Monday, September 30, 2013

Antiquities Openly Available for Sale in Afghanistan-- But You Can't Purchase Them!

That's the message from an archaeologist embedded in the Australian army, a message consistent with that preached by the Archaeological Institute of America, which has also been embedded with our troops.  But antiquity trading has a long tradition in Afghanistan, and the poor farmers that find things while digging in their fields could certainly use the money.  And while I'm not for looting archaeological sites, the usual claim-- that looting deprives archaeologists of the opportunity to find material "in context"-- would not seem to be a realistic concern here.  Or, perhaps I'm unaware of all the archaeologists lining up to excavate in Afghanistan these days.  Indeed, what's more likely is that the Taliban will take power again-- and we all know how they feel about antiquities-- they love to smash them!  Under the circumstances, what's really wrong with Australian or American soldiers for that matter bringing home a small piece of Afghan history with them? Though of course the troops should follow all directions they receive from their superiors, perhaps such rules should be reconsidered.  If anything, such objects might help encourage some much needed cultural understanding.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

ACCG Files Amended Answer

The ACCG has filed an Amended Answer and Pro Forma Response to the government's motion to strike defenses set forth in its initial answer to the government's forfeiture complaint.  The exhibits to the amended answer are available on the Court's PACER database.   The amended answer reiterates that the focus of this case is whether the government can meet its burden to show the coins at issue were "first discovered in" and "subject to the export control" of China or Cyprus.  Based on information secured from former CPAC members and FOIA, it would seem not.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

ICOM Publishes Red List

ICOM has published a " Red List of Syrian Cultural Objects at Risk" with the support of the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center. While the concept is not itself objectionable, what is objectionable is the message that the objects on the list are presumed "guilty" until proven "innocent:" 

"Museums, auction houses, art dealers and collectors are encouraged not to acquire such objects without having carefully and thoroughly researched their origin and all the relevant legal documentation."

While this may make sense for objects where there is already a reasonable suspicion that they may have been illicitly removed from Syria, it makes little sense for items like Roman coins, which are legally sold and collected most everywhere.

Meanwhile, in the ever more surreal archaeological blogosphere, anti-American Paul Barford demands to know why the Obama Administration has not already entered into a MOU with Syria to protect Syrian cultural patrimony.  To be fair, perhaps Mr. Barford is just trying to be ironic.

In any event, presumably US Customs already feels it has ample authority to interdict illicit Syrian cultural property based on the bewildering array of economic sanctions already in place.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Upcoming CPAC Meeting to Discuss Renewal and Possible Extension of Honduran Restrictions

The Cultural Heritage Center has provided advance notice of a CPAC meeting to discuss a potential renewal of current restrictions on Honduran Pre-Columbian objects as well as the possible expansion of restrictions to cover artifacts from the Colonial and Republican period as well.  While the advance notice is welcome, CPAC and the public could benefit from far greater transparency as to what artifacts may be subject to future restriction.  Guessing games do no one any good because they hamper intelligent public comment.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Peruvian Officials Look the Other Way

The Peruvian cultural bureaucracy has made a big show of going after smugglers using the mails, demanding the repatriation artifacts long held by "Yanqui" institutions like Yale, and even seeking its cut of Spanish treasure.  On the other hand, the same Peruvian cultural bureaucracy seems unwilling or unable to stop the bulldozing of major archaeological sites within the country in the name of development.  Should Peru be branded a "malefactor source country" and be denied further U.S. taxpayer assistance to finance the U.S. State Department's repatriation efforts?  CPO believes so.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Unprovenanced Egyptian artifacts for Sale in Washington, D.C. suburb?

Anti-collector archaeologists have maintained that artifacts without a demonstrable provenance back before 1970 must be considered looted.  They also suggest that any earlier provenance solely based on the say-so of the consignor cannot be trusted.  Thus, one wonders if the archaeological blogosphere will condemn former U.S. Speaker of the House Tom Foley, his wife, and his wife's mother for the sale of these Egyptian artifacts "purchased in the 1960's."  

I certainly would cast no such stones.  Egyptian artifacts have been legally collected for generations.  I think it's wrong to suggest otherwise without proof to the contrary.  But that probably is not the way the self-appointed moralists of  the archaeological blogosphere would see it. 

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Cambodian Import Restrictions Extended as Forfeiture Dispute Turns Nasty

The Federal Register has announced an extension of current import restrictions on Cambodian cultural goods for yet another five years.  Although the CPIA contemplates that import restrictions will only continue for a limited period to give source countries time to address looting,  State and Customs routinely continue them.

Meanwhile, the New York Times has reported on the accusations being traded between Sotheby's and the Government in a forfeiture action involving a Khmer statue.  These touch on CPAC and the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center, which also have responsibility for import restrictions.  The Government accuses Jane Levine, a former prosecutor and current CPAC member, of misrepresentations about the provenance of the statue in her capacity as the director of Sotheby's regulatory compliance department.  In the meantime, Sotheby's accuses an employee of the State Department Cultural Heritage Center of dreaming up a dubious theory to justify the government's seizure after a CBP agent (who presumably worked with Ms. Levine in her days as a prosecutor) misrepresented the strength of the government's case to Sotheby's.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Doing Justice or Pressing an Agenda?

