Financial Innovations and the Antiquities Trade

Earlier this year I was asked to participate in a gathering of lawyers, archaeologists, antiquities dealers, economists, and members of the museum community at the Milken Institute in Santa Monica California: “Financial Innovations to Curb Looting and Preserve Cultural Resources

The institute has published a report available here (registration required). From the press release:

Participants examined how market-based financial innovations could help stem the black market on antiquities by changing incentives that would create cultural and economic value to all stakeholders.

“An open, more efficient market can help address many of the problems that plague the antiquities trade, including poverty, corruption and environmental and cultural degradation,” said Glenn Yago, director of capital markets at the Milken Institute. “The whole chain of events, from country of origin to museum or personal collector, needs a new set of legal market-based rewards.”

I gave a few comments on the intersection of the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme in England and Wales, which I expanded and developed into a longer article.

I’ve read the report, and it offers three potential ways we might use these “financial innovations” to reform the antiquities trade:

  • long-term leases for museums and exhibitions
  • museum/collector partnership-sponsored digs
  • the design and development of archaeological development bonds

The first is already taking place with increasing regularity. The latter two will likely be met with more controversy, but they do have a lot of merit I think if they are implemented carefully and thoughtfully. Any reform will have to have the support of nations of origin, and they have to be confident that their efforts are producing a good deal for them, and aren’t just a continuation of the taking of recent centuries.

The event itself was great, and it brought together a number of stakeholders — including archaeologists and antiquities dealers. It was clear that they have deep-seated disagreements, but there was a core of things upon which they did agree, which is the foundation of any effort at reform.

I strongly encourage those interested in the antiquities trade to give the report a read.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

A Response to my PAS Article

Alun Salt recently had a very long reaction to my article on England and Wales’ Portable Antiquity Scheme:

By and large my archaeological training has been on community projects. My first dig was on a community project excavating a Gallo-Roman villa, organised by a society based in the local village in Nospelt. In the UK I was in the local village archaeology group and did a bit of excavation and geophysics and a lot of fieldwalking. All the projects I’ve worked on have been poorly funded, even by archaeological standards, or more often not funded at all. My experience then with archaeology outside of academia is of knowledgable, enthusiastic people with relatively little access to expertise, equipment and information.

The great attraction of the PAS from my point of view is the outreach aspect. All sorts of little bits of information are being gathered by amateurs and rather than being centrally hoarded they’re being made available to anyone with an internet connection. It’s not that there’s been a lack of will in any of the museum services I’ve seen when it comes to public engagement, but there hasn’t really been the institutional framework to help it happen. The PAS is built around engaging with the public and it’s in the bones of the system. For example below is some data uploaded to Swivel. To be honest I cannot see myself using that particular dataset, but that’s not the point. I’m used to being told there are strict limitations on what I can do with photos from museums. Here someone is actively encouraging the public to take away data and do something interesting with it.

 It’s a thoughtful response, and one of the reasons I included some of Salt’s blog posts in the article itself. 

As an aside, I’m continued to be surprised and excited by how these new means of writing via blogs can inform and shape traditional avenues of scholarship like peer-reviewed articles.  When done well, I think both can shape and inform each other.  
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Portable Antiquities Scheme Review and Treasure Report

A flurry of new information on the Portable Antiquities Scheme has been released today. The PAS is the voluntary program which records objects found by members of the public in England and Wales, some of these objects may qualify as treasure as defined under the Treasure Act, in which case finders are entitled to the full market price of the object while the Crown holds title.

First, the Review of the Portable Antiquities Scheme was released today (commissioned by the Museums Library and Archives Council with the British Museum and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport). The very positive review notes the PAS is under-resourced and yet “still well-liked, delivering genuine partnership and good value for money. Having reviewed budgets and operations, it is clear that with no increase in resources, posts must be cut and the scheme will not deliver regional equity.” The report recommends an increase in funding of just over 9% next year. This appears to be very good news for the scheme in the short-term as the cuts made this year can be reversed.

Second, the Treasure Annual Report was released today. A few highlights:

  • “Treasure” reporting increased again, with 749 objects qualifying as treasure reported, up from 665 in 2006. One of which was this Iron Age torc, made of gold and silver and found near Newark in 2005.
  • In 2007, 77,606 objects were recorded on the PAS database, now totaling 360,000 objects.
  • Since 2003, the date at which the PAS was extended throughout England and Wales, treasure reporting has increased nearly 200%.

