An Old Scourge Denied?

“Why doesn’t France make it clear that people who pocket finds are not archaeologists?” whines an anonymous contributor to a smug, sanctimonious, propagandist blog. So what I wonder, would France call archaeologists who do ‘pocket’ finds? ‘Voleurs’ probably.

So here’s a few reminders who’ve  pocketed the odd artefact or three. Perhaps the French have yet to hear about the infamous Ralph Pinder-Wilson case; the British archaeologist and former Director of the British Institute of Afghan Studies in Kabul (1976–82), who was sentenced to death – but subsequently reprieved – for thieving gold coins from an excavation in Afghanistan in 1982. Or maybe they don’t know about Prof Daniel Amick’s sticky finger exercises about whom the Chicago Tribune’s Erin Meyer reported on March 1 2011 thus: –

“A Loyola University Chicago professor will serve a year’s probation for his part in a scheme to plunder artifacts from an archaeological site in New Mexico, the U.S. attorney’s office there said in a statement Tuesday.

Daniel Amick pleaded guilty Friday to violating the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, admitting to removing 17 artifacts, including arrowheads, from public lands on two field trips to New Mexico, according to the statement by Kenneth Gonzales, U.S. attorney for the District of New Mexico.”

Fortunately for Amick, New Mexico’s  judiciary clearly took a more lenient view of his crime than the Afghan judiciary took of Pinder-Wilson’s criminality, or that of Maryland’s in relation to DeHays’ custodial sentence. Loyola didn’t take such of a dim view of his criminality either by all accounts.

Then there’s the case of Antonin DeHays. Between December 2012 and June 2017, DeHays stole from the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, at least 291 dog tags and 134 records, including personal letters, photographs and small pieces of US aircraft downed during the war, the US Attorney’s office in Maryland said.  Prosecutors say DeHays sold most of the items on eBay and elsewhere. He was sentenced to 364 days behind bars for the theft of government records and ordered to pay over $43,000 in restitution costs to the unwitting buyers of his ill-gotten gains.

Back in the UK, a  military historian was jailed for stealing a log book from the widow of an RAF airman who was a member of the Dambusters squadron. Alexander Bateman, of Headstone Lane, Harrow was sentenced to two years imprisonment at Wood Green Crown Court following  a five-day trial  The log book, which belonged to the late Sergeant John Fraser, has never been found and Bateman has refused to tell police what happened to it. The court was also told that Bateman had previously been jailed for 12 months on  six counts of making indecent images of children and one count of possessing indecent images of children found in his computer.

So, using the anonymous scribbler’s criteria to establish what constitutes an archaeologist, how one wonders, should Pinder-Wilson, Amick, and Bateman be remembered or described? ‘Thief’, perhaps?

Indeed, Britain’s amateur archaeological field-walking brigade – the  flint tool and arrowhead fondlers – who pocket inestimable thousands of items in their headlong collection-driven exploitation of the archaeological record  that never reaches the Portable Antiquities Scheme Database, is  a serious problem. It not only denies landowners and farmers their rightful property (being theft) but also denies them the inherent fiscal value of the items concerned. In short, it’s a loss of archaeological knowledge of probably tsunami proportions and its been going on for decades.

The amateur archaeological field-walking community ought to be encouraged to enact the kind of Finds Agreements common in the metal detecting world and certainly to hold Third Party Insurance. Whilst the metal detecting community has a Code of Conduct, nothing similar exists amongst our bellyaching detractors…and it’s about time they followed the metal detecting example.

Is it any wonder then, that Britain’s archaeological nabobs are keen to deny the existence of what might well be called Dayhawking? Too late – the genie’s out of the bottle.

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The SAULT Project.

Extract taken from the SAULT website…(By Suzie Thomas; University Lecturer in Museology. Interested in community engagement, alternative and outsider approaches to the past, museum security, and dark heritage).

“SuALT (Suomen arkeologisten löytöjen linkitetty tietokanta), or the Finnish Archaeological Finds Recording Linked Database, is a unique project within Finnish archaeology. The multidisciplinary project, funded by the Academy of Finland, consists of the University of Helsinki, Helsinki Centre for Digital Humanities (HELDIG), Aalto University and the Finnish Heritage Agency.

We are developing a user-friendly and open database that encourages metal detectorists, but also other finders of chance material, to record their finds in the SuALT database. These finds have a high scientific potential but are not used in academic research at present. By engaging meaningfully with metal detectorists and other stakeholders, the project hopes to ensure that more finds are reported than at present, including retrospective recording. Through our citizens science approach we also hope to contribute in democratizing archaeology.”

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