Friday, May 30, 2014

Washington, D.C. Roundtable on Cultural Policy Reform

The Committee on Cultural Policy has uploaded an executive summary of its recent Washington, D.C. Roundtable on cultural policy reform onto its website.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Notable Statements on Egyptian MOU

I've had some time to go through the various comments on the website.  There were a lot of well written statements, but here are the four best in CPO's opinion that don't focus on the issue of coins:

Supporting the MOU

Statement  of Drs. Richard Levanthal and Brian Daniels of the Penn Museum

Testimony  of Dr. Selima Ikram, Society of American Archaeology

Questioning the MOU

Statement of the Association of Art Museum Directors

Former CPAC Member Kate Fitz Gibbon's Comments

They are well worth reading in full, so CPO will not presume to characterize what they say.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

State Department Sponsored "Demonstrations" in Favor of MOU with Egypt?

Archaeo-Blogger Paul Barford has suggested that the US State Department Bureau of Educational Affairs is helping to organize a "spontaneous demonstration" in favor of the MOU with Egypt through its Facebook page for Egyptian students.  If so (I didn't see anything myself on the webpage), that should be of interest to the press, grown-ups at the State Department, and members of Congress.  This, of course, is just the kind of thing the Egyptian Military Dictatorship has been doing for decades-- turn out those dependent on the state (here those who rely on the US State Department and Egyptian Governments to get visas and student aid) to "demonstrate" in favor of the government and its programs.  Frankly, I suspect this is a bit of an attempt at humor on Barford's part, but we will see. If true,  it would indeed be a sign of some desperation if not another example of "extra-legal" behavior.

Addendum (5/29/14):  Barford's latest suggests this is no joke and that any planned demonstration will be a "spontaneous one" by "students."  But only the most gullible should believe that based on the orchestrated efforts of  the Egyptian cultural bureaucracy, the archaeological lobby and the State Department's "Cultural Heritage Center" to date.  For more, see here at pages 6-8.  And there is an additional irony; while people can still demonstrate legally here (with proper permits), that is no longer the case under Egypt's military dicatorship.

Addendum (6/5/14):  Looks like Barford is a jokester afterall.  It turns out no one showed up to demonstrate.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Tunnel Vision: MOU Supporters Oblivious to Facts on the Ground

Supporters of the Egyptian Military Dictatorship's request for a MOU should take note.  The Egyptian public is refusing to buy into the Generals' efforts to seek "legitimacy" through phony elections.  Indeed, so much so that the Generals have extended voting for another day.

Yet, the archaeological lobby still seeks to portray Egypt's request, which dubiously coincides with the country's fraudulent elections, as necessary to protect Egypt's cultural patrimony.  But from whom?  "Cultural racketeers" or poor stewardship, corruption and an absolutely Pharaonic view of state ownership that devalues artifacts so thoroughly within Egypt itself that they are either destroyed or smuggled from the country, presumably more often than not with "inside help?"

Hopefully, at least some on CPAC will see through this fraud during next week's public session.  The public certainly has, with 91% of public comments solidly against the MOU or the extension of restrictions to ancient coins.  That's an "election result" that should have resonance.

Image More Important than Substance?

This is quite revealing.  Egypt's own protection of its cultural heritage at home is a complete mess, but it's so protective of its image, that it's pressured the Chinese to demolish a knock-off of the Sphinx that has been used as a movie backdrop.  Will Egyptian Cultural authorities also demand that any MOU with the US contain a stipulation that the Luxor Hotel and Casino be demolished as well?

Monday, May 26, 2014

Where's the Beef?

Archaeo-blogger Nathan Elkins has suggested in his posts that he's commented in favor of the Egyptian military dictatorship's request that its friends at U.S. Customs and the U.S. State Department Cultural Heritage Center clamp down on collectors, particularly of the "coiney kind."  But though he's claimed that coin collectors are "duplicitous," his own comments are not to be seen on the website, suggesting that he sent them in via mail to avoid scrutiny.

My own comments are easily accessible here.  If Elkins is going to critique others' views of the MOU, he should also put his comments to the Egyptian MOU on the web for all to see.

