Friday, November 30, 2012

Roads of Arabia at the Sackler

Today, Saudi Arabia is known as the religious center for the world's Muslims and the World's major supplier of petroleum products.  In past times, however, the Arabian Peninsula was known for the trade in incense and copper.   The Sackler has organized  an excellent exhibit that focuses on Arabia's early cultures, but also touches on Saudi Arabia's more recent Islamic past.  Some of the more interesting objects include anthropomorphic steles and altars from the 4th C. B.C. as well as some classical Greek and Roman objects that were imported in trade.

Kudos to the Sackler, the Saudi Government, Exxon Mobile and Saudi Aramco for arranging this excellent exhibit of unusual artifacts from the Arabian Peninsula.  I'm only sorry that there were no early coins on display from the pre-Islamic period. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

PAS Harnesses the Power of the Public

The Art Newspaper has written favorably about the PAS and its efforts to record evidence of the past in Britain and Wales.  Of course, the PAS records coins and other artifacts, but this effort has fostered academic research as well.  As the article explains:

The information provided by members of the public over the last 15 years is available for all to see on the PAS database. This now contains around 810,000 items and spans objects dating from the Stone Age to Anglo-Saxon, Roman, medieval, and post-medieval times. Every entry includes archaeological information on the object in question, details of where it was discovered and often incorporates notes of scholarly interest. The database provides a historical snapshot of human settlement in England and Wales and is an awesome example of what can be achieved by harnessing the power of the public.

“It’s now a major academic resource,” says Bland. “There are 66 people using it for their PhDs and 140 other post-graduate students or undergraduates using it for their dissertations as well as around 12 major funded research projects [working on it], one of them with £150,000 from the Leverhulme Trust to allow us to analyse the factors underlying the data.”

Given these successes, it's hard to understand the hostility still shown it in parts of the archaeological blogosphere and the unwillingness to consider whether it can be adapted in some fashion in countries like Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, and Italy. 

The amounts spent on PAS would seem to give far more "bang for the buck" (or perhaps pound in this case) than many archaeological programs.  Perhaps the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and USAID should consider funding a pilot program in a source country like Bulgaria. The costs could be minimal compared to the amounts spent on archaeology in places like Iraq and Egypt.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cultural Heritage Center Website Updated

The Cultural Heritage Center's website has been spiffed up with pictures, including one of Hillary Clinton gazing at a Greek statute.  Unfortunately, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' tag line "promoting mutual understanding" rings hollow for ancient coin collectors at least.  Indeed, ECA's controversial import restrictions on millions of ancient Greek, Roman and Chinese coins of the sort avidly collected world-wide has, if anything, greatly harmed people to people contacts between collectors in the US and foreign countries.  Why not promote ancient coin collecting, and the cultural understanding it fosters (at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer), rather than seek to suppress it to the benefit of no one but a small number of academic archaeologists and their patrons in foreign cultural bureaucracies?

Monday, November 26, 2012

No Sense of Humor or Balance, Just Useful Cover?

I guess on reflection it's not all that surprising that the archaeological blogosphere, what with its archaeology over all fanaticism, lacks a sense of humor.  Or that somehow an advertisement for the sale of a collection of Islamic coins becomes a springboard for a diatribe against the seller (the ACCG's founder), the collector (a man of the cloth), the Arab Spring (dislocation dethrones some of archaeology's friends in the region?), American Culture (grasping rather than free?), and U.S. Foreign Policy (US made tear gas and "political assasination drones" rather than support for democracy and vast amounts of foreign aid?). But if so, how can the State Department bureaucracy really take the rants of such archaeologists whether in the blogosphere or in comments to CPAC seriously?   Or do they just provide a useful cover for State's proclivity to trade the interests of US small businesses, collectors and museums for the fleeting good will of some foreign potentate? 