The release is featured in a brief BBC story today “Treasure Hunters Boost Gold Finds“. To read my thoughts on the PAS, and what it means for other nations of origin, see here; Kimberley Alderman has a kind summary of it today. The biggest success of the PAS has been its inclusion of a variety of disparate interests from coin collectors to archaeologists. Such compromise is exceedingly rare in heritage policy.

It has also included social groups which aren’t always typical museum-visitors — a very good thing in my view. This happens in two ways. First, finders are encouraged to report and record the objects they find. Second, anyone can access the database and use the data. This may include people ranging from schoolchildren to doctoral candidates to established academics.

The images of the finds are stunning. Below is a slideshow from the PAS on flickr.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

An Unkind Response to my PAS Article (LATE UPDATE)

I have just noticed that Paul Barford has produced a very long response to my article on the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Initially I was pleased that my article had gained some notice. Imagine my dismay then when Barford accuses me of producing, ‘glib spin’, bad writing, claims I’m ignorant, and even hints that I’ve committed plagiarism. And he didn’t even do me the courtesy of sending an email.

I hope there might be a serious scholarly response to the article at some point, and I look forward to reading it. At present I’m not aware of any thoughtful scholarly work (peer-reviewed for example) which criticizes the PAS. Perhaps Barford would be inclined to produce something like this? Given the tenor of his blog though, I wonder if he is capable of passing peer-review.

I don’t really have a lot to say about the points he raises, because there aren’t any intellectually honest arguments. Rather he’s displayed an unfortunate tendency to produce Rovian and Hannity-style discourse. He takes my arguments out of context, wilfully twisting them in a way which indicates an inability to conduct any kind of meaningful discourse.

To take one example, he writes:

[T]he PAS allegedly represents a policy that: “sharply contrasts with the context-focused narrative found in most culture heritage scholarship”. This gives a totally false impression of the PAS and its aims… It is all about context of the finds in its database.

Right, well here’s what the article states:

The PAS is the voluntary system created to record and document objects that are not encompassed by the Treasure Act and are unearthed legally. The PAS is a novel approach to undiscovered antiquities, which rests on a legal framework that essentially allows amateur and unprofessional digging. This policy cuts against the overriding policy choices of most nations of origin and sharply contrasts with the context-focused narrative found in most cultural heritage scholarship.

He also accuses me of stating the PAS pays finders and detectorists. No. I state very clearly “If the object is deemed treasure, the finder is entitled to a reward based on the market price of the object.” One of the main reasons I wrote the piece was to make clear that the PAS does not pay finders of non-treasure objects! Finders of treasure recieve a reward, and have since the 19th century; the PAS works in conjunction with this legal framework to encourage voluntary reporting of objects the Crown has no legal claim to.

I don’t expect everyone will agree with my perspective, but at the very least an individual who claims to be an academic would be able to respond in an honest and thoughtful way. I’d encourage Barford to adopt the perspective of Kimberley Alderman, who has recently started a very nice blog:

Here are the things I think would promote more meaningful discourse:

1. Less polarization between what have been characterized as competing “sides” of the argument.

2. Less emphasis on doctrinal positions (on both sides) and more emphasis on solving the mutual goal of cultural preservation.

3. More emphasis on what is working as opposed to what is not.

4. Less emphasis on what positions people have espoused in the past (too often used as a means to unproductively attack).

5. More precision in language used …

That’s very good advice I think. It’s a brief statement of a similar kind of argument made by Alexander Bauer recently. A. A. Bauer (2008). “New Ways of Thinking About Cultural Property,” Fordham International Law Journal 31:690-724.

I’m happy to accept legitimate criticism. Petty attacks aren’t doing anyone any favors though. Barford is not a fan of the PAS. He’s entitled to that opinion, but give me some clear reasons why the current system is harmful, and provide a better legal or policy framework. If you’ve got a better ‘mousetrap’, tell us about it — if you can do so respectfully.

LATE UPDATE:

I see Barford has responded here. Regrettably the newer post is only slightly less strident.