Addendum (5/26):  Rather than posting what he's written to CPAC, archaeo-blogger Nathan Elkins has instead again gone on the attack, misrepresenting CPO's comment that suggested if he did not send in his own comments to CPAC via mail,  the only other likely possibility was that he ghost-wrote Jane Evans' comments.   And let's not forget that both his blog post about coin collectors being "duplicitous" and her letter shared some technical errors.  Well, if Elkins didn't ghost write the letter, fine.  But then where is his own letter to CPAC?  If Elkins wants to be taken seriously as a numismatist, he should allow his letter to be subject to public scrutiny.  And if Elkins is going to claim others are being "duplicitous" based on their own published comments to CPAC, the decent thing to do would seem to be for Elkins to release his own words to CPAC for all to see.  In that regard, CPO does not question Elkins' (or anyone else's) rights to express their views to CPAC, just his unwillingness to let others assess for themselves their accuracy.

An Archaeo-Blogger's Manifesto

Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford has issued yet another manifesto against the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme, going so far as to characterize it as the "British disease."  His underlying assumption (and that of his fellow archaeological hardliners) is that only state cultural bureaucracies and their chosen archaeologists should have access to and control over artifacts of the past.  Barford apparently believes all the coins and artifacts that have come to light and recorded under the programs would be best left off in the ground for future archaeologists to find.  But the vast majority of these artifacts are found on private farmland where context has already been disturbed by agricultural activities.  It's doubtful that archaeologists would ever be excavating in these areas and, indeed, it's far more likely that if left in the ground these artifacts would be lost forever due to the impact of chemical fertilizers or other human activities.  Barford also claims UK authorities can't keep up with the finds and that they shouldn't have to pay fair market value for what artifacts are retained for state collections.  But that's only an argument for more efficient efforts at recording and more judicious decisions on what the State should keep.  The fact is there are so many coins around, all but the most significant ones are better off in the hands of private collectors who have every interest in preserving them.  And let's not forget, focusing on any shortcomings in the Treasure Act and PAS ignores how much we've learned about coin finds in Britain and Wales compared to places like Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Bulgaria, where finders have little incentive to report what they find.  Finally, Barford laments that most British archaeologists don't share his distaste for the Treasure Act and PAS, but perhaps that's just because they recognize the benefit of engaging interested members of the public as partners rather than adversaries.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

A Century of Collecting and Learning

The New York Times has reported on Eric Newman and his century of collecting and learning.  Although the article focuses on Eric's American coin collection, he also collected foreign and ancient coins as well.  And while Eric represents the pinnacle of collecting, many more collectors of modest means also gain learning about the past and appreciations of other cultures through their collections.  And what's wrong with that?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Committee for Cultural Policy DC Event Now On-Line

A video and transcript of the Committee for Cultural Policy's roundtable on reform of Cultural Property laws is now available on its website.  Of particular note to readers of CPO is former CPAC member Kate Fitz Gibbon's critique of the State Department's handling of requests for import restrictions and former senior Homeland Security Agent Jim McAndrew's debunking of the claim that collecting supports terrorism.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The CPIA "Covers" Coins?

Archaeo-blogger Rick St. Hilaire  has made the blanket assertion that the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act ("CPIA") covers ancient coins.  I'm not sure why he sees a need to comment on the issue now, except perhaps to try to bail out his fellow archaeo-blogger who has gotten himself in a bit too deep playing the part of a lawyer.

But St. Hilaire has to rely on distortion to make his point.   I'm not aware of the ACCG or anyone else saying that the CPIA "exempts" coins as St. Hilaire suggests.   Rather, what the ACCG and the trade have said is that restrictions to date on coins have not met the criteria of the CPIA for several fundamental reasons. 

First, the CPIA only allows restrictions on artifacts of "cultural significance."  19 U.S.C. Section 2601 (2) (I) (I).  The ACCG and the trade have maintained that coins as a class are not "of cultural significance" because they exist in many multiples.  The fact that they may or may not be of "archaeological significance" conflates any such inquiry; an artifact must be both of "archaeological interest" and "cultural significance" before it may be restricted.

