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Answering Ethical Questions Print E-mail
Mark Lehman's guide to answering questions about the ethics of collecting ancient coins. Prepare yourself for these questions by reading this guide. 

How to address the collector/scholar vs. AIA "no one but the 'experts' should have access to antiquities" viewpoints….

Written by Mark Lehman

My first, and most important advice is to you is to avoid these discussions like the very plague - I cannot possibly stress this strongly enough. Many persons in the AIA camp (and a few in the collector camp, as well) are possessed of that surety of opinion owned only by those vested in the certainty of "the true faith", and absolutely nothing, no matter the logic or facts, is likely to sway them in these, their cherished beliefs. There is more than a single point of view to be considered here, and it would be close-minded of us not to try to take them all into serious consideration - that said:

We at ACE have a bit of experience encountering this phenomenon - unfortunately, most of it negative. My own few "successes" debating in this field have been in discussion with those who, evidently, wanted to be swayed.

If, despite your best efforts, you are inevitably drawn into debate on the subject, these are a few of the points you might want to try fielding:

During the period of origin from which the bulk of commercially available uncleaned coins are available, the gross inflation of the era makes them about as remarkable a find as a penny in a convenience store parking lot.

Vast quantities of coins unearthed in "legitimate" digs currently languish (and deteriorate) in museum basements worldwide due to lack of resources to adequately conserve and catalog them.

The vast majority of coins offered as "uncleaned" on the current world market come from surface finds in potato fields and the like - not from disturbance of established sites.

The vast majority of those people actually disturbing archaeological sites are compelled by their pathetic economic and political circumstances to do so - AND they are actually looking for much more valuable artifacts than tiny bronze coins - in the event they do happen to find coins in this pursuit, and save them, they are incidentally helping to preserve artifacts that would probably be thrown aside as "too numerous and insignificant to properly conserve and study" by underfunded "official" archaeologists. Only when the world community confronts the poverty rampant in these areas might there be any change whatsoever in the attitude and behavior of the diggers who are only trying to keep their families from starving - those of us who study the coins resultant from their desperate actions are performing a sort of academic emergency triage.

There is a prevailing opinion in the AIA camp that it would be better to destroy duplicate artifacts than to let them fall into private hands and so fuel the antiquities market - oh, really? - who else do they think might be interested enough in ancient history (and well heeled enough), given our pathetic inattention to classical history in the mainstream of educaton, to become the benefactors of future digs than folks enlightened by the actual artifacts?

Only by the widespread dissemination of knowledge about the importance of investigation of earlier societies can we ever hope to gain popular support enough to keep legitimate archaeological investigation alive and properly protected - we feel that the dispersion of the multitudious quantities of coins coming to light in the age of the metal detector serves to spread interest in things ancient among those who have been poorly served by our educational system and thereby help to ensure a body of those who might contribute in the future.

Left in the ground, coins will eventually corrode away to nothing - then nothing may ever be learned from them.

We are raising an entire generation of potential donors to classical archeological pursuits who would have no interest whatsoever, due to their pathetically inadequate education, unless there were something like the uncleaned ancient coin hobby to spark their interest.

I know I have reiterated the same viewpoint from a number of angles here - but when beset by the true believers of the AIA viewpoint, sometimes a "360" view of the subject may help to give you a fulcrum from which to leverage the discussion.

Good luck, and again, don't willingly debate this unless you are willing to seem as unswervingly devoted to the idea as your opponents may be.