Friday, November 7, 2008

The Final Reply Paul Would Not Post

Greetings gentle readers,

As you may know, Paul often edits or simply does not print my replies to him. It's his blog and that is his right but he then goes on to say what I said was off topic and so on with the usual distortions . . . sigh, whatever. Here is my last reply he just wouldn't print:

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I think Shanks is right, no method currently employed stops looting, if anything the current laws encourage it. The looters are making money selling what they find. It would be better for those areas to be professionally dug and the artefacts professionally conserved and for archaeologists to make money and fund the needs archaeology has like site security, documentation, etc.

I know you are concerned about digging for digging's sake in order to produce items which collectors want. I hold that concern in common with you and that is why I would prefer it be done by professionals instead of reckless looters. Then it can be done professionally and be taxed & regulated by the government.

As for telling tens of thousands of ancient coin collectors to give up their hobby - you would have just as much luck changing human nature, making water dry or making fog transparent. It was once opined that there were (conservatively) 50,000 serious ancient coin collectors in North America (U.S. & Canada) alone and that was several years ago and did not really account for those who only buy lots of uncleaned coins because back at the time, those people were not considered 'serious collectors' by dealers.

You can't change human nature, you need to create laws that work with human nature. I know when I took anthropology one of my key disagreements with the discipline was that it viewed human nature as either plastic or a soup of heredity & environment. I don't discount hereditary or environmental factors in how a person turns out but I feel there are certain things that are fixed about us and not subject to change and I think the desire to acquire is one of them.

I had an International Relations professor at my university who was Polish and was involved in Solidarity in the 1980s. He was neither left or right politically but one thing he was convinced of was how the Soviet system was entirely at war with human nature. The idea of rejecting the family in favor of the state, private property for collective property and so on.

You cannot get rid of collectors and not all items are of equal significance. It would be better to have a fully licit market which allows for private ownership of items of minor significance with incentives for following the law and disincentives for breaking it.

You don't like my solution and I don't like yours and this is the crux of the problem. I think my proposal is a very good middle ground (obviously it is someplace in the middle as some dealers rejected it as too complicated and/or labor intensive) because it allows collecting minor items (coins) to continue but also empowers archaeologists to have a hand in regulation and implementation.

I am no apologist for the uber-rich collector of priceless national treasures. I am not the defender of people who break heads off of statues, steal icons out of Churches or cuts reliefs off monuments. That said however, I do not think it serves anyone to refuse to study or publish items that do not have a provenance. As Hershel Shanks noted, the Dead Sea Scrolls were taken from their context and look what we have learnt from those.


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Since Paul is in the habit of quoting me out of context, editing my replies and putting words in my mouth I have gotten into the habit of copying and pasting my replies to him into txt documents because otherwise he plays these games.

I've had much more civil exchanges with Nathan Elkins and David Gill. I don't think all archaeologists who are concerned with cultural property issues are obnoxious or closeminded like Barford, nor as ideological. I am sure they look at some of my colleagues and have similar thoughts.

Nuff said for now,

Jim McGarigle
Polymath Numismatics

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