I applaud Saving Antiquities for Everyone's mission although I disapprove of their strategy and tactics.
Can antiquities really belong to everyone?
Imagine a future in which I own the ancient coins I have today and all of the antiquities that SAFE has saved on my behalf. I'd certainly want pictures of my antiquities for my records. Both the ones in coin folder in my bookcase and the ones SAFE is storing for me in the museums of the world.
I was trying to discuss this with Paul Barford but followup comments were somehow lost.
I don't just want pictures of the ancient coins that some professional has decided are interesting. I want to decide for myself which coins to look at. I literally want every box of coins scanned and put online with a Creative Commons license allowing me to use the image for any purpose. Perhaps some images could be tagged with metadata such as NUDS but it's expensive to gather and maintain that information. Images, which are the most important documentation, can be obtained for nearly free by dropping coins into a hopper for digital scanning. That techology is nearly free. Volunteers placing coins on a flatbed scanner is free. Graduate students might be available to do it cheaply. Internet storage from archive.org is free.
Identifying and documenting coins takes time. In the preface to H. C. Lindgren's third volume (Lindgren III (1993)) he estimates 2000 hours for 1500 coins. It will take a long time to document the world's ancient coins at that rate and be very expensive. Perhaps in some places grants could be found for experts but not everywhere, not this century.
Perhaps there is a way to generate metadata for antiquities that doesn't cost any money? I've mentioned automatic classification of ancient coins from scans. Another idea is to use Google Image Labeler-type technology. Imagine a game whose goal is to find all the coins of a particular emperor from a particular dig in a museum's online photo archives. Players create detailed coin records without knowing it as a side effect of competition. Professionals may not understand but some of us enjoy finding and identifying coins. There is even a popular FORVM board where collectors identify each-other's coins. I'm proposing a new hobbies involving images of coins similar to how 'photo safaris' replaced big game hunting during the 20th century as it became expensive to get permits.
People are already doing 'armchair archaeology' using Google Earth [story by Brian Handwerk for National Geographic News]
I am sometimes told there isn't enough money to scan every box of potshards. Surely it's cheaper to only scan the good stuff than to scan everything? Consider Google Books. The amazing thing about Google Books is that while others were starting pilot programs paying experts to debate which books deserved scanning Google decided to scan everything and let people decide on their own what to read. It turned out to be cheaper to pay folks to turn pages near a digital camera than for experts to argue literary merits!
How much would it costs to put the world's basement antiquities online? The German's are scanning and collating 600 million scraps of shredded secret police documents and estimate the cost will be $30 million.
Even if no one turns out to be interested in the boxes the photos may provide a valuable record when the contents someday are restored. They provide a safeguard against theft. Remember when 11,000 ancient coins were stolen from Veliko Tarnovo museum? A list of the stolen items was promised to be made available by February 6, 2006 but it still hasn't been posted! I know people who would have loved to have spotted a stolen Veliko Tarnovo coin in a glossy auction catalog.
I don't take it seriously when SAFE promises to save antiquities for me because I don't believe they will let me see the antiquities they save.
Remember the Lydian treasure? The New York Metropolitan Museum bought it and had to give it back to Turkey. Much ink was spilled when New Yorkers had to pack it up and send it to a tiny regional museum in Turkey where less than 800 people saw it in five years. It made international headlines when it was stolen from the little museum. No one even noticed that a billion Internet users don't have high-resolution pictures of it.
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