Sunday, March 30, 2014

Nod, Nod, Wink, Wink?

I guess Deborah Lehr's statement that the State Department "is open" to import restrictions "if Egypt's application passes through all the necessary legal processes" may sound better than the suggestion of the New York Times Editorial  Board that a MOU is already a "done deal," but is that  just a distinction without much of a difference?

The State Department has failed to respond to heartfelt concerns raised by CPAC members about the transparency and lawfulness of the process.  Indeed, rather than addressing those concerns, State has instead now packed what is supposed to be an advisory committee representing different views with supporters of one interest group-- archaeologists-- that have traditionally been supportive of broad restrictions.  And it's not as if CPAC was anti-source country before anyway.  In fact, no source country has ever been turned down for a MOU, though sometimes CPAC has recommended fewer restrictions on particular types of cultural goods than those imposed (coins being the primary example) and placed additional conditions on agreements.

So why bother with making one's views known to CPAC and State?  The State Department's processes for imposing import restrictions should be instructive to countries like Egypt.  They should not mirror the phony legal forms all too often found in such nations.  And silence of those concerned about the burdens MOUs place on legitimate collecting will unfortunately be taken as acquiescence by those running the show in the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and it its Cultural Heritage Center.

Quaitbay Citadel in Danger of Collapse

The Egyptian cultural bureaucracy has done nothing to save Alexandria's famous Quaitbay Citadel from the danger of collapse.  Yet, that same Egyptian cultural bureaucracy has apparently asked the US Government to recognize its desire to control virtually any antique of Egyptian origin.  Is this demand-- supported by GW's "Capitol Archaeological Institute" and others---really about conservation or is it only about control?

Friday, March 28, 2014

Thanks, But No Thanks

Deborah Lehr, the politically connected Chair of the Capitol Archaeological Institute (CAI), has spun her organization's narrative of what ails Egypt's cultural patrimony and what should be done about it on the Huffington Post website.

The heroes, of course, are archaeologists like Monica Hanna who is said to have single-handedly fought off armed looters raiding the Malawi Museum in Minya.  In contrast, the villains are shadowy  international "cultural racketeers" bent on stealing Egypt's antiquities and selling them to unscrupulous collectors abroad.

But Ms. Lehr is a very sophistocated woman who should know better.  Egypt's problems are of Egypt's own making.  The country has been effectively ruled by its military since the fall of its British-installed monarchy. The Arab Spring, which brought such great hope, quickly turned ugly.  There were free elections, but Egypt's first elected President from the Muslim Brotherhood quickly disappointed all those who hoped that Egypt would become the Arab World's first true democracy. Instead, what Egyptians got was the makings of an Islamic Dictatorship.  The military, using the cover of another popular uprising,  then reasserted itself and overthrew this freely elected leader.  Now, the country's highest ranking general has announced that he is taking off his uniform so he can become president.  Meanwhile, just like in bad old Egypt before the Arab Spring, hundreds of adherents of the deposed Muslim Brotherhood President have been condemned to death after show trials for rioting in none other than Minya, the site of the looted Malawi Museum.  None of these people appear to be shadowy international "cultural racketeers," but rather discontented supporters of their deposed President.  And what of the museum itself?  Though you would not know it from Ms. Lehr's opinion piece, some 800 of the 1,000 or so artifacts that were stolen have been recovered and returned to the museum.

And what of Ms. Lehr's prescriptions for this mess of Egypt's own making?  In brief, she assumes collectors, auction houses and the small businesses of the antiquities and numismatic trade will: (1) donate money to the Egyptian Cultural Bureaucracy through the CAI (despite widespread corruption in the country); (2) acquiesce to "emergency import restrictions" on Egyptian cultural artifacts that the AIA itself has admitted won't work and only hurt the legitimate trade in cultural artifacts of the sort widely collected here and abroad since the 19th c.; and (3) acquiesce in the convocation of a "Cultural Racketeering Summit" which would likely be used to justify a future "antique ivory" type ban in the transfer and sale of Egyptian antiquities.

