ancient Coins by Nathan T. Elkins as it appears in the July/August 2014 issue of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.


Our free eBook Ten Top Biblical Archaeology Discoveries brings together the exciting worlds of archaeology and the Bible! Learn the fascinating insights gained from artifacts and ruins, like the Pool of Siloam in Jerusalem, where the Gospel of John says Jesus miraculously restored the sight of the blind man, and the Tel Dan inscription—the first historical evidence of King David outside the Bible.

Learn more about ancient coins in Bible History Daily:

Roman Emperor Nerva’s Reform of the Jewish Tax by Nathan T. Elkins

Gold Nero Coin Comes to Light in Jerusalem

Rare Roman Gold Coin Minted by Trajan Found

Judaea Capta Coin Uncovered in Bethsaida Excavations

Coins Celebrating the Great Revolt Against the Romans Unearthed near Jerusalem

How Ancient Jews Dated Years


This Bible History Daily feature was originally published on June 18, 2014.


 

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66 Responses

  1. Hoard of Gold Coins Found in Caesarea Harbor | Laodicean Report says:

    […] Ancient Coins and Looting […]

  2. Paul Barford says:

    I think it is clear that either:
    – the US coin dealer has not the foggiest what it is being discussed here and which was the topic of Professor Elkins;’ article, in which case it’s a bit rich of him complaining (comment #8 on the previous page above) that nobody wants to sit down with him and discuss how to resolve this issue, OR,
    – the US coin dealer is deliberately fogging an issue which he is uncomfortable about others discussing and has has every intention but to sit down and discuss how to resolve the issue and would dearly love for this conversation to end.

    I think if you look through the sixty-odd comments above, one can see clearly who is interested in discussing the issues Elkins points out, and who is putting a lot of effort into deflecting attention away and discouraging further discussion of those issues. What collectors and dealers are doing here is not controlling the debate, but alienating themselves from it.

    Paul Barford

  3. Nigel says:

    “The amount of looting in Britain is far less than that in Egypt”…..

    But that is ONLY because what is called looting elsewhere is called legal in Britain.

    In addition, whatever it’s called, in Britain it is ALL Collection Driven Exploitation.

    “How it works” is not that you assert two pure untruths about the situation in Britain and then claim the thread must end!

  4. Wayne Sayles says:

    @David says “That collecting provides most of the motivation for looting is blatantly obvious to the rest of the world.” I think that is an inaccurate characterization. The amount of looting in Britain is far less than that in Egypt, for example, if one believes the media reports. Does that mean there are many more (or more voracious) collectors of Egyptian artifacts than there are of Romano-British or Celtic objects? If so, the ancient coin market does not reflect that. A rational person might conclude instead that the differing degrees reflect differing cultural property laws and societal concerns over perservation in the two countries. By the way, I thought this thread was supposed to end with Nathan Elkins having the last word (see comment #40). Apparently David was chastizing me prematurely and is now (22 comments later) disregarding his own admonition. Funny how that works.

  5. David Knell says:

    Peter, I never said I am a collector. I stopped collecting years ago. What I said was that I care about the future of collecting. I firmly believe that ordinary people should be able to own a few antiquities and I do not want to see that privilege jeopardised by an inability to adapt to changing times.

    If you’ve been following the discussion, you’ll know that coins WITHOUT a provenance are precisely what the rest of us have been chatting about.

    “I actually made suggestions for everyone …”

    EXACTLY, Peter! Of the five points you raised on the CPO page you linked to, only two were aimed at dealers or collectors (rather feeble suggestions at that). All the rest were demands aimed at EVERYONE ELSE – everyone ranging from both US and foreign governments to archaeologists!

    That collecting provides most of the motivation for looting is blatantly obvious to the rest of the world. If you persist in your insane attempt to shift the blame onto everyone else, you will doom collecting to perish in not only contempt but ridicule. I do NOT want that to happen.

    The ONLY way that collecting can survive is for collectors (and their dealers) themselves to take action. And it has to be dramatic action … like … say … a registry.

    http://ancient-heritage.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/a-way-forward.html

    David Knell

  6. Paul Barford says:

    I think the register is precisely intended to deal with finds currently in private hands including those acquired after 1970 and which lack documented proof of that. Did you not understand that? Interesting that you apparently think attempts to ensure licitness of purchased artefacts is a “useless burden” on dealers. Hmmm.

  7. Peter says:

    For David, you say you are a collector, but then you also say you inherited your collection back in 1969 or a year before UNESCO. But how about anyone collecting after that? I’ve already made my suggested solutions known in my ANS article which was posted here some time ago. Unlike Elkins, yourself and Mr. Barford, I actually made suggestions for everyone, not just collectors.

    For Mr. Barford, you’ve complained PAS does not record everything– presumably for the same reason of practicality. As I’ve said, I’m all for a voluntary system, but not another useless burden placed on collectors and dealers.

  8. Paul Barford says:

    @ Rasiel, thank you for the link to your database, that’s the sort of thing that is needed. A database ‘of repose’ as Pearlstein puts it would have to be institutionalised, to enable it to have more permanence than a showcase on a dealer’s website. I think you’d also need to have a way of adding information, for example when a coin goes to another collector, perhaps in another country, or the coin’s appearance alters (if it is further cleaned or repatinated or something, or gets caught up in a house fire/flood etc).

    @Peter, I really do not see where it says in Pearlstein’s White Paper that it refers only to some US dealers’ stock and collectors’ collections. I rather get the impression that he’s talking about all of both. Small value items (shabtis recently) are also ‘repatriated’.

    @Peter, In my previous post I was not referring just to what “the law” says. I was referring to “principles”, and those principles were discussed as far back as 1970 and literate and informed collectors and dealers everywhere should have been aware of them and their possible future implications for them. They ignored them, which is why we are discussing registers.

    @Peter, “distinguish one 4th c. Constantinian bronze that easily from another enough to even capture these differences in such a database
    They will have reference numbers (like the PAS database), and having documented them, one would imagine collectors and dealers would make sure the information was passed on to the next buyer.

    Paul Barford

  9. David Knell says:

    Peter:

    “There would be a lot of images of virtually identical coins.”
    Fair point – but it is precisely the commonest low-value coins that are being mined in huge quatities and pose one of the greatest threats to archaeological sites. What is your alternative solution? Just register expensive stuff and ban collecting common coins altogether?

    Or, as I suspect, you can’t be bothered with a solution at all? Just respond with negativity and whiny protests, then sit back until coin collecting gets such a stigma that it goes the same way as bird’s eggs, ivory and fur?

    Unlike you, I actually care about the future of collecting. And unlike you, I recognise the need to do something about it.

    “Now, the highly unlikely has become standard operating procedure.”
    Rather than some weird conspiracy theory, could it be simply because layman state officials were not aware how important coins are to archaeology until professionals pointed it out?

    “And thank you for confirming that it’s really not about research– as the AIA and Prof. Elkins claims.”
    No one ever claimed it was. As Rasiel pointed out, research is merely a side benefit. As you well know, the purpose of a registry has been explained many times.

    David Knell

  10. Peter says:

    For Raisel, I’m all for voluntary registries and the like– the problem is that given the number of coins out there (millions and millions, perhaps even billions), mandatory could be quite an undertaking and for what real purpose? Bill Pearlstein and the antiquities dealers proposed this with high value artifacts in mind. It may make some good sense for the $! million dollar vase, but not the $5-$10 coin. Really, can really distinguish one 4th c. Constantinian bronze that easily from another enough to even capture these differences in such a database. There would be a lot of images of virtually identical coins.

    For Mr. Barford, the operative law here in the USA is not UNESCO, its the CPIA. Coins were not restricted under that until recently based on some back room shenanigans involving the archaeological lobby and their cronies at State. At the time the statute was proposed, a high level State Department official represented to Congress that it would be highly unlikely coins would be restricted. Now, the highly unlikely has become standard operating procedure.

    And thank you for confirming that it’s really not about research– as the AIA and Prof. Elkins claims. If it were, the AIA would also be advocating a mandatory registry for archaeologists. Archaeologists are bound by the Treasure Act in the UK, why shouldn’t they be bound by the same rules proposed for everyone else?

  11. Rasiel Suarez says:

    That registry already exists. The Tantalus Registry (tantaluscoins.com) was launched ten years ago for precisely this reason and is now at over 100,000 records. In fact, any database that hosts a photo of a coin is in effect recording at least a portion of its provenance and where the records are publicly accessible they have the side benefit of being useful in research.

    Although I can’t speak for everyone, I’d be happy to support a centralized, government-funded database. Even if the addition of a new record came with a small tax to offset the costs of running it all I still think it would be a worthwhile effort. The scheme could encompass all historical artifacts, not just coins.

  12. Paul Barford says:

    @ “Peter”: Here we go… Well, before I suggest an answer, let us take a step back. In 1970 an international working group established some principles of legitimate trade (thereby defining what is illicit trade). Like it or like it not, that’s what they did. Since then antiquity dealers and antiquity collectors (in your case coin collectors) have consistently and carelessly ignored that fact, leading to us now having a load of stuff in private hands that cannot now be legitimated by the principles laid down in that Convention. That’s the legacy of antiquity collecting’s past.

    Let’s skip forward, thinking in the longer term. Given the direction in which a lot of research and lobbying is going, it will emerge (be argued) that society cannot much longer continue to ignore the harmful effects of certain ways of trading antiquities. Like it or like it not, that seems to be the way things are going, and the scales are slowly but surely tipping against no-questions-asked collecting. Peter Tompa is one of those who has long and loudly pointed out the discrepancies between the wording of certain US legislation connected with that 1970 Convention and what many feel to be effective protection of the heritage. He in effect says ‘hang the effective preservation, lets stick to the letter of our ineffective law’. The logical outcome of that, taken with the tenor of the information currently being supplied to lawmakers and public opinion by academics, can only be rewriting that legislation, to better implement the 1970 principles. It may happen in the next few years, it may take decades, but it will come. Collectors, through neglecting to consider possible long-term outcomes of their own lobbying, may well then find themselves at a disadvantage, being in possession of non-1970-compliant material which they cannot get rid of (like the ivory in New York).

    As David Knell points out, it is ongoing looting which is of the main concern. Suggesting a register, as several of us are doing, is one way to reach a compromise over these market-created ‘orphans’. William Pearlstein has suggested the same thing. It is in collectors’ interests to adopt a measure like that, and get their coins in the register to ‘legitimise’ them. So maybe “Peter” would like to answer his own question about funding. In whose interests is a register which legitimates material in private hands in 2014 which, despite everything, is non-1970-compliant? Mine? UNESCO’s? The US Department of Homeland Security? Or maybe the coin trade who got collectors into this mess? Or maybe collectors intent on preserving the resale value of their property when the crunch comes?

    As for “Peter”s suggestion of making an even more extensive register for “all finds anywhere and everywhere” he is losing sight of the purpose of the register, it is not to “aid numismatic research”. It is to attempt to mitigate the effects of half a century of careless collection and commerce. What do Biblical Archaeology Society readers think of this?

    Paul Barford

  13. Peter says:

    And who is going to fund this register? And who is going to run it? Is every ancient coin (there must be millions out there as you admit) in private collections going to be placed on it?

    And why not also have a similar register for coins and other artifacts found at archaeological sites? This would be most useful for the study of coins. All too often this material just sits there to deteriorate in poor storage conditions without ever being studied at all. If it was recorded on a database, it may be of equal use to the data we get out of the PAS and Treasure Act as we would also know its find spot.

    For Mr. Paul Barford, I’m a different person than John as you well know.

  14. Paul Barford says:

    I think “John” (or is it now Peter writing as John?) is confusing fantasy with fact. So now I see we are restricting our attention specifically to British archaeologists as the alleged bad guys. In the real world, professional archaeologists contracted to do a piece of work, for example developer funded work, and not doing it will get sued for breach of contract. They will also be up before the disciplinary committee of the IfA. I suggest that instead of referring readers to my “excellent blog” to find what does not exist there, Mr metal-detectorist-with-a-chip-on-his-shoulder might like to do his own backing up of his libellous statements, though I really do not see what this has to do with the matter of Professor Elkins’ essay in a journal about archaeology in “the Biblical lands” .

    As I said, perhaps we could leave all this pointless, disruptive and foundationless mud-sling-trolling by “Peter” and “John” and discuss whether there is a way we can move forward. Or are the collectors still going to continue to try to discourage it by their nasty behaviour?

    In the long term perspective, what about instituting an international voluntary register of the form suggested by William Pearlstein of the Committee for Cultural Property (2013 white paper) with time-stamped entries of so-called ‘orphan’ material currently in private hands and details of what is known of its immediate collecting history legitimising it? David Knell too has an interesting post about this option on his “Ancient Heritage” blog. It is clear that this would fix much of the problem of the possibilities of easy insertion of looted material into the market alongside anonymous licit material. A PAS type approach only covers material coming fresh out of the ground, but something is needed to help collectors account for those millions of items already in their hands. So far though, US coin dealers have blocked such suggestions which would enable the verification of claims that the material they offer with no supporting documentation is “all from old collections” (want to consider why?). Such a register would also mean a leap out of the nineteenth century attitudes to a modern approach allowing buyers in future decades to check how much actually is in those collections today and enhancing the worth of those items registered as licit by such means. What do Biblical Archaeology Society readers think of this?

  15. John says:

    Great Britain is in crisis. The non-recording of professionally excavated ‘finds’ is at epidemic proportions and the fault lies firmly with archaeology.The premier authority on the subject, Paul Barford, admits this betrayal of our profession on his excellent blog. He has his finger on the pulse and knows exactly what’s going on so perhaps, Kathy, he is best placed to name and shame. I’m sure he must know the names too.

    From the early days of my apprenticeship as an historian, this kind of corruption was well known and fingers were pointed, admittedly behind the hand, at some prominent historians, archaeologists and museum personalities who were also avid collectors and I am reliably told, some guided metal detecting treasure hunters, amongst others, to lucrative sites across East Anglia where illicit spoils were allegedly shared.

    Exposing this cauldron of corruption will, I feel, cleanse historians of this rotten strata.

  16. Paul Barford says:

    @ “Peter” “For Kathy, easier said than done given the number out there. ” is that “Peter” answering, or “John”? (Kathy asked “John” to substantiate his claim, and “Peter” answers for him).

    This is all getting very confusing, one of you says “archaeologists make up provenances”, another says they simply “don’t record them”, neither of which corresponds with my own experience as an archaeologist.

