Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Egyptian Import Restrictions Notice Published; Conflict of Interest Concerns Raised

The US Government has published an extensive list of artifacts subject to import restrictions pursuant to the MOU with Egypt.  The effective date is 12/5/16.

The designated list restricts the following ancient coin types down to 294 AD:

H. Coins

In copper or bronze, silver, and gold.

1. General—There are a number of references that list Egyptian coin types. Below are some examples. Most Hellenistic and Ptolemaic coin types are listed in R.S. Poole, A Catalogue of Greek Coins in the British Museum: Alexandria and the Nomes (London, 1893); J.N. Svoronos, Τα Nομισματα του Κρατουσ των Πτολe μαιων (Münzen der Ptolemäer) (Athens 1904); and R.A. Hazzard, Ptolemaic Coins: An Introduction for Collectors (Toronto, 1985). Examples of catalogues listing the Roman coinage in Egypt are J.G. Milne, Catalogue of Alexandrian Coins (Oxford, 1933); J.W. Curtis, The Tetradrachms of Roman Egypt (Chicago, 1969); A. Burnett, M. Amandry, and P.P Ripollès, Roman Provincial Coinage I: From the Death of Caesar to the Death of Vitellius (44 BC-AD 69) (London, 1998—revised edition); and A. Burnett, M. Amandry, and I. Carradice, Roman Provincial Coinage II: From Vespasian to Domitian (AD 69-96) (London, 1999). There are also so-called nwb-nfr coins, which may date to Dynasty 30. See T. Faucher, W. Fischer-Bossert, and S. Dhennin, “Les Monnaies en or aux types hiéroglyphiques nwb nfr,” Bulletin de l'institut français d'archéologie orientale 112 (2012), pp. 147-169.

2. Dynasty 30 —Nwb nfr coins have the hieroglyphs nwb nfr on one side and a horse on the other.

3. Hellenistic and Ptolemaic coins—Struck in gold, silver, and bronze at Alexandria and any other mints that operated within the borders of the modern Egyptian state. Gold coins of and in honor of Alexander the Great, struck at Alexandria and Memphis, depict a helmeted bust of Athena on the obverse and a winged Victory on the reverse. Silver coins of Alexander the Great, struck at Alexandria and Memphis, depict a bust of Herakles wearing the lion skin on the obverse, or “heads” side, and a seated statue of Olympian Zeus on the reverse, or “tails” side. Gold coins of the Ptolemies from Egypt will have jugate portraits on both obverse and reverse, a portrait of the king on the obverse and a cornucopia on the reverse, or a jugate portrait of the king and queen on the obverse and cornucopiae on the reverse. Silver coins of the Ptolemies coins from Egypt tend to depict a portrait of Alexander wearing an elephant skin on the obverse and Athena on the reverse or a portrait Start Printed Page 87808of the reigning king with an eagle on the reverse. Some silver coins have jugate portraits of the king and queen on the obverse. Bronze coins of the Ptolemies commonly depict a head of Zeus (bearded) on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. These iconographical descriptions are non-exclusive and describe only some of the more common examples. There are other types and variants. Approximate date: ca. 332 B.C. through ca. 31 B.C.

4. Roman coins—Struck in silver or bronze at Alexandria and any other mints that operated within the borders of the modern Egyptian state in the territory of the modern state of Egypt until the monetary reforms of Diocletian. The iconography of the coinage in the Roman period varied widely, although a portrait of the reigning emperor is almost always present on the obverse of the coin. Approximate date: ca. 31 B.C. through ca. A.D. 294.

With respect to the wording of the restrictions themselves, Customs has reverted back to restrictions based on place of manufacture rather than find spot. (Recent Syrian import restrictions followed the statutory requirements more closely-- likely because they were receiving special scrutiny in Congress.)

This is significant because such restrictions ignore evidence that demonstrates that Egyptian mint coins are regularly discovered outside of Egypt.  Egypt's so-called "closed monetary system” was meant to keep foreign coins "out" and not Egyptian coins “in.” Hoard evidence confirms Ptolemaic coins from Egyptian mints circulated throughout the Ptolemaic Empire which stretched well beyond the confines of modern-day Egypt.  (And, indeed, some hoards are found outside the Empire's territory.)  They also ignored finds reported under the UK's PAS that show Roman Egyptian Tetradrachms circulated as far away as Roman Britain. 

Finally, it is troubling that Evan Ryan, Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Educational Affairs, made the decision despite a recusal request made on behalf of numismatic trade and advocacy groups. In CPO's view, Ryan's acceptance of an award from the AIA  raises serious conflict of interest issues, if not a violation of ethics rules concerning the acceptance of gifts and awards.  Of course, the AIA lobbied heavily for a MOU with Egypt, and the AIA's award to Ryan specifically referenced ECA's work in implementing MOU's.  

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Kerry Ignorant of Collateral Damage to Legitimate Trade and Museums

It's evident listening to Secretary Kerry that he has been grossly misinformed about how the State Department and CBP misapply import restrictions under the CPIA.  If restrictions were applied as contemplated, there would not be so much collateral damage to the legitimate trade.  Unfortunately, however, our CBP and State Department take cues not from the plain meaning of the statute, but from the archaeological lobby's desire to "shift the burden of proof" to the collector based on the dubious assumption that undocumented means stolen.

Under the CPIA, the burden is on the government to prove: (1) the item is of a type that appears on the designated list; (2) the item was first discovered within and subject to the export control of the country for which restrictions were granted; and (3) that it was illegally removed from the country for which import restrictions were granted after the date the restrictions were imposed.  19 USC Sections 2601, 2604, 2606, 2610.  Draconian rules that assume guilt after only the first element is proved are for dictatorships like Egypt, not for democracies that respect rule of law like the United States.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Outgoing Obama Administration Gifts Egypt and Archaeological Lobby with a MOU

The outgoing Obama Administration has gifted Egypt's authoritarian government, its cultural bureaucracy and supportive archaeologists with a MOU that will likely ban import of undocumented Egyptian antiquities created before 1517.

In so doing, the Administration has ignored 91% of the public comment to CPAC which raised serious concerns with any MOU.  Moreover, the decision once again raises the question whether there was any "done deal" from the outset.

Implementing regulations are expected soon.