Thanks, but no thanks.  While US Customs can and should interedict Egyptian cultural goods where there is some hard evidence they were recently stolen from Egyptian museums and archaeological sites, any "emergency" is entirely of Egypt's own making and American collectors, museums and the small businesses of the antiquities and numismatic trade should not be made to pay the price.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Hungary: Atilla's Grave Found as Sevso Treasure "Repatriated"

Hungary's Prime Minister has announced that the nation has purchased part of the famous Sevso Treasure on the theory that the treasure is of Hungarian origin.  Meanwhile,  Hungarian archaeologists have claimed to have found the tomb of Atilla the Hun.  There will be naysayers for both claims, but Hungary can use a diversion from the tensions brewing next door in the Ukraine.

Addendum (3/28/14):  Apparently the news about Hungarian archaeologists finding Attilla's grave was faked.  It does lead one to wonder how much archaeological "truth" out there is not for real.

Michel Prieur-RIP

Noted French Scholar/Professional Numismatist Michel Prieur has passed away at age 59.  Numismatics brings people of different nations together as demonstrated by these tributes from Germany and the United States.  CPO's owner never met Mr. Prieur, but admired his website and his corpus on Syro-Phoenician Tetradrachms.  He will be much missed.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Emergency Import Restrictions on Egyptian Cultural Artifacts; Another Show Trial?

Egyptian Field Marshall Abdul Fattah el-Sissi, the military leader who deposed Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammad Morsi, has announced he's taking off his general's uniform so he too can be elected president.  The move follows the announcement that verdicts are expected soon in mass trials of the deposed president's supporters that have dismayed human right advocates.  They anticipate hundreds of additional defendants to be convicted for their part in unrest in the city of Minya in what is little more than a show trial that mirrors other, similar travesties of justice that have taken place under military rule.

However, there is another show trial taking place not in Egypt, but in America.  The location is not a courtroom, but in the media, where connected academic insiders have been given a platform to expound on their views that "global connoisseurs" are in league with "cultural racketeers" responsible for looting in the country and damage to the Malawi Museum at Minya.  The truth, on the other hand,   appears to little to do with such shadowy figures and a lot to do with the same discontent that led to rioting and today's show trials of Minya's citizens.

And what will be the results of our own media "show trial" if American collectors and the trade don't act forcefully to get out "the other side of the story?"   At a minimum, they will be expected to pay the price for Egypt's own problems through bans on the import of common archaeological objects of the sort widely and legally collected at least since the 19th century.  And the ultimate result could be much, much worse.

Addendum (3/27/14):  Avaaz has put up this petition asking that the death sentences of  previously convicted Minya rioters be commuted.  That petition is made available here for anyone who wishes to sign it.

Criticism of Antique Ivory Ban Heats Up-- But Is It All Too Late?

Tom Mashberg, reporting for the New York Times, writes about wide-spread concerns raised with regards to what amounts to an administrative ban on the sale of antique ivory.

Predictably, the bureaucrats and an advisory panel packed with activists are unmoved. Indeed, they know full well of its scope and impact, but they nonetheless contend that the efforts of some smugglers to disguise new ivory  as old justifies such draconian measures.

The real problem, of course, is that at least some of the same collectors and members of the trade who claim to be "blindsided" had probably heard at least something about the Obama Administration considering changes to how antique ivory would be treated, but then they did absolutely nothing about it.  Now, unfortunately, it may be too late to change government policy.

One would think this news would make other collectors awake from their slumber, but will it?

Indeed, it remains to be seen whether the trade and collectors of Egyptian antiquities are similarly oblivious to news of potential "emergency import restrictions" and calls by their proponents for them to be just a prelude to a complete halt in sales of any antiquity lacking a stamp of approval from the government in Cairo.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

ACCG FOIAs Any Behind the Scenes Communications with Connected Archaeological Insiders in Effort to Ascertain Whether Egyptian MOU is a Done Deal.

The ACCG has filed Freedom of Information Act requests to help ascertain whether as press reports suggest the Egyptian MOU has already been decided based on behind the scenes communications between State Department cultural bureaucrats and connected insiders associated with the archaeological community.

President Obama has promised transparency and ethical government decision making.   The ACCG is concerned that his State Department's decision making on an Egyptian MOU that will ban imports of antiquities of the sort widely and legally collected here and abroad may reflect neither.

