Friday, February 27, 2015

Destruction at the Mosul Museum: Who Cares?

Assyrian Christian minorities in Iraq and Syria and its diaspora  do.

Archaeologists both here and in the Middle East do (though some apparently can't help themselves and must find a way to take swipes at collectors as they mourn for what is lost) .

Collectors and Museum professionals most certainly do, despite what some archaeologists may think.

And based on news reports at least, presumably the Western World does, though the scope of the tragedy may not be fully appreciated.

But what of the Islamic world in general and the Islamic inhabitants of Syria and Iraq in particular?

Do they really care or might they even view Western outrage over the destruction of artifacts over lives as misplaced or even worse?

And depending on the answer what does that say? 

Committee for Cultural Policy Report on Destruction in Mosul

The Committee for Cultural Policy's report on the destruction of ancient statuary in Mosul again reminds us that decision makers should focus on preservation not repatriation and conservation and not control.

As the CCP observes,

The destruction at Nineveh is an excruciatingly painful example of the losses that could result from a policy that demands all art from source countries remain there. The notion that all art belongs in source countries is not only anti-humanist; recent events have made clear that it is also reckless in the extreme. Art – the tangible history of humankind – is at risk. No nation’s artistic heritage should be held in a single place. Yet international museums are being told not to collect or preserve at a time when art itself is most vulnerable.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Richard B. Witschonke Passes Away

Richard (Rick) Witschonke has passed away after a long illness.  Rick was a consummate collector. As a successful businessman, he had the means to afford the "best," but also focused on the "least" in the interests of putting together a complete collection of Roman Republican coins.

This academic interest in Roman Republican coins ultimately led him to volunteer his time and energies with the American Numismatic Society, where he served first as a Trustee, before working as a curatorial assistant, and helping to run the Society's renowned Summer Seminar for young academics.

Rick also tirelessly tried to bridge the widening gap between collectors and academic archaeologists, a sincere effort that should endear his memory to both camps.

For a nice tribute to Rick, see Ursula Kampmann's piece in Coins Weekly.  He will be much missed.

Antiquities in ISIS' Hands: For Sale or For Destruction?

Fox News and AP have posted pictures from a very troubling video of ISIS Militants smashing ancient statuary in the Mosul Museum.  If verified, this is yet another tragic loss of Iraq's ancient cultural heritage.  The video and other similar news of such destruction should also raise a simple question.  Are ISIS militants really interested in funding their jihad with ancient artifacts as the archaeological lobby and the Assad regime claim?  Or, given their iconoclastic views of Iraq's pre-Islamic past, would they rather just smash them?

For more on CPO's views on the root causes of this tragedy see here.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Archaeo-Blogger Defends Sensationalist Reporting

Archaeo-blogger David Gill has taken Chris Maupin, a knowledgable antiquities dealer, to task because Maupin has questioned sensationalist reporting by the BBC.  That BBC report repeats the oft cited claim that looting provides a major ISIS funding source.  Gill maintains that Maupin's critique is unfair.  After all says Gill, the reporter and his producer evidently attended an academic conference which discussed the issues!   But we should also be skeptical of academics with an axe to grind.  And there is every reason to be particularly dubious of "proof" originating with sources friendly to the Assad regime.  As we've already seen, that murderous regime is keen on attributing looting to ISIS for its own political purposes.   In any case, the values of looted material from Syria casually thrown about appear highly inflated.  Under the circumstances, Maupin's concerns about sensationalist reporting are warranted and he should be praised, rather than condemned for his efforts.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Data Archaeology, Remote Sensing and 3D Printer Technology Offer Solutions for the Future

New technology may bring an end to the "cultural property wars" of the late 20th-early 21st centuries. Data archaeology and remote sensing will allow governments to ascertain what land is really archaeologically sensitive and which is not.  Protective efforts may be focused on the former while the latter will be open to building projects and recreational metal detecting.  Meanwhile, 3D printer technology  will allow source countries to produce copies for display and sell off originals to collectors for a handsome profit.  Such monies that are obtained can then be used to fund archaeological research and preservation efforts.

But how will the archaeological lobby react?  Will it go with the flow or remained mired in the mentality of the "cultural property wars" of the past? 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Assad Regime to World: You Must Deal with US

More evidence, if any were needed, that the Russian sponsored UN Resolution purportedly aimed at cutting into ISIS' funding is really little more than a Russian inspired effort to help buttress Putin's ally, Assad.  As far as the Assad regime sees it, the resolution supports its claims to any artifacts that are seized, and helps undercut Turkey,  its former friend.  Never mind that Assad's military stands accused of involvement in looting sites like Apamea and Palmyra, and bombing early Sunni religious sites into oblivion.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Don't Worry...Says the Archaeo-Blogger

Don't worry, says the archaeo-blogger in his own condescending way. One can't assume the State Department-- egged on by their allies in the archaeological lobby-- will use the upcoming renewal of the Italian MOU as an excuse to extend import restrictions to Roman Imperial coins.  So, just sit back and don't bother to tell the State Department what you think.