Germany has agreed to repatriate  a winged seahorse brooch back to Turkey.  The brooch is the most significant piece from the so-called Lyidan Hoard that was first repatriated to Turkey by the MET back in the 1993, but then illegally sold off by a Turkish Museum director to help pay off gambling debts.  Given the embarassing situation, Turkish officials have not been exactly seeking extensive publicity for the return.  It remains unclear how the brooch got to Germany, and what, if any, plans the Turkish government has to secure it in the future.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving: Khouli Sentenced to Home Detention

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York has sentenced Mousa ("Morris") Khouli to six months of home detention and one year probation for smuggling Egyptian antiquities by way of false declarations on customs forms.  The prosecutor had asked for 46-57 months of incarceration, but the Court evidently was swayed by a sentencing memorandum prepared by Khouli's lawyer that outlined the relatively modest sentences given for other "cultural property" crimes.

The blood-thirsty archaeological blogosphere will likely be aghast at the length of the sentence. But then again, as set forth in the declaration of Jay Kislak appended to ACCG's recently filed petition for rehearing there is credible evidence to suggest that certain individual(s) at the US Department of State misled Congress and the public in official reports about import restrictions on Cypriot coins and have yet to be called into account in any fashion whatsoever.   

Is it really more serious to mislead on a customs form than in an official government report sent to Congress?  And let's not forget that the very same State Department bureaucrats involved in the Cypriot coin controversy are also intimately involved in coordinating repatriations like that at issue in the Khouli case through the State Department's "Cultural Antiquities Task Force."  Why should they be above the law?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Repatriation as a Diplomatic Tool?

Pity poor old U.S News and World Report. It used to be one of the three major news weekly magazines. Now, it's reduced to a web-only publication that in the search for free content has uncritically promoted the views of those ideologically opposed to collecting that repatriation has a real value as a “diplomatic tool.”   But, as I have pointed out in comments to the article,
·         While antiquities should be repatriated in clear cases, the problem is that all too often they are repatriated in unclear situations where the same types of artifacts are openly available for sale in a particular country. How does this happen? Academics with axes to grind against collectors gin up publicity, that gets foreign governments and then our government involved. And given the modest values of many objects and the costs of mounting a legal defense, it’s the rare case where it makes financial sense to contest the seizure-- so the Government wins by default, and hard questions are never asked about the real situation in the source country.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fund an Inclusive Approach to Archaeology

With limited funding available in challenging financial times, should the Government continue to fund a program that promotes recording finds and an inclusive view of archaeology that is popular with members of the general public?   I would say yes and view claims that funding should be reprogrammed to fund "crumbling castles" as promoting a false choice.  If there needs to be cuts, why not defund programs that only benefit a tiny group of insular archaeologists?  Professor Gill,  are you a good value for the UK taxpayer? 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Big Brother Will Be Watching You

Or so ICOM hopes in its effort to gain funding from the cash poor EU to help promote its continuing propaganda effort against the antiquities trade and at the same time perhaps provide some additional gainful employment for academics with an axe to grind against collectors.

I'm afraid this proposal looks to be little more than a state sponsored version of Wikiloot.  Any funding would be better spent on promoting more effective enforcement in source countries, and better yet more liberal laws in such countries that actually promote the public to get involved in preserving heritage.

Ruling in T-Rex Bataar Case

The Hon. P. Kevin Castel, has denied Eric Prokopi's Motion to Dismiss in the ongoing T-Rex Bataar forfeiture action in the initial pleading stage of the case, but in doing so has reserved the issues Prokopi raised with regard to the Government's case for possible further consideration later on.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Petition to Save Significant Buddhist Archaeological Site from Destruction

CPO has been following this story for some time.   When the Taliban dynamited ancient Buddhas in Afghanistan, the world was aghast.   Now, the current Afghan Government has authorized the destruction of another important Buddhist site by a Chinese Mining Company, but the outrage has been minimal.

Why has the archaeological establishment been silent?  Good question.