The US State Department lectures Egypt and other developing countries constantly about the need for the rule of law, so concerns that CPAC review and the opportunity for public comment may have been eliminated or will be treated as mere window-dressing should be a concern not only to the ACCG, but to us all.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Be on the Lookout

There has been a large theft of coins from a family-owned dealership in Lyon, France.  A listing and pictures of the coins can be found here.

If you see any of the coins for sale or have any other information, contact: Michael Creusy

Website :
List of stolen coins :
Email :
Phone : +33 4 78 37 63 20
Address : 14 rue vaubecour, 69002 Lyon, France.

Real Archaeologists Without an Agenda Say Metal Detectors' Damage Limited; PAS Adds to Archaeological Record

Real archaeologists without an agenda have acknowledged for some time that amateur metal detectorists do little real damage to the archaeological record.  Archaeologists are few; so where they end up digging is limited.  And when they dig, they don't typically record and preserve what is located in the top layers of the ground anyway.  Rather, they dig right through to concentrate on archaeological strata of interest and end up just dumping the top layers they excavate, with little, if any study of what it may contain.  Sure, sometimes archaeologists conduct "surface surveys," but amateur metal detectorists have added far more to the archaeological record under the the PAS and Treasure Act.  Because of their hard work, archaeologists in England and Wales have become aware of promising sites which otherwise would have gone unnoticed.  A win-win for anyone who loves history.  

So, why does an archaeo-blogger in far off Poland go on and on about the evils of metal detecting, even where finders properly record the artifacts they find under the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Act?  And why do American archaeologists who depend on nationalistic foreign cultural bureaucracies to provide them with excavation permits go on and on about the same issue in order to justify import controls on common collectors' coins of the sort widely and legally collected here and abroad?   Is it about conservation or is it really about control?

Poor Stewardship Leads to Expensive Cures

Digging is easy.  Preserving for future generations is hard.

One of the more interesting finds at Deadwood, Colorado, was some ancient Chinese coins, which were brought there by 19th Century Chinese Immigrants.  But unfortunately, they were evidently not conserved or stored properly.  Now, authorities are spending thousands of dollars to treat bronze disease which has damaged the coins (which probably only have minimal monetary value).

Well, at least Colorado authorities care enough to spend the money to protect these artifacts.

Meanwhile, the situation is far worse in China.  There, "According to a recent study, half of the relics held by 3,400 state-owned museums are damaged in various ways. Nearly one-fifth of those are severely damaged and need immediate attention. But there are only 2,000 people qualified to do the work. If one of those people renovated 50 relics a year, it would take 150 years to repair all the severely damaged relics."

Yet, an underlying assumption behind the recently renewed MOU with China is that the Chinese State is a good steward for archaeological items.  So, if MOUs don't curb looting and don't help ensure UNESCO State Parties take care of what they already have in their care, why should they be imposed at all, particularly when their only net effect is to damage the interests of museums, the small businesses of the numismatic and antiquities trade and collectors?

Friday, March 21, 2014

New York Times Editorial Board Stops Thinking

The New York Times generally analyzes issues pretty well.  Not, however, the recent call by a politically connected group associated with the Archaeological Institute of America and George Washington University seeking to effectively ban the sale of Egyptian antiquities.  Before endorsing such a ban, one would have hoped that the New York Times editorial board would have at least considered the following:

1. The accuracy of reports of looting, particularly given the prior pronouncements of Egyptian Government officials on the subject.  The Times editorial assumes thefts from the Malawi National Museum in Minya justify a clamp down on American collectors, but more accurate reports place the blame on discontented locals not "cultural racketeers" and "global connoisseurs" as Egyptian authorities claim.  Moreover, it appears what was not destroyed by locals angry at their own government has been largely returned. Under the circumstances, the sophisticated editors of the New York Times should have asked if the MOU is based on a legitimate need or whether it is actually a ploy by Egypt's military government to help gain some much needed legitimacy.