But does he have the best interests of collectors in mind?  His blogging screams otherwise.

And anyway does he really speak for anyone other than himself?  Of course not.

But can't the State Department clarify the issue?  They could, but have never done so when asked to in the past.

And let's not forget-- on two prior occasions-- Cyprus in 2007 and Italy in 2011-- requests for clarification were either met with double talk or ignored.  And guess what happened?  Requests for extension of MOUs were turned into a basis for new restrictions on coins.

Let's not let that happen again, particularly where Roman Imperial coins are concerned.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Enough Already: Oppose Yet Another Renewal of the Italian MOU

The State Department has announced that Italy has requested a renewal of its current Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with the United States.  That MOU first authorized import restrictions on Italian cultural artifacts from the Pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman periods in 2001.  The restrictions were extended 2006 and again in 2011.  The 2011 renewal added new import restrictions on Greek, early Republican and Provincial coins from the early Imperial Period.  Now, it’s quite possible that the archaeological lobby, which actively opposes private collecting, will press for import restrictions on Roman Imperial Coins—the heart of ancient coin collecting—as well.   Accordingly, if one feels strongly about their continued ability to collect Roman Imperial and other historical coins and artifacts, they should comment on the website.  Why?  Because silence will only be spun as acquiesce.  So, serious collectors should oppose yet another renewal as unnecessary and detrimental to the appreciation of Italian culture and the people to people contacts collecting brings. 

      A.  The Law

The Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”) contains significant procedural and substantive constraints on the executive authority to impose import restrictions on cultural goods.  Restrictions at issue here may only be applied to archaeological artifacts of “cultural significance” “first discovered within” and “subject to the export control” of a specific UNESCO State Party.  They must be part of a “concerted international response” of other market nations, and can only be applied after less onerous “self-help” measures are tried.  They must also be consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.  Renewals of MOUs are to be judged under the same standards.

The Cultural Property Advisory Committee (“CPAC”) is to provide the executive with useful advice about this process.    The CPIA contemplates that CPAC is to recommend whether import restrictions are appropriate as a general matter and also specifically whether they should be placed on particular types of cultural goods.  In the past, CPAC has recommended against import restrictions on coins.  Initially those recommendations were followed, but beginning with the renewal of Cypriot import restrictions in 2007, this has changed.  Now, there are restrictions on coins made in Cyprus, China, Italy, Greece and Bulgaria and it's likely restrictions on at least some Egyptian coins will follow. 

Import restrictions make it impossible for Americans to legally import collectors’ coins widely and legally available worldwide.   Foreign sellers are typically unwilling or unable to certify the coin in question (which can retail as little as $1) left a specific UNESCO State Party before restrictions were imposed as required by the CPIA and U.S. Customs and Border Protection rules.   Restrictions have drastically limited Americans’ abilities to purchase historical coins from abroad and have negatively impacted the cultural understanding and people to people contacts collecting fosters. 

B.  The Request

U.S. collectors, museums and the small businesses of the numismatic and antiquities trade have had to endure an embargo on unprovenanced artifacts "of Italian type" for some 15 years.  Another renewal will make that 20 years.  

Import restrictions were never meant to be permanent.  Rather, they were aimed cutting market demand to allow time for a source country to get its own house in order. 

In one sense this has worked.  In the past 15 years, Italy has mounted aggressive police actions that have greatly diminished looting in the country. Yet, all this enforcement effort has done little to actually protect Italy's "cultural patrimony."  During this same period, gross under-funding, bureaucratic ineptitude and corruption have hamstrung Italy's own care for even major sites like Pompeii.  And at the same time, promises of long term loans to museums made by Rome as a quid pro quo for import restrictions have faded with devolution of power to regions such as Sicily.  So, it would seem any minimal benefits that import restrictions have provided are now far outweighed by the damage they do to legitimate collecting and the appreciation of Italian culture and people to people contacts it brings.  

Enough is enough.  It's time to scrap current import restrictions and instead promote real cultural cooperation rather than more confrontation.  This is particularly true for common artifacts like ancient coins.  It has never made sense to place restrictions on ancient coins, particularly when there is large, open and legal internal market for the exact same sort of coins within Italy itself.  It makes even less sense to contemplate new restrictions on ancient Roman Imperial Coins.  These originally circulated throughout Europe, the Middle East and even parts of Asia and have been actively collected since the Renaissance.  They “belong” not to Italy, but to us all. 