Friday, November 25, 2016

State Department Official Confirms Collector Concerns

Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Larry Schwartz has confirmed collector concerns about how the State Department has administered the CPIA in a video prepared on behalf of the Antiquities Coalition, an archaeological advocacy group.  For Schwartz and the State Department, MOUs only stem the flow of "illegal" antiquities; not legal antiquities openly sold abroad that don't meet stringent documentation requirements.  The CPIA's legal requirements are "not hard;" there are no real procedural and substantive constraints before import restrictions may be approved.  The burden of proof is on the importer; artifacts can be seized and forfeited without proof they were first discovered within and subject to the export control of the country for which restrictions are given.  And, of course, State sees itself as a partner with foreign cultural bureaucracies, academic archaeologists that depend on these foreign bureaucracies for excavation permits and their advocacy groups.  But what rule of law and the interests of museums, collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic and antiquities trade?  They apparently don't rate, something that hopefully will be addressed when a new administration takes over in January.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Greek MOU Extended Not Expanded

Import restrictions on Greek cultural goods have been extended but not expanded despite the best efforts of the archaeological lobby to include all coins made or potentially found in Greece.  (Current restrictions encompass many archaic, classical and provincial types, but exclude Ancient Greek "trade" coins like Athenian Tetradrachms.)

Despite this "win," CPO hopes the new Trump Administration will review all current MOUs.  Unfortunately, they have become little more than a special interest program for a small group of connected academic archaeologists and the cultural bureaucracies of countries where they excavate.  

Meanwhile, the interests of ordinary Americans who collect ancient coins and other cultural artifacts and our great museums have been damaged for years by hard to comply with import restrictions.          

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Egyptian Dictatorship Plays the Victim Once Again

As the Sisi dicatorship and  its apologists would have it, Egypt is a victim trying to reclaim its cultural heritage from rich, foreign collectors.  Yet, others suggest the real problems are endemic corruption, a Pharonic approach to cultural heritage management and extreme poverty.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Cultural Property Advisory Committee Meeting on Renewals of Cypriot and Peruvian MOUs

On October 25, 2016, the United States Cultural Property Advisory Committee met to discuss the renewals of the current MOUs with Cyprus and Peru.   The following members were present: (1) Nina Achabal (NA) (Museum Representative); (2) Lothar von Falkenhausen (LVF) (Archaeological Representative); (3) Patty Gerstenblith (PG) (Public Representative-Chair); (4) Jane Levine (JL) (Trade Representative); (5) Thomas Murray (TM) (Trade Representative); (6) Katherine Reid (KR) (Museum Representative); (7) Marta de La Torre (MDLT) (Public Representative); and (8) Nancy Wilkie (NW) (Archaeological Representative).  This will be the last meeting for Patty Gerstenblith and several other CPAC members who have been replaced late in President Obama’s term.

The following speakers appeared to discuss the MOU with Cyprus:  (1) Josh Knerly (JK) (Association of Art Museum Directors) (JK); (2) Carmen Arnold-Biucchi (CAB) (Harvard); (3) Jane DeRose Evans (CDE) (Temple); (4) Peter K. Tompa (PKT)  (International Association of Professional Numismatists/Professional Numismatics Guild); (5) Nathan Elkins (NE) (Baylor); (6) Paul Keen (PK) (University of Massachusetts); (7) Andrew McCarthy (AM) (Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute) (CAARI); (8) Bryan Wilkins (BW) (CAARI); and (9) Joan Connelly (JC) (New York University), a former CPAC member representing the interests of the archaeological community.

The following speakers appeared to discuss the Peruvian MOU: (1) Brian Bauer (BB) (University of Illinois); and (2) Josh Knerly (JK) (AAMD)

There were also representatives of the State Department, and the Cypriot and Peruvian governments present in the room to hear the testimony. 

Josh Knerly (JK)- Thanks PG for her service. AAMD supports the renewal with qualifications.  There needs to be benchmarks to address problems in both the Northern Turkish Republic and Republic of Cyprus itself.  JK refers to his paper and asks for questions.  MDLT asks about inventories.  JK says inventories should be done to protect the contents of all structures, including mosques.

Carmen Arnold Biucchi (CAB)-Thinks all statutory criteria met.  Designated list should be extended to Byzantine coins.  Coins struck in Cyprus mainly stayed there.  CAB advocates that Cyprus adopt Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme.  TM applauds her suggestion about the creation of a legal market in Cyprus.  There is no need to hold redundant material in basements.  NW asks about Byzantine coins.  CAB maintains the Byzantine coins struck on the Island did not circulate off the Island in great quantities.   They were not mainly gold coins, which did circulate. NA and PG ask about the archaeological value of coins which CAB confirms. 

Jane DeRose Evans (JDE)-The Antiquities Department promptly investigates looting.  Coins found by metal detectors are easily smuggled.  Agrees with suggestion for restrictions on Byzantine coins.  Says selling coins found on state controlled archaeological sites won’t make much money because their value is minimal.  JDE emphasizes she is not against collecting well provenance coins.  JVF opines that looting of coins causes huge damage to the archaeological record.  ASOR wants to promote responsible collecting. TM notes that partage was a good system that has allowed artifacts to be displayed in museums.  KR indicates times have changed since partage and now long term loans are desirable.

Peter K. Tompa (PKT)-  Unfortunately, the system appears to be rigged.  When the CPIA was being discussed, a top State Department lawyer represented to Congress that import restrictions on coins would be unlikely.  This changed with the Cypriot MOU in 2007.  Two CPAC members have stated under oath that the change was made against CPAC’s recommendations and that the State Department sought to mislead the Congress and the public about it.  More troublingly, it was recently determined that the decision maker made the decision after accepting a job with Goldman Sachs, where she was recruited by and works for a top Goldman Sachs partner who is married to an AIA Trustee and well known heritage lobbyist.  Moreover, things have not changed.  Just recently, the AIA also awarded the current State Department decision maker at a swank gala hosted by this power couple.

Substantively, PKT notes that Cyprus is an Island astride major trade routes so of course coins circulated as proved in a scholarly paper attached to PKT’s submission.  In any event, the governing statute only authorizes restrictions on coins that were first discovered within and are hence subject to the export control of Cyprus.  Thus, the standard is whether such coins are “exclusively” found in Cyprus, not generally found or some lesser standard.  Only coins actually found in Cyprus can be subject to Cypriot export controls.  Paying archaeological workers a fair living wage and better site security in the long off season should be investigated.  Finally, Cyprus should consider instituting a Treasure Act or Portable Antiquities Scheme.