Second, the CPIA only allows restrictions on artifacts "first discovered within" and "subject to the export control" of the UNESCO State Party seeking restrictions.  Id. Section 2601 (2).  The ACCG and the trade have maintained that restrictions to date have not met this criteria because the coins in question have circulated outside the boundaries of the UNESCO State Party such that neither the State Department nor U.S. Customs can properly assume that they were "first discovered" and "subject to the export control" of any of the UNESCO State Parties for which restrictions have been provided. 

Finally, there is the issue of a "concerted international response" and the requirement that "less drastic remedies" be tried first.  Id. Section 2602 (a) (1).  The CPIA's "concerted international" response requirement has not been met because all the coins that have been restricted to date are widely and legally available on international markets, including those within countries for which restrictions have been granted.  The "less drastic remedies" requirement has not been met because PAS type-schemes have not been tried in any of these countries, and some of them have not even actively enforced strictures against metal detector use. 

And what have government officials said about coins and the CPIA?  This is what Mark Feldman, then the State Department's Deputy Legal Advisor, represented to Congress when what became the CPIA was being debated: 

“I think in theory, they [coins] may well come within the definition, but we did not have coins in mind when we addressed the issue.  I think as a practical matter, it would not be a serious problem.  In most cases, it is impossible to establish the provenance of a particular coin or hoard of coins.  Therefore, there would be no reason for the United States, in most cases, to list coins as one of the categories of objects of  archaeological or ethnological interest that would be included in the agreement. … [T]his legislation and ratification of the convention would not have any immediate effect on coins and it is hard for me to imagine a case where we would need to deal with coins except in the most unusual circumstances.  See “Cultural Property Treaty Legislation,” Hearing before the House Subcommittee on Trade of the Committee on Ways and Means, 96th Cong., 1st session on HR 3403 at 8 (emphasis added).

And then there's the Cultural Property Advisory Committee ("CPAC"), presidential appointees who are supposed to represent the interests of the public, museums, archaeologists and the trade.  Let's not forget that coins only became "an issue" when according to past CPAC Chairman Kislak, the State Department overruled his committee's recommendations AGAINST restrictions on coins and then misled the Congress and public about it in official government reports.  Previously, CPAC had recommended against import restrictions on Cypriot coins (once) and Italian coins (twice), recommendations that had been upheld by the State Department bureaucracy. 

Finally, St. Hilaire's selective quotations from the Fourth Circuit's opinion in the ACCG's action seeking to strike down import restrictions on Cypriot and Chinese coins need to be placed in context.  First, that Court's statements are dicta.  Given the Court's upholding the dismissal of the action on "foreign policy grounds" the Court was not, and could not, be making a ruling on the merits.  Second, the Fourth Circuit also indicated that the ACCG would have its day in court in a forfeiture action.  That action has been filed, but has yet to go anywhere.  Finally, there is a real question of the continued vitality of the Fourth Circuit's ruling given the Supreme Court's decision in Zivotofsky v. Clinton, 132 S. Ct. 1421 (2012).  There, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a warning to lower courts that any "foreign policy" exception to justiciability must be construed narrowly based on the precise issue before the Court.  Can anyone really say with a straight face that import restrictions on coins widely collected in both Cyprus and China is a true "foreign policy question?"

So, does the CPIA "cover" coins?  As Mark Feldman noted, in theory perhaps, but unfortunately what was supposed to be the "unusual circumstance" has now become the default position to the "archaeology over all" State Department bureaucracy within the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center.   And what of Gill, Elkins, St. Hilaire, Barford, the AIA and the rest?  They may provide some useful cover for "the nanny state" and its governmental overreach, but the facts are the facts and the law should be the law.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Return of the Pharaoh?

Zahi Hawass has been cleared of all corruption charges in Egypt, and just before CPAC's meeting on the Egyptian MOU where the "unclean hands" of Egypt's cultural establishment should be an issue.  How "convenient."  Of course, justice seems to be an "elastic" concept within Egypt, where guilt or innocence has as much to do with who is in power as anything else.  And, presumably Egypt's generals like how Hawass has "projected Egyptian power" in the past.  So, how long before he returns as Egypt's antiquities Pharaoh?

Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Silence of the Lambs

CPO is proud to present this guest post from Bill Pearlstein, a principal of the law firm of Pearlstein & McCullough, LLP.  It was prompted by news that the State Department has agreed to delay repatriation of the Iraqi-Jewish Archive, at least for the time being.  


The Silence of the Lambs.

At a Spring 2014 conference in New York addressing art world due diligence issues, Larry Kaye, dean of the plaintiffs' bar, and other speakers stated that the first question in analyzing the merit of any restitution claim is to determine "what is the right thing to do?" In their view, the rights and wrongs of the legal issues entailed in bringing and resolving a restitution claim should follow the morality dictated by the facts. This is apparently a useful rule in assessing holocaust art claims, where the moral issues underlying the claim are often clear and consistent with the legal result.  

The Iraqi Jewish archives consist of personal property and records of the Iraqi community that were confiscated by the Iraqi State as Iraq's Jews were hounded into forced emigration. The morality of the matter is clear and argues against repatriation to Iraq; the Jewish archives were stolen from Iraq's Jews and ought to be returned to the heirs or representatives of that community. 

One would thus expect the plaintiffs' bar to oppose restitution on moral grounds. Why then has the plaintiffs' bar either supported or been silent regarding the State Department's proposed restitution of the Iraqi Jewish Archives?  

The plaintiffs' bar appears to be caught between the easy morality of supporting restitution claims of Holocaust victims and the more difficult calculus—for them, at least—of opposing the repatriation of property to a sovereign nation (and potential client). Bear in mind that the same lawyers who dominate the Holocaust restitution bar first made their reputations representing sovereign nations such as Egypt and Turkey in claims for the repatriation of antiquities against Western collectors and museums.  

The public mantra of the plaintiffs' bar in cultural property claims is that antiquities must always be returned to the source nation regardless of the date or circumstances of export, flaws in applicable patrimony laws, or other factors that might argue against repatriation.  The fundamental principal of US and UK law that no one can ever take title of stolen property has been the basis of numerous successful claims for the return of antiquities.  Yet the plaintiffs' bar is apparently unwilling to see a repatriation claim resolved against a foreign sovereign on the basis of this same principal. This moral double-standard is shameful, and undercuts whatever claims to superior morality they invoke when representing their clients in paying matters. 

The archeological lobby is equally compromised in this matter.  In antiquities matters they care only to keep material inside national borders and out of the hands of Western collectors on the theory that this will lessen demand and thereby preserve context. They are hopelessly in thrall to and cannot afford to criticize host nations.  If anything, the Near Eastern archeologists appear to support the return of the Iraqi Jewish Archives regardless of the immorality of restitution. 

I would love to be wrong on the facts and am open to correction as to whether any members of the restitution bar or the archeological community have in fact opposed return of the Iraqi Jewish Archive. I would be particularly interested in learning the moral or legal basis for why they have chosen to break both ranks and silence.

I'd appreciate your thoughts, and the thoughts of others who follow your blog. 

As always, 

Kind regards.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Now he's a lawyer

Archaeo-blogger Nathan Elkins, having been questioned on his conclusions as a numismatist, now turns lawyer, claiming instead that the CPIA's requirement that artifacts must be first discovered within and subject to the export control of a specific UNESCO State party has little meaning.  In doing so, Elkins relies on a statement of a district court that the Government may restrict the entry of coins with unknown find-spots.  But though that is true, the Government must first meet the "first discovery" requirement with scholarly evidence that establishes the coins in question could only have been first discovered within and subject to the export control of a specific, UNESCO State Party, here Egypt, before they are placed on the "designated list."   As set forth below, that appears impossible to do.

"Duplicitous" Coin Collectors; No Comment?

I was going to comment on Nathan Elkins' archaeo-blog on the Egyptian MOU to take issue with some of his statements, but for some reason he's disabled that feature for his post accusing coin collectors and dealers of "duplicity" in their opposition to a MOU with Egypt's military dictatorship that will only do further harm to their hobby and small businesses.  I'm glad then that Wayne Sayles has taken the time to respond in depth to Elkins and to publish an open letter from numismatist Alan Walker to Jane DeRose Evans, an archaeologist whose own letter to CPAC has some unexplained parallels to misstatements on Elkins' blog.