      C.  What You Can Do

Admittedly, CPAC—packed as it is these days with ardent supporters of the archaeological lobby—seems to be little more than a rubber stamp.  Still, to remain silent is to give the cultural bureaucrats and archaeologists with an ax to grind against collectors exactly what they want-- the claim that any renewal will not be controversial. 

So, to submit comments electronically, go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal (, enter the Docket No. DOS-2015-0010-0001, and follow the prompts to submit a comment. (for a direct link see here.)(Please note comments may be posted only UNTIL MARCH 20, 2015 at 11:59 PM.

Please also note comments submitted in electronic form are not private. They will be posted on the site Because the comments cannot be edited to remove any identifying or contact information, the Department of State cautions against including any information in an electronic submission that one does not want publicly disclosed (including trade secrets and commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential pursuant to 19 U.S.C. 2605(i)(1)).

What should you say?  Provide a brief, polite explanation about why the renewal should be denied or limited.  Question CPAC why it’s necessary to renew this MOU yet again when looting is under control and the real jeopardy to Italy’s cultural patrimony comes from poor stewardship by the Italian State.  Indicate how restrictions will negatively impact your business and/or the cultural understanding and people to people contacts collecting provides.   Coin collectors should add that it’s typically impossible to assume a particular coin (especially Roman ones) was “first discovered within” and “subject to the export control” of Italy.  You might add that Italian historical coins are very common and widely and legally available for sale elsewhere, and point out the absurdity of restricting coins freely available in Italy itself.  Finally, you don’t have to be an American citizen to comment—you just need to be concerned enough to spend twenty or so minutes to express your views on-line.  Comments from Italian collectors are particularly welcome! 

Lots of Heat, But Any Light?

The archaeological lobby has gone into high gear with symposiums in DC, Chicago,  Philadelphia and Dallas that purport to address the issue of cultural heritage preservation.   With all that brain power at these events, one would have hoped for something more than the same tired "academic" and "law enforcement" "solutions" aimed at suppressing private collecting as much as anything else.  Sadly, based on the topics and most of the speakers, "out of the box" thinking taking account of reality rather than ideology seems to be lacking.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Italian MOU Renewal: Enough is Enough

The Cultural Property Advisory Committee will conduct an open session to discuss the renewal of the current MoU with Italy on April 8, 2015.  Directions for public comment can be found here.

US collectors, museums and the small businesses of the numismatic and antiquities trade have had to deal with an embargo on unprovenanced artifacts "of Italian type" for some 15 years.  In the interim, Italy has mounted aggressive police actions that have greatly diminished looting in the country.

Yet, all this enforcement effort has done little to actually protect Italy's "cultural patrimony."  During this same time, gross underfunding, ineptitude and corruption have hamstrung Italy's own care for even major sites like Pompeii.  And at the same time, promises of long term loans to museums made by Rome have faded with devolution of power to regions such as Sicily.

Enough is enough.  It's time to scrap current import restrictions and instead promote real cultural cooperation rather than more confrontation.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Renewed Media Disinformation Campaign Underway

The Committee on Cultural Policy has called attention to a renewed media disinformation campaign  that presumably will be used to help justify the reintroduction of HR 5703, a flawed piece of legislation that would benefit the Assad regime and the archaeological lobby far more than it would "protect" Syrian cultural patrimony.   No doubt any bill that calls for the repatriation of artifacts back to a dicataorship that purposefully destroys them, creates a new White House bureaucracy devoted to furthering the interests of a small group of connected insiders, and provides this same group with a funding source with no strings attached will heavily rely on the inflamatory claim that Western collectors support terrorism to avoid the hard questions about any such legislation that decision makers should ask.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Thinking Outside the Box: Cronin on Resolving Cultural Property Claims

Charles Cronin, University of Southern California Law School, will be holding an informal talk on a paper he is preparing on the intersection between Cultural Property and IP law and a proposal on how cultural property claims can be resolved.

From the abstract:

If we were to perceive cultural artifacts fundamentally as works of information rather than of tangible property, the location of the original instantiations of them would be of little significance.  3D technologies might soon permit source nations to retain the essential intellectual value of cultural artifacts found within their borders, while simultaneously capitalizing upon sales of the originals to collectors who will pay for their “aura”.   

The talk will take place on Feb. 18th at 1:30 PM at GW Law School, Burns Bulding, 716 20th Street, NW, Washington, DC Rm. 505.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Preservation or Repatriation?

As expected, the UN Security Council has approved a Russian resolution that appears calculated to buttress Putin's friend, Assad, as much as anything else.