PKT's full oral comments can be found here.  IAPN/PNG's written comments can be found here.

PG and NW maintain that the AIA Trustee was not a Trustee back in 2007.  PKT responds that no one just comes out of nowhere to become a Trustee and there was likely some related work beforehand.  In any case, better transparency on how these decisions are made may help clear up such suspicions.

PG asks PKT about NE’s claim that 80% of Cypriot coins are found on Cyprus.  PKT notes this must be an aggregate figure and that presumably coins from the Ptolemaic and Roman Empires circulated within those Empires.  He notes that Roman Provincial coins from Cyprus are struck on the same standard as the Imperial issues and would have circulated in places like Turkey.

MDLT notes that CPAC’s recommendations are advisory. PKT notes that is true but if State rejects them, State is obliged to justify the change in official government reports which was not done and that the decision maker making her decision after taking a job at Goldman Sachs was troubling. 

NW asks if State Department Lawyer’s statement to Congress was made before metal detectors become prevalent.  PKT indicates they were in use in the 1970’s before the CPIA was passed.
JL asks about collectors maintaining provenance.  PKT says this is easier for expensive items like those at auction at Sotheby’s.  He notes some collectors have thousands of low value coins.

Nathan Elkins (NE) discusses unprovenanced coins on eBay. He maintains the IAPN’s data is selective.  Discusses his own data that led to his conclusion that 80% of Cypriot coins found in Cyprus.  States that a US District Court has rejected PKT’s “first discovered within” argument.  (Note, context is important, that decision was made under a very limited “ultra vires” review of government decision making.)

Paul Keen (PK) discusses coins as archaeological artifacts and their importance in dating sites.  He also maintains Cypriot coins did not travel.  PK talks about a commercial hoard from Jordan he reconstituted that was sold in parcels in London, Paris and Malibu.  The original hoard had 1000 coins.  NW asks whether the hoard would have more value as a whole.  PK says yes, but buyers more likely to purchase piecemeal. 

Andrew McCarthy (AM) is director of CAARI.  Notes US Government support for his organization. Cypriot Government very welcoming host to American archaeologists.  Government addresses looting promptly.  KR asks about accusations of Paphos Mayor that local Antiquities Department personnel had stolen artifacts from storage.  AM says this is a smokescreen because the antiquities authority is holding up local road construction.  He produces documents from excavators and police that purport to exonerate the antiquities service.

Bryan Wilkins (BW) is President of CAARI. Maintains MOUs have helped in a decline in looting.  Notes US State Department support including a $100,000 grant per year for the purpose of funding two scholars.  Notes outreach efforts to local communities to enlighten them about the dangers of looting.  Discussion of shipwreck now in Northern Cyprus.  KR discusses long term loans.  NA notes some of the Cesnola collection now on display in Nicosia.

Joan Connelly (JC) attributes all Cyprus’ problems to Turkish invasion.  Sets forth her close relationship with the Cypriot Antiquities service and her long work on the Island. (Note:  Perhaps IAPN/PNG’s 2007 request that she be recused from voting on the Cyprus MOU request should have been granted after all.) Discusses 15 American digs on Island.  Calls for AAMD to apologize for suggesting the Turkish Republic for Northern Cyprus is a recognized political entity.  Attacks the AAMD’s suggestion that benchmarks be set for the renewal of the next MOU as “neo-colonialist.”  In response to question from NA, attacks PAS and Treasure Act.

JL indicates her belief that JC is misconstruing JK discussion of benchmarks.  JC notes she is an honorary citizen of Paphos, decries reckless attacks of Paphos Mayor on antiquities service.

Brian Brauer (BB) states Peru has met the criteria for renewal.  He notes that greater efforts must be made to ensure that site guards get a living wage.   He requests new restrictions on Colonial documents and fossils.  PG says that CPIA may not allow restrictions on fossils.  She asks for more detail on colonial era documents.  BB says now families who own old documents can sell them on eBay.  They should stay in Peru.  BB defers to AAMD on loans and does not express concern about benchmarks proposed by AAMD. 

Josh Knerly (JK) notes he is gratified that not all proposals for benchmarks are controversial.  He notes that all the issues raised by AAMD 5 years ago, especially regarding long term loans have yet to be addressed.  There is some discussion of on-line inventories so that items may be selected for loans. PG expresses concern that these only be made available to museums so that thieves will not get valuable information.  

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

System Now Rigged; Underlying Facts Have Not Changed

    This is what I said, more or less, at today's CPAC meeting about the renewal of the current MOU with Cyprus.  The reaction from those opposed to collecting was predictable, but I was happy to get support from archaeologists for the idea of paying fair wages to site workers to discourage looting and promoting the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities scheme to ensure coins found outside recognized archaeological sites are adequately recorded.  I hope to be able to prepare a full report of the CPAC meeting in the near future:  

         I am speaking on behalf of the International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatics Guild, which represent the small businesses of the numismatic trade.  In many ways, this hearing is greater test for CPAC than for ancient coin collectors.  We've heard a lot from first the Sanders and now the Trump campaigns that the system is rigged. Here, unfortunately, there is strong evidence that may be the case.

          For 25 years after the CPIA was passed, there were no restrictions on coins.   This should be no surprise.  Coins are items of commerce.  So, it is difficult for modern nation states to justifiably claim them as their “cultural property.”  They are probably the most common of historical artifacts and are not of “cultural significance.”  They are avidly collected and traded worldwide—including in places like Cyprus.  It simply makes no sense to preclude Americans from importing coins where there is no real “concerted international response.”   Indeed, when the CPIA was being discussed, Mark Feldman, a high ranking State Department lawyer, represented to Congress that it was “hard … to imagine a case where we would need to deal with coins except in the most unusual circumstances.” 

          In 2007, this changed with Cypriot coins.   According to the declarations of two former CPAC Members, including Former Chair Kislak, that change was made against CPAC’s recommendations.  Moreover, there was an attempt to mislead the public and the Congress about CPAC’s true recommendations.  Even worse, it has recently come to light that the decision maker at the time made the decision after she had already announced she was leaving for a job at Goldman Sachs, where she was recruited and works for the husband of an AIA Trustee who has been very active lobbying on cultural heritage issues.  Nor is the situation better now.  In fact, the AIA just gave an award to the current State Department decision maker at the swank Metropolitan Club, again courtesy of this same well connected couple.   Under the circumstances, how can collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade think the system is fair? 