2.  The importance of rule of law.  Rule of law is not a priority for Egypt's military rulers, but it should be for our own State Department.  Thus, it should be troubling that according to the New York Times editorial, the State Department has already agreed to "relaxing  standards that currently require customs officials to have precise information in hand about a stolen item before they can act."   What then about the legal requirements Congress imposed under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act-- including CPAC review and the opportunity for public comment?  Instead, we have what sounds to be a prejudged decision, made behind closed doors, based solely on the input of politically connected academic insiders and the representatives of Egypt's generals.  Shouldn't that be a concern for the New York Times, and indeed something for its staff of world-class reporters to investigate?

3.  The impact of any restrictions on the ability of Americans to continue to enjoy Egyptian artifacts of the sort widely and legally collected both here and abroad since the 19th c.  It's bad enough that import restrictions effectively ban the entry of many artifacts of too modest value or importance to have been properly documented.  But what are we to make of calls "to halt the sale of any antiquity lacking a stamp of approval from the government in Cairo?"  One might wonder how such a proposal would be administered, but for the well-founded suspicion that Egypt's nationalistic cultural bureaucrats think that virtually everything of Egyptian origin rightly belongs to the Egyptian State.  So perhaps such calls are indeed tantamount to an antique ivory style ban, another Obama Administration initiative which has come under fire for straying much too far from a targeted response to the present-day killing of elephants for profit.  Antiquities are not endangered species and its wrong to assume collectors who have preserved, studied and displayed them for centuries should pay the price for today's problems created in Egypt by the Egyptians themselves.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Against Legal Trade?

The archaeological blogosphere rails against the underground illegal trade in cultural artifacts.  But it also rails against  the legal trade in declared cultural artifacts, suggesting that it's "not sustainable."

But above-board cultural exchange through the legal trade in cultural goods and the cultural understanding it brings should be considered a positive thing, shouldn't it?  Or is the only acceptable "cultural exchange" State Department designed import restrictions that contemplate assured access for archaeologists as a quid pro quo, i.e., special interest programs for connected academics?

Chinese Coins: Are they Really of Cultural Significance?

For the State Department and US Customs to restrict entry of Chinese coins lawfully they must be of "archaeological interest" and "cultural significance."  See Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, 19 U.S.C. Section 2601.

Yet, in China they literally find them by the ton and the Chinese themselves consider them of so little worth that they have been thrown into the sea as a publicity stunt.

So, are ancient Chinese coins really "of cultural significance" as the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and US Customs have found in order to restrict them under the MOU with China or is this just more evidence that the Congress' limitations on executive authority are regularly ignored in furtherance of the broadest possible bureaucratic restrictions on the ability of Americans to collect anything old.
3,500 KG of Chinese Coins--A Large But Not Unheard of Haul

Monday, March 17, 2014

Money and Politics of a Cultural Property Kind

Money and politics is an unfortunate reality here in Washington, D.C.    So, it should be no surprise that reports that  Deborah Lehr of the Archaeological Institute of America, Capitol Archaeological Institute and Antiquities Coalition has given at least $124,800 to mostly Republican candidates over the years.  Or that Clay Constantinou, a board member of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute, helped Democrats raise so much money that President Clinton appointed him as Ambassador to Luxembourg.  But perhaps it helps explain why despite the CPIA's legislative history, CPAC's prior recommendations on Cypriot and Italian coins, bipartisan support in Congress for coin collectors, and lopsided numbers of public comments against import restrictions on coins, there are now import restrictions on coins from Cyprus, China, Italy, Greece and  Bulgaria, and if the AIA and related groups has their way apparently there will soon be restrictions on coins from Egypt as well.

There needs to be far more scrutiny about behind the scenes lobbying of the executive branch by principles of public charities which were supposedly created to further purely academic pursuits like archaeology.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Lobbying Group Supporting Egypt's Military Government Scrubbed Before Push for Emergency Restrictions?

Based on recent reports, politically connected members of the Antiquities Coalition  and Capitol Archaeological Institute are lobbying the US State Department in support of Egypt's request for so-called "emergency import restrictions" on Egyptian cultural artifacts.

But conspicuously absent from these efforts are two of their key allies, Zahi Hawass and National Geographic presumably because both are still under federal investigation related to a bribery scheme.

One hand washes the other is unfortunately a fact of life in places like Egypt.  Under the circumstances, there needs to be far more transparency about the Antiquities Coalition and the Capitol Archaeological Institute including their funding, political contacts, aims and exact relationship with Egypt's military government.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Emergency Import Restrictions on Egyptian Cultural Goods: A Way-Station to an Ivory-Style Ban?