    I suggested not allowing ourselves to be deflected by pointless ‘two wrongs make a right’ arguments to what is the way forward, is it possible that this thread can move on to that? Or are the collectors going to continue to try and prevent it?

    Paul Barford

  17. Peter says:

    For Kathy, easier said than done given the number out there. As I’ve also noted in my ANS article, linked above, archaeologists often don’t do a job recording and preserving the provenance of the coins they find either– so perhaps its not about trying to hide anything, but an issue of practicality.

  18. Paul Barford says:

    That certain US museums have been caught out blatantly propagating falsified collecting histories for certain trophy items (Greek pots, bronze statues, Egyptian masks etc.), in their collections does not in any way absolve others from upholding their own standards and principles. Two wrongs never made a right. The issue here is how to preserve the context of objects on the market, not that there have all too obviously been failings in the past to do this. That we all know. Now what is the way forward?

    Having decided that this information is important (Peter’s mention of the Getty Bronze above – hinges precisely on its context of discovery and collecting history to legitimise it), how can we proceed that will enable the paperless (unprovenanced) material now above ground and licitly (one hopes) in the hands of collectors to be distinguished from freshly surfaced material arriving on the market from looting taking place tomorrow, next week or in three years’ time? That is the issue.

    Paul Barford

  19. Nigel says:

    I thought I’d heard it all but the claim that rogue archaeologists and corrupt museum officials are the real looters takes the biscuit.

  20. Kathy says:

    “The insidious criminal element regarding looted coins and relics is not with dealers, but with rogue archaeologists and corrupt museum officials who happily supply what appear to be legitimate provenances to dupe customs and legitimate collectors.”

    What….? As John and Peter must know, the point is that most of the likely looted coins on the market are sold without even the figleaf of a legitimate provenance, forged or genuine! If numismatic dealers and collectors had the slightest interest in carrying out a legitimate trade, you would expect them to be paying lip service or more to the idea of selling material with any sort of documentation regarding its prior ownership, real or fake. As it is, the stuff just appears on the market, as if by magic. No-one cares where it was before, no-one cares who buys it.

    Perhaps John could give a few examples of ‘rogue archaeologists and corrupt museum officials who happily supply what appear to be legitimate provenances to dupe customs and legitimate collectors.’ before he libels these professions.

  21. John says:

    The date is immaterial Peter. Stolen or looted coins are still stolen or looted irrespective of the date. Crime is not expunged by time; The Simon Wiesenthal Centre taught us that. David Knell, if he really believes he is in possession of or looted coins would do well, I suggest, to hand them to the relevant authorities. At least that what I was taught during my studies!

    One has only to look at the number of academics and archaeologists who are ardent and legal collectors of all manner of relics and coins and who enjoy a close and wholesome relationship with coin and relic dealers. The insidious criminal element regarding looted coins and relics is not with dealers, but with rogue archaeologists and corrupt museum officials who happily supply what appear to be legitimate provenances to dupe customs and legitimate collectors.

    As a student of history, I’m ashamed to say corruption is rife; it’s an open secret. The 1970 UNESCO Convention or UNESCO itself? Hardly known for cracking down on it’s own!

  22. Peter says:

    Let’s also remember 1970 is a “construct” based on the 1970 UNESCO Convention and nothing else. It’s useful cudgel for the AIA to in effect condemn 99% of the coins out there that have no provenance let alone one dating back before 1970, and still sound “reasonable.” Of course, the 1970 date is only “useful” for these folks until it “isn’t.” There are several claims for objects with pre-1970 provenance that the archaeological lobby is happy to support, most recently Italy’s claim for the Getty’s “Victorious Youth,” found in international waters in 1964.

  23. John says:

    David Knell commented earlier: “And oh yeah … the ancient coins I own were inherited from my great uncle. He died in 1969. I guess they may have been looted in their day but that’s hardly in the same league as importing vast heaps of them in the present and frantically groping for excuses why you should continue to do so. Do you sense a difference in the level of “guilt”?”

    It’s entirely in the same league DK! Your assertion puts the entire archaeological argument into perspective… in that inherited coin collections, once the proceeds of crime, but currently owned by so-called archaeologists, are somehow holier than other stolen or looted artefacts owned by non-archaeologists. And so this cycle of deceit rolls on and on!

  24. Nathan says:

    Peter – You are simply spinning and trying to distract from the core issue, which is the problematic sourcing of material.

    Wayne – What are you on about? Of course comments to blog entries are not “peer-reviewed”. But I have published several peer-reviewed works on numismatics and the trafficking of ancient coins. And when a dealer founds a group that is against due diligence, protective legislation, and it is run largely by dealers and supported by dealers, I call that a dealer lobby.BAR welcomes author contributions to its blog. My contributions to this thread have been very even and intended to bring balance to the negativity that you and your friends brought to BAR’s rather fair summary of the article’s contents. I think anyone who has the patience to go through all of these comments will see for themselves there is an intelligible difference in tenor and agenda among various commentators.

  25. Paul Barford says:

    @ Wayne, I do not think you and your fellow dealers come over very well. I really do not see any evidence of a “flame war” in the comments above, just an attempt to discuss the issues with you. This was a discussion about Biblical archaeology and the need to preserve information. You and your fellows (Peter, John I, John II, Rasiel) seem adamant on disrupting that discussion by steering it off onto discussion of the (US) antiquities trade where, due to the way it operates, that information is notoriously very rarely preserved.

  26. Wayne Sayles says:

    Excuse me! There are 40 posts here and three are from me. Most of what I said was a rebuttal to the misstatements by professor Elkins. I suppose I should have deferred to his infallible majesty.

  27. David Knell says:

    Before lecturing anyone on what may be “highly unethical”, I should think the people continuing to post vituperative comments here would have at least the very basic ethics to allow Prof. Elkins to have the final word on his OWN article. We have all had our say here. We all have our own blogs to attack or support the article further. Use them.

    Rather than persisting in a virulent diatribe here, I had hoped that even the worst critics would have at least shown common courtesy.

    David Knell

  28. Wayne Sayles says:

    Thank you to Nathan Elkins for admitting in comment #37 that his earlier statement (comment 36) was NOT peer reviewed. Is it possible that some of his other statements also were not peer reviewed? If so, that might explain why they seem so far from the mark. His observation here that Peter Tompa is responding in an aggressive and vociferous manner is laughable after reading the tirades by archaeo-bloggers above. Perhaps Professor Elkins should have run his post by a committee first for a rationality check. It’s interesting to see the author of an article in a major publication engaging in a flame war within the comments section related to his own article. I wonder what the editorial staff of BAR thinks about that? I’ve never seen anything like this before. Having been involved in the publishing profession myself for a good many years, it seems to me highly unethical. If this were a blog, it would make little difference. But BAR is not a blog. By the way, note in comment #8 that I signed with my full name, it really was not necessary for Nathan Elkins to reiterate that. Google would have quickly answered any questions a “casual reader” of this thread might have, and far more accurately. First, I am not the founder of the “coin dealer lobby” as Elkins states in comment #12 above. I don’t even know of any such organization. The International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild do fund a degree of lobbying, but I am a member of neither and most certainly did not found either. I did found the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, which is a non-profit collector advocacy organization 501c4. The nature of ACCG and its purpose is clearly explained at the guild’s website ACCG.US — perhaps Professor Elkins should have had that comment peer reviewed as well by someone who actually read the statement of purpose. As he has done on numerous prior occasions, Professor Elkins misstates the ACCG position on import restrictions. As I have stated in person before the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory, on more than one occasion, the ACCG does not oppose import restrictions per sé. The guild supports the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act as enacted and has asked CPAC to recommend coin exemptions because the U.S. State Department and Customs have not implemented the law as it is written. The “first found” and “export control” provisions purposely added to CCPIA to protect coin collectors and the trade have been ignored in subsequent implementation of the Act. As I stated on the record at the recent CPAC hearing in Washington, if those legislated protections were adhered to there would not be any opposition from ACCG. And, ACCG did formally and officially support the MOU with Egypt, so all the banter about ACCG opposing anything but free trade is just nonsense.

  29. Peter says:

    I’ve read it. I was commenting that the article appears to be being used for two different purposes for two different audiences (one to inform BAR readers of your views about the importance of context and your hopes for collectors to share your concern, the other the archaeological community for purposes of beating up on collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade on the internet and perhaps with government decision makers.) You may protest otherwise, but that’s my considered opinion after reviewing Messr. Barford’s blog and some other sources which are used to disseminate an extreme anti-collector view to other audiences. If your truly concerned about that perception, perhaps at a minimum ask your friend Mr. Barford to take down references to it on his virulent anti-collector/anti-American blog.

  30. Nathan says:

    First sentence was unedited. The intended phrasing was “Peter, if you do not want to engage with the issue of the article, why are you commenting here about other things in such an aggressive and vociferous manner? It seems you are trying to detract from the issues”….

  31. Nathan says:

    Peter, if you do not want to engage with the issue of the article and are therefore trying to detract from the issues, why are you commenting here about other things in such an aggressive and vociferous manner. In internet lingo, that is called trolling. I recall your having attacked my work before without having read it. My peer-reviewed writings have consistently advocated due diligence and insisted that collector interests are different from the dealer interests that you represent. The BAR article advocates the same thing: that collectors can inspire change. So please, inform yourself of the content of the article.

  32. Peter says:

    Prof. Elkins- Any assumptions I’m making are reasonable ones anyone would make after reviewing Mr. Barford’s blog posts and other lists associated with the archaeological establishment which appear to be exploiting your article or items written about it for that very purpose. And that is certainly consistent with your own activities too. I’m not sure you can have it both ways.

  33. Nathan says:

    Peter makes a lot of assumptions about the intent of my article in BAR. I gather he is making projections and assumptions about its content rather than having read it, since he thinks it has something to do with legislation. Perhaps reading it before making such uninformed generalizations about it would be in order.

    Again, these straw man arguments are constantly made about what conservations are advocating. Why not read and address our arguments rather than asserting we are saying something else? The tactics and interests of the dealer lobby are transparent and tiring.

  34. Paul Barford says:

    @ Peter thank you Peter for confirming this is all about profits, Rasiel tells us above that he ran “buck-a-coin” auctions, so cheap coins are saleable. It is clear the reasons here are different, by buying from Britain’s legal artefact hunters, a dealer would have to offer them a fair deal price, while “other” finders from other source countries may be persuaded to sell through much less transparent channels for much less, thus putting more profit in the pockets of dealers. But that is sheer exploitation, not to mention colonialism.

    I really do not know though where Rasiel gets his figures from. Dealers such as Brett Hammond and Chris Rudd are among those who regularly buy such coins and advertise in the hobby press. I cannot believe that these two have sold between them “just 113 coins” in over seven years. There seems something wrong with the way Rasiel has arrived at numbers to dismiss the possibility that does exist of buying licitly-sourced coins. the possibility exists, what Rasiel is saying is the same as me, that dealers (US dealers for example) are ignoring that and sourcing coins through less transparent channels. Rasiel’s figures really do not help the coin trade rehabilitate its image, already tarnished by the lobbyists’ gyrations (eg of the ACCG, PNG, IAPN).

    So, going on the coin trade’s record of keeping track of collecting histories and what Rasiel asserts, how many of these items coming onto the market from licit sources with documentation immediately lose all documentation of that, and why would dealers and collectors be discarding such information? That seems rather careless. A cynic might suggest this is to prevent the differentiation of licit from illicit, so the latter does not depreciate in value and the exploitation can go on.

    In a post on my Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage issues this morning (I don’t know if I am allowed to give a link here but it can be googled), I note that PAS has recorded 300000 coins, and Rasiel suggests that only 113 of them have ever surfaced on the open market when these old collections are disposed of as detectorists die, drift away from the hobby or rationalise their collections by disposing of duplicates. So into what kind of market are the rest going? Or are they ending up in landfill maybe? What about the hundreds of thousands of coins that are dug up and not reported, in the UK as well as elsewhere? What a tragic waste, and it is collectors (“metal detectorists” are nothing else) which are doing that.

    Paul Barford

  35. Peter says:

    Rasiel, these coins probably don’t appear much at auction given the typical value of Late Roman. There is one dealer in the US who does specialize in such coins, but I’m hesitant to provide his name as that may only prompt someone in the archaeological blogosphere to bother him. In any event, I agree– these coins can’t satisfy the market because they are too few relatively and are mostly late Roman coins. I’ve never actually personally seen a UK export certificate, but they do exist and evidently should be procured for such coins found in the UK. The coins this dealer sells do come with paperwork describing the hoard, the circumstances of discovery and PAS hoard references. I’m also aware that he procures UK export certificates for such coins. Another larger dealer, CNG, also passes along references when they resell such coins, but I don’t believe they typically handle them in the first instance.

  36. Peter says:

    For Mr. Paul Barford– Maybe we are focusing on the CCPIA because this article appears to be used to support the AIA’s position with regard to that legislation, and certainly Prof. Elkins has appeared at CPAC meetings and has supported the AIA’s position in that regard.

    Perhaps Prof. Elkins can clarify that its not his intent to use this article for that purpose. I’ve seen this article discussed in close proximity to posts on your own blog about the CPIA and coins. So, are you now saying they are not related?

  37. Rasiel Suarez says:

    The PAS as supplier to the collecting community? An absolutely laughable solution. Of over 1.3 million auctions tracked between 2007 to the present a sum total of just 113 have the string “PAS recorded” in their descriptions. Of those less than half are actually ancient and not a single one comes with a copy of related documentation of the sort Paul envisions. In fact, I could not even locate via Google image search what a EU or UK export licence for a coin looks like.

    He might as well have suggested collectors appear in person at the bottom of the ocean to collect their coins.

    Rasiel Suarez

  38. Paul Barford says:

    @ Peter: >>The problem is that such a valid concern is being used to justify a clamp down on private collecting here in the US<<
    Again, more of the same type of distortion to which reference is made above. This is why nobody is going to waste time giving a "point by point" discussion of a text full of such inaccuracies.

    Reference is made here to US legislation: "the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA)", it is called. The full name of the Convention which it implements is…"Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property". As it says on the box, the Convention's entire text is about preventing "illicit import, export and transfer of ownership" of all types of cultural property. There is not a word there (not a word) on the "destruction of archaeological sites", it is about combating stealing and smuggling. A laudable aim one would have thought.

    The aim of the CCPIA is to regulate fresh (nota bene) imports into the USA of certain selected classes of artefacts (which in the case of the coins are not even a fraction of the total array of coins that are collected in the US and imported into the US).