           Let me touch on some issues brought up in papers by members of the AIA and related groups trying to justify these restrictions.   First, there is the claim that Cypriot coins did not circulate in any numbers.  But this does not mesh with Cyprus’ status as an Island astride major trade routes or information in the scholarly paper attached to the IAPN submission.  Indeed, as referenced in one letter by an AIA member, there was a Smithsonian exhibition several years back entitled, “Cyprus: Cross Roads of Civilizations.” That pretty much says it all.  In any event, the governing statute only authorizes restrictions on coins that were first discovered within and are hence subject to the export control of Cyprus.  Thus, the standard is whether such coins are “exclusively” found in Cyprus, not generally found or some lesser standard.  Only coins actually found in Cyprus can be subject to Cypriot export controls. 

          Next, there is the claim that coins tell us something about Cypriot history.  Maybe so, but virtually all of what we have learned we learned well before import restrictions were imposed.  Limiting Americans’ access to such coins simply won’t help add much to that knowledge.  Moreover, Professor Joan Connelly makes the point that she has spent an astounding $100,000 per coin in “dig dollars” to recover coins worth perhaps a few dollars on the open market at her site.  This begs the question whether perhaps at least some of these “dig dollars” might be better spent on site security during the long off season and paying her local workers a fair living wage so they will not be tempted to do any looting in the long off season.   

          Finally, the State Department and Cyprus have never seriously considered alternatives to import restrictions like the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Act.  Import restrictions do more harm to legitimate collecting and the appreciation of Cypriot culture than good.  Indeed, it's a real shame that they particularly hurt the ability of Cypriot and Greek Americans from getting in touch with their heritage.  Such restrictions should be ended or limited to coins actually found in Cyprus. 

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Great Reads

Fiction and Biographies well worth reading for those interested in cultural heritage issues:

Arthur Houghton's "Dark Athena" is a thriller based on the author's own experiences as a curator, diplomat and collector.

Gary Vikan's "Sacred and Stolen" is a biography of a museum director who has served on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee and has been involved in repatriation efforts.

But both share a world view only those who have "been there" can have-- cultural heritage issues are at best gray.  They are certainly not black and white.  Read them both and see.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Goldman Sachs Power and Influence Benefit Archaeology Lobby?

A front page article in Sunday's New York Times raises some important questions about how cultural heritage policy is made in the United States that deserve further investigation.   The article explores close ties between Hillary Clinton and Goldman Sachs including during the period Mrs. Clinton was Secretary of State.  That discussion highlights the Clinton State Department's partnership with Goldman Sachs' 10,000 women initiative.

While it is no doubt a good program, what is relevant for our purposes here is that this initiative is run by former Bush Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Dina Powell.  Powell and her State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs are not popular with coin collectors for good reason.

In May 2007, Powell rejected the U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee's  recommendations against import restrictions on Cypriot coins.  Then, according to a declaration signed by Former CPAC Chair Jay Kislak, State Department officials went on to mislead Congress and the public about CPAC's true recommendations in official reports. That decision changed long-standing U.S. Government policy against import restrictions on coins, and provided the "precedent" for further restrictions on certain coin types from Iraq (2008), China (2009), Italy (2011), Greece (2011), Bulgaria (2014), and Syria (2016).

In CPO's view, Powell's 2007 decision at a minimum raises an appearance of conflict of interest. Critically, Powell made the decision after accepting her high level job with Goldman Sachs but before leaving the State Department.  At the time, Goldman was apparently heavily involved in arranging controversial credit swaps with Greece and likely had at least some business dealings with Cyprus too.  Of even more concern, it has since come to light that Powell was recruited by John F.W. Rogers, Goldman's powerful chief of staff, where she serves as part of his "lobbying team."   This is relevant to cultural heritage issues because Mr. Rogers is married to Deborah Lehr, an AIA Trustee and international business consultant, who also serves as President of the Antiquities Coalition, a well-funded archaeological lobbying group.

So, perhaps it's no surprise that the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has actively participated in Antiquities Coalition events, such as its recent "Culture Under Threat" conference in New York City.

Of course, the point of these conferences is to drum up support in Congress for measures sought by the archaeological lobby.  So, it also should be no surprise that the Antiquities Coalition has successfully lobbied Congress to clamp down on illicit antiquities (efforts which the trade and collectors see as grossly over-broad and hence damaging to the legitimate trade and collecting).

What's also interesting is that the Antiquities Coalition lobbying efforts are part of a partnership with the Middle East Institute and this work has been done to support repatriation efforts sought by authoritarian Middle Eastern governments like that of Egypt.

What's less clear is whether all this effort also directly or indirectly benefits the financial interests of those involved, i.e., is lobbying on cultural heritage issues of interest to countries like Greece, Cyprus and Egypt being "leveraged" to promote other business interests?

CPO commends all interested in expressing their views on cultural heritage issues, but given the amounts of money that the Antiquities Coalition must be spending on its efforts and all the contacts that are being worked,there should be far more transparency about the Antiquities Coalition's funding, its aims and details about its public-private partnerships with countries like Egypt.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Cyprus Turns its Back on the Common Law Tradition

By advocating for an international convention that would reverse the burden of proof and place it on auction houses selling antiquities, Cyprus has turned further away from its past Common Law traditions as part of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Auction Houses can and should be more transparent about what is known about an object's provenance, but proposals that call for a reversal of the burden of proof are more appropriate for Middle Eastern dictatorships than for democracies like Cyprus.

And as one of the comments to the linked Cyprus Mail article mentions, in any event perhaps it's not the best time for Cyprus to make such demands given that ongoing matter in Paphos

Monday, September 19, 2016

More Junk Science From Live Science

Owen Jarus and Live Science are at it again.  Last time it was Egypt.  Now it is Turkey.  This time the trade data allegedly shows an increase in the exports of gold coins from Turkey that supposedly supports the proposition that they are being looted in Syria and shipped to the US from Turkey.

As I previously tried to explain to Mr. Jarus with regard to his last article, there is a major problem with his methodology.  Such trade data relates to a "country of origin" of Turkey, which typically means place of manufacture NOT PLACE OF EXPORT.  The data also captures antique gold coins, which means any gold coins over 100 years old-- not just ancient gold coins that might be "looted."