But let's get to the key issue for coin collectors.  Elkins claims to see "duplicity" in statements found in public comments that argue that restrictions cannot lawfully be placed on coins made in Egypt because one cannot properly assume they were found there.  In so doing so though, Elkins relies on some sleight of hand himself.  First, he states, with some authority, that Egypt had a "closed monetary system" during the Ptolemaic and Roman periods. But then, he conveniently ignores the fact that Ptolemaic "Egypt" included Cyprus, and at least parts of today's  Libya, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon, Jordan, and Syria.  And then there is the hoard evidence.  As set forth in Alan Walker's "open letter" to Jane Evans, Elkins and Evans ignore that too.  And while Elkins and Evans are more on point when it comes to Roman Egypt, even there recent data from the Portable Antiquities Scheme suggests that Roman Egyptian Tetradrachms (which had the silver content of one silver denarius) circulated at least to some extent in far off England.  So really, who is being duplicitous?

Friday, May 16, 2014

91% of Public Comments Against MOU with Egyptian Military Dictatorship

A review of the website reveals that 91% of the public comments on the proposed MOU with Egypt either opposed a MOU with the Egyptian military dictatorship or extending restrictions to coins.

The website indicates there were 341 comments received, but after accounting for double comments (one by an opponent and several by proponents (which appear to be posting errors, not attempts to "stuff the ballot box") and discounting for a "spoiled ballot" (a comment which only contained a corrupted PDF) the number drops down to 338 comments.  Of these, 310 were opposed and a mere 28 supported the MOU.

Two-hundred sixty-six (266) of those opposed to the MOU in whole or in part wanted coins exempted.  Some 44 (mostly antiquities collectors or dealers) others opposed the MOU on more general grounds.

Of the 28 supporting the MOU, only 5 specifically supported import restrictions on coins.   That's 1.4% of the total!

All this again raises some important questions.

1. Are MOUs merely a special interest program for archaeological groups and US and foreign cultural bureaucracies?

2.  If there is so little real support for import restrictions on coins, and so much opposition to it, what behind the scenes forces are at work to explain the action?

At a minimum, its high time for some additional light to be shed on the process.

Thank you

to all those who responded to the ACCG's and CPO's request that coin collectors make their concerns known about the State Department bureaucracy's efforts, aided, abetted and encouraged by elements in the archaeological community, to suppress the private collecting, study and display of common ancient coins of the sort widely and legally collected world-wide.

The number of comments of coin collectors and others opposed to the MOU or its application to coins compared to the dearth of comments from anyone other than parties with a professional interest in keeping the State Department and Egyptian cultural bureaucracies happy should raise two questions.

Are MOUs little more than special interest programs for cultural bureaucrats and archaeologists?

And is the point of them really cultural heritage preservation or control?

Wednesday, May 14, 2014


One archaeo-blogger is overly "pleaxed" [sic] with himself over his comments to CPAC, particularly his wish that "coineys" get a State Department financed "education" from their archaeological "betters."  He states,

As an aside, on reading the 120 comments previously submitted on this matter on this webpage, it is clear that the vast majority of them are coming from the same milieu (almost exclusively from collectors of and dealers in dugup ancient coins), and the degree of utter misunderstanding of the nature and purpose of the regulations applied by the CCPIA (and the purpose of the Convention itself) seen in them is striking. It would be helpful if the CPAC’s report on its deliberations could remark upon this, and urge that funding be found to fulfil the recommendations of part of Article 10 of the Convention to provide outreach to the US public and the US ancient-coin-collecting milieu in particular, aiming to educate and inform them better to lead to a fuller “realization of the value of cultural property”, what it is and how it is defined “and the threat to the cultural heritage created by theft, clandestine excavations and illicit exports”. This should outline for them how the measures proposed by the 1970 Convention and the legislative implementation of those proposals by the US are intended to function to combat that threat, and why responsible collectors should be supporting them and not merely parroting the words of those who profit from this trade. 

