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Fazor
2010-Oct-15, 04:28 PM
I've recently taken to history. It's a subject that I loathed in school, and even still at the college level when I finally started taking an interest in learning things. But out of nowhere, it's like I realized that history is interesting after all. And so I've been reading about it. And devouring shows on the ancient world whenever I stumble across them on television (particularly Nova episodes that deal with the subject.)

The current chapter in the book I'm reading is talking about Byzantium and the Byzantine empire (as well as Persia and the beginnings and spread of Muslim culture.) So yesterday while I was bored at work, my mind wandered to the artifacts that these peoples have left behind. So I did a quick search for Byzantine coins. That's when I found places that claim they're actually selling these coins. Well, more specifically, they're sites for dealers of ancient artifacts, of which, coins seem to be the most common.

Which I'm torn on; I've talked about my love of artifacts before. Even something relatively common, such as arrow heads. Just being able to hold and examine them is . . . well, hard to describe. But magic.

But what about the ancient coins? I mean, North American arrowheads -- at least in my parts -- are what? A few hundred years old? Typically, anyway. But coins that are in some cases over a thousand years old?

One website even had (or claimed to have) Sumerian artifacts for sale.

Two things struck me; one-how authentic are these artifacts, and how 'common' are they? I mean, there's a legitimate market for arrowheads, though I know there's laws governing it. Are these coins similar?

And what about the ethics of it?

Well, I didn't think much about it. But today when I went back to do some more searching, one of the first things that came back was a link to a blog by a collector discussing a very recent 'U.S. State Department's Cultural Property Advisory Committee' (CPAC) hearing on the very subject. And I was right; it does seem there is a divide between collectors and (typically) archaeologists on whether or not such trade is ethical.

Hrmph.

Oh, I was also surprised to see places selling "packs of five" Byzantine coins for $125. That seems low to me, if they are authentic. Unless they're more common than I imagine.

Now I just wish we had a local museum where I could go see these things in person! Though it's a miracle my town even has a book store, so an extensive world-history museum is a pretty unrealistic wish.

Swift
2010-Oct-15, 05:06 PM
I can't speak for Byzantine coins, but I know Roman coins are pretty common. I'm sure there are fakes, but I also suspect there are authentic ones available. I don't know enough to know how to tell the difference.

I don't also have a big ethical problem with owning them, as long as they were obtained legally.

The Backroad Astronomer
2010-Oct-15, 05:16 PM
I think I saw on the British version of Antiques Roadshow that finding Roman coins and pottery can be pretty common. Think about all the coins that have falling out of your pockets over the years and times that by many thousands of people over several centuries. Plus coins and pottery are usually made of stuff can last a while.

danscope
2010-Oct-15, 05:18 PM
A word of caution : People and con-artists especially..."Know" how to make ANYTHING . Really. Good stuff is in the museum .
A nice repro is worth what it is.
Also, arrow heads are somewhat incoruptable. Obsidian lasts an awefully long time as does flint . A leather scrap and an antler will fashion an arrow head. They have been making arrowheads for many many centuries.
Best regards,
Dan

Gillianren
2010-Oct-15, 05:37 PM
Not all good stuff is in museums. Quite a lot is actually in private collections.

To me, how ethical it is depends a lot on how rare it is. I own a couple of fossils now. I acquired both of them in the last six months out of fascination with the fact that I could own fossils. Now, I grew up near an excellent natural history museum, so to me, the instinct is that fossils=museum displays. But what would they do with one more ammonite? I spent about $25 on my dish of ammonite-embedded stone, and my ren faire boss said he could have gotten it for me cheaper. Anything they'd sell me for that little is clearly of little interest to paleontologists. Likewise Roman coins. Unless I found, say, the one Cary Grant tells the story of in The Bishop's Wife, the museum has a vat of the things and it's okay for me to own one.

PetersCreek
2010-Oct-15, 06:06 PM
I mean, North American arrowheads -- at least in my parts -- are what? A few hundred years old? Typically, anyway.

They could be many thousands of years old, especially if we expand the term "arrowheads" to include other napped stone implements. Clovis points came on the scene about 13,000 years ago and the practice goes back farther than that.