It's telling that Jarus relies on archaeologists associated with ASOR (a group that has received over $1 million in State Department largess to document looting by ISIS) rather than trade experts.  (At least Dr. Al-Azm allows for the fact that the data is probably capturing values for Ottoman era coins that have been used to store wealth in the area over generations.)

In any event, if the big numbers cited are meant to impress, they need to be qualified to show what the trade data actually captures.  If there is no such effort, the whole enterprise must be viewed as no more than an effort to mislead, which, of course, is the last thing that either Live Science or ASOR for that matter should want.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

Eakin Criticizes Establishment Approach

Hugh Eakin, writing for the New York Review of Books, criticizes the approach of the US and other governments to cultural destruction in Syria.  That approach has focused almost entirely on import restrictions, criminal sanctions and giving millions to archaeological groups to "study" the issue.  In contrast, efforts to protect objects on a local level (like an initiative of the University of Pennsylvania and Smithsonian) lack much needed funding.

Meanwhile, the Antiquities Coalition, a well-funded archaeological advocacy group that promotes "public-private partnerships" with authoritarian Middle Eastern governments, has held much ballyhooed  conferences in New York and Amman, Jordan, that have advocated just more repression. Should we be surprised?

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Where's the Beef?

Last week's Diane Rehm Radio Show segment entitled, "The Big Business in Looted Art," is getting lots of play in the archaeological blogosphere.  And why not?  The statement of the token "collector representative" (Gary Vikan, past Director of the Walters Art Gallery) questioning the show's premise-- that large amounts of material looted by ISIS is leaving Syria-- was ignored by the host and the other guests who are all associated with the Antiquities Coalition.  And the only difficult question from the audience about the repatriation of artifacts to unstable regimes was turned into a discussion about how wonderful it was that Khmer artifacts were being repatriated to Cambodia.  More evidence, if any were needed, that establishment media is not really interested in hearing from all sides in the cultural heritage debate or questioning the archaeological lobby's narrative that "collectors are the problem."

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Syrian Import Restrictions Imposed

US Customs has published a very extensive list of "Syrian" artifacts now restricted pursuant to the "Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act."  Coin collectors should special take note that that the "designated list" includes all coins minted and circulated in Syria through the Ottoman period.

Now that restrictions are in place, two important enforcement issues remain.  First, will Customs only detain, seize and seek the forfeiture of artifacts on the new designated list "unlawfully removed from Syria on or after March 15, 2011?"  Or, will Customs revert back to its current extralegal practice of detaining, seizing,  and seeking the forfeiture of anything that looks remotely like it appears on the designated list and then require the importer to "prove the negative?"  One can only hope that the explicit directions  of the measure's sponsor, Congressman Elliot Engel, emphasizing the limits on Customs' discretion will control.

Second, what will happen to any artifacts that are seized and forfeited under the regulations?   When the  "Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Implementation Act" was first introduced, there was a real hope the Assad regime would be replaced by a far more Democratic alternative.  No more.  So, will Customs and the State Department still follow current practice and repatriate the artifacts to the Syrian Government which means the Assad regime?  And, if so, what does that really say about the wisdom of the statute and the US Government's current emphasis on repatriation over preservation?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Collectors' Voices Need to be Heard Once Again!

The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center have announced a comment period for a proposed extension of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Cyprus.  See

The U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee will review these comments and make recommendations based upon them with regard to any extension of the current agreement with Cyprus. 

According to U.S. Customs’ interpretation of the governing statute, import restrictions authorized by this MOU currently bar entry into the United States of the following coin types unless they are accompanied with documentation establishing that they were out of Cyprus as of the date of the restrictions, July 16, 2007:

1. Issues of the ancient kingdoms of Amathus, Kition, Kourion, Idalion, Lapethos, Marion, Paphos, Soli, and Salamis dating from the end of the 6th century B.C. to 332 B.C.

2. Issues of the Hellenistic period, such as those of Paphos, Salamis, and Kition from 332 B.C. to c. 30 B.C. (including coins of Alexander the Great, Ptolemy, and his Dynasty)

3. Provincial and local issues of the Roman period from c. 30 B.C. to 235 A.D.

Why bother to comment when Jay Kislak, CPAC’s Chairman at the time, has stated that the State Department rejected CPAC’s recommendations against import restrictions on Cypriot coins back in 2007 and then misled both Congress and the public about its actions?   And isn’t it also true that although the vast majority of public comments recorded have been squarely against import restrictions, the State Department and U.S. Customs have imposed import restrictions on coins anyway, most recently on ancient coins from Bulgaria?

Simply, silence just allows the State Department bureaucrats and their allies in the archaeological establishment to claim that collectors have acquiesced to broad restrictions on their ability to import common ancient coins that are widely available worldwide.   And, of course, acquiescence is all that may be needed to justify going back and imposing import restrictions on more recent coins that are still exempt from these regulations.

Under the circumstances, please take 5 minutes and tell CPAC, the State Department bureaucrats and the archaeologists what you think. 

How do I comment?  To submit short comment just click on the green box on the upper right hand side of the above notice that says “submit a formal comment” and follow ther directions:

If you are having trouble, go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal (, and enter Docket No. DOS-2016-0054 for Cyprus, and follow the prompts to submit comments. To send comments via US Mail or FEDEX see the directions contained in the Federal Register Notice above. 

What should I say?  The State Department bureaucracy has dictated that any public comments should relate solely to the following statutory criteria: 

1.       Whether the cultural patrimony of Cyprus is in jeopardy from looting of its archaeological materials;
2.      Whether Cyprus has taken measures consistent with the 1970 UNESCO Convention to protect its cultural patrimony;
3.      Whether application of U.S. import restrictions, if applied in concert with similar restrictions by other art importing countries, would be of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage and that less drastic remedies are not available;  and,
4.      Whether the application of import restrictions is consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.

(See 19 U.S.C. § 2602 (a).)   Yet, collectors can really only speak to what they know.  So, tell them what you think within this broad framework.  For instance, over time, import restrictions will certainly impact the American public’s ability to study and preserve historical coins and maintain people to people contacts with collectors abroad.  (These particular restrictions have hurt the ability of Cypriot Americans to collect ancient coins of their own culture.)  Yet, foreign collectors—including collectors in Cyprus—will be able to import coins as before.  And, one can also remind CPAC that less drastic remedies, like regulating metal detectors or instituting reporting programs akin to the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme, must be tried first.   Finally, Cyprus is a member of the European Union, so why not allow legal exports of Cypriot coins from other EU countries?

