Monday, February 12, 2018

ICOM Red Lists-- Far More Transparency Needed


The Art Newspaper has reported on the unveiling of  the latest ICOM/US State Department Bureau of Cultural Affairs "Red List," this time for war torn Yemen.

If recent history is any guide, the US State Department funded list will now be used to help justify and frame US State Department promulgated "emergency import restrictions" on anything and everything of a type identified as "Yemeni" with the aim to suppress collecting any such artifacts in the near future.

As an ICOM official stated, "We are now strongly advising collectors to avoid the objects on the list altogether, or at least to be extra cautious and thoroughly check the legality of provenance,” says France Desmarais, the director of programmes and partnerships at Icom.  Only the Yemeni government is authorised to issue documents for the export and import of cultural goods, so how likely is it that collectors will be able to obtain such licences? “It’s difficult, but not impossible,” Desmarais says. “It is important to respect the sovereignty of nations, so if it is required by law, we must abide.”

Given the stated intent of such lists, their proliferation and their US Government funding, there needs to be far more transparency about how these lists are created, who creates them, their funding, and how they relate to US law which reserves US "independent judgment" in such matters.

Moreover,  publication of the Yemeni Red List raises particular questions whether such objects that may be seized by Customs authorities should be returned to a country in the midst of a civil war or offered "safe harbor"and whether artifacts of Yemen's displaced Jewish community should be returned at all.

Efforts to seek more specifics about these lists were met with a dismissive reference to an accompanying press kit.  The International Council of Museums is a NGO with ties to UNESCO. 

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Archaeological Lobby Silent as Turkey Bombs Hittite Cultural Site

Turkish warplanes have bombed and evidently badly damaged the Iron Age temple of Ain Dara in Northern Syria as part of their campaign against Kurdish separatists.

Far from expressing outrage, the major archaeological lobbying groups including the AIA, ASOR and the Antiquities Coalition have remained silent. 

But why?  A cynic might think these groups are more concerned about angering the Turkish government than in maintaining a consistent message. 

After all, the Turkish Government  offers archaeologists associated with these groups valuable excavation permits for archaeological sites within the country. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

"Blood and Treasure"

According to Variety, CBS has given a straight-to-series order to a new action-adventure series titled “Blood & Treasure.” The report continues, "The series centers on a brilliant antiquities expert and a cunning art thief who team up to catch a ruthless terrorist who funds his attacks through stolen treasure. As they crisscross the globe hunting their target, they unexpectedly find themselves in the center of a 2,000-year-old battle for the cradle of civilization.   The network has ordered a 13-episode first season of the one-hour series, which is set to be broadcast in summer 2019."  Executive Producer Marc Vlasic, an Antiquities Coalition Associate, evidently views the series as "social impact TV."  In contrast, CPO considers the series as yet another effort to confuse  "entertainment" with "news" to promote an anti-collecting crusade.  CPO has criticized CBS for promoting "fake news" about values of ISIS loot. 

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

New Metal Detecting Blog

John Howland has initiated his own blog.  It may be accessed here.   John is a frequent commentator on this blog and has long contributed to Dick Stout's own metal detecting blog.  John has lots to say.  And quite a sense of humor.  So enjoy!

Friday, December 8, 2017

Hipster Internet Art Newsletter Raises Alarm About Antiquities being "Weaponized" for Political Purposes

"Hyperallergic,"  an Internet "forum for playful, serious, and radical perspectives on art and culture in the world today" has joined the Committee for Cultural Policy in taking on fantastical claims about ISIS funding itself with looted antiquities, albeit from a far different perspective.  Tellingly, the post by archaeologist Michael Press -- though well researched-- avoids the elephant in the room.  Who was responsible for "weaponizing" antiquities in the first place?  The ISIS killing machine was bad enough to justify military intervention, particularly given its terror threats not only in the region but to Europe and the US as well.  

Of course, the answer is quite apparent to those who represent the interests of collectors, museums and the trade.  It is the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center, which worked along with ASOR, the  State Department contractor mentioned in the article, and the Antiquities Coalition, a well-funded archaeological advocacy group with ties to ASOR, the Archaeological Institute of America, as well as authoritarian Arab regimes. These groups were quite successful in laundering their dubious narrative not only through mainstream media (NY Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, CBS, etc.) but through the foreign policy establishment as well (think tanks and Foreign Policy Magazine).  The goal was threefold.  First, getting Congress to pass permanent import restrictions on Syrian cultural goods (which was achieved through these scare tactics).  Second, creating and funding an "Antiquities Czar" position that would elevate these groups' influence even further within the US Government.  (A goal that was not realized.)  Third, convincing Congress to lower the bar for criminal prosecutions based on foreign cultural patrimony laws.  (Another  goal that was not realized.) Meanwhile, those representing the interests of collectors, museums and the trade that raised the exact same issues about the credibility of these fantastical numbers early on have become targets for abuse from some of the very same individuals Press acknowledges for their contributions in exposing the truth.  

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Special Report on Grossly Overstated Claims that ISIS Funds itself with Antiquities Sales.

The Committee for Cultural Policy has issued a report demonstrating how news media and advocacy groups associated with the archaeological lobby have spread disinformation (including some from Russian and Syrian sources) about the value of artifacts looted by ISIS.  A must read.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

"Emergency" Restrictions on Libyan Cultural Goods Imposed


U.S. Customs has announced so-called "emergency" import restrictions on Libyan cultural goods.  Once again, grossly over-hyped fears of illicit antiquities funding terrorism appears to be the primary  justification for rushing through this dubious request, even though it meets few, if any, of the statutory criteria and it is doubtful the militias running the country will protect any artifacts that may be repatriated under the agreement. 

The sheer breadth of the "designated list" also raises concerns.   The Cultural Property Implementation Act contemplates that any “emergency restrictions” will be far narrower than "regular" ones.  They focus on material of particular importance, but no “concerted international response” is necessary.  The material must be a “newly discovered type” or from a site of “high cultural significance” that is in danger of “crisis proportions.” Alternatively, the object must be of a civilization, the record of which is in jeopardy of “crisis proportions,” and restrictions will reduce the danger of pillage. 


Yet, here, import restrictions have been imposed on virtually all Libyan cultural goods.   And despite the lack of "cultural significance" all coin types that were made or circulated within Libya down to 1750 A.D. are now potentially subject to restrictions.   At least in a bow to the CPIA's wording limiting such restrictions to items "first discovered" within Libya, the regulations contain some belated acknowledgement any restricted coins must also be "found" there.  (Previous import restrictions on coins have improperly equated where they are found with where they are minted, though they are items of commerce that typically circulated widely.)