    It is going beyond stretching a point to call attempts to curb illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of anything a "clampdown" on the collecting of that thing (unless you want to say that the majority of the stuff that is collected is indeed illicitly imported, exported and changing hands illicitly – according to the CCPIA's definitions). Do you? (and please do not answer that with your usual spiel using the word "provenance", that is quite simply not in the CCPIA either – as has been pointed out to you and you should well know).

    My impression is that Elkins' article (which I assume we are still discussing) is not about the problems of US coin importers, but a wider problem of general interest to the Biblical Archaeological Society. There is actually coin collecting going on outside the USA. Is there any reason why we are suddenly focussing on the CCPIA instead of exploring the wider issue (like the documentation of collections)?

  39. Peter says:

    David, no one has said its okay to destroy archaeological sites. The problem is that such a valid concern is being used to justify a clamp down on private collecting here in the US. Such an effort really becomes ridiculous when the country itself has no similar limitations on its own collectors. How about more targeted approaches?

    As I’ve mentioned, I’d be happy to hear a point by point response to my article, but in my review it should be about conservation rather than control. In the US at least, virtually all academic study and public collections is underwritten by collectors and dealers and without them there would not be much left. Prof. Elkins himself has taken advantage of this largess in the past, though one would not know it from his writings.

    Peter

  40. David Knell says:

    Peter: “I don’t believe collectors need be “holier than the pope” so to speak.”
    Clearly not. Perhaps if other countries legalised purse-snatching from little old ladies, you’d be happy to join in too? No need to have a higher moral standard.

    Ah, so it’s wrong to destroy elephants because they are living things but it’s okay to destroy archaeological sites because they are NOT living things? Bearing that level of reasoned debate in mind, are you really surprised that no one has bothered to reply to your views in the ANS article with a “cogent response”?

    David Knell

  41. Paul Barford says:

    @Peter, I see no real reason not to discuss issues connected with the sustainable management of the resources that comprise historic environment in connection with those comprising the natural environment. Even if you refuse to accept that, the basic issues are the same.

    The point being made about PAS is of course that US (for example) coin dealers are still NOT buying large numbers of licitly-dug PAS-recorded artefacts from the UK giving finders a fair deal. There is therefore no reason to think as yet that they or anyone else would buy any licitly-dug artefacts from anywhere else (giving finders there a near-market-price fair deal there too). So as far as solving the problem with the no-questions-asked antiquities trade, present evidence is if was set up anywhere else, it’d be money thrown in the mud and not solve the problem. Coin prices would shoot up markedly too. Besides which, on present showing, the moment these artefacts enter the market in its current form, it seems they’d lose any associated paperwork, as have the majority of those “ten million” on the market already.

    As for the ANS discussion, for there to be a cogent comment there has to be a cogent argument. Your text jumps about from subject to subject and is laced with loaded statements like the ones above. Giving it a proper answer would be very time consuming, and as we see by dealers’ reactions above, ultimately a waste of everybody’s time. In any case, Sebastian Heath answered from the archaeologists’ point of view and Roger Bland was asked to comment too. Since what you said differed in no way from what you’ve said elsewhere (which I and others have already discussed, despite you blocking some of us from your blog) there really seems no point in attempting to correct the same distortions again.

    I see no “anti-collector rhetoric and ad hominem attacks in the above posts”.

    Paul Barford

  42. Without says:

    Peter, my question wasn’t whether you had bought Treasure Act and PAS-registered coins but whether you had bought other recent British dug-ups (and whether you feel doing so is ethical). It’s a fair question and highly relevant to this discussion I think.

  43. Peter says:

    Oops… of course I mean an old coin is NOT derived from a living thing…sorry for the typo.

  44. Peter says:

    For David, I don’t believe collectors need be “holier than the pope” so to speak. Any effort to link coin collecting to the ivory trade is specious to say the least. Aside from the obvious that an old coin is derived from a “living thing,” there are so many coins around that even well funded cultural establishments (which are few and far between) can’t possibly care for them all.

    I’ve already made my views on all this known in my ANS article. As I mentioned, I’m still waiting for a cogent response to it– and its been some time at this point.

  45. Peter says:

    I’m happy to add some late Roman coins reported under the Treasure Act and PAS to my collection, but I also collect Greek coins from Italy and other Roman Imperial coins of the sort widely and legally collected within Italy itself. I’d love to know more about their find spot, but that information was never thought important until recently and countries like Italy have not adopted anything akin to the Treasure Act and PAS. So, I’m afraid such information is not typically available. Perhaps, Messrs. Barford, Swift and Elkins can help spread the word about the UK’s system to the Italian cultural bureaucracy. If respected archaeologists like Lord Renfrew can appreciate the value of the UK system, perhaps the Italian cultural bureaucracy can too!

  46. David Knell says:

    My goodness! Well, there’s a surprise! It didn’t take long for the coin dealing apologists to rush back with yet more excuses to justify why they should encourage the trashing of archaeological sites.

    Peter, I’m not sure you quite understand what ethics are. Just because elephant ivory is quite openly sold in China and the whaling industry is legal in Japan doesn’t mean those practices should be emulated everywhere else. No matter how other countries treat the coin trade, the fact remains that buying ancient coins blindly will encourage looters to source them by trashing archaeological sites. You fail to see anything “wrong with American collectors” doing that; other people do.

    I’ve already dealt on my blog with some of the fragile excuses you posted in your link; I’ll get round to dealing with the others when I get time.

    Rasiel, the only abyss I’m staring into is the gaping hole in yet another example of your strawman logic. The only looting that can be prevented is that taking place now or in the future; it’s a bit late to stop the looting that took place in the distant past and a bit late to feel guilty about that. The “guilt” is in encouraging the looting to continue.

    I think “a viable source of ancient coins” is pretty obvious to everyone but you. The coin trade is forever droning on about how many millions of ancient coins are already in private collections. Wayne Sayles estimated some 10 million of them over ten years ago (Ancient Coin Collecting, 2003, p.76). All you have to do is record them properly so people can distinguish them from fresh loot and purchase them relatively “free of guilt”.

    The “atrocity against humanity” is that you’re not satisfied with the mere 10 million ancient coins you already have; you’re desperate to encourage the continued trashing of archaeological sites so you can have still more. When is enough going to be enough for you guys? How about when every site on the planet has been obliterated just so you can make money and your customers can salivate over yet more fresh goodies? Will that suffice?

    And oh yeah … the ancient coins I own were inherited from my great uncle. He died in 1969. I guess they may have been looted in their day but that’s hardly in the same league as importing vast heaps of them in the present and frantically groping for excuses why you should continue to do so. Do you sense a difference in the level of “guilt”?

    David Knell

  47. Nigel says:

    “What’s great about them is that I know where they were found and what with what other types of coins. (This information is available on the PAS database.)”

    Oh! So you restrict your purchases to items with a PAS reference number? Good for you. I did suggest to one of your dealer colleagues on Britarch that he should do the same but he said it was completely impractical and the very question betrayed my ignorance of the realities of the trade.

    So who’s right, you or your clients?

  48. Peter says:

    I’m happy to see Mr. Barford appears to be supporting the UK’s fine system. The Treasure Act is mandatory. It requires the reporting and recording of most significant items within England and Wales. The PAS is voluntary. It encourages the recording of items that don’t meet the definition of treasure. In the end, though, the State only keeps what it deems significant enough to retain and display– and with a fair market payment to the finder. The rest of the coins can go onto the market, and, indeed I have several in my own personal collection. What’s great about them is that I know where they were found and what with what other types of coins. (This information is available on the PAS database.)

    I suggested that other countries should explore this system in the article I’ve linked above. As Mr. Barford has noted elsewhere, as a result of this system most UK archaeologists have since made peace with metal Detectorists. Even more importantly, because of it, we probably know more about coin circulation in “Britannia” than in in any other Roman province.

    In any event, I’ve never had any real comment to my suggestions at the end of my ANS article from Messrs. Elkins, Barford or anyone else associated with the archaeological community. I was hoping it would be a basis for such dialogue. It’s still not too late. Isn’t that better than the anti-collector rhetoric and ad hominem attacks in the above posts and that one reads daily in Mr. Barford’s blog?

  49. Paul Barford says:

    @Rasiel, this is another of those “excuses” David Knell mentions…. When it comes to Roman coins such as you have for sale on your ‘Dirty Old Coins’ and on Tantalus, Britain has, as many collectors and dealers point out, pretty favourable legislation about finding and keeping such items, and there are many thousand metal detectorists out there doing just that. There are now hundreds of thousands of coins out there that have been legitimately found, properly reported under the legislation (through the Treasure Act for hoard finds and Portable Antiquities Scheme) and available for purchase and export (with the required UK export licence). There are in the UK many dealers and middlemen who buy this stuff from finders and offer it for sale. It is a perfectly legal, open and above-board business (whatever personal opinions I or anyone else may have about that). The coins come with ready-made documentation – all you have to do is put it in an envelope and keep it to pass on. The detectorists have forums where you can make contact with finders. The Roman coinage supply to Britain was very rich, many mints and reverse types to choose from, coins of every emperor right through until the end of the Western Empire, there is also Celtic and some Byzantine, many of these coins are in as good or better condition than the ones pictured on your websites.

    But somehow neither you, nor any other US dealer I can see [please correct me if I am wrong] have on offer any quantities of such legitimately-obtained coins. Why is that? Is it because you have suppliers which exploit finders and therefore can provide ‘fresh-from-the-ground’ document-free coins cheaper so you can make a big profit while offering them as “astonishingly affordable”? Is it because poor folk that you are, you cannot find an “organization” (see above) to funnel them right into your hands? (And what kind of an “organization” would that be?). Try networking with British finders, Peter Tompa does.

    UK finders (when they sell disclaimed or unclaimed items to middlemen), get from them the market value – or near to it (this was discussed on a metal-detecting blog near you just last week). So any coins you resell from such a source are indeed in every sense of the word ‘fair trade’, the finder is not being ripped off and exploited as in the case of the illicit diggers that supply artefacts to “buck-a-coin” cowboys. What kind of neo-colonialist deal are source-country finders getting there?

    Please don’t try to play the “clueless” victim with us (why do collectors and dealers always try to play the victim of some conspiracy against them? Are they seeking sympathy?) I think every dealer and collector in the English-speaking world knows about the Portable Antiquities Scheme, British metal detecting and Treasure Act, they quote them incessantly at every opportunity. Anyone in the trade who has not heard about them is clearly not in the loop. There IS a source where you could, if you wanted, access guilt-free, fair trade, ancient coins of precisely the calibre of the ones you have for sale on your websites this very moment.

    As for straw men, I bet you cannot see anywhere on my, or any other blog a text describing keeping Roman coins in your house as an “atrocity against humanity”, can you? David Knell just yesterday pointed out here this tendency of dealers to make silly statements to deflect attention. Here it is again. “Peter” does the same thing, but to avoid falling into the time-wasters’ trap and repetition, I refer him to my answer above to the same question when Rasiel tried that one.

    Paul Barford

  50. Rasiel Suarez says:

    Before I have you stare into the abyss, David, it would be in fact a strawman argument if you and others who espouse your views would simply point the clueless in the direction of a viable source of ancient coins where one may purchase free of guilt. Maybe you’re aware of some organization that sells post-dig finds that have been properly recorded? Any museums having a sale on overstock coins that have been appropriately catalogued? Name at least one source where one may buy “fair trade” ancient coins and I’ll be happy to retract my statement.

    Now look at those ancient coins you own. Care to elaborate their chain of possession? Are you absolutely, positively sure that some nation or other doesn’t lay claim to them? What would you say to those who think you’re committing an atrocity against humanity just by keeping them in your house?

    Rasiel Suarez

  51. Peter says:

    The comments of Messrs. Elkins, Barford, Knell and Nigel (Swift?) mirror the anti-collector/anti-small business views of the archaeological orthodoxy. Really, what’s wrong with American collectors wanting to be able to continue to import and purchase coins of the sort openly and legally abroad?

    Is it really about conservation or control? For more, see http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2011/09/ancient-coins-and-cultural-property.html and decide for yourself.

  52. David Knell says:

    Supplementing the comment by Nathan, it needs emphasising that in fact ALL of the negative commentators have an axe to grind. As Paul Barford pointed out, in addition to Wayne Sayles, Peter Tompa and John Hooker noted by Nathan, Rasiel Suarez is a coin dealer (one of his businesses specialised in importing ancient coins in bulk from the Balkans and elsewhere).

    Among the more disingenuous tactics used by the negative band is the alarmist strawman argument set up by Rasiel Suarez. The simple explanation why he has “yet to see a compelling reason why John Q. Public should not be allowed to own ancient coins” is that no one has ever said he shouldn’t. There’s nothing wrong with owning ancient coins; I own a few myself. Nathan is merely trying to point out that buying ancient coins blindly encourages looters to source them by trashing archaeological sites. Is that really so hard to understand?

    Apart from a genuine disregard for history, there can be only one reason why the coin dealers and their lobbyists are up in arms: acting responsibly is inconvenient. Refusing to buy stock that is likely to have been looted, carefully recording stock and revealing its provenance so that customers will know they are not encouraging looting either, and so on, are all a troublesome hindrance. To avoid that inconvenience, the dealers will invent any excuse they can dream up: archaeology isn’t important, coins aren’t important to archaeology, coins are all found in hoards, coins are common, it’s all the fault of the ‘source’ countries for not guarding the sites properly, archaeologists are just being nasty, and so on ad infinitum. All the excuses are blatant rubbish that is easily refuted but the dealers simply ignore that or invent another one.

    I have to wonder if the coin dealers spent half the energy on cleaning up their act as they do on inventing silly excuses to carry on regardless, people like Nathan wouldn’t have to defend what should be blindingly obvious.

    David Knell

  53. Nigel says:

    “Illicit does not equate to immoral” gyrated the man with a fresh tusk under his arm, desperately trying to convince himself and his customers all was well. How tiresome.

  54. Paul Barford says:

    … and Rasiel Suarez is a dealer. I would totally disagree with the suggestion that “illicit does not equate to immoral”, but – to judge by earlier discussions with US coin dealers on the subject it seems the word has a different meaning on either side of the Atlantic. As anyone who has been paying attention will see, nobody is suggesting for a moment that as Mr Suarez suggests: “John Q. Public should not be allowed to own ancient coins”. It’s where in future he gets the coins from that is the problem that needs resolving. That, basically, is all we are saying.