Be forceful, but polite.  We can and should disagree with what the State Department bureaucrats and their allies in the archaeological establishment are doing to our hobby, but we should endeavor to do so in an upstanding manner.

Please submit comments just once, before the deadline on September 30, 2016.

Cyprus: What's Wrong with This Picture?

Cypriot Government requests extension of MOU with US that authorizes the detention, seizure and repatriation of undocumented artifacts of Cypriot origin to Cyprus because they "may be stolen."  For more, see here.

Mayor of Paphos, Cyprus, accuses antiquities service of stealing artifacts; antiquities service says not stolen, just undocumented.  For more, see here.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Credulous Live Science Blames Western Collectors for the Death of Child Looters

In what must be a new low, advocates with ties to Egypt's military dictatorship have used credulous media to divert attention  from Egypt's poor cultural heritage record with inflammatory claims that Western collectors are responsible for the death of children from impoverished families that engage in looting.  And once again, the main "proof" for such claims are dubious figures billed as representing exports from Egypt but which in fact likely reflect exports of artifacts with a "country of origin" of Egypt that likely have been out of the country for years.  Coin collectors-- who have raised serious concerns about Egypt's problematical MOU request-- get special mention, again based on a dubious assumption that an increase in trade in gold coins must mean there has been more looting of Egyptian archaeological sites.  Of course, it's just as likely that the small overall increase in trade in antique gold coins with a country of origin of Egypt (at least compared to the immense number of gold coins that must be on the international market) relates to modern issues from the 19th century and earlier as opposed to ancient coins that originated in buried hoards.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Third Circuit Awards Valuable 1933 Gold Coins to Government

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has awarded valuable 1933 $20 Gold coins to the Government.  A panel of the same court had previously reversed a jury decision for the government because of delays in bringing the matter before a court.  Steve Roach's article about the decision can be found here.  The Court's opinion can be found here.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Mass Destruction or Mass Deception?

Anti-trade academic Neil Brodie apparently thinks ISIS must be selling coins to fund itself based on the appearance of 23 "new" Syrian Tetradrachms on the market per year since the start of the Syrian civil war.  According to the study Brodie cites, this is an increase in the average of 17 "new" coins per year that appeared previously.

However, even assuming the increase can possibly be attributed to ISIS as opposed to the Assad regime, the "Free Syrian Army," destitute Syrian refugees selling off their own collections, or some new find outside Syria, the amounts of money sales of such coins could possibly generate won't do much to help fund a terrorist army. 

So, the appearance of so few "new" coins on the market, if anything, underscores the fact that the amounts ISIS must really be making from antiquities sales is probably quite minimal in reality, despite the best efforts of the archaeological lobby to justify the millions of dollars it has received from the State Department and other sources to "study" the issue and lobby for further crack-downs on collecting.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016


Hacked emails have confirmed the suspicions of Senator Bernie Sanders' followers that the powers that be in the Democratic National Committee-- who are supposed to be neutral-- in fact sought to rig the system against him and his campaign.

Collectors, both here and in Germany, already know that feeling.  In the US, the State Department-- which is supposed to be neutral when it comes to deciding whether foreign requests for MOUs meet the criteria in the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act-- has never rejected one. Even worse, when a last minute effort to engineer import restrictions on Cypriot coins was turned down by the State Department's own Cultural Property Advisory Committee, the State Department's Bureau of Educational Affairs imposed them anyway and then went so far as to mislead the public and Congress about CPAC's true recommendations.  That, of course, gave the State Department bureaucrats license to do the same with other coins from Bulgaria, China, Greece, and Italy, citing the Cyprus decision as "precedent."

The situation is even worse in Germany.  There almost 50,000 collectors and dealers made their valid concerns known about a draconian new law, but CDU Culture Minister Monika Grutters rammed it through anyway, cheered on only by a small group of mostly authoritarian cultural nationalist countries and the German Archaeological Institute, which is part of Germany's Foreign Ministry.  Again, the desires of connected insiders associated with the archaeological lobby and the bureaucracy seemed to take precedence over the concerns of ordinary people and small businesses. 

Saturday, July 16, 2016

ACCG files Motion for Summary Judgment

My law firm has filed a Motion for Summary Judgment on behalf of the ACCG in its long running case against the government.  The motion asks for the return of its Cypriot and Chinese coins because the ACCG has rebutted the government's case for forfeiture with expert testimony.  The expert testimony of Douglas Mudd shows that it is more probable than not that the coins were outside of either Cyprus or China before restrictions were imposed.  The expert testimony of Michael McCullough, Esq. demonstrates that the Cypriot coins were legally exported from the UK which under EU law binding on Cyprus satisfies US law. Alternatively, the Guild seeks the return of the coins because the government has not met its own burden of proof to forfeit the Guild's coins.   Under Court rules, the government's response and cross-motion for summary judgment is due August 1st.

Thursday, June 30, 2016

AIA View of CPAC Meeting on the the Bolivian and Greek MOU

Nathan Elkins, writing on the AIA's blog, gives his views about what happened at the CPAC meeting concerning proposed renewals of the Bolivian and Greek MOUs.

Of course, CPO remembers it all a bit differently.

More importantly, CPO feels he has been misquoted concerning what he said about current import restrictions being improperly based on where a coin is "made" vs. "found." Elkins is flat out wrong. CPO certainly did not "admit[] this was only his interpretation of the CPIA as other attorneys, academics, and the federal courts have not agreed with Tompa’s understanding of the ‘found in’ vs. ‘made in’ argument."

Perhaps Elkins can be more specific about his contention. Certainly both Urice and Adler have agreed with CPO in their Rutgers Law Review Article. Moreover, then State Department Deputy Legal Adviser Mark Feldman also seemed to agree that the focus must be where an object is found in his statements made at the time the CPIA was being discussed.