The aim is purportedly to help cut into ISIS' funding by clamping down on sales of Syrian antiquities, but the result will be the repatriation of  undocumented objects that have been out of the country for years back to the exact same murderous regime that bombed the old city of Aleppo into oblivion, that has struck early Islamic sites and whose military is involved in looting in places like Apamea and Palmyra.

So what's next?   In the UK, the sensible Brits plan to focus on using existing law to address the problem.  And in the US?  Will the archaeological lobby again use the tragedy to resurrect self-serving legislation that will enrich itself?  Or, will they follow the example of their Syrian, Dutch and U. Penn colleagues and seek to address the problem at the source?

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Monopoly vs. Better, Faster, Cheaper

turf battle in France between public and private sector archaeologists has led to the Louvre being occupied by angry public sector archaeologists.  Meanwhile, in the nearby United Kingdom as interested amateurs publish thousands of finds, materials excavated by professionals languish in warehouses.

Of course, the situation is far worse in the favorite countries of the archaeological lobby-- Cyprus, Greece, Italy and Egypt,   There, amateur archaeologists are treated the same as looters for profit  while underfunded and corrupt archaeological establishments are poor stewards of even the most  important artifacts.

Perhaps, the answer is more competition.  Unleash the passion of private individuals and groups in community archaeology efforts.  And, of course, let them share redundant artifacts with the state and landowers.  As long as items are properly recorded, preserved and published, why not?

Friday, February 6, 2015

The CPIA's Burden of Proof: How it is Supposed to Work...

Here is how Mark Feldman, the State Department's Deputy Legal Adviser, explained how what became the CPIA's burden of proof was supposed to work:

Now, if I may pass for a moment to the question of procedures and burdens of proof, which is the area of one of the great improvements in the bill.   I do want to clarify a matter which involves a difference of interpretation between the art dealers and the State Department. One of the major changes made in the legislation was to alter the presumption normally applied in customs cases putting the burden of proof on the Government in most particulars. One issue where the burden of proof is placed on the Government is to demonstrate that the object fits within the proscribed list.  The Government must show both that it fits in the proscribed category and that it comes from the country making the agreement.  So the burden of proof of provenance is on the Government, a burden which I don’t think has been appreciated by all the critics of this legislation.  This means in a significant number of cases it will not be possible to require an object’s return.   Now this is a policy judgment.   The burden of proof on provenance could have been placed on the importer, which would preclude importation where provenance could not be established.  We have not gone that far; it may be that Congress, when it focuses on this issue, may decide otherwise.  To put the burden of proof of provenance on the importer may be the only truly effective way of avoiding importation of objects illegally removed from their country of origin.  But we in the State Department have not promoted that solution, recognizing that where the facts are obscure, U.S. collectors should not be precluded from competing for the material. . . . .

The only country that would have the right to claim such an object under the bill is the country where it was first discovered.  It would have to be established that the object was removed from the country of origin after the date of the regulation. 

Proceedings of the Panel on the U.S. Enabling Legislation of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property, 4 Syracuse J. Int’l L. & Com. 97 1976-1977 at 129-130. 

As Feldman explains, questions of burden of proof -- particularly where they relate to forfeitures of private property rights--are for Congress to determine, not cultural bureaucrats, DOJ attorneys or even the Courts.   Yet, there seems to be an assumption by some bloggers associated with the archaeological lobby that advocating for one's rights to due process is somehow misguided or even the work of "idiot" "cowboys."  But due process is what is supposed to separate this country from dictatorships.  So, perhaps the ACCG should be commended not condemned for continuing to assert its rights to due process on its own behalf and on behalf of collectors everywhere in ongoing litigation and, if necessary, on appeal.

Smuggled Antiquities Again a Top ISIS Funding Source?

Who says?  Putin's Russia, one of the murderous Assad regime's last remaining allies, that's who.  Any new evidence?  No.  Any mention of the Assad regime's own intentional destruction of early Sunni religious sites or involvement of looting in places like Apamea?  Of course not.

And why not?  Could that be because the claim that looted antiquities are a top ISIS funding source will be used to justify an UN resolution that could result in any antiquities that are seized being repatriated back to Russia's ally, that same odious Assad regime?

The aim of any UN Resolution or UNESCO State Party action should be preservation not repatriation.  And any means used should respect the due process rights so lacking in places like Syria and Russia for that matter.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Due Process Imperiled?

After considering the matter for over six (6) months, the Hon. Catherine C. Blake has denied the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild's Motion for Reconsideration of a decision striking the Guild's Amended Answer in a short, three sentence order.  This decision once again raises the prospect that the congressionally mandated burden of proof found in CPIA Section 2610 has been judicially reassigned from the government to the Guild. If so, the Guild's due process rights are being imperiled, something that should be a concern to us all.