Thursday, August 4, 2011

Spain cracks the heck down on looters

Spain's Guardia Civil arrested twelve people who seem to have made looting a full-time job, and seized more than 9,000 antiquities in the Mediterranean region of Valencia. Thirteen homes were raided and, in addition to coins and medallions, investigators found metal detectors, maps of archaeological sites, and things used to clean looted artifacts. Spain's Historical Heritage Law prohibits searching or digging for archaeological materials without authorization, and demands that pieces found by chance or authorized digs must be turned over to the authorities.

This is definitely a victory for Spain in their work against looting, and hopefully it will serve as an example to other countries as well. Paul Barford has a recent post lamenting that while Spain is cracking down, the British government is actually encouraging metal detectorists who make historical finds and doing very little to halt the widespread looting of England's history. Fo' shame, U.K.


  1. For shame UK? You might want to study the PAS website before you make such claims, and do further reseach as to what such archaeological heros such as Lord Renfrew have said about the UK's Treasure Act and PAS. No system is perfect, but this one ensures large numbers of artifacts are properly recorded and when something significant is found archeaeolgists are called in for further study. People in countries like Spain, Greece, Cyprus etc. also have metal detectors, but do their harsh laws encourage reporting or only corruption?

  2. If you've read my blog before, you will know that I am familiar with Lord Review and with his work, as well as the PAS. I agree that no system is perfect, and while the PAS is unarguably very important, there does not seem to be the same law enforcement efforts in the U.K. to crack down on illegal digging as there are in countries like Italy, and now Spain. I believe that looting should have legal consequences. If I am simply not seeing these law enforcement efforts in the U.K, please let me know. I don't like to be ignorant. But I do think that, world-wide, there should be greater efforts to hammer it into all our heads that it is wrong and destructive to dig very very old things up if you're not authorized and trained to do so. I don't agree with this "if you can't beat them, join them" mindset. I think you should beat them. With sticks. And tasers. Kidding.

  3. Meg, I'm not sure the UK requires formal training before one uses a metal detector, though there is a code of practice that law abiding metal detectorists try to follow, which encourages experts to be called in where appropriate.

    I'm not sure the UK system is based on an if you can't beat em, join 'em mindset, but rather an effort to balance interests and a more pragmatic approach to the issues than that in some other countries.

    You do raise an interesting philosophical point as to negative reinforcement. What should be the punishment for illicit excavation? The opinions I've heard range from death sentence to something akin to a traffic fine. You might be able to guess where the opinions may lie.

    And what about archaeologists who don't publish what they excavate, cultural bureaucrats that willfully neglect the cultural patrimony in their care, and politicians that grossly underfund the sector or look the other way while significant sites get bulldozed for development. It seems wrong to me to call for the blood of looters but to ignore the transgressions of actors who can negatively impact preservation efforts much more significantly in many cases.

  4. I meant formal training as an archaeologist, not as a metal detectorist. And once again, if you read my blog, you will know I'm absolutely not calling "for the blood of looters"; I believe anyone who destroys or disfigures history and culture should be held accountable, particularly by the law. I believe there are huge flaws in our systems that allow the majority of people to remain ignorant about the importance of history in our lives and the immediacy of the threat to history through looting, dishonest academia, and sleazy politics. I know that looters themselves are not at the root of this evil, but they ARE the ones digging things up, and they should face the legal consequences the same way everyone else does when they do something illegal or wrong.

  5. @PeterTompa: Medg is right, the PAS is officially a "partnership" with artefact hunters (read the Clarke Review). The PAS DOES NOT protect the archaeological record. The PAS has also achieved very little in thirteen years, and at a direct cost of thirteen million quid, in the way of instilling "best practice" among artefact hunters and collectors - which (not recording finds) was its prime purpose when set up. The "achievements' of what is "recorded" (what for Peter, do you know what for?) are nothing to what is lost unrecorded from "productive sites" and other areas, week after week, month after month, year after year. Questions have to be asked.

    If the PAS is so damn good, why has the US not set up one for the Four Corners looters? And the archaeological pot diggers and looters in Missouri and the Ozarks? The ones in Texas, and California, and South Dakota (just to mention the ones that I've blogged about recently) just think of all the finds (a whole eBay-full) you could have "recorded" by all those untrained people taking spade to archaeological sites in the USA! Why have you not got one if its such a jolly good idea, why are the "collectors' rights" lobbyists over there not plugging the idea of an All-American-PAS till they are blue in the face, what about "collectors' rights" in the USA? Why not tell the Canadians too about the PAS and insist they have one. You can explain to the American public why its so good to encourage people to trash archaeological sites all over the country for a few collectable (and saleable geegaws), can't you?

    No, Meg is right, shame on the UK for doing bugger all about the collecting away of the archaeological heritage from under their very noses. Shame on the PAS for not initiating a proper conservation-based public discussion of portable antiquity collecting issues.

  6. Meg, remind me what today is. Oh yeah, I wrote that comment over two weeks ago and Peter Tompa has not yet replied. Do you see?

    I've been doing this for a number of years now, and you can search on Google. I guarantee you that you will NEVER find that ANYONE from the ACCG when asked that question has ever done anything except shut up. Completely. Not a peep.

    Cowards. Unlike the author of this blog, it seems to me that these people do not have the courage of their convictions.

    "The PAS is the greatest system on earth" they shout. "If every source country"... (awful colonial term) ... "had one there would be no looting". I can give you a list of references as long as your arm where the whole lot of them say this time and time again, they bring it up at CPAT meetings, Witschonke bangs on and on about it...

    But, ask them if its so brilliant why are you not recommending the US adopts one, they shut up. Try it next time a dealer or collector comes on your blog and tries to tell you the PAS is "the answer".

    I think the repetitiveness of this reaction is a sure sign of the TOTAL INSINCERITY of the people proposing this. They are introducing an "if only" argument, knowing full well that Egypt or Iraq or Peru are not going to do it (because its a crap idea). Then they say looting is "not their fault" because the "source countries" did not listen to their recommendations "how to stop looting".

    if they believed it, they would defend the concept. The fact they shut up is very telling indeed.

    When are these people going to practice what they preach? Let's see strenuous efforts from the ACCG and all the others that say the same to get a PAS set up in the US before they criticise other countries for NOT making strenuous efforts to set up a PAS to suit US collectors of dugup coins and other ancient bric-a-brac.

    Why, Peter Tompa, is there NO PAS in the USA?
    No artefact hunters? No pot-diggers? No metal detectorists? Or no public support (except maybe in Utah and Wisconsin) likely for the idea of setting up an expensive scheme to help looters loot?

    Paul Barford