Finally, Elkins--who is no lawyer-- appears to have a fundamental misunderstanding of what a U.S. District Court and the Fourth Circuit have actually said about the matter.  Both have agreed that import restrictions only apply to objects of archaeological interest "first discovered within" and "subject to export control" of a specific UNESCO State Party.  Yet, they have refused to conduct a judicial review of the designated lists because they consider the issue to be a "political question" that makes the issue "non-justiciable."  So, no Court has actually looked at the issue on the merits.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Germany's Controversial Cultural Heritage Law Passes Lower House

Germany's controversial cultural heritage law has passed  the lower house of the German Parliament, apparently with opposition parties abstaining from voting on the measure.

The German Government hopes the upper house will take up the measure before recess on July 8th.

While additional regulation was probably inevitable, the assumption that an artifact is "stolen" because a dealer or collector cannot produce an export permit from a postulated "country of origin" where an artifact was made hundreds, if not thousands, of years ago brings back bad memories of Germany's totalitarian past.

So, small wonder the law lacks popular support.  Rather, the restrictions against collecting appear to be a special interest measure being pushed by the the German Federal Foreign Office (which--like our own State Department-- views repatriation as a "soft power" opportunity, domestic interests be damned), the German Archaeological Institute (a Federal Foreign Office entity, whose members depend on excavation permits from source countries to excavate),  and a small group of  countries with cultural nationalist pretensions (mostly undemocratic or even dictatorial regimes that view anything "old" as state property).

Germany's coalition government is already deeply unpopular due to its mishandling of the economy, immigration, and the Greek bail-out. 

Hopefully, Brexit (which was voted on the same day) and what it says about the people's distrust of  government "experts" has scared the politicians enough that at even this late date, Germany's upper house will consider the due process rights of Germans before requiring such non-existent documentation. 

After all, Germany's ancient coin and antiquities trade is not only good for Germany's economy, but it helps encourage people to people contacts and appreciation of other cultures. 

Image:  Monika Grutters, Germany's Cultural Minister, pitching her "soft power" initiative

Monday, June 20, 2016

Marine Antiquities Scheme to Launch

The British Museum has announced that a "Marine Antiquities Scheme" to encourage divers and others to report their finds will be launched this July.  The Marine Antiquities Scheme hopes to match the success of the  Portable Antiquities scheme that covers finds on land.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Papers Not in Order

The Israeli Antiquities Authority raided a store selling ancient artifacts and coins and has charged the owner with violating Israel's new registration laws.  It is unclear from the story whether there is any actual evidence the store was selling recently looted material.

CPO is concerned that hard to comply with registration schemes will lead to more seizures of artifacts without proof they were actually looted.

Moreover, if dealers are to register there wares so should archaeologists.  Requiring archaeologists to maintain registries will help protect against pilfering of archaeological stores and provide at least some information short of publication on what is being found.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Antiquities Coalition Funded Study Belatedly Debunks Wild Antiquities Coalition Numbers

Fiona Rose Greenland, who is funded by the Antiquities Coalition and University of Chicago, has debunked wild claims about the value of antiquities stolen by ISIS.  Ironically, in so doing, Ms. Greenwald calls into question some of the more dubious claims made by the Antiquities Coalition, one of her study's sponsors.

Of course, this new information comes too late to impact the debate on HR 1493, which has already passed Congress.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cultural Property Advisory Committee, May 24, 2016 Open Session to Discuss Renewals of Bolivian and Greek MOUs

On May 24, 2016, The US State Department Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) met in open session to discuss renewal of the Bolivian and Greek MOUs.  The following CPAC members were present:  (1) Prof. Patty Gerstenblith, Chair (PG) (Public Member); (2) Rosemary Joyce (RJ)(Archaeology);  (3) Jane Levine (JL) (Trade); (4) Marta de la Torre  (MT)(Public); (5) Nancy Wilkie (NW) (Archaeology); 6) James Willis (JW) (Trade); (7) Barbara Kaul  (Public) (arrived late); (8) Lothar von Falenhausen (LVF) (Archaeology); and (9) Thomas Murray (Trade).  Katherine Reid (Museum) and Nina Archabal (Museum) were absent.

The following individuals spoke on the Bolivian MOU in this order: (1) Donna Yates (DH) (University of Glasgow); and (2) Sonia Alconini, Society of American Archaeology.  Both speakers supported the MOU with Bolivia.

The following individuals spoke on the Greek MOU in this order:  (1) Sue McGovern-Huffman (SM) (Association of Dealers and Collectors of Ancient and Ethnographic Art); (2) Peter Tompa (PT) (International Association of Professional Numismatists/Professional Numismatists Guild); (3) Carmen Arnold-Biucchi (CAB) (Harvard University); (4) Nathan Elkins (NE) (Baylor University); (5) Peter Schertz  (PS) (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts); (6) William Parkinson (WP) (Field Museum/University of Chicago); (7) Bryan Burns (BB) (Wellesley); (8) John Papadopoulos (JP) (University of California, Los Angeles); (9) Kim Shelton (KS) (University of California, Berkeley); and (10) Barbara Tsinakis (BT) (Vanderbilt). 
The first two speakers supported the MOU with changes or opposed import restrictions on coins.  The second two speakers supported the MOU and restrictions on coins.  The next speaker supported the MOU with modest changes on museum loans.  The rest of the speakers supported renewal of the MOU without qualification.  

Bolivian MOU   

Donna Yates (DY) - Focuses comments on ecclesiastical artifacts that are trafficked into the US.  Since the last MOU there have been church robberies.   310 items were stolen in two separate thefts.  Registries are better for ecclesiastical artifacts because Churches maintain inventories.  It’s hard to tell Peruvian from Bolivian ecclesiastical artifacts apart, but both are subject to MOUs.  There were 24,000 ecclesiastical artifacts recorded before the last MOU.  DY is unsure if additional work has been done since.

Sonia Alconini (SA) - SA teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio.  She previously taught in Bolivia.  MOUs are important instruments to stop trafficking in Bolivian artifacts.  Bolivian artifacts still appear on eBay.  Some may be fake. 

MT asked if there are warnings at the airport about exporting Bolivian archaeological and ethnological goods.  SA states, “no.”

TM asks about Bolivian textiles.  SA says that some stores still sell them from “hidden rooms,” but that there was a crack-down on such activity in 2013.  

NW asks about local collections.  Both DY and SA indicate they exist, but the objects are supposed to be registered. 

There is also a market for Bolivian artifacts in Brazil.