    I note that the dealer is suggesting that there may be “no negative” in people buying wholly undocumented dugup artefacts of unknown collecting history. In the same way I am sure there are dealers in such things who might raise the same points about cars, bikes and firearms with filed off serial numbers, but I think the rest of us can see through this line of argument. Personally I would steer clear of any dealer in any commodity who was expecting me to buy possibly illicit stuff ‘blind’ like that.

  55. Nathan says:

    For the sake of the casual reader coming to this issue for this first time, it merits pointing out that some of the negative commentators have affiliations that inform the nature and tenor of their comments. 1.) “Wayne” is Wayne Sayles, coin dealer and founder of the ancient coin dealer lobby, which vociferously and aggressively opposes any legal measures aimed at protecting historical and archaeological sites from looting and smuggling when it might also affect anything but a 100% “free trade” in ancient coins. In short, many associated with this dealer lobby could care less where the coins they want to trade come from, without due diligence, as long as they can import, sell, and profit from the stuff as they have done for decades. 2.) “Peter” is Peter Tompa, attorney for the ACCG and paid lobbyist for other ancient coin dealer lobby groups.

    Although these commentators pontificate about what archaeology is and how useful coins are for archaeology and in archaeological contexts, none is an archaeologist or a numismatist affiliated with an excavation. The bibliography on archaeologically recovered coin finds and “coins in context” is large and anyone who cares to spend the time researching will find great utility in their study, whether they are found in hoards or whether the entire spectrum of coins from excavation (i.e., not just those under floors) are the subject of inquiry. Indeed, in the forthcoming site report from Yotvata, one will see that the entire mass of excavated coins and the examination of what was in circulation there and what was not, told us more about the life of the fort and its occupation than the coins from sealed contexts.

    There is a lot of hostility from the dealer lobbying groups any time that anyone advocates ethical collecting and a lot of vitriolic rhetoric that comes from those quarters. Conservationists are labeled “radicals,” “anti-collector,” or the like. I would simply put it this way. Is it “anti-shoe” to suggest some American shoe manufactures are unethical to have their products manufactured in foreign sweatshops to save production costs? Is it “anti-shoe” to advocate that American consumers should be aware of the practices of the companies from which they are purchasing shoes, and maybe purchase from different sources, to promote ethical practices and human rights? I think a normal person would agree that label “anti-shoe label” is absurd. And so it is with those who promote ethical practice in the trade. I and many of my colleagues are called names by these people, threatened, and have been the target of concerted attempts to force us into silence. I, and many of my colleagues, have good collegial relationships with collectors and even some dealers, in spite of the portrayals that come from this group. One must consider why some profiteers and their hangers-on are so concerned and why they behave in such a manner any time that anyone suggests that some power for change lies with the ethical consumer. And it is clear that this is the sector, the collectors, from which change must come since some insist on conducting business as usual.

  56. Rasiel Suarez says:

    I note, Paul, your increasing sense of frustration but it’s time to realize that illicit does not equate to immoral. After ten years or so of having been exposed to all the arguments and counter-arguments I have yet to see a compelling reason why John Q. Public should not be allowed to own ancient coins. Despite there being some undesirable consequences that come from their trade, it falls on you to prove that in the pros and cons the ledger tips to the negative. I can note by way of personal example that had it not been for the easy accessibility of ancient coins I would never have taken up numismatics as a career nor, however modest my contributions may have been, that in the intervening years I can still ultimately owe them all to buck-a-coin ebay auctions. In a rhetorical sort of introspective can you think of what positive legacy your crusade has added to the collective good of mankind?

    Without that compelling argument I’m sure your intellectual integrity – if nothing else – forbids you from admitting deep down that the “just say no” campaign you would like to see spontaneously spring from within our community has any hope whatever of being effective. And it is telling that you would mention this particular analogy in light of the fact that despite the trillions of dollars invested in the war on drugs the result so far has been nothing short of a *spectacular* waste of money .

    This being the case, I ask, what then is your plan B?

    Rasiel Suarez

  57. Paul Barford says:

    I suggest “Peter” (Tompa I would guess) like “Wayne” (50 years a numismatist, but how many excavation reports under his belt?) needs to do a little more reading too into the methodology he criticises. The statement that “In fact: (1) only coins from secure contexts (like under a paving stone) have any real value whatsoever” betrays a real lack of understanding about the interpretation of finds assemblages from stratigraphic sequences on modern excavations. As for the PAS I look forward to the day the US government sets up one so we can see some similar applied numismatic work being done on freshly-surfaced finds by US numismatists too. Then an ACCG reading list would be nice.

    “Rasiel” suggests job-creation projects for looters (does he know any he’d like to employ? ) falls flat on his assumption that they are all “desperately poor people to who despoil the earth of historical artefacts in order to supplement meagre incomes”. These are generalisations without any real substance. Desperately poor people do not own JCBs and metal detectors (Archar), nor are they likely to be responsible for the looting on an industrial scale we see at sites like Apamea and Dura Europos in Syria, or get high on meth as we see in the US. I think rather that it is Rasiel” who is “repeating the same old talking points” here to avoid discussing problems associated with the current form of the antiquities market. Whether or not he has been following the debate, this whole question of “subsistence looting” has been gone through so many times before. Now we have the Glasgow Trafficking Culture project, run by criminologists which should dismantle some of the old stereotypes of collectors and dealers. Whether or not they will listen is another matter.

    In any case, I’d like to ask where these collectors think the money for the site guards and the job-creation programmes they propose in stead of cleaning up the market will come from. who will foot the bill, and why? Not even the USA can afford to do the same to solve its own looting problems on public lands in the west. The UK has not even considered this in the case of highly endangered sites like the Staffordshire Hoard findspot. Let’s see the rich countries applying these costly solutions first and testing how well they work before asking the poor countries to do so.

    Surely, instead of this, all it needs is for the buyers in the rich countries to just tidy up their act and stop irresponsibly buying freshly-surfaced artefacts ‘blind’ (just say ‘no’). That, as has been pointed out many times, is where the help of “collectors as allies” is sought. If all responsible collectors took a conscious decision to switch to buying only that which they can personally verify is 100% of licit provenance, that is precisely a programme of action that would “legitimize the acquisition of antiquities like coins” and immediately resolve the conflict over clandestine excavation and artefact smuggling. Without it, eliminating illicit dealings in antiquities will be impossible, and surely eliminating illicit artefacts from the market is not against the interests of responsible collectors. And if in addition in the promotion of transparency, collectors would like to set up some kind of register (as William Pearlstein of the US Committee for Cultural Policy has recently suggested) along the lines of the PAS, that would be a great idea too.

    I do not see what point “John” is getting at, whoever he is, I do not think I have ever met him, so am puzzled by his claimed insights into my personal biography etc., not that this matters, I rather think we were discussing something else.

    Paul Barford

  58. John says:

    Judging from the tone and inaccuracy of his comment, ‘Paul’ appears to be one Paul Barford, an archaeo-blogger well known for his ad hominen attacks on collectors and anyone else who opposes his near-lunatic and radical views; neither is he an archaeologist.

    Where he writes “Secondly in stratified contexts, coins and coin assemblages are extremely useful as chronological markers and in reality few other artefact types have such a precise chronology (terra sigillata is one example),” is a sly dig at those archaeologists and excavators tempted to supplement their incomes, the only ones with access to these contextual coins.

  59. wayne says:

    Some very valid points raised here. Like John, I also am in my 50th year as a numismatist. Paul’s advice to do a little more reading is rather humorous. He obviously has no clue. When assailed by an academic with wet ink on the sheepskin, it is hard not to react with fairly predictable defensiveness. I agree that Rasiel’s final paragraph is the only way forward, but my repeated calls for genuine dialogue on that topic have been ignored or met with scorn. Unless there is a wake-up-call in the archaeological community, the future will not be any brighter than the past. All that can come in the alternative is a widening gulf and ultimate isolation. By the way, because “contextual object” is not a recognized “archaeological” term, does that mean it is unintelligible? I think most intelligent 5th graders today could offer a fairly good definition.

    Wayne G. Sayles

  60. Rasiel Suarez says:

    This issue will remain forever controversial but Noah’s writeup does little to turn the tide in favor of his viewpoint mainly because it repeats the same old talking points that are so easily debunked.

    Rather than beat the same dead horses I’d suggest a new angle to break the stalemate. Ultimately, the problem is one that like many others boils down to money. Archaeology is in a race to discover, document and preserve historical sites against determined looters who are in almost every case desperately poor people to who despoil the earth of historical artifacts in order to supplement meager incomes. Provide them with economic incentives that are a viable alternative and you will instantly turn them into fierce guardians of those same sensitive locations. Or just step up the work of the archaeologists and/or increase site security. Either way it takes money. Money that I’m keenly aware isn’t available but that all the same is the underlying current that animates the trade.

    Noah’s lament isn’t merely ineffective; by its rehashing of the same easily attacked positions all it really accomplishes to do is alienate a potential base of support. Ancient coin collectors are already often consumate history buffs with skills in conservation and a desire to preserve and reconnect with the past. On the other hand, as a block demographic, and this bears emphasizing, they absolutely swamp the few Noahs out there who pine away for the day that only trained archaeologists, museum staffs and related academia reserve all rights to historically sensitive sites and the objects within it. This, of course, means that antagonizing them spurs them to seek remedies that directly or indirectly only results in accelerated and intensified efforts at preserving the infrastructure that supplies them in the first place.

    A policy change that seeks to enlist their help as allies through programs that legitimize the acquisition of certain antiquities like coins is the only sensible approach that has any chance at all of diminishing the worst consequences of the illicit trade in antiquities. Either that or, like I said, throw buckets of cash at the problem… money I know full well is not available.

    Rasiel Suarez

  61. John Hooker says:

    As a numismatist with over fifty years experience, some publications (including what is fastly becoming the standard text on one series) and having reclassified an entire series, I have to fully agree with Wayne and Peter.

    There is some value in dating sites with Roman coins and some other series that have ruler’s names, dates, etc. (but with many caveats), but the dating on many other types of ancient coins is very often “provisional”. For example, an issue might be cited as being 365 – 283 BC. beginners often think that this means that there was a continuous production over that span, but really the two dates are “markers” based, usually on two events that are seen to frame the series. In reality, the issue might have been “early 361 BC” or “late 290 BC” (all examples fictitious).

    Even if a deposit is stratified, it only says that it cannot be dated earlier than the last coin. I have heard of coins of about 40 AD being the most recent in a hoard buried in the second century AD.

    Having a Ph.D on a numismatic topic does not make one an expert in ancient numismatics. I knew a person who had a Ph.D from a study of a particular issue of Corinth. She was hired, on the basis of that degree, to be the head of the numismatic department at a museum. Unfortunately, she could not even recognize a bronze coin brought to her as being Ptolemaic (and the commonest type at that!). She was finally fired after sending all of the Greek silver coins to be polished by a jeweler to make them bright and shiny for the museum visitors.

    Calling someone an expert because of a degree speaks volumes about the limited intelligence of the person making such a claim.

    Finally, if the only important thing about a coin is to date a site, it means that the site is either not terribly important, or the excavators need too much spelled out for them and have little in the way of research abilities. That pretty well sums up many archaeological reports that I have read. With all that coins can tell us about ancient technologies, sources of metals, styles and tenets of art, mythology and iconography, economics and monetary systems, and so on. Thinking that dating a site is the one thing worth mentioning is really harnessing Pegasus to the plough and speaks volumes of the sad state of archaeological knowledge at this time.

    Very few people without at least twenty years of experience in numismatics can make much of an impact on the subject and you cannot teach the subject of numismatics very well in the short amount of time allotted for a university career. Perhaps, one day, Elkins will realize that he just shot himself in the foot!

  62. Peter says:

    Elkins makes a lot of specious assumptions about the importance of coins in dating archaeological sites. In fact: (1) only coins from secure contexts (like under a paving stone) have any real value whatsoever (and really, how many of these are found at a typical site?); (2) ancient coins circulated for hundreds of years so their value as dating tools is quite limited– a better indicator is apparently pottery shards, which are found in abundance at archaeological sites..

    Leaving aside dating, the real issue is that Elkins and others (like Paul) who don’t like private collecting are using these claims about the importance of coins as dating tools to justify a clamp down on private collecting. Why not instead actually pay site guards to protect sites in the many months there are no archaeologists to be seen? Or, use cameras to monitor the sites? This seems to be a far more targeted approach than going after collectors, who after all share archaeologists’ passion for studying the past. As for Paul’s concerns, I’m sure he’s aware that the UK has a great program called the PAS and Treasure Act that encourages coins to be recorded for the purposes he speaks about. That’s why we know so much more about coin circulation in England and Wales than in many other countries without similar enlightened laws.

  63. Paul Barford says:

    As an archaeologist I would say that “Wayne” needs to do a little more reading up on the subject of archaeological methodology before coming out with such a negative suggestion that “coins are far less accurate as chronological markers than other contextual objects”. First of all, I wonder what a so-called “contextual object” is in the first place, this is not an archaeological term. Secondly in stratified contexts, coins and coin assemblages are extremely useful as chronological markers and in reality few other artefact types have such a precise chronology (terra sigillata is one example). Even in such cases, if you, in turn, look at the methodology behind the establishment of their dating, their controlled excavation from coin-dated contexts has played a large part in its development. In any case, if you say looting coins does not damage sites because they can’t be used for dating anyway, you are missing the point, looting a site for coins and other collectables will destroy the context of those “other” objects you think are in some way “more important”.

    The archaeological use of coins however goes far beyond their use for dating stratigraphic sequences and zones of sites. Applied numismatics has for some time been used in the UK to say a lot more about classical and medieval society using sourced numismatic evidence, and addressing wider questions about their use and significance than a few decades ago. None of this information is available when coins are surreptitiously dug up and flogged off to grabbing coin dealers who do not care where they came from. The study of the ‘pictures and writing’ on unprovenanced artefacts tells you much less than the sort of information being obtained by studies such as archaeologists Philippa Walton in the Heberden Coin Room at Oxford and Tom Brindle at Reading.

    I would say that encouraging better and more nuanced scholarship like this using more full information about the numismatic source material is, as you put it, the “agenda”, one which I would have thought anyone seriously interested in learning more about coins would support.

  64. Wayne Sayles says:

    If archaeologists are the “detectives” of history, and they truly believe that “coins provide a precise chronology when discovered in context” I fear that the past will forever remain a cold case. The truth is that coins are far less accurate as chronological markers than other contextual objects. Why echo such a specious claim in the quest for site protection, and why to an audience that has no control whatever over that protection? It sounds like the quest is not for site protection but for regulation and mandatory registration. What is the real agenda here?