And, of course, this follows of series of posts wherein the same archaeo-blogger mocks the public comments of a number of collectors and members of the small businesses of the numismatic trade who are rightly concerned about the impact import restrictions have on their hobby and business.  

Is this the type of "debate about the issues" the archaeological community seeks to foster?  Let's hope not, but sadly his nasty comments directed at those with whom he disagrees are widely linked in the archaeological blogs of others with far greater academic accomplishments.  They, at least, should know better.   

My Comment to CPAC

Today is the last day to comment to CPAC on the Egyptian MOU.  Please consider doing so if you have not done so already.  You can comment from here or follow the directions here.

Here is my own personal comment:

Dear Prof. Gerstenblith and Committee Members, 

I’m troubled that news reports have strongly suggested a MOU with Egypt is a “done deal” even before CPAC meets and what that says about our own government which is so fond of lecturing the Egyptians about “democracy” and “rule of law.” Nevertheless, if restrictions have been or will be approved, they should be limited to Pharaonic material of cultural significance and site specific material from later Hellenistic, Roman and Islamic cultures. Under no circumstances should there be restrictions on coins of the sort widely collected world-wide. 

There certainly has been looting in Egypt, as has been the case since ancient times. However, there is a real question whether there is an “emergency” of “crisis proportions” and, if so, if any “emergency” is of Egypt’s own making. During a recent public forum meant to publicize the need for import restrictions, Egyptologist Monica Hanna conceded that high ranking Egyptian government officials were intimately involved in illicit antiquities trafficking, that much damage is due to urban encroachment onto archaeological sites, and that common people don’t respect their past because they believe it belongs to Egypt’s abusive military dictatorship and not them. This, of course, is the real root of Egypt’s problems. Since prior military governments made the trade in all antiquities illegal, artifacts have been either illegally traded or devalued so much that they are either destroyed or dumped in landfills.

Frankly, Egypt is such a mess, restrictions won’t help there, but they will certainly damage small businesses and collectors who cannot come up with documentation necessary to import minor artifacts like coins that typically don’t carry any provenance information. So, CPAC should limit the damage as outlined above, i.e., only restrict artifacts from the Pharaonic period which are of cultural significance as well as site specific material, like Fayum mummies, from later Hellenistic, Roman and Islamic cultures. This later material was produced for empires that are part of the cultural heritage of the larger Western and Islamic worlds. There should be no blanket import restrictions on this material on behalf of Egypt. Coins should not be included because with a few minor exceptions they date from later periods and cannot usually be traced to a particular site. Moreover, there is no indication metal detectors are in widespread use in Egypt, so it is highly unlikely that many are being illicitly removed from the country. Certainly, there does not appear to have been a large influx of ancient “Egyptian coins” onto our shores since the Arab Spring degenerated into first Islamic and now military dictatorship. So, please target any restrictions so they don’t hurt collectors of artifacts as common and as widely collected here and abroad as coins. 

Thank you in advance for your interest in these matters. Please note I will also be commenting on behalf of client trade associations. [That comment can be found here.]


Peter Tompa

Monday, May 12, 2014

Trophy Room Readied for Spoils from Egyptian MOU?

The Egyptian Museum is currently exhibiting artifacts repatriated from abroad in a temporary exhibition.  CPO is concerned the Egyptian Museum may be expanding this exhibition space dramatically, particularly if U.S. Customs construes any MOU as "allow[ing] the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents to seize any Egyptian artefact entering the US as long as it does not have any official or legal documents showing that it left Egypt legally."  That's why it's so important to comment on the MOU on or before May 14th, "done deal" or not.  Can we really trust the bureaucrats to construe their enforcement authority any less broadly than their authority to promulgate import restrictions in the first place, particularly when Customs agents can and do seek more and more and more documentation to justify repatriations under the CPIA?

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Legal Action Contemplated on Iraqi-Jewish Archive

It appears Jewish Groups are contemplating legal action if the State Department ignores Congress and fails to do the right thing by returning the Jewish Archive documents to their rightful owners, Iraqi-Jewish exiles or groups representing their interests.  Oddly, the issue has received little attention from those who champion the return of Holocaust art to heirs or other cultural property to its true owners on the blogosphere. Wonder why?