As he rightly points out, I neglected to include a link to his extended response to the article which is here. He claims to have pointed out “serious problems” with the article. I’m afraid we will have to agree to disagree on that point. I’m happy to have a spirited debate on the PAS, but mis-characterizing my position and taking statements out of context makes such a productive discussion impossible, and he has yet to correct these errors. When my first year law students make these kind of analytical mistakes its an indication of weak analysis and insufficient research.

At its core, I argue in the article that a national ownership declaration is an important legal strategy; but this declaration in isolation does not necessarily create the best cultural heritage policy. In fact there’s legal precedent which makes this very point (see US v. Johnson 720 F.Supp. 810, 811 (C.D.Cal.1989)) and the US accession to the UNESCO Convention via the CPIA takes the efforts of nations of origin into account when the CPAC considers export restriction requests.

I assume that effectively guarding every archaeological site is impossible given limited resources. Even in the US, a wealthy nation, there is widespread looting of Native American sites. A nation like Peru has even more difficulty given its developing economy and the remote location of many sites. The looting of these sites in North and South America is a travesty. This is a foudational problem with heritage policy. One potential solution is a policy framework and network of PAS-style liason officers. But that’s not to say that these states should encourage metal-detecting or the like.

Rather I think outreach and education is badly needed. Barford argues this exists in many nations of origin already. Perhaps he is right, but we are merely talking speculatively. Where is the evidence? I’d be delighted to read some thoughts on this. The PAS works in conjunction with the law, which was of course a compromise postion between heritage advocates and landowners. A very strong legal regime may in a perfect world be the best policy. But what good are they if they aren’t meaningfully enforced? These laws can be compared with abstinence only sex education or America’s ill-advised “War on Drugs”. When it comes to practice, they aren’t producing the desired results — less teen pregnancy or drug abuse for example. In the heritage context, the PAS and metal detectorists are producing contextual information. It’s a different kind of information, which we can characterize as shallow but extremely broad; rather than a thorough documentation of sites which might be narrow but very deep.

This more permissive legal regime has actually produced important contextual information, which historians, researchers and archaeologists are using to write scholarship. Research is being produced with the PAS and its database, and it is including the broader public in heritage and archaeology, which will ideally bring more attention to heritage issues generally. Did Hiram Bingham include locals in his efforts to excavate Macchu Picchu? Modern-day Peruvians think not, which has led to a host of very public disagreements between Yale and Peru.

The PAS policy unquestionably sacrifices some archaeological context, but is there any nation of origin which is able to ensure all of its sites are professionally excavated or remain untouched? Is some contextual information better than none?

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

My Article on the Portable Antiquities Scheme

I’ve posted on SSRN my article from the August edition of the International Journal of Cultural Property, A Coordinated Legal and Policy Approach to Undiscovered Antiquities: Adapting the Cultural Heritage Policy of England and Wales to Other Nations of Origin 15 Int’l. J. Cult. Prop. 347 (2008). Here’s the abstract:

Blanket ownership laws, export restrictions, and the criminal law of market nations are the default legal strategies currently used by nations of origin to prevent the looting of archaeological sites. Although they have been remarkably successful at achieving the return of looted objects, they may not be the best strategies to maximize the recording and preservation of archaeological context. In England and Wales a more permissive legal regime broadly applied and adopted by the public at large has produced dramatically better results than the strong prescriptive regime of Scotland, which can be easily ignored.

This article attempts to clear up any misconceptions of the cultural policy framework in England and Wales. It accounts for the legal position accorded undiscovered portable antiquities, and describes how this legal framework is perfected by a voluntary program called the Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). This approach stands in stark contrast to Scotland, which has used a legal strategy adopted by most other nations of origin.

The domestic legal framework for portable antiquities in England and Wales is unique and differs from the typical approach. Coupled with the PAS, this legal structure has resulted in a better cultural policy, which leads to less looting of important archaeological sites, allows for a tailored cultural policy, and has produced more data and contextual information with which to conduct historical and archaeological research on an unprecedented scale. Compensating finders of antiquities may even preclude an illicit market in antiquities so long as this compensation is substantially similar to the market price of the object and effectively excludes looters from this reward system. Although the precise number of found versus looted objects that appear on the market is open to much speculation, an effective recording system is essential to ensure that individuals who find objects are encouraged to report them.