  65. Glen Warren says:

    There are two problems here, on is there is little monitoring of many sites because of funding and some countries put in place laws that discourage legal practices. There needs to be a wider debate and education to coin collectors about this problem.

  66. bob says:

    Well, please tell the archaeologist working on Herculaneum that my wife found a denarius while on a tour. She didn’t know any better so she brought it to me as a souvenir. I didn’t believe her until I saw it. I thought she was bringing me a replica or plastic coin. Little did I know she brought me a smoking gun..

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66 Responses

  1. Hoard of Gold Coins Found in Caesarea Harbor | Laodicean Report says:

    […] Ancient Coins and Looting […]

  2. Paul Barford says:

    I think it is clear that either:
    – the US coin dealer has not the foggiest what it is being discussed here and which was the topic of Professor Elkins;’ article, in which case it’s a bit rich of him complaining (comment #8 on the previous page above) that nobody wants to sit down with him and discuss how to resolve this issue, OR,
    – the US coin dealer is deliberately fogging an issue which he is uncomfortable about others discussing and has has every intention but to sit down and discuss how to resolve the issue and would dearly love for this conversation to end.

    I think if you look through the sixty-odd comments above, one can see clearly who is interested in discussing the issues Elkins points out, and who is putting a lot of effort into deflecting attention away and discouraging further discussion of those issues. What collectors and dealers are doing here is not controlling the debate, but alienating themselves from it.

    Paul Barford

  3. Nigel says:

    “The amount of looting in Britain is far less than that in Egypt”…..

    But that is ONLY because what is called looting elsewhere is called legal in Britain.

    In addition, whatever it’s called, in Britain it is ALL Collection Driven Exploitation.

    “How it works” is not that you assert two pure untruths about the situation in Britain and then claim the thread must end!

  4. Wayne Sayles says:

    @David says “That collecting provides most of the motivation for looting is blatantly obvious to the rest of the world.” I think that is an inaccurate characterization. The amount of looting in Britain is far less than that in Egypt, for example, if one believes the media reports. Does that mean there are many more (or more voracious) collectors of Egyptian artifacts than there are of Romano-British or Celtic objects? If so, the ancient coin market does not reflect that. A rational person might conclude instead that the differing degrees reflect differing cultural property laws and societal concerns over perservation in the two countries. By the way, I thought this thread was supposed to end with Nathan Elkins having the last word (see comment #40). Apparently David was chastizing me prematurely and is now (22 comments later) disregarding his own admonition. Funny how that works.

  5. David Knell says:

    Peter, I never said I am a collector. I stopped collecting years ago. What I said was that I care about the future of collecting. I firmly believe that ordinary people should be able to own a few antiquities and I do not want to see that privilege jeopardised by an inability to adapt to changing times.

    If you’ve been following the discussion, you’ll know that coins WITHOUT a provenance are precisely what the rest of us have been chatting about.

    “I actually made suggestions for everyone …”

    EXACTLY, Peter! Of the five points you raised on the CPO page you linked to, only two were aimed at dealers or collectors (rather feeble suggestions at that). All the rest were demands aimed at EVERYONE ELSE – everyone ranging from both US and foreign governments to archaeologists!

    That collecting provides most of the motivation for looting is blatantly obvious to the rest of the world. If you persist in your insane attempt to shift the blame onto everyone else, you will doom collecting to perish in not only contempt but ridicule. I do NOT want that to happen.

    The ONLY way that collecting can survive is for collectors (and their dealers) themselves to take action. And it has to be dramatic action … like … say … a registry.

    http://ancient-heritage.blogspot.co.uk/2014/07/a-way-forward.html

    David Knell

  6. Paul Barford says:

    I think the register is precisely intended to deal with finds currently in private hands including those acquired after 1970 and which lack documented proof of that. Did you not understand that? Interesting that you apparently think attempts to ensure licitness of purchased artefacts is a “useless burden” on dealers. Hmmm.

  7. Peter says:

    For David, you say you are a collector, but then you also say you inherited your collection back in 1969 or a year before UNESCO. But how about anyone collecting after that? I’ve already made my suggested solutions known in my ANS article which was posted here some time ago. Unlike Elkins, yourself and Mr. Barford, I actually made suggestions for everyone, not just collectors.

    For Mr. Barford, you’ve complained PAS does not record everything– presumably for the same reason of practicality. As I’ve said, I’m all for a voluntary system, but not another useless burden placed on collectors and dealers.

  8. Paul Barford says:

    @ Rasiel, thank you for the link to your database, that’s the sort of thing that is needed. A database ‘of repose’ as Pearlstein puts it would have to be institutionalised, to enable it to have more permanence than a showcase on a dealer’s website. I think you’d also need to have a way of adding information, for example when a coin goes to another collector, perhaps in another country, or the coin’s appearance alters (if it is further cleaned or repatinated or something, or gets caught up in a house fire/flood etc).

    @Peter, I really do not see where it says in Pearlstein’s White Paper that it refers only to some US dealers’ stock and collectors’ collections. I rather get the impression that he’s talking about all of both. Small value items (shabtis recently) are also ‘repatriated’.

    @Peter, In my previous post I was not referring just to what “the law” says. I was referring to “principles”, and those principles were discussed as far back as 1970 and literate and informed collectors and dealers everywhere should have been aware of them and their possible future implications for them. They ignored them, which is why we are discussing registers.

    @Peter, “distinguish one 4th c. Constantinian bronze that easily from another enough to even capture these differences in such a database
    They will have reference numbers (like the PAS database), and having documented them, one would imagine collectors and dealers would make sure the information was passed on to the next buyer.

    Paul Barford

  9. David Knell says:

    Peter:

    “There would be a lot of images of virtually identical coins.”
    Fair point – but it is precisely the commonest low-value coins that are being mined in huge quatities and pose one of the greatest threats to archaeological sites. What is your alternative solution? Just register expensive stuff and ban collecting common coins altogether?

    Or, as I suspect, you can’t be bothered with a solution at all? Just respond with negativity and whiny protests, then sit back until coin collecting gets such a stigma that it goes the same way as bird’s eggs, ivory and fur?

    Unlike you, I actually care about the future of collecting. And unlike you, I recognise the need to do something about it.

    “Now, the highly unlikely has become standard operating procedure.”
    Rather than some weird conspiracy theory, could it be simply because layman state officials were not aware how important coins are to archaeology until professionals pointed it out?

    “And thank you for confirming that it’s really not about research– as the AIA and Prof. Elkins claims.”
    No one ever claimed it was. As Rasiel pointed out, research is merely a side benefit. As you well know, the purpose of a registry has been explained many times.

    David Knell

  10. Peter says:

    For Raisel, I’m all for voluntary registries and the like– the problem is that given the number of coins out there (millions and millions, perhaps even billions), mandatory could be quite an undertaking and for what real purpose? Bill Pearlstein and the antiquities dealers proposed this with high value artifacts in mind. It may make some good sense for the $! million dollar vase, but not the $5-$10 coin. Really, can really distinguish one 4th c. Constantinian bronze that easily from another enough to even capture these differences in such a database. There would be a lot of images of virtually identical coins.

    For Mr. Barford, the operative law here in the USA is not UNESCO, its the CPIA. Coins were not restricted under that until recently based on some back room shenanigans involving the archaeological lobby and their cronies at State. At the time the statute was proposed, a high level State Department official represented to Congress that it would be highly unlikely coins would be restricted. Now, the highly unlikely has become standard operating procedure.

    And thank you for confirming that it’s really not about research– as the AIA and Prof. Elkins claims. If it were, the AIA would also be advocating a mandatory registry for archaeologists. Archaeologists are bound by the Treasure Act in the UK, why shouldn’t they be bound by the same rules proposed for everyone else?

  11. Rasiel Suarez says:

    That registry already exists. The Tantalus Registry (tantaluscoins.com) was launched ten years ago for precisely this reason and is now at over 100,000 records. In fact, any database that hosts a photo of a coin is in effect recording at least a portion of its provenance and where the records are publicly accessible they have the side benefit of being useful in research.

    Although I can’t speak for everyone, I’d be happy to support a centralized, government-funded database. Even if the addition of a new record came with a small tax to offset the costs of running it all I still think it would be a worthwhile effort. The scheme could encompass all historical artifacts, not just coins.

  12. Paul Barford says:

    @ “Peter”: Here we go… Well, before I suggest an answer, let us take a step back. In 1970 an international working group established some principles of legitimate trade (thereby defining what is illicit trade). Like it or like it not, that’s what they did. Since then antiquity dealers and antiquity collectors (in your case coin collectors) have consistently and carelessly ignored that fact, leading to us now having a load of stuff in private hands that cannot now be legitimated by the principles laid down in that Convention. That’s the legacy of antiquity collecting’s past.

    Let’s skip forward, thinking in the longer term. Given the direction in which a lot of research and lobbying is going, it will emerge (be argued) that society cannot much longer continue to ignore the harmful effects of certain ways of trading antiquities. Like it or like it not, that seems to be the way things are going, and the scales are slowly but surely tipping against no-questions-asked collecting. Peter Tompa is one of those who has long and loudly pointed out the discrepancies between the wording of certain US legislation connected with that 1970 Convention and what many feel to be effective protection of the heritage. He in effect says ‘hang the effective preservation, lets stick to the letter of our ineffective law’. The logical outcome of that, taken with the tenor of the information currently being supplied to lawmakers and public opinion by academics, can only be rewriting that legislation, to better implement the 1970 principles. It may happen in the next few years, it may take decades, but it will come. Collectors, through neglecting to consider possible long-term outcomes of their own lobbying, may well then find themselves at a disadvantage, being in possession of non-1970-compliant material which they cannot get rid of (like the ivory in New York).

    As David Knell points out, it is ongoing looting which is of the main concern. Suggesting a register, as several of us are doing, is one way to reach a compromise over these market-created ‘orphans’. William Pearlstein has suggested the same thing. It is in collectors’ interests to adopt a measure like that, and get their coins in the register to ‘legitimise’ them. So maybe “Peter” would like to answer his own question about funding. In whose interests is a register which legitimates material in private hands in 2014 which, despite everything, is non-1970-compliant? Mine? UNESCO’s? The US Department of Homeland Security? Or maybe the coin trade who got collectors into this mess? Or maybe collectors intent on preserving the resale value of their property when the crunch comes?

    As for “Peter”s suggestion of making an even more extensive register for “all finds anywhere and everywhere” he is losing sight of the purpose of the register, it is not to “aid numismatic research”. It is to attempt to mitigate the effects of half a century of careless collection and commerce. What do Biblical Archaeology Society readers think of this?

    Paul Barford

  13. Peter says:

    And who is going to fund this register? And who is going to run it? Is every ancient coin (there must be millions out there as you admit) in private collections going to be placed on it?

    And why not also have a similar register for coins and other artifacts found at archaeological sites? This would be most useful for the study of coins. All too often this material just sits there to deteriorate in poor storage conditions without ever being studied at all. If it was recorded on a database, it may be of equal use to the data we get out of the PAS and Treasure Act as we would also know its find spot.

    For Mr. Paul Barford, I’m a different person than John as you well know.

  14. Paul Barford says:

    I think “John” (or is it now Peter writing as John?) is confusing fantasy with fact. So now I see we are restricting our attention specifically to British archaeologists as the alleged bad guys. In the real world, professional archaeologists contracted to do a piece of work, for example developer funded work, and not doing it will get sued for breach of contract. They will also be up before the disciplinary committee of the IfA. I suggest that instead of referring readers to my “excellent blog” to find what does not exist there, Mr metal-detectorist-with-a-chip-on-his-shoulder might like to do his own backing up of his libellous statements, though I really do not see what this has to do with the matter of Professor Elkins’ essay in a journal about archaeology in “the Biblical lands” .

    As I said, perhaps we could leave all this pointless, disruptive and foundationless mud-sling-trolling by “Peter” and “John” and discuss whether there is a way we can move forward. Or are the collectors still going to continue to try to discourage it by their nasty behaviour?

    In the long term perspective, what about instituting an international voluntary register of the form suggested by William Pearlstein of the Committee for Cultural Property (2013 white paper) with time-stamped entries of so-called ‘orphan’ material currently in private hands and details of what is known of its immediate collecting history legitimising it? David Knell too has an interesting post about this option on his “Ancient Heritage” blog. It is clear that this would fix much of the problem of the possibilities of easy insertion of looted material into the market alongside anonymous licit material. A PAS type approach only covers material coming fresh out of the ground, but something is needed to help collectors account for those millions of items already in their hands. So far though, US coin dealers have blocked such suggestions which would enable the verification of claims that the material they offer with no supporting documentation is “all from old collections” (want to consider why?). Such a register would also mean a leap out of the nineteenth century attitudes to a modern approach allowing buyers in future decades to check how much actually is in those collections today and enhancing the worth of those items registered as licit by such means. What do Biblical Archaeology Society readers think of this?

  15. John says:

    Great Britain is in crisis. The non-recording of professionally excavated ‘finds’ is at epidemic proportions and the fault lies firmly with archaeology.The premier authority on the subject, Paul Barford, admits this betrayal of our profession on his excellent blog. He has his finger on the pulse and knows exactly what’s going on so perhaps, Kathy, he is best placed to name and shame. I’m sure he must know the names too.

    From the early days of my apprenticeship as an historian, this kind of corruption was well known and fingers were pointed, admittedly behind the hand, at some prominent historians, archaeologists and museum personalities who were also avid collectors and I am reliably told, some guided metal detecting treasure hunters, amongst others, to lucrative sites across East Anglia where illicit spoils were allegedly shared.

    Exposing this cauldron of corruption will, I feel, cleanse historians of this rotten strata.

  16. Paul Barford says:

    @ “Peter” “For Kathy, easier said than done given the number out there. ” is that “Peter” answering, or “John”? (Kathy asked “John” to substantiate his claim, and “Peter” answers for him).

    This is all getting very confusing, one of you says “archaeologists make up provenances”, another says they simply “don’t record them”, neither of which corresponds with my own experience as an archaeologist.

    I suggested not allowing ourselves to be deflected by pointless ‘two wrongs make a right’ arguments to what is the way forward, is it possible that this thread can move on to that? Or are the collectors going to continue to try and prevent it?

    Paul Barford

  17. Peter says:

    For Kathy, easier said than done given the number out there. As I’ve also noted in my ANS article, linked above, archaeologists often don’t do a job recording and preserving the provenance of the coins they find either– so perhaps its not about trying to hide anything, but an issue of practicality.