Friday, May 9, 2014

Collecting Egyptian Not So Bad?

We've heard recently from the archaeological blogosphere that collecting ancient Egyptian artifacts is somehow wrong.  Yet, former Egyptian Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass has been kind enough to offer the proceeds of a lecture he is giving so that  the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco can purchase a wooden statuette of Seneb, scribe of royal documents.  Presumably, the artifact was legitimately acquired sometime ago, but details are not readily apparent on the Legion's website.  And even if so, is there any proof that the artifact was legally exported from Egypt before 1983, as Egyptian officials purport to require?

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

With a Little Help from Friends in High Places....

Activists can make a difference.  Tess Davis and others activists who lobbied the US Department of Justice and the US State Department to throw their considerable weight behind repatriating Khmer statutes from a remote temple complex to Cambodia have scored big.  With news of additional voluntary repatriations, it now seems that anything remotely similar is being returned without a fight.  But has justice really been served?  Cambodia always had a decent moral case for the return of these statues, but questions about the clarity and applicability of Cambodian law, the staleness of the claims that date from the 1970's, and the potential Khmer Rouge Government involvement in bringing the pieces to market continue to cloud the legal issues surrounding their return.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Full Story of the Iraqi Jewish Archive

Here is the full story of the Iraqi Jewish Archive.  It's clear that many of the objects are of a personal nature and not as claimed by some ardent repatriationists merely government documents about Jews. All documents of a personal, religious or community nature should go back to their true owners or to the Iraqi Jewish Community in exile.   Repatriationist principles should not apply where the nation state stole the artifacts in question as part of ethnic cleansing.  It should be simple as that.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Museum Immunity Bill: Who Are You Going to Believe?

There seems to be a lack of consensus amongst ardent repatriationists over a measure aimed at immunizing art imported from abroad for purposes of  museum exhibition from seizure.  For example, while Rick St. Hilaire sees its merit, Tess Davis is dead set against it, claiming with little, if any, real analysis that the legislation will allow U.S. Museums to knowingly exhibit "stolen" art.

So who is correct here?  The one who seems to believe the U.S. Government right or wrong or the one who seems to be with the source country right or wrong?

 CPO is with St. Hilaire on this one; it seems like Ms. Davis relies on more than a few bogeymen to make her point.  In fact, that seems to be an unfortunate hallmark of her otherwise excellent writing these days. Indeed, one really has to wonder whether she works at a foreign research center as is claimed or one specializing in anti-American repatriationist advocacy.  If one has a legitimate claim here, why not make it in the country where the art resides before it is sent for exhibition in the US?

Update:  Derek Fincham has also written a blog questioning Ms. Davis' and Mr. Masurovsky's provocative views.  It can be accessed here.

Saturday, May 3, 2014


Reading this National Geographic article it's hard not to conclude that President Obama isn't the only one being scapegoated for Egypt's own internal problems.  What's worse though is that American and British archaeological hardliners are cynically exploiting a human need to find scapegoats in order to pursue their own anti-collecting agenda.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Waving the Bloody Shirt

Activism is once again being passed off as "research" in an opinion piece published in the Huffington Post.   However, with regard to the claim that antiquities collectors fund terrorism, a former senior US Customs official has stated at a public forum held at the National Press Club on April 30th that while in government service, he did not see any real, actionable connection between terrorism and the antiquities trade.  The transcript of his comments is expected in the near future.  

Indeed, antiquities generally make unattractive funding sources for insurgents and criminals who have access to far more lucrative items—they are nowhere near as “liquid” or easily sold as commodities like drugs, diamonds, oil, etc.  Instead, unbiased reports seem to suggest that most illicit antiquities can be traced either to “subsistence diggers” (typically poor farmers seeking to supplement their income) or that they were uncovered during road building or construction projects.  

To the extent there are any "cultural racketeers" involved, wouldn't it be far more likely that in a military dictatorship like that in Egypt, that they would be corrupt government officials?