In any event, you can make your concerns known through this petition on, though I question whether it really will matter as it seems that the Chinese will start mining operations shortly.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

ACCG Files Petition for Rehearing

The ACCG has requested the entire Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the dismissal of its case testing regulations imposing import restrictions on historical coins of the sort widely traded worldwide.  The ACCG has argued that the panel’s decision ignores Supreme Court precedent, case law in sister circuits, and the “plain meaning” rule.  Specifically, the ACCG states that the panel: (1) failed to consider the U.S. Supreme Court’s test for determining if “foreign policy” concerns trump the judiciary’s obligation “to say what the law is;” (2) adopted a version of judicial review far narrower than that afforded in sister federal appellate courts; and (3) wrongly assumed that CPAC approved of the Government’s decision imposing restrictions on coins based on their place of production rather than their find spot despite the sworn statement of Jay Kislak, CPAC former Chairman, that was previously brought to the trial court’s attention. 

What Ever Happened to Wikiloot?

I’ve been critical of Wikiloot, what with its confusion of journalism with activism, the prospects for abuse, and the fact that in the end it is really just another diversion from much needed scrutiny of the poor cultural heritage policies of many source countries. There has been some continuing discussion of the project in the blogosphere, but no indication that Wikiloot remains anything other than a proposal. What has become of Wikiloot?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Neo-Colonialism Alive and Well in Archaeological World?

One academic has raised the provocative question whether neo-colonialism pervades the world of archaeology. Come to think of it, perhaps some of the elements are there.  Digs as "campaigns." Exploitation of locals for menial labor.  Condemning them for digging artifacts for money, but conveniently looking the other way when the perpetrators are national elites.  Supporting the removal of artifacts to national as opposed to local museums.  And all in the name of continued access to archaeological sites for careerist gain. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rome's Bio-Cultural Patrimony Deserves Protection Against Italy's Archaeologists

Italy's state funded archaeologists have their hands full, what with the ruins of Pompeii, the Colosseum, and Nero's Golden House falling down due to underfunding, incompetence and neglect.  Yet, instead of facing these big issues, they have declared war on Rome's stray cats and the dedicated volunteers that care for them.   

One legend has it that the cats descend from the lions of ancient times.  Once eating Christians was disallowed, they adapted by making do with handouts and the occasional mouse and evolved over time to their current dimunitive size. 

Whether this legend is true or not, Italian authorities have certainly declared the cats officially part Rome's "bio-cultural patrimony."

So its high time to protect the cats against Italy's archaeologists and cultural bureacrats.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Is the State Department Cultural Heritage Center Worth Funding with Money Borrowed From China?

During one of the presidential debates, Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney said his test for whether a federal program should be continued is whether it was worth funding with money borrowed from China.   Whether Romney wins the presidency or President Obama is reelected, the next Administration will face some hard choices about what programs are really worth funding. 

If the State Department is forced to start watching its pennies, I'm not sure its Cultural Heritage Center could really justify its worth compared to other worthy State Department programs.

The Center caters exclusively to a small group of academics and foreign cultural heritage bureaucrats.   The money it hands out to foreign countries to fund archaeological projects could probably be better spent on things like supplies of clean water or fighting aids.

Moreover, the actual public support for its program to restrict the import of cultural goods is quite slim.  And the net result of its activities has simply been to give foreign collectors and cultural goods dealers a competitive advantage.  While Americans face stifling red tape requirements that preclude entry of  thousands upon thousands of cultural artifacts, foreign collectors and dealers face no such hurdles and go about their business as usual.

Perhaps, the best thing to do would be to eliminate the Cultural Heritage Center and transfer CPAC and the decision making regarding import restrictions to the Department of Commerce.  Commerce is well suited for handling trade issues and would likely not take the anti-business stance that seems ingrained in the State Department bureaucracy.   

Will this happen anytime soon?  No, but hopefully federal budget makers will start asking some hard questions about exactly what the Cultural Heritage Center does for the American taxpayer.  Certainly, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently suggested that it might be time for Congress and the Executive Branch to pay more attention to what the Cultural Heritage Center is doing.