  18. Paul Barford says:

    That certain US museums have been caught out blatantly propagating falsified collecting histories for certain trophy items (Greek pots, bronze statues, Egyptian masks etc.), in their collections does not in any way absolve others from upholding their own standards and principles. Two wrongs never made a right. The issue here is how to preserve the context of objects on the market, not that there have all too obviously been failings in the past to do this. That we all know. Now what is the way forward?

    Having decided that this information is important (Peter’s mention of the Getty Bronze above – hinges precisely on its context of discovery and collecting history to legitimise it), how can we proceed that will enable the paperless (unprovenanced) material now above ground and licitly (one hopes) in the hands of collectors to be distinguished from freshly surfaced material arriving on the market from looting taking place tomorrow, next week or in three years’ time? That is the issue.

    Paul Barford

  19. Nigel says:

    I thought I’d heard it all but the claim that rogue archaeologists and corrupt museum officials are the real looters takes the biscuit.

  20. Kathy says:

    “The insidious criminal element regarding looted coins and relics is not with dealers, but with rogue archaeologists and corrupt museum officials who happily supply what appear to be legitimate provenances to dupe customs and legitimate collectors.”

    What….? As John and Peter must know, the point is that most of the likely looted coins on the market are sold without even the figleaf of a legitimate provenance, forged or genuine! If numismatic dealers and collectors had the slightest interest in carrying out a legitimate trade, you would expect them to be paying lip service or more to the idea of selling material with any sort of documentation regarding its prior ownership, real or fake. As it is, the stuff just appears on the market, as if by magic. No-one cares where it was before, no-one cares who buys it.

    Perhaps John could give a few examples of ‘rogue archaeologists and corrupt museum officials who happily supply what appear to be legitimate provenances to dupe customs and legitimate collectors.’ before he libels these professions.

  21. John says:

    The date is immaterial Peter. Stolen or looted coins are still stolen or looted irrespective of the date. Crime is not expunged by time; The Simon Wiesenthal Centre taught us that. David Knell, if he really believes he is in possession of or looted coins would do well, I suggest, to hand them to the relevant authorities. At least that what I was taught during my studies!

    One has only to look at the number of academics and archaeologists who are ardent and legal collectors of all manner of relics and coins and who enjoy a close and wholesome relationship with coin and relic dealers. The insidious criminal element regarding looted coins and relics is not with dealers, but with rogue archaeologists and corrupt museum officials who happily supply what appear to be legitimate provenances to dupe customs and legitimate collectors.

    As a student of history, I’m ashamed to say corruption is rife; it’s an open secret. The 1970 UNESCO Convention or UNESCO itself? Hardly known for cracking down on it’s own!

  22. Peter says:

    Let’s also remember 1970 is a “construct” based on the 1970 UNESCO Convention and nothing else. It’s useful cudgel for the AIA to in effect condemn 99% of the coins out there that have no provenance let alone one dating back before 1970, and still sound “reasonable.” Of course, the 1970 date is only “useful” for these folks until it “isn’t.” There are several claims for objects with pre-1970 provenance that the archaeological lobby is happy to support, most recently Italy’s claim for the Getty’s “Victorious Youth,” found in international waters in 1964.

  23. John says:

    David Knell commented earlier: “And oh yeah … the ancient coins I own were inherited from my great uncle. He died in 1969. I guess they may have been looted in their day but that’s hardly in the same league as importing vast heaps of them in the present and frantically groping for excuses why you should continue to do so. Do you sense a difference in the level of “guilt”?”

    It’s entirely in the same league DK! Your assertion puts the entire archaeological argument into perspective… in that inherited coin collections, once the proceeds of crime, but currently owned by so-called archaeologists, are somehow holier than other stolen or looted artefacts owned by non-archaeologists. And so this cycle of deceit rolls on and on!

  24. Nathan says:

    Peter – You are simply spinning and trying to distract from the core issue, which is the problematic sourcing of material.

    Wayne – What are you on about? Of course comments to blog entries are not “peer-reviewed”. But I have published several peer-reviewed works on numismatics and the trafficking of ancient coins. And when a dealer founds a group that is against due diligence, protective legislation, and it is run largely by dealers and supported by dealers, I call that a dealer lobby.BAR welcomes author contributions to its blog. My contributions to this thread have been very even and intended to bring balance to the negativity that you and your friends brought to BAR’s rather fair summary of the article’s contents. I think anyone who has the patience to go through all of these comments will see for themselves there is an intelligible difference in tenor and agenda among various commentators.

  25. Paul Barford says:

    @ Wayne, I do not think you and your fellow dealers come over very well. I really do not see any evidence of a “flame war” in the comments above, just an attempt to discuss the issues with you. This was a discussion about Biblical archaeology and the need to preserve information. You and your fellows (Peter, John I, John II, Rasiel) seem adamant on disrupting that discussion by steering it off onto discussion of the (US) antiquities trade where, due to the way it operates, that information is notoriously very rarely preserved.

  26. Wayne Sayles says:

    Excuse me! There are 40 posts here and three are from me. Most of what I said was a rebuttal to the misstatements by professor Elkins. I suppose I should have deferred to his infallible majesty.

  27. David Knell says:

    Before lecturing anyone on what may be “highly unethical”, I should think the people continuing to post vituperative comments here would have at least the very basic ethics to allow Prof. Elkins to have the final word on his OWN article. We have all had our say here. We all have our own blogs to attack or support the article further. Use them.

    Rather than persisting in a virulent diatribe here, I had hoped that even the worst critics would have at least shown common courtesy.

    David Knell

  28. Wayne Sayles says:

    Thank you to Nathan Elkins for admitting in comment #37 that his earlier statement (comment 36) was NOT peer reviewed. Is it possible that some of his other statements also were not peer reviewed? If so, that might explain why they seem so far from the mark. His observation here that Peter Tompa is responding in an aggressive and vociferous manner is laughable after reading the tirades by archaeo-bloggers above. Perhaps Professor Elkins should have run his post by a committee first for a rationality check. It’s interesting to see the author of an article in a major publication engaging in a flame war within the comments section related to his own article. I wonder what the editorial staff of BAR thinks about that? I’ve never seen anything like this before. Having been involved in the publishing profession myself for a good many years, it seems to me highly unethical. If this were a blog, it would make little difference. But BAR is not a blog. By the way, note in comment #8 that I signed with my full name, it really was not necessary for Nathan Elkins to reiterate that. Google would have quickly answered any questions a “casual reader” of this thread might have, and far more accurately. First, I am not the founder of the “coin dealer lobby” as Elkins states in comment #12 above. I don’t even know of any such organization. The International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild do fund a degree of lobbying, but I am a member of neither and most certainly did not found either. I did found the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, which is a non-profit collector advocacy organization 501c4. The nature of ACCG and its purpose is clearly explained at the guild’s website ACCG.US — perhaps Professor Elkins should have had that comment peer reviewed as well by someone who actually read the statement of purpose. As he has done on numerous prior occasions, Professor Elkins misstates the ACCG position on import restrictions. As I have stated in person before the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory, on more than one occasion, the ACCG does not oppose import restrictions per sé. The guild supports the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act as enacted and has asked CPAC to recommend coin exemptions because the U.S. State Department and Customs have not implemented the law as it is written. The “first found” and “export control” provisions purposely added to CCPIA to protect coin collectors and the trade have been ignored in subsequent implementation of the Act. As I stated on the record at the recent CPAC hearing in Washington, if those legislated protections were adhered to there would not be any opposition from ACCG. And, ACCG did formally and officially support the MOU with Egypt, so all the banter about ACCG opposing anything but free trade is just nonsense.

  29. Peter says:

    I’ve read it. I was commenting that the article appears to be being used for two different purposes for two different audiences (one to inform BAR readers of your views about the importance of context and your hopes for collectors to share your concern, the other the archaeological community for purposes of beating up on collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade on the internet and perhaps with government decision makers.) You may protest otherwise, but that’s my considered opinion after reviewing Messr. Barford’s blog and some other sources which are used to disseminate an extreme anti-collector view to other audiences. If your truly concerned about that perception, perhaps at a minimum ask your friend Mr. Barford to take down references to it on his virulent anti-collector/anti-American blog.

  30. Nathan says:

    First sentence was unedited. The intended phrasing was “Peter, if you do not want to engage with the issue of the article, why are you commenting here about other things in such an aggressive and vociferous manner? It seems you are trying to detract from the issues”….

  31. Nathan says:

    Peter, if you do not want to engage with the issue of the article and are therefore trying to detract from the issues, why are you commenting here about other things in such an aggressive and vociferous manner. In internet lingo, that is called trolling. I recall your having attacked my work before without having read it. My peer-reviewed writings have consistently advocated due diligence and insisted that collector interests are different from the dealer interests that you represent. The BAR article advocates the same thing: that collectors can inspire change. So please, inform yourself of the content of the article.

  32. Peter says:

    Prof. Elkins- Any assumptions I’m making are reasonable ones anyone would make after reviewing Mr. Barford’s blog posts and other lists associated with the archaeological establishment which appear to be exploiting your article or items written about it for that very purpose. And that is certainly consistent with your own activities too. I’m not sure you can have it both ways.

  33. Nathan says:

    Peter makes a lot of assumptions about the intent of my article in BAR. I gather he is making projections and assumptions about its content rather than having read it, since he thinks it has something to do with legislation. Perhaps reading it before making such uninformed generalizations about it would be in order.

    Again, these straw man arguments are constantly made about what conservations are advocating. Why not read and address our arguments rather than asserting we are saying something else? The tactics and interests of the dealer lobby are transparent and tiring.

  34. Paul Barford says:

    @ Peter thank you Peter for confirming this is all about profits, Rasiel tells us above that he ran “buck-a-coin” auctions, so cheap coins are saleable. It is clear the reasons here are different, by buying from Britain’s legal artefact hunters, a dealer would have to offer them a fair deal price, while “other” finders from other source countries may be persuaded to sell through much less transparent channels for much less, thus putting more profit in the pockets of dealers. But that is sheer exploitation, not to mention colonialism.

    I really do not know though where Rasiel gets his figures from. Dealers such as Brett Hammond and Chris Rudd are among those who regularly buy such coins and advertise in the hobby press. I cannot believe that these two have sold between them “just 113 coins” in over seven years. There seems something wrong with the way Rasiel has arrived at numbers to dismiss the possibility that does exist of buying licitly-sourced coins. the possibility exists, what Rasiel is saying is the same as me, that dealers (US dealers for example) are ignoring that and sourcing coins through less transparent channels. Rasiel’s figures really do not help the coin trade rehabilitate its image, already tarnished by the lobbyists’ gyrations (eg of the ACCG, PNG, IAPN).

    So, going on the coin trade’s record of keeping track of collecting histories and what Rasiel asserts, how many of these items coming onto the market from licit sources with documentation immediately lose all documentation of that, and why would dealers and collectors be discarding such information? That seems rather careless. A cynic might suggest this is to prevent the differentiation of licit from illicit, so the latter does not depreciate in value and the exploitation can go on.

    In a post on my Portable Antiquity Collecting and Heritage issues this morning (I don’t know if I am allowed to give a link here but it can be googled), I note that PAS has recorded 300000 coins, and Rasiel suggests that only 113 of them have ever surfaced on the open market when these old collections are disposed of as detectorists die, drift away from the hobby or rationalise their collections by disposing of duplicates. So into what kind of market are the rest going? Or are they ending up in landfill maybe? What about the hundreds of thousands of coins that are dug up and not reported, in the UK as well as elsewhere? What a tragic waste, and it is collectors (“metal detectorists” are nothing else) which are doing that.

    Paul Barford

  35. Peter says:

    Rasiel, these coins probably don’t appear much at auction given the typical value of Late Roman. There is one dealer in the US who does specialize in such coins, but I’m hesitant to provide his name as that may only prompt someone in the archaeological blogosphere to bother him. In any event, I agree– these coins can’t satisfy the market because they are too few relatively and are mostly late Roman coins. I’ve never actually personally seen a UK export certificate, but they do exist and evidently should be procured for such coins found in the UK. The coins this dealer sells do come with paperwork describing the hoard, the circumstances of discovery and PAS hoard references. I’m also aware that he procures UK export certificates for such coins. Another larger dealer, CNG, also passes along references when they resell such coins, but I don’t believe they typically handle them in the first instance.

  36. Peter says:

    For Mr. Paul Barford– Maybe we are focusing on the CCPIA because this article appears to be used to support the AIA’s position with regard to that legislation, and certainly Prof. Elkins has appeared at CPAC meetings and has supported the AIA’s position in that regard.

    Perhaps Prof. Elkins can clarify that its not his intent to use this article for that purpose. I’ve seen this article discussed in close proximity to posts on your own blog about the CPIA and coins. So, are you now saying they are not related?

  37. Rasiel Suarez says:

    The PAS as supplier to the collecting community? An absolutely laughable solution. Of over 1.3 million auctions tracked between 2007 to the present a sum total of just 113 have the string “PAS recorded” in their descriptions. Of those less than half are actually ancient and not a single one comes with a copy of related documentation of the sort Paul envisions. In fact, I could not even locate via Google image search what a EU or UK export licence for a coin looks like.

    He might as well have suggested collectors appear in person at the bottom of the ocean to collect their coins.

    Rasiel Suarez

  38. Paul Barford says:

    @ Peter: >>The problem is that such a valid concern is being used to justify a clamp down on private collecting here in the US<<
    Again, more of the same type of distortion to which reference is made above. This is why nobody is going to waste time giving a "point by point" discussion of a text full of such inaccuracies.

    Reference is made here to US legislation: "the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA)", it is called. The full name of the Convention which it implements is…"Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property". As it says on the box, the Convention's entire text is about preventing "illicit import, export and transfer of ownership" of all types of cultural property. There is not a word there (not a word) on the "destruction of archaeological sites", it is about combating stealing and smuggling. A laudable aim one would have thought.

    The aim of the CCPIA is to regulate fresh (nota bene) imports into the USA of certain selected classes of artefacts (which in the case of the coins are not even a fraction of the total array of coins that are collected in the US and imported into the US).

    It is going beyond stretching a point to call attempts to curb illicit import, export and transfer of ownership of anything a "clampdown" on the collecting of that thing (unless you want to say that the majority of the stuff that is collected is indeed illicitly imported, exported and changing hands illicitly – according to the CCPIA's definitions). Do you? (and please do not answer that with your usual spiel using the word "provenance", that is quite simply not in the CCPIA either – as has been pointed out to you and you should well know).