Tom Mashberg's report about proposed emergency import restrictions along with news about the Obama Administration's ivory ban raises the question whether the import ban's proponents view it as the first step to a complete ban on the sale of  Egyptian antiquities.

Other countries for which import restrictions have been granted allow for at least a limited trade in cultural artifacts, and some like China and Italy even have widespread trade in such cultural artifacts.  But not Egypt, what with its top-heavy public sector and its absolutely Pharaonic attitude that all antiquities belong to the State.

In support of Egypt's broad claims,  the Capitol Archaeological Institute has already successfully lobbied eBay to ban the sale of Egyptian artifacts.  And other archaeological fanatics want to treat antiquities just like ivory.  So if "emergency import restrictions" on Egyptian cultural artifacts are approved, how long before there is also a call not only to embargo their entry but to ban their sale by executive order too?

And even without such an executive order, is it far fetched for "true believers" at US Customs to think that "emergency import restrictions" provides them license to seize undocumented Egyptian artifacts here on the theory that they "must be stolen?"  Unfortunately, probably not.

But what will the trade and the many collectors of ancient Egyptian artifacts do about it?  Hopefully not just sit back with the false hope that "it will all just blow over."

Friday, March 14, 2014

"Import Restrictions" on Egyptian Cultural Goods Coming Soon?

According to an official Egyptian source,

"[Antiquities Minister] Ibrahim said he held talks with the assistants to the US Secretary of State for Educational, Cultural Affairs and Near East Affairs on means to boost cooperation between the Egyptian and the US governments to protect Egyptian cultural properties and to curb antiquities trafficking as well as restoring smuggled artifacts."

Request or no, there is every reason for extreme caution before the United States imposes import restrictions on artifacts of a sort that have been actively and legally traded between American and European collectors since at least the 19th c. at the behest of Egypt's military government.  

Our State Department constantly lectures Egyptians on the importance of the rule of law. So why rush into a MOU with Egypt particularly when: (1) there are serious questions whether the current process is a a fair one; (2) the Archaeological Institute of America itself admits that such agreements won't stop looting; and (3) any such MOU will only be used by Egypt's generals to try to bolster their own legitimacy? 

Thursday, March 13, 2014

House Resolution to Protect the Iraqi Jewish Archive Garners Wide Support

Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen's resolution to ensure the rights of Iraqi Jews in exile to access to the Iraqi Jewish Archive has already garnered the support of 21 House Members, including the resolution's initial co-sponsor, Democratic Congressman Israel.  The Co-sponsors to date are:

Rep Chabot, Steve [OH-1] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Cicilline, David N. [RI-1] - 3/12/2014 
Rep Coffman, Mike [CO-6] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Deutch, Theodore E. [FL-21] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Frankel, Lois [FL-22] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Franks, Trent [AZ-8] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Grimm, Michael G. [NY-11] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Israel, Steve [NY-3] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Johnson, Bill [OH-6] - 3/6/2014 
Rep King, Peter T. [NY-2] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Latta, Robert E. [OH-5] - 3/12/2014 
Rep Lowey, Nita M. [NY-17] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Murphy, Patrick [FL-18] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Nadler, Jerrold [NY-10] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Roskam, Peter J. [IL-6] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Schakowsky, Janice D. [IL-9] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Stivers, Steve [OH-15] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Titus, Dina [NV-1] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Wasserman Schultz, Debbie [FL-23] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Weber, Randy K. Sr. [TX-14] - 3/6/2014 
Rep Wolf, Frank R. [VA-10] - 3/6/2014

But what is the position of the Archaeological Institute of America and Saving Antiquities for Everyone on the matter?  Both groups have been adamant in the past that Iraqi cultural artifacts should be repatriated.

Hopefully, common sense and common decency have caused them to rethink their usual position as to these artifacts which were stolen from Iraq's once vibrant Jewish community.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

State and CBP Extend Restrictions on Honduran Cultural Goods

State and US Customs have extended restrictions on Honduran pre-Colombian artifacts and have placed new restrictions on ecclesiastical artifacts made as recently as 1821.   The restrictions placed on pre-Columbian artifacts have already been in place for a decade.  Shouldn't this have given Honduras enough time to get its own house in order?