In an ongoing forfeiture action, Sotheby's has alleged that a State Department Cultural Heritage Center employee (who also helps develop import restrictions on cultural goods) was tasked with finding a legal basis for Cambodia's claim to a Khmer statute when Cambodia itself was unable to do so.   Sotheby's also alleges that a CBP officer actively shut down any effort on Cambodia's part to come to an amicable settlement of the underlying dispute with Sotheby's:

"Documents the Government belatedly produced in late August of this year (more than a year after they were requested) show that at the outset of this investigation in March of 2011, and for months thereafter, Cambodia was repeatedly asked to identify a legal basis for its ownership of the Statue, but failed to do so. The U.S. Government recognized that without such a basis, it was “unable to do anything.” Ex. 2 at 1463. Undeterred, the U.S. government represented to Sotheby’s on April 1, 2011 that it already had “probable cause that the item was stolen after Cambodian cultural patrimony laws were enacted,” and instructed Sotheby’s not to move the Statue. Ex. 5. This bought the Government time, which it used, among other things, to try to find the very Cambodian law it claimed already to know made the Statue stolen property, asking a law professor on April 19, 2011 to “help us find the actual cultural property laws that protect Cambodian antiquities prior to 1975.” Ex. 6. Eventually, the U.S. State Department, eager to be as “cooperative with the Cambodians as possible, as cultural artifacts is one of those issues where the two governments have a shared interest,” Ex. 9 at 1413, cobbled together its own theory of Cambodian ownership based on “segments” of long-defunct French colonial decrees issued between 1900 and 1925, when Cambodia was a French protectorate. When the Cambodians persisted in seeking an amicable resolution rather than assert the State Department’s ownership theory, the U.S. Government insisted that “prior to the Cambodians getting their hands on it, we should be the vehicle utilized for the return. Not an Auction house,” and ultimately demanded that Cambodia “stop negotiating with Sotheby’s.” Ex. 8 at 1453; Ex. 10 at 1366."

The State Department's Cultural Heritage Center and elements within U.S. Customs have been criticized for aggressively pressing an anti-collector and anti-trade agenda in an "extralegal" fashion.  Sotheby's allegations will only add to that widely held perception.  

Sotheby's Motion for Judgment on the Pleadings in United States v. A Tenth Century Cambodian Sandstone Sculpture, 12 Civ. 2600 (S.D.N.Y.) may be found on the Court's Pacer database. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Anti-Americanism and the Archaeological Blogosphere

It's become increasingly apparent that the anti-collector rhetoric of the archaeological blogosphere goes hand in hand with anti-Americanism.  Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford may have deleted the latest evidence from his blog called "A Word from President Putin to American Collectors", but the point stands.

And it's not just Mr. Barford.  Another archaeo-blogger, Professor David Gill  of University Campus Suffolk, is no less anti-American.  It's just that he's far more subtle about it-- while Gill even fixates on pottery shards being repatriated from American museums, he's been largely silent about the provenance of artifacts in other museums, particularly ones in places like Greece, Italy and Turkey.

Is "American Exceptionalism" really the driving force behind damage to world cultural heritage or has "Archaeological Anti-Americanism" diverted attention away from real solutions to the problem?

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Pining for the Old Days?

After reading a recent article in an UK Tabloid, I have to wonder if Bulgaria's Chief Archaeologist is pining for the old days of Communism with its state ownership of everything old.   Instead, Bulgaria would be better served if it adopts a program akin to the United Kingdom's Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme, perhaps with a Bulgarian twist that requires any recorded artifacts that are returned to the finder to be sold at public auction in Bulgaria itself.  Of course, consistent with EU law such recorded artifacts should then be made available for export to collectors both within and outside the EU.  That could be a win-win for Bulgarian archaeologists and collectors and a boon to Bulgaria's struggling economy.

Where Antiquities Have No Value

Some in the archaeological community want regulations to make antiquities valueless on the theory that will discourage looting and promote archaeological research.   But that assumes far too much.  To see what actually happens where antiquities have little perceived value to the locals, look no further than what recently happened to some tombs in Libya.

Monday, September 9, 2013

No Answer

I asked anti-American, anti-collector Paul Barford a simple question in the comments section to a recent post where he quotes a US Customs official as suggesting that exporting coins from Bulgaria constituted "cultural theft."  He's chosen not to post my question on his blog (despite claiming he posts all comments) or answer my simple question so I'll ask it here.

How can a Bulgarian coin imported into the US be considered "stolen" cultural property of Bulgaria when the exact same types of coins are legally  available for sale there?

This, of course, is more a question for US Customs than for Mr. Barford.  If the US Customs official in question believes that any illegal export from Bulgaria constitutes a theft, that would be contrary to the US law he has sworn to uphold.   While Bulgaria has asked the US to impose import restrictions on cultural goods, that request has not yet been acted upon by the US State Department and US Customs. And even if import restrictions are imposed, illegal import does not constitute theft under any application of US law.  Rather, import without the appropriate documentation would constitute a violation of the import controls of the Cultural Property Implementation Act.  There is a difference between illegal export, illegal export and theft, despite what some archaeologists (and apparently some US Customs officials) believe.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Another Significant Find Reported as Anti-Collector Archaeologist Seeks Ban on Metal Detecting

The Portable Antiquities Scheme has reported another significant find in Norfolk.  Meanwhile, a Greek academic archaeologist working in the United Kingdom, whose career has been devoted to seeking the repatriation of cultural artifacts to corrupt, bankrupt countries like Greece, has advocated that metal detecting be banned.   Thankfully, the researcher's views fall well outside the norm for British archaeologists.  Most have since made peace with metal detectorists.  After all, their finds, when properly recorded, have directed archaeologists to sites that would otherwise never be uncovered.