    My impression is that Elkins' article (which I assume we are still discussing) is not about the problems of US coin importers, but a wider problem of general interest to the Biblical Archaeological Society. There is actually coin collecting going on outside the USA. Is there any reason why we are suddenly focussing on the CCPIA instead of exploring the wider issue (like the documentation of collections)?

  39. Peter says:

    David, no one has said its okay to destroy archaeological sites. The problem is that such a valid concern is being used to justify a clamp down on private collecting here in the US. Such an effort really becomes ridiculous when the country itself has no similar limitations on its own collectors. How about more targeted approaches?

    As I’ve mentioned, I’d be happy to hear a point by point response to my article, but in my review it should be about conservation rather than control. In the US at least, virtually all academic study and public collections is underwritten by collectors and dealers and without them there would not be much left. Prof. Elkins himself has taken advantage of this largess in the past, though one would not know it from his writings.

    Peter

  40. David Knell says:

    Peter: “I don’t believe collectors need be “holier than the pope” so to speak.”
    Clearly not. Perhaps if other countries legalised purse-snatching from little old ladies, you’d be happy to join in too? No need to have a higher moral standard.

    Ah, so it’s wrong to destroy elephants because they are living things but it’s okay to destroy archaeological sites because they are NOT living things? Bearing that level of reasoned debate in mind, are you really surprised that no one has bothered to reply to your views in the ANS article with a “cogent response”?

    David Knell

  41. Paul Barford says:

    @Peter, I see no real reason not to discuss issues connected with the sustainable management of the resources that comprise historic environment in connection with those comprising the natural environment. Even if you refuse to accept that, the basic issues are the same.

    The point being made about PAS is of course that US (for example) coin dealers are still NOT buying large numbers of licitly-dug PAS-recorded artefacts from the UK giving finders a fair deal. There is therefore no reason to think as yet that they or anyone else would buy any licitly-dug artefacts from anywhere else (giving finders there a near-market-price fair deal there too). So as far as solving the problem with the no-questions-asked antiquities trade, present evidence is if was set up anywhere else, it’d be money thrown in the mud and not solve the problem. Coin prices would shoot up markedly too. Besides which, on present showing, the moment these artefacts enter the market in its current form, it seems they’d lose any associated paperwork, as have the majority of those “ten million” on the market already.

    As for the ANS discussion, for there to be a cogent comment there has to be a cogent argument. Your text jumps about from subject to subject and is laced with loaded statements like the ones above. Giving it a proper answer would be very time consuming, and as we see by dealers’ reactions above, ultimately a waste of everybody’s time. In any case, Sebastian Heath answered from the archaeologists’ point of view and Roger Bland was asked to comment too. Since what you said differed in no way from what you’ve said elsewhere (which I and others have already discussed, despite you blocking some of us from your blog) there really seems no point in attempting to correct the same distortions again.

    I see no “anti-collector rhetoric and ad hominem attacks in the above posts”.

    Paul Barford

  42. Without says:

    Peter, my question wasn’t whether you had bought Treasure Act and PAS-registered coins but whether you had bought other recent British dug-ups (and whether you feel doing so is ethical). It’s a fair question and highly relevant to this discussion I think.

  43. Peter says:

    Oops… of course I mean an old coin is NOT derived from a living thing…sorry for the typo.

  44. Peter says:

    For David, I don’t believe collectors need be “holier than the pope” so to speak. Any effort to link coin collecting to the ivory trade is specious to say the least. Aside from the obvious that an old coin is derived from a “living thing,” there are so many coins around that even well funded cultural establishments (which are few and far between) can’t possibly care for them all.

    I’ve already made my views on all this known in my ANS article. As I mentioned, I’m still waiting for a cogent response to it– and its been some time at this point.

  45. Peter says:

    I’m happy to add some late Roman coins reported under the Treasure Act and PAS to my collection, but I also collect Greek coins from Italy and other Roman Imperial coins of the sort widely and legally collected within Italy itself. I’d love to know more about their find spot, but that information was never thought important until recently and countries like Italy have not adopted anything akin to the Treasure Act and PAS. So, I’m afraid such information is not typically available. Perhaps, Messrs. Barford, Swift and Elkins can help spread the word about the UK’s system to the Italian cultural bureaucracy. If respected archaeologists like Lord Renfrew can appreciate the value of the UK system, perhaps the Italian cultural bureaucracy can too!

  46. David Knell says:

    My goodness! Well, there’s a surprise! It didn’t take long for the coin dealing apologists to rush back with yet more excuses to justify why they should encourage the trashing of archaeological sites.

    Peter, I’m not sure you quite understand what ethics are. Just because elephant ivory is quite openly sold in China and the whaling industry is legal in Japan doesn’t mean those practices should be emulated everywhere else. No matter how other countries treat the coin trade, the fact remains that buying ancient coins blindly will encourage looters to source them by trashing archaeological sites. You fail to see anything “wrong with American collectors” doing that; other people do.

    I’ve already dealt on my blog with some of the fragile excuses you posted in your link; I’ll get round to dealing with the others when I get time.

    Rasiel, the only abyss I’m staring into is the gaping hole in yet another example of your strawman logic. The only looting that can be prevented is that taking place now or in the future; it’s a bit late to stop the looting that took place in the distant past and a bit late to feel guilty about that. The “guilt” is in encouraging the looting to continue.

    I think “a viable source of ancient coins” is pretty obvious to everyone but you. The coin trade is forever droning on about how many millions of ancient coins are already in private collections. Wayne Sayles estimated some 10 million of them over ten years ago (Ancient Coin Collecting, 2003, p.76). All you have to do is record them properly so people can distinguish them from fresh loot and purchase them relatively “free of guilt”.

    The “atrocity against humanity” is that you’re not satisfied with the mere 10 million ancient coins you already have; you’re desperate to encourage the continued trashing of archaeological sites so you can have still more. When is enough going to be enough for you guys? How about when every site on the planet has been obliterated just so you can make money and your customers can salivate over yet more fresh goodies? Will that suffice?

    And oh yeah … the ancient coins I own were inherited from my great uncle. He died in 1969. I guess they may have been looted in their day but that’s hardly in the same league as importing vast heaps of them in the present and frantically groping for excuses why you should continue to do so. Do you sense a difference in the level of “guilt”?

    David Knell

  47. Nigel says:

    “What’s great about them is that I know where they were found and what with what other types of coins. (This information is available on the PAS database.)”

    Oh! So you restrict your purchases to items with a PAS reference number? Good for you. I did suggest to one of your dealer colleagues on Britarch that he should do the same but he said it was completely impractical and the very question betrayed my ignorance of the realities of the trade.

    So who’s right, you or your clients?

  48. Peter says:

    I’m happy to see Mr. Barford appears to be supporting the UK’s fine system. The Treasure Act is mandatory. It requires the reporting and recording of most significant items within England and Wales. The PAS is voluntary. It encourages the recording of items that don’t meet the definition of treasure. In the end, though, the State only keeps what it deems significant enough to retain and display– and with a fair market payment to the finder. The rest of the coins can go onto the market, and, indeed I have several in my own personal collection. What’s great about them is that I know where they were found and what with what other types of coins. (This information is available on the PAS database.)

    I suggested that other countries should explore this system in the article I’ve linked above. As Mr. Barford has noted elsewhere, as a result of this system most UK archaeologists have since made peace with metal Detectorists. Even more importantly, because of it, we probably know more about coin circulation in “Britannia” than in in any other Roman province.

    In any event, I’ve never had any real comment to my suggestions at the end of my ANS article from Messrs. Elkins, Barford or anyone else associated with the archaeological community. I was hoping it would be a basis for such dialogue. It’s still not too late. Isn’t that better than the anti-collector rhetoric and ad hominem attacks in the above posts and that one reads daily in Mr. Barford’s blog?

  49. Paul Barford says:

    @Rasiel, this is another of those “excuses” David Knell mentions…. When it comes to Roman coins such as you have for sale on your ‘Dirty Old Coins’ and on Tantalus, Britain has, as many collectors and dealers point out, pretty favourable legislation about finding and keeping such items, and there are many thousand metal detectorists out there doing just that. There are now hundreds of thousands of coins out there that have been legitimately found, properly reported under the legislation (through the Treasure Act for hoard finds and Portable Antiquities Scheme) and available for purchase and export (with the required UK export licence). There are in the UK many dealers and middlemen who buy this stuff from finders and offer it for sale. It is a perfectly legal, open and above-board business (whatever personal opinions I or anyone else may have about that). The coins come with ready-made documentation – all you have to do is put it in an envelope and keep it to pass on. The detectorists have forums where you can make contact with finders. The Roman coinage supply to Britain was very rich, many mints and reverse types to choose from, coins of every emperor right through until the end of the Western Empire, there is also Celtic and some Byzantine, many of these coins are in as good or better condition than the ones pictured on your websites.

    But somehow neither you, nor any other US dealer I can see [please correct me if I am wrong] have on offer any quantities of such legitimately-obtained coins. Why is that? Is it because you have suppliers which exploit finders and therefore can provide ‘fresh-from-the-ground’ document-free coins cheaper so you can make a big profit while offering them as “astonishingly affordable”? Is it because poor folk that you are, you cannot find an “organization” (see above) to funnel them right into your hands? (And what kind of an “organization” would that be?). Try networking with British finders, Peter Tompa does.

    UK finders (when they sell disclaimed or unclaimed items to middlemen), get from them the market value – or near to it (this was discussed on a metal-detecting blog near you just last week). So any coins you resell from such a source are indeed in every sense of the word ‘fair trade’, the finder is not being ripped off and exploited as in the case of the illicit diggers that supply artefacts to “buck-a-coin” cowboys. What kind of neo-colonialist deal are source-country finders getting there?

    Please don’t try to play the “clueless” victim with us (why do collectors and dealers always try to play the victim of some conspiracy against them? Are they seeking sympathy?) I think every dealer and collector in the English-speaking world knows about the Portable Antiquities Scheme, British metal detecting and Treasure Act, they quote them incessantly at every opportunity. Anyone in the trade who has not heard about them is clearly not in the loop. There IS a source where you could, if you wanted, access guilt-free, fair trade, ancient coins of precisely the calibre of the ones you have for sale on your websites this very moment.

    As for straw men, I bet you cannot see anywhere on my, or any other blog a text describing keeping Roman coins in your house as an “atrocity against humanity”, can you? David Knell just yesterday pointed out here this tendency of dealers to make silly statements to deflect attention. Here it is again. “Peter” does the same thing, but to avoid falling into the time-wasters’ trap and repetition, I refer him to my answer above to the same question when Rasiel tried that one.

    Paul Barford

  50. Rasiel Suarez says:

    Before I have you stare into the abyss, David, it would be in fact a strawman argument if you and others who espouse your views would simply point the clueless in the direction of a viable source of ancient coins where one may purchase free of guilt. Maybe you’re aware of some organization that sells post-dig finds that have been properly recorded? Any museums having a sale on overstock coins that have been appropriately catalogued? Name at least one source where one may buy “fair trade” ancient coins and I’ll be happy to retract my statement.

    Now look at those ancient coins you own. Care to elaborate their chain of possession? Are you absolutely, positively sure that some nation or other doesn’t lay claim to them? What would you say to those who think you’re committing an atrocity against humanity just by keeping them in your house?

    Rasiel Suarez

  51. Peter says:

    The comments of Messrs. Elkins, Barford, Knell and Nigel (Swift?) mirror the anti-collector/anti-small business views of the archaeological orthodoxy. Really, what’s wrong with American collectors wanting to be able to continue to import and purchase coins of the sort openly and legally abroad?

    Is it really about conservation or control? For more, see http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2011/09/ancient-coins-and-cultural-property.html and decide for yourself.

  52. David Knell says:

    Supplementing the comment by Nathan, it needs emphasising that in fact ALL of the negative commentators have an axe to grind. As Paul Barford pointed out, in addition to Wayne Sayles, Peter Tompa and John Hooker noted by Nathan, Rasiel Suarez is a coin dealer (one of his businesses specialised in importing ancient coins in bulk from the Balkans and elsewhere).

    Among the more disingenuous tactics used by the negative band is the alarmist strawman argument set up by Rasiel Suarez. The simple explanation why he has “yet to see a compelling reason why John Q. Public should not be allowed to own ancient coins” is that no one has ever said he shouldn’t. There’s nothing wrong with owning ancient coins; I own a few myself. Nathan is merely trying to point out that buying ancient coins blindly encourages looters to source them by trashing archaeological sites. Is that really so hard to understand?

    Apart from a genuine disregard for history, there can be only one reason why the coin dealers and their lobbyists are up in arms: acting responsibly is inconvenient. Refusing to buy stock that is likely to have been looted, carefully recording stock and revealing its provenance so that customers will know they are not encouraging looting either, and so on, are all a troublesome hindrance. To avoid that inconvenience, the dealers will invent any excuse they can dream up: archaeology isn’t important, coins aren’t important to archaeology, coins are all found in hoards, coins are common, it’s all the fault of the ‘source’ countries for not guarding the sites properly, archaeologists are just being nasty, and so on ad infinitum. All the excuses are blatant rubbish that is easily refuted but the dealers simply ignore that or invent another one.

    I have to wonder if the coin dealers spent half the energy on cleaning up their act as they do on inventing silly excuses to carry on regardless, people like Nathan wouldn’t have to defend what should be blindingly obvious.

    David Knell

  53. Nigel says:

    “Illicit does not equate to immoral” gyrated the man with a fresh tusk under his arm, desperately trying to convince himself and his customers all was well. How tiresome.

  54. Paul Barford says:

    … and Rasiel Suarez is a dealer. I would totally disagree with the suggestion that “illicit does not equate to immoral”, but – to judge by earlier discussions with US coin dealers on the subject it seems the word has a different meaning on either side of the Atlantic. As anyone who has been paying attention will see, nobody is suggesting for a moment that as Mr Suarez suggests: “John Q. Public should not be allowed to own ancient coins”. It’s where in future he gets the coins from that is the problem that needs resolving. That, basically, is all we are saying.

    I note that the dealer is suggesting that there may be “no negative” in people buying wholly undocumented dugup artefacts of unknown collecting history. In the same way I am sure there are dealers in such things who might raise the same points about cars, bikes and firearms with filed off serial numbers, but I think the rest of us can see through this line of argument. Personally I would steer clear of any dealer in any commodity who was expecting me to buy possibly illicit stuff ‘blind’ like that.

