Catching Up

Apologies for the light posting in recent days. I’ve been quite busy in the last week. I was fortunate enough to submit my thesis last week, so hopefully the oral examination (with a good result) will take place soon. Also, I had the opportunity to present a bit of my own work at a very interesting seminar on the lex situs rule organized by the Institute of Art and Law, and Withers LLP, which has its own Arts and Cultural Assets Group. I’ll post more on the event later this afternoon. For now I’ll just give a rundown of some very interesting events which have taken place in recent days.

  • Donald Trump’s proposed golf-o-rama just north of Aberdeen has been rejected by the Aberdeenshire Council. To be clear, Trump’s development had little to do with golf, and more to do with holiday homes, a luxury hotel, and mega-houses.
  • Some of the staff at the Portable Antiquities Scheme have started to map finds with google maps.
  • Australian art-authenticator Robyn Sloggett estimates perhaps 1 in 10 works on the market are fake.
  • The Hellenic Society for Law and Archaeology reports on the new Greek Cultural Goods legislation, which will appoint a special cultural heritage prosecutor and purports to extend the expansion of Greek penal law even when crimes have taken place abroad.
Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Native American Art Returned

Scott Sonner has an interesting AP story on the decision by the US Forest Service to return boulders bearing petroglyphs to the site they were removed from four years ago. Here’s an excerpt:

U.S. Forest Service officials never believed John Ligon’s claim that he dug up two boulders etched with American Indian petroglyphs four years ago to put them in his front yard for safekeeping.

But they did share a concern he voiced that someone would steal the centuries-old rock art on national forest land a few football fields away from a growing housing development. After they recovered the stolen property, federal land managers struggled for years with the question of what to do with the rock etchings of a bighorn sheep, an archer, a lizard and a wheel.

Now, after initially thinking it was best to place them in a state museum, the agency — in consultation with local tribal leaders — has decided to return them to the mountainside where they were for perhaps as long as 1,000 years before they were disturbed.

“It belongs out there,” said Linda Shoshone, cultural resources director for the Washoe Tribe in Nevada and California. She and others said removing the petroglyphs from the site takes them out of their spiritual context.

“I realize it is a tough decision on our part because we don’t want it to be damaged any more than it has been,” Shoshone said. “But I’ve come to the conclusion that maybe the more we educate John Q. Public at the sites, the more they will help us preserve stuff like this.”

The theft of the petroglyphs on the northwest edge of suburban Reno garnered national attention at the time and still reverberates through the community.

“The significant assault on Native American memories and cultural items is as bad as walking into a Catholic church and taking a cross off the wall,” said Arlan Melendez, chairman of the Reno-Sparks Indian Colony.

Archaeologists believe the rock pile where the drawings were located was a hunting blind where 800 to 1,000 years ago tribesmen lay in wait for deer and elk migrating from Peavine Peak toward the Truckee River valley below.

The site is visible three miles away from the upper floors of the federal courthouse in downtown Reno where the accused looters stood trial in 2003.

That’s an interesting problem with no easy solution. If they return the petroglyphs, they risk another theft. But the art loses something if its housed in a museum I think. The only real solution is to educate the public about the benefits of archaeology, why it is important, and how easy it can be to lose information from important sites forever. I think that is one of the biggest reasons why more nations should adopt the approach most of the UK has taken with the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which David Gill talks about today as well. As Professor Patty Gerstenblith has argued, a nation protects those elements of its past which it values. As Linda Shoshone, cultural resources director for the Washoe Tribe in Nevada and Colorado, said in the article “It is really hard to educate a society that has no culture here in the United States — our land. They left it in Europe… But when we teach fourth graders about things like this, they are going to teach their parents.”

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

Metal Detectors Discover Important Viking Hoard in Yorkshire


A father and son metal detecting in a field near Harrogate discovered what could be the most important Viking hoard discovered in Great Britain in 150 years. The hoard was likely buried some time in the 10th century.

The two detectors, David and Andrew Whelan, found 617 silver coins, a gold arm-ring and a gilt silver vessel. The objects come from Afghanistan, Russia, Scandinavia and Ireland among others.

To qualify as treasure, generally speaking a find must be composed of valuable materials like silver or gold. Such was the case here, and as a result the finder and the landowner will receive an award based on the value of the find. In this way, the treasure act encourages finders to report their discovery. Of course they will also receive a great deal of publicity for this important discovery.

There are problems, because its application hinges on the composition of the find. But it does an excellent job of forming a good compromise between treasure hunters and archaeologists. These metal detectors are compensated; while if there was simply a national ownership declaration, finders might be tempted to hide their discovery and sell it on the black market.

One of the local treasure Coroners, Geoff Fell stated at the treasure trove inquest in Harrogate that “Treasure cases are always interesting, but this is one of the most exciting cases that I have ever had to rule on. I’m delighted that such an important Viking hoard has been discovered in North Yorkshire.”

Michael Lewis, the deputy head of the British Museum Treasure Scheme praised the finders because “[they] resisted the temptation to tip the hoard … That gave the museum the opportunity to investigate the hoard.”

This find seems to have produced great results for everybody. Metal detecting cuts both ways. Responsible detectors like the Whelan’s can really add to the body of historical knowledge, but there are irresponsible detectors as well, as the forthcoming nighthawking (detecting at night) study to be conducted by the British Museum will reveal.

The BBC has an account here, with pictures and video. There is more detail here from 24dash. Hat tip to Cronaca.

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

Night Metal Detecting Looting Britain?

Archaeologists claim so, at least in Jasper Copping’s article in the Sunday Telegraph. They claim the practice, called “nighthawking”, is destroying context in a number of protected sites. These detectors then sell the works on the internet or eBay. These claims of antiquities transactions on the internet are thrown about a great deal, but I’m aware of no concrete study or even much in the way of supporting evidence of this claim, though there are sometimes anecdotal claims which are thrown about.

It seems that English Heritage and the British Museum have commissioned a £100,000 study into the scope of the activity, which might lead to new legislation to deal with offenders.

There certainly are problems with the Dealing in Cultural Objects Offences (Act), which makes it difficult to establish wrongdoing when purchasers do not inquire into an object’s provenance. If new legislation is forthcoming, to be truly effective it needs to pinpoint the difficulty in regulating good faith purchasers, and raise the bar for the inquiry which must go into their decision to buy.

The nighthawking problem does reveal why protecting rural and historic sites can be so difficult. The Treasure Act has problems to be sure, but I have argued that it is a good and pragmatic compromise between archaeologists and antiquities collectors. When qualifying treasure is found under the Treasure Act (which applies only to England and Wales), finders are required by law to report the finds, and are rewarded for doing so. The forthcoming study will be interesting, and the actions by these unscrupulous detectors may run the risk of destroying the delicate compromise which the Treasure Act has created.

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