Fazor
2010-Oct-15, 06:15 PM
I'm not that familiar with the subject, but was under the impression that the typical flint/quartz arrowheads in the Ohio valley found on the 'surface' (without excavation) weren't that old. I've never really studied them -- my mother grew up in the area and found many over the years. I, on the other hand, and despite occasional endeavors specifically to search for them, have only found one, and it was only a partial arrowhead that was missing the tip (though otherwise was exceptionally well preserved. Crisp lines, sharp edges, etc. And a beautiful rosey-cream color. . . quartz, IIRC.)

Trebuchet
2010-Oct-15, 06:44 PM
I followed a link from the Wikipedia main page the other day and spent a fascinating couple of hours browsing among various finds in Britain. The original link was about a Roman ceremonial helmet which had recently been sold for a couple of million US$. It apparently fell through a crack in the UK's fairly stringent antiquities laws. The museums were pretty upset that it had been sold privately, and also that it had been restored (and I mean a major restoration, it had been found in about 75 pieces and put back in a single piece) without allowing the archaeologists access to it. The UK laws regarding "treasure" are pretty stringent. Coins become the property of the crown, with the finder paid a fair market value as determined by an independent appraisal. The helmet didn't qualify because it was bronze, rather than precious metal.

I don't see a problem with having small fossils which are very common. My wife has purchased several recently. Native American artifacts can be problematic if found on federal or tribal land but I think private property is ok. And some, which are made with parts of endangered wildlife such as eagle feathers, cannot be sold regardless.

Fazor
2010-Oct-15, 07:16 PM
Online I'm finding the Byzantine coins anywhere from $0.99/ea to $1,200+ for pristine gold coins. Obviously rarity, condition, and material have a lot to do with it. Most offer 'Certificates of Authenticity' if requested, but there's never a certificate of certificate of authenticity's authenticity. ;)

I don't have a particularly larger interest in the Byzantine empire than any other ancient empire; it just became the subject of my search due to being the current subject of my reading.

Trebuchet
2010-Oct-15, 07:41 PM
About fifteen years ago I was sent on business to Singapore. In the lower level of the hotel was a shopping arcade, including a shop which was selling Cambodian artifacts. Not just little artifacts but large temple carvings looted from historical sites that should have been left alone. There's simply no way they were obtained legally. It was disturbing. It's a pretty sure bet the looters were also drug lords/war lords/or other sorts of bad guys too boot. The hotel was part of a big American chain, I thought about writing them over it but did not.

Buttercup
2010-Oct-15, 07:49 PM
...there are also pieces of the Cross for sale...

kleindoofy
2010-Oct-15, 08:12 PM
... One website even had (or claimed to have) Sumerian artifacts for sale. ...
The only Sumerian artifacts that are normally on the market, i.e. not in museums, are cylinder seals and clay tablets.

Original cylinder seals are pretty rare these days, but there are tons of replicas around. I bought one myself at the Louvre gift shop.

Genuine Sumerian period clay tablets are around and I know people who own some privately (usually Ur III economic texts), but they're becoming rare on the market. Forgeries are pretty easy to spot.

Fazor
2010-Oct-15, 08:24 PM
The only Sumerian artifacts that are normally on the market, i.e. not in museums, are cylinder seals and clay tablets.

Original cylinder seals are pretty rare these days, but there are tons of replicas around. I bought one myself at the Louvre gift shop.

Genuine Sumerian period clay tablets are around and I know people who own some privately (usually Ur III economic texts), but they're becoming rare on the market. Forgeries are pretty easy to spot.

As I recall, the particular website claimed to have the cylinder seals and also a stamp-seal -- though the later could have been another artifact I came across and am confusing with the Sumerian ones.

HenrikOlsen
2010-Oct-15, 08:37 PM
...there are also pieces of the Cross for sale...
And there used to be seven official heads of Mary's mother.

HenrikOlsen
2010-Oct-15, 08:38 PM
Genuine Sumerian period clay tablets are around and I know people who own some privately (usually Ur III economic texts), but they're becoming rare on the market. Forgeries are pretty easy to spot.
The numbers don't add up?
They're signed by Linda Green?

kleindoofy
2010-Oct-15, 08:56 PM
The numbers don't add up?
They're signed by Linda Green?
The clay isn't aged, the writing is usually very coarse and not very "dubsarian," so to say, and the whole thing is less than gibberish.