  55. Nathan says:

    For the sake of the casual reader coming to this issue for this first time, it merits pointing out that some of the negative commentators have affiliations that inform the nature and tenor of their comments. 1.) “Wayne” is Wayne Sayles, coin dealer and founder of the ancient coin dealer lobby, which vociferously and aggressively opposes any legal measures aimed at protecting historical and archaeological sites from looting and smuggling when it might also affect anything but a 100% “free trade” in ancient coins. In short, many associated with this dealer lobby could care less where the coins they want to trade come from, without due diligence, as long as they can import, sell, and profit from the stuff as they have done for decades. 2.) “Peter” is Peter Tompa, attorney for the ACCG and paid lobbyist for other ancient coin dealer lobby groups.

    Although these commentators pontificate about what archaeology is and how useful coins are for archaeology and in archaeological contexts, none is an archaeologist or a numismatist affiliated with an excavation. The bibliography on archaeologically recovered coin finds and “coins in context” is large and anyone who cares to spend the time researching will find great utility in their study, whether they are found in hoards or whether the entire spectrum of coins from excavation (i.e., not just those under floors) are the subject of inquiry. Indeed, in the forthcoming site report from Yotvata, one will see that the entire mass of excavated coins and the examination of what was in circulation there and what was not, told us more about the life of the fort and its occupation than the coins from sealed contexts.

    There is a lot of hostility from the dealer lobbying groups any time that anyone advocates ethical collecting and a lot of vitriolic rhetoric that comes from those quarters. Conservationists are labeled “radicals,” “anti-collector,” or the like. I would simply put it this way. Is it “anti-shoe” to suggest some American shoe manufactures are unethical to have their products manufactured in foreign sweatshops to save production costs? Is it “anti-shoe” to advocate that American consumers should be aware of the practices of the companies from which they are purchasing shoes, and maybe purchase from different sources, to promote ethical practices and human rights? I think a normal person would agree that label “anti-shoe label” is absurd. And so it is with those who promote ethical practice in the trade. I and many of my colleagues are called names by these people, threatened, and have been the target of concerted attempts to force us into silence. I, and many of my colleagues, have good collegial relationships with collectors and even some dealers, in spite of the portrayals that come from this group. One must consider why some profiteers and their hangers-on are so concerned and why they behave in such a manner any time that anyone suggests that some power for change lies with the ethical consumer. And it is clear that this is the sector, the collectors, from which change must come since some insist on conducting business as usual.

  56. Rasiel Suarez says:

    I note, Paul, your increasing sense of frustration but it’s time to realize that illicit does not equate to immoral. After ten years or so of having been exposed to all the arguments and counter-arguments I have yet to see a compelling reason why John Q. Public should not be allowed to own ancient coins. Despite there being some undesirable consequences that come from their trade, it falls on you to prove that in the pros and cons the ledger tips to the negative. I can note by way of personal example that had it not been for the easy accessibility of ancient coins I would never have taken up numismatics as a career nor, however modest my contributions may have been, that in the intervening years I can still ultimately owe them all to buck-a-coin ebay auctions. In a rhetorical sort of introspective can you think of what positive legacy your crusade has added to the collective good of mankind?

    Without that compelling argument I’m sure your intellectual integrity – if nothing else – forbids you from admitting deep down that the “just say no” campaign you would like to see spontaneously spring from within our community has any hope whatever of being effective. And it is telling that you would mention this particular analogy in light of the fact that despite the trillions of dollars invested in the war on drugs the result so far has been nothing short of a *spectacular* waste of money .

    This being the case, I ask, what then is your plan B?

    Rasiel Suarez

  57. Paul Barford says:

    I suggest “Peter” (Tompa I would guess) like “Wayne” (50 years a numismatist, but how many excavation reports under his belt?) needs to do a little more reading too into the methodology he criticises. The statement that “In fact: (1) only coins from secure contexts (like under a paving stone) have any real value whatsoever” betrays a real lack of understanding about the interpretation of finds assemblages from stratigraphic sequences on modern excavations. As for the PAS I look forward to the day the US government sets up one so we can see some similar applied numismatic work being done on freshly-surfaced finds by US numismatists too. Then an ACCG reading list would be nice.

    “Rasiel” suggests job-creation projects for looters (does he know any he’d like to employ? ) falls flat on his assumption that they are all “desperately poor people to who despoil the earth of historical artefacts in order to supplement meagre incomes”. These are generalisations without any real substance. Desperately poor people do not own JCBs and metal detectors (Archar), nor are they likely to be responsible for the looting on an industrial scale we see at sites like Apamea and Dura Europos in Syria, or get high on meth as we see in the US. I think rather that it is Rasiel” who is “repeating the same old talking points” here to avoid discussing problems associated with the current form of the antiquities market. Whether or not he has been following the debate, this whole question of “subsistence looting” has been gone through so many times before. Now we have the Glasgow Trafficking Culture project, run by criminologists which should dismantle some of the old stereotypes of collectors and dealers. Whether or not they will listen is another matter.

    In any case, I’d like to ask where these collectors think the money for the site guards and the job-creation programmes they propose in stead of cleaning up the market will come from. who will foot the bill, and why? Not even the USA can afford to do the same to solve its own looting problems on public lands in the west. The UK has not even considered this in the case of highly endangered sites like the Staffordshire Hoard findspot. Let’s see the rich countries applying these costly solutions first and testing how well they work before asking the poor countries to do so.

    Surely, instead of this, all it needs is for the buyers in the rich countries to just tidy up their act and stop irresponsibly buying freshly-surfaced artefacts ‘blind’ (just say ‘no’). That, as has been pointed out many times, is where the help of “collectors as allies” is sought. If all responsible collectors took a conscious decision to switch to buying only that which they can personally verify is 100% of licit provenance, that is precisely a programme of action that would “legitimize the acquisition of antiquities like coins” and immediately resolve the conflict over clandestine excavation and artefact smuggling. Without it, eliminating illicit dealings in antiquities will be impossible, and surely eliminating illicit artefacts from the market is not against the interests of responsible collectors. And if in addition in the promotion of transparency, collectors would like to set up some kind of register (as William Pearlstein of the US Committee for Cultural Policy has recently suggested) along the lines of the PAS, that would be a great idea too.

    I do not see what point “John” is getting at, whoever he is, I do not think I have ever met him, so am puzzled by his claimed insights into my personal biography etc., not that this matters, I rather think we were discussing something else.

    Paul Barford

  58. John says:

    Judging from the tone and inaccuracy of his comment, ‘Paul’ appears to be one Paul Barford, an archaeo-blogger well known for his ad hominen attacks on collectors and anyone else who opposes his near-lunatic and radical views; neither is he an archaeologist.

    Where he writes “Secondly in stratified contexts, coins and coin assemblages are extremely useful as chronological markers and in reality few other artefact types have such a precise chronology (terra sigillata is one example),” is a sly dig at those archaeologists and excavators tempted to supplement their incomes, the only ones with access to these contextual coins.

  59. wayne says:

    Some very valid points raised here. Like John, I also am in my 50th year as a numismatist. Paul’s advice to do a little more reading is rather humorous. He obviously has no clue. When assailed by an academic with wet ink on the sheepskin, it is hard not to react with fairly predictable defensiveness. I agree that Rasiel’s final paragraph is the only way forward, but my repeated calls for genuine dialogue on that topic have been ignored or met with scorn. Unless there is a wake-up-call in the archaeological community, the future will not be any brighter than the past. All that can come in the alternative is a widening gulf and ultimate isolation. By the way, because “contextual object” is not a recognized “archaeological” term, does that mean it is unintelligible? I think most intelligent 5th graders today could offer a fairly good definition.

    Wayne G. Sayles

  60. Rasiel Suarez says:

    This issue will remain forever controversial but Noah’s writeup does little to turn the tide in favor of his viewpoint mainly because it repeats the same old talking points that are so easily debunked.

    Rather than beat the same dead horses I’d suggest a new angle to break the stalemate. Ultimately, the problem is one that like many others boils down to money. Archaeology is in a race to discover, document and preserve historical sites against determined looters who are in almost every case desperately poor people to who despoil the earth of historical artifacts in order to supplement meager incomes. Provide them with economic incentives that are a viable alternative and you will instantly turn them into fierce guardians of those same sensitive locations. Or just step up the work of the archaeologists and/or increase site security. Either way it takes money. Money that I’m keenly aware isn’t available but that all the same is the underlying current that animates the trade.

    Noah’s lament isn’t merely ineffective; by its rehashing of the same easily attacked positions all it really accomplishes to do is alienate a potential base of support. Ancient coin collectors are already often consumate history buffs with skills in conservation and a desire to preserve and reconnect with the past. On the other hand, as a block demographic, and this bears emphasizing, they absolutely swamp the few Noahs out there who pine away for the day that only trained archaeologists, museum staffs and related academia reserve all rights to historically sensitive sites and the objects within it. This, of course, means that antagonizing them spurs them to seek remedies that directly or indirectly only results in accelerated and intensified efforts at preserving the infrastructure that supplies them in the first place.

    A policy change that seeks to enlist their help as allies through programs that legitimize the acquisition of certain antiquities like coins is the only sensible approach that has any chance at all of diminishing the worst consequences of the illicit trade in antiquities. Either that or, like I said, throw buckets of cash at the problem… money I know full well is not available.

    Rasiel Suarez

  61. John Hooker says:

    As a numismatist with over fifty years experience, some publications (including what is fastly becoming the standard text on one series) and having reclassified an entire series, I have to fully agree with Wayne and Peter.

    There is some value in dating sites with Roman coins and some other series that have ruler’s names, dates, etc. (but with many caveats), but the dating on many other types of ancient coins is very often “provisional”. For example, an issue might be cited as being 365 – 283 BC. beginners often think that this means that there was a continuous production over that span, but really the two dates are “markers” based, usually on two events that are seen to frame the series. In reality, the issue might have been “early 361 BC” or “late 290 BC” (all examples fictitious).

    Even if a deposit is stratified, it only says that it cannot be dated earlier than the last coin. I have heard of coins of about 40 AD being the most recent in a hoard buried in the second century AD.

    Having a Ph.D on a numismatic topic does not make one an expert in ancient numismatics. I knew a person who had a Ph.D from a study of a particular issue of Corinth. She was hired, on the basis of that degree, to be the head of the numismatic department at a museum. Unfortunately, she could not even recognize a bronze coin brought to her as being Ptolemaic (and the commonest type at that!). She was finally fired after sending all of the Greek silver coins to be polished by a jeweler to make them bright and shiny for the museum visitors.

    Calling someone an expert because of a degree speaks volumes about the limited intelligence of the person making such a claim.

    Finally, if the only important thing about a coin is to date a site, it means that the site is either not terribly important, or the excavators need too much spelled out for them and have little in the way of research abilities. That pretty well sums up many archaeological reports that I have read. With all that coins can tell us about ancient technologies, sources of metals, styles and tenets of art, mythology and iconography, economics and monetary systems, and so on. Thinking that dating a site is the one thing worth mentioning is really harnessing Pegasus to the plough and speaks volumes of the sad state of archaeological knowledge at this time.

    Very few people without at least twenty years of experience in numismatics can make much of an impact on the subject and you cannot teach the subject of numismatics very well in the short amount of time allotted for a university career. Perhaps, one day, Elkins will realize that he just shot himself in the foot!

  62. Peter says:

    Elkins makes a lot of specious assumptions about the importance of coins in dating archaeological sites. In fact: (1) only coins from secure contexts (like under a paving stone) have any real value whatsoever (and really, how many of these are found at a typical site?); (2) ancient coins circulated for hundreds of years so their value as dating tools is quite limited– a better indicator is apparently pottery shards, which are found in abundance at archaeological sites..

    Leaving aside dating, the real issue is that Elkins and others (like Paul) who don’t like private collecting are using these claims about the importance of coins as dating tools to justify a clamp down on private collecting. Why not instead actually pay site guards to protect sites in the many months there are no archaeologists to be seen? Or, use cameras to monitor the sites? This seems to be a far more targeted approach than going after collectors, who after all share archaeologists’ passion for studying the past. As for Paul’s concerns, I’m sure he’s aware that the UK has a great program called the PAS and Treasure Act that encourages coins to be recorded for the purposes he speaks about. That’s why we know so much more about coin circulation in England and Wales than in many other countries without similar enlightened laws.

  63. Paul Barford says:

    As an archaeologist I would say that “Wayne” needs to do a little more reading up on the subject of archaeological methodology before coming out with such a negative suggestion that “coins are far less accurate as chronological markers than other contextual objects”. First of all, I wonder what a so-called “contextual object” is in the first place, this is not an archaeological term. Secondly in stratified contexts, coins and coin assemblages are extremely useful as chronological markers and in reality few other artefact types have such a precise chronology (terra sigillata is one example). Even in such cases, if you, in turn, look at the methodology behind the establishment of their dating, their controlled excavation from coin-dated contexts has played a large part in its development. In any case, if you say looting coins does not damage sites because they can’t be used for dating anyway, you are missing the point, looting a site for coins and other collectables will destroy the context of those “other” objects you think are in some way “more important”.

    The archaeological use of coins however goes far beyond their use for dating stratigraphic sequences and zones of sites. Applied numismatics has for some time been used in the UK to say a lot more about classical and medieval society using sourced numismatic evidence, and addressing wider questions about their use and significance than a few decades ago. None of this information is available when coins are surreptitiously dug up and flogged off to grabbing coin dealers who do not care where they came from. The study of the ‘pictures and writing’ on unprovenanced artefacts tells you much less than the sort of information being obtained by studies such as archaeologists Philippa Walton in the Heberden Coin Room at Oxford and Tom Brindle at Reading.

    I would say that encouraging better and more nuanced scholarship like this using more full information about the numismatic source material is, as you put it, the “agenda”, one which I would have thought anyone seriously interested in learning more about coins would support.

  64. Wayne Sayles says:

    If archaeologists are the “detectives” of history, and they truly believe that “coins provide a precise chronology when discovered in context” I fear that the past will forever remain a cold case. The truth is that coins are far less accurate as chronological markers than other contextual objects. Why echo such a specious claim in the quest for site protection, and why to an audience that has no control whatever over that protection? It sounds like the quest is not for site protection but for regulation and mandatory registration. What is the real agenda here?

  65. Glen Warren says:

    There are two problems here, on is there is little monitoring of many sites because of funding and some countries put in place laws that discourage legal practices. There needs to be a wider debate and education to coin collectors about this problem.

  66. bob says:

    Well, please tell the archaeologist working on Herculaneum that my wife found a denarius while on a tour. She didn’t know any better so she brought it to me as a souvenir. I didn’t believe her until I saw it. I thought she was bringing me a replica or plastic coin. Little did I know she brought me a smoking gun..

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