As for new restrictions on ecclesiastical artifacts, there is a real question if they meet Congress' definition of "ethnological artifacts" under the governing statute, Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act or CPIA.

According to CPIA, 19 U.S.C. § 2601 (2) (C) (ii),
no object may be considered to be an object of ethnological interest unless such object is     --
(I) the product of a tribal or nonindustrial society, and
(II) important to the cultural heritage of a people because of its distinctive characteristics,    comparative rarity, or its contribution to the knowledge of the origins, development, or            history of that people.

Furthermore, according to the CPIA’s legislative history, “the [Senate] committee intends this definition, to encompass only what is sometimes termed “primitive” or “tribal” art, such as masks, idols, or totem poles, produced by tribal societies in Africa and South America.  Such artifacts must be important to cultural heritage by possessing characteristics which distinguish them from other objects in the same category providing particular insights into the origins and history of a people.  The committee does not intend the definition of ethnological materials under this title to apply to trinkets or other objects that are common or repetitive or essentially alike in material design, color, or other outstanding characteristics with other objects of the same type, or which have relatively little value for understanding the origins or or history of a particular people or society.”   U.S. Senate Report on the CPIA (Sept. 8, 1982) at 5.

More evidence, if any were needed, that State's Cultural Heritage Center and CBP care little about what the law actually says and are instead only interested in promulgating as extensive embargoes as they can.

And who will stop them?

CPAC-  Not this one, dominated as it is by archaeological interests.

The Courts-- Not to date at least.

Congress-  Not to date at least.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Exceptions or Rules and Prevailing Trends in Archaeology?

Archaeo-blogger Nathan Elkins has accused CPO of "intellectual dishonesty" for questioning the assumption that archaeologists promptly and  carefully excavate and record everything of significance at their digs.

According to Elkins,

"The point is, Tompa, that you paint exceptions, some true and some anecdotal, as rules and prevailing trends. That's what we call intellectually dishonest. Try a broader perspective for once."

But poor professional practices are important to consider when archaeological fanatics like Elkins, David Gill and Paul Barford regularly attack the Treasure Act and PAS because they allegedly encourage "unscientific excavations" by amateurs wielding metal detectors.

And what of recent news of significant Viking and Egyptian finds not from the field but from storerooms where the artifacts in question had lain for a century or more?  Or information that coins from Roman contexts excavated over a century ago are still awaiting proper publication and study?

Are these exceptions or rules and prevailing trends?  And if the latter, perhaps reports under the Treasure Act or PAS are more "scientific" than stale information dug up a century or more ago by trained archaeologists. They are certainly more timely.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Blogging for Dollars?

Archaeoblogger Paul Barford apparently maintains that the CPO blog is tainted in some fashion because the blog's owner lobbies on behalf of the small businesses of the numismatic trade.  But these lobbying activities have been fully disclosed on the CPO blog, CPO receives no payment for blogging, and CPO's blog posts have never been vetted by others before posting.

And what of Mr. Barford?  Though he does not publicize it, he has now acknowledged"I have indeed at various times been paid by UNESCO and other heritage organizations for quite a lot of hard work. It's I what I do."   

So what's the difference?  And what about more transparency as to what exactly Mr. Barford does for "UNESCO and other heritage organization" including their identity?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Bipartisan Resolution Condemning Repatriation of the Iraqi Jewish Archive Introduced in the House

Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Congressman Steven Israel (D-NY) have introduced a resolution, HR 505, recommending that the US renegotiate the return of the Iraqi Jewish Archive so that the rights of the Iraqi Jewish community in exile are protected.  The resolution mirrors an earlier one that passed by unanimous consent in the Senate.  Will the State Department and its Cultural Heritage take heed of these resolutions or will they be ignored?  And, if so, will Congress take additional action to stop the repatriation?   And what of the ardent repatriationists in the archaeological community?  Will they actively oppose the resolution and what it stands for?