SA is asked about working in Bolivia.  She indicates there are 5 levels of permits that must be procured, but she maintains this added bureaucracy is “worth it” because it demonstrates a buy-in to the archaeological work at both a national and local level.

JL asks if any Bolivian material is legal under Bolivian law.   DY indicates archaeological artifacts purchased before 1906 and ecclesiastical artifacts purchased before 1923 would be legal under Bolivian law.  Apparently, artifacts can only leave legally with a “presidential decree” and this sometimes happens. 

Greek MOU

Sue McGovern (SM) – SM represents the Association of Dealers and Collectors of Ancient and Ethnographic Art (ADCAEA).   ADCAEA stands for a responsible and legal trade.  The MOU has not worked.  No seizures have been reported under it.  ADCAEA recommends that the MOU not be extended in its current form.  ADCAEA believes that US Customs should allow legal import of artifacts on the designated list that are legally exported from Greece’s sister EU countries. 

MT questions a statement in SM’s written presentation that artifacts without a provenance have no commercial value.  SM states all the objects she sells have a provenance and she could not sell them without one.  SM also states as an appraiser she would give “0” value to an artifact without a provenance.  SM states that eBay is full of material without a provenance. SM defines good provenance as an artifact that is documented to have come from a recognized collection.  1970 is an ideal date, but not always possible, particularly for minor items like oil lamps. 

SM gives an example of artifacts with exceptional provenance.  She recently sold artifacts that had been previously lent to and exhibited at the Smithsonian. 

JW notes that the 1970 date is a construct and there is no real difference regarding the loss of context from an artifact illicitly excavated in 1969 and one illicitly excavated in 1971.

SM notes while provenance is important we “should not throw out the baby with the bathwater” when it comes to orphan artifacts. 

SM notes that Greece should sell documented artifacts and use the money to support archaeology.  She also notes back in the 1960’s no one could care less about provenance. 

Peter Tompa (PT) – PT represents the International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild.  He states that current restrictions based on where a coin is made rather than found are contrary to the plain meaning of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.  Such restrictions have already damaged coin collecting and the people to people contacts collecting brings.  He criticizes the paper of Nathan Elkins, an academic supporting restrictions, as advocating positions either contrary to the CPIA's plain meaning, contradictory to Elkins' prior statements, or misleading on details about past coin seizures.  PT also advocates that archaeological objects on the open market within Greece’s sister EU countries should be allowed entry into the US with either a valid EU export permit or no permit if this is allowed under local law.  He indicates instead of focusing on more restrictions, Greece can take simple steps like requiring that archaeologists pay a fair wage to locals and ensure there is site security in the long off season. 

JW indicates that the coin issue “is a difficult one” and wonders if all the emphasis on context is to the exclusion of other important issues.  PT notes that the CPIA suggests “context” is not the most important issue because the CPIA only allows restrictions on objects of archaeological interest if they are also of “cultural significance.”

MT questions PT’s views about EU regulations, but PT directs MT to attorney Michael McCullough’s expert report on the issue.  He promises to provide CPAC with that report.  PT also promises to provide Sotheby’s paper on “cultural significance” under the CPIA. 

JW asks about due diligence. PT indicates that US dealers are forming a “Council for Numismatic Integrity” to make their due diligence practices more transparent.

LVF objects to PT’s suggestions in his paper about privatizing archaeological sites, but PT notes that this assumes local groups will take them over with oversight from the Greek cultural ministry. 

NW asks about the provenances of coins. PT says very few have recorded provenances and that there is no law either here or within EU market countries that requires it for what is for sale. 

PG asks about the academic paper attached to IAPN/PNG’s submission that indicates that 18% of Greek coins are found outside of Greece.  PT notes that is a number for all issues.  For some issues, like Athenian Tetradrachms and Decadrachms, there are more found outside of Greece than within Greece. 

There is some discussion about what is an archaeological site.  PT indicates that it is a site with other material remains nearby, but recognizes that some archaeologists define the term as anywhere something ancient is found. 

PT's oral comments may be found here.  IAPN/PNG's written comment can be found here.

Carmen Arnold-Biucchi (CAB) – Indicates support for the MOU and restrictions on all coins found in Greece.  CAB emphasizes, however, that the coins must be found in Greece and not found elsewhere.  She agrees with PT that issues of Athens predominate outside of Greece.  CAB supports the sale of duplicate coins from state collections and the institution of programs like the UK’s Treasure Act and PAS.  Harvard only purchase coins with a 1970 provenance. 

TM asks if it is unrealistic to assume most collectors can find coins with a 1970 provenance.  CAB admits most coins lack any provenance.  However, she says collectors should be educated about its importance.

NW asks about Byzantine coins.  CAB indicates those found in Greece should also be restricted. 

JW expresses concern that “context” has been allowed to trump all other values.

CAB indicates that she supports laws that encourage coin hoards to be reported.

CAB criticizes the fact that so many excavation coins are not published, but notes that American archaeologists are far better than their foreign counterparts.

Nathan Elkins (NE) - Coins are looted by the thousands.  Even common coins can be significant to dating.  One coin worth 50 cents on the open market helped date a synagogue in Israel.  NE has written an article critical of the ACCG and its test case.  In it, he explains that the current designated lists are quite conservative because they only take in coins primarily found in a given country.  Elkins now thinks more should be covered—all those commonly found in a given country. 

NW wants to know about coins found in Bolivia.  Elkins indicates he is no expert.

Elkins thinks the broad Bulgarian MOU should be a guide and looks forward to a day where overlapping MOUs will protect all coins. 

Peter Schertz (PS) – PS speaks on behalf of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) and AAMD.  Loans are an issue.  Pre-packaged loans like the one going to National Geographic are fine, but they don’t meet the current MOUs requirements for loans to institutions.   The AAMD is looking for clarity on loans. 

William Parkinson (WP) – WP speaks on behalf of the Field Museum, the University of Chicago, the Society for American Archaeology and the Archaeological Institute of America.  WP lauds Greece’s efforts and collaboration.   WP works at the excavation of an early cave site.   WP says a new exhibit from Greece called “the Greeks” to be seen at National Geographic opens up 5000 years of Greek history.  It is a stunning achievement and to call it “pre-packaged” is wrong. 

In response to a question, WP admits it’s easier to collaborate with people you know and its possible AAMD museums have problems because their curators do not have such personal relationships. 
Bryan Burns (BB) – BB teaches at