I wanted to write what I hope is a thoughtful piece which describes in an objective way what the PAS does, and how it creates a pragmatic compromise. Many of the very best heritage scholars are still seemingly under a misimpression about what it does and does not do. It’s not a perfect system, but it has produced some dramatic results, and may change the way we conceptualize heritage and context. I hope those interested in the scheme and archaeology will do me and the employees of the PAS the courtesy of reading the piece before dismissing my position. Sadly I’m afraid some already have reacted, without even reading the piece.

I have no doubt that some of my assertions may prove controversial, and I’m happy to have a vigorous debate, but I think everyone interested in heritage issues needs to work harder to make sure they are leaving room for meaningful discourse and disagreement and that we’re respectful of differing views and positions.

Pictured here are a horse and rider found in Cambridgeshire which appeared in the 2007 PAS annual report, via the PAS flickr page.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Community Archaeology Conference

Via the Portable Antiquities Scheme Blog, I noticed there is an upcoming community archaeology conference in early 2009:

Community Archaeology in South West England
Free Conference held at Exeter University on the 21st of February 2009.

For abstract submissions and registration please see their website or contact Faye Simpson at fs216@exeter.ac.uk.

The South West of England has a plethora of innovative community archaeology projects working within the region to provide archaeological outreach to local communities. These archaeological outreach and education projects are varied in both there approaches and organisation. They range from ‘grass roots’ projects initiated and organised by interested amateurs, individuals and local societies, to ‘top down approaches’ by commercial archaeology firms and universities. Furthermore, they include a range of hands on activities such as standing building surveys, historical research, field-walking, oral history projects, excavations and finds processing, to name just a few.

As hosts, the Heritage Lottery Fund and University of Exeter’s Exploring Archaeology Project (XArch), provides the means in which the conference can act as a forum to discuss the variety of community initiatives in the South West of England, and assess how they work in practice. It will also open up communication between these different individuals, groups and organisations as to where the future lies for community archaeology in this region, and investigate the possibility of partnerships between these groups and projects.

Abstracts for papers should be no longer the 200 words in length and should be received by the 30.09.08.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Update on Wednesday’s Art Crime Panel

Wednesday’s panel at the British Society of Criminology was very engaging, and would have garnered a great deal of attention among cultural heritage scholars. But I’m sad to report that I’ve had considerably more folks email me to ask about the presentation than were actually present at the presentations.

Lucky for us, all of the papers we were discussing are published (or in my case will be soon).

My presentation was based on a forthcoming article in the International Journal of Cultural Property on the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme. I’ll shamelessly self-promote that when I have a copy available.

Simon Mackenzie‘s paper is: “Performative Regulation: A Case Study in How Powerful People avoid Criminal Labels” British Journal of Criminology 2008 48(2):138-153.

Carolyn Shelbourn’s presentation was based on a few articles:

Shelbourn, C “Time crime” – looting of archaeological resources and
the criminal law in England and the United States [2008] Criminal
Law Review, 204-213.

Shelbourn, C. Protecting Archaeological Resources In The United
States: Some Lessons For Law And Practice In England? [2007] Art
Antiquity and Law, 259-278.

Shelbourn C, Bringing The Skeletons Out Of The Closet? The Law and
Human Remains In Art, Archaeology and Museum Collections [2006] Art,
Antiquity and Law 179-198.

These two presentations were excellent and I enjoyed them a great deal. One problem with the current state of Heritage Law Scholarship, is that many of the best work is in specialty journals that can be hard to find. I think in particular a lot of the work by UK academics is underutilized by American authors because they don’t know about it. I’m working on a project which should help to correct a lot of those problems, and I’ll have a lot more to say about that in a few weeks hopefully.

Some of the journals, in particular Art, Antiquity and Law are not available electronically as far as I am aware. This is a real shame, and I think more authors should consider putting their work online so it can be accessed via sites like SSRN and others (or those journals need to consider putting stuff online). There are tradeoffs perhaps, and some Journals may not like stuff being given away, but I don’t see much point in writing articles if people are unaware of them or don’t read them.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com