Dealer Groups Propose Administrative Fix for Antique Ivory Ban

CPO has already reported that a ban on the trade in ivory meant to help protect elephants from slaughter also threatens to make antiques made from that material worthless.  Now in response, two prominent trade groups representing the interests of antiques dealers have proposed the creation of an art advisory panel to help ensure that the legitimate trade in antique ivory objects can continue.  Antique ivory objects can be of considerable artistic and historical value.  Shouldn't they be saved too?

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Antiquities and Coin Collectors Beware; It Could Happen to You

African Elephants deserve protection, but should this mean effectively banning the sale of antiques made of ivory?  And what of public consultation?  Shouldn't there be an opportunity for collectors to make their concerns known before such a ban is put in force?

One would think so, but as Doug Bandow, a Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, has forcefully argued that has not happened.  Indeed, instead of writing new rules and allowing for meaningful public notice and comment, the Obama Administration has simply reinterpreted current rules in a new, particularly draconian fashion to pursue what can only be characterized as a prohibitionist agenda.

Antiquities and coin collectors beware; there are some at the Archaeological Institute of America, the US State Department and US Customs who would love nothing more than to achieve a similar ban on the sale of all antiquities and historical coins.

Only continued vigilance can stop this from happening.

AIA to Collectors: You Don't Count!

Laetitia La Follette's recent comment in the Art Newspaper is not only a remarkable admission that import restrictions associated with MOUs don't work.  It also reveals the academic snobbery that lurks beneath all the self-righteous calls for import restrictions.  

As far as Ms. La Follette and the AIA are concerned, only the interests of "art historians, archaeologists, anthropologists and museum professionals" count.  And what of the collectors and their view that MOUs should not be used to justify clamp downs on collecting commonplace items like historical coins that are widely and legally available abroad?   They may dominate public comment to CPAC, but their interests don't even merit any mention.  

More evidence, it any were needed, that MOUs are little more than special interest programs for connected academic insiders. 

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Marty Sullivan, Former CPAC Chair, Passes Away After a Long Illness

Marty Sullivan, CPAC's Chair from 1995 to 2003,  has passed away at age 70 after a long illness.  Mr. Sullivan was far better known for his work as a museum professional, most notably as director of the National Portrait Gallery, but CPO salutes his fairness and integrity as CPAC chair.

AIA Concedes MOUs Do Not Curb Looting

Laeticia LaFolette, the Archaeological Institute of America's point person on MOUs, has conceded that MOUs do not curb looting in an opinion piece published on line in the Art Newspaper.

In particular, she states,

"The second fallacy is that this aims “to curb smuggling”. No one expects any single agreement will completely “stop the looting of archaeological sites and illegal trafficking.'"

If so, why then does the AIA support restrictions on the import of cultural goods that only harm the interests of American collectors, museums and the small businesses of the antiquities and numismatic trade?

Why shouldn't MOUs instead be limited to encouraging cultural exchanges of the sort normally promoted by the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs?

Is it truly about cultural heritage preservation as the AIA and the State Department cultural bureaucracy maintain or is it really about academic snobbery and bureaucratic control?

Monday, March 3, 2014

China MOU Raises Value of Chinese Auction House Linked to the PLA

Only weeks after the US State Department announced a renewal of its MOU with China, Poly Group, the parent of  a major Chinese auction house associated with the People's Liberation Army, has announced a successful IPO to help fund its expansion into the Hong Kong market.  Coincidentally or not, critics of the MOU have noted that recently looted material from China is exported to Hong Kong in quantity for reimport into China for the benefit of wealthy, connected Chinese collectors.  Now, Poly will presumably be able to tap into this business further.   More evidence, if any was needed, that the MOU with China does nothing to protect Chinese heritage but quite a bit to provide Chinese auction houses and collectors with a competitive advantage against their American competitors.  Yet, the US State Department and the Archaeological Institute of America continue to claim that the MOU helps protect Chinese cultural artifacts.  Naiveté or something much worse?

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Former CPAC Member Critiques Renewal of China MOU

The Art Newspaper has published former CPAC member Kate FitzGibbon's devastating critique of the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' renewal of a controversial MOU with China.  Ms. FitzGibbon argues with some force that the State Department's secretive processes have been used to cover up decision-making that only advantages the interests of China's antiquities collecting and selling elites, most notably those connected to the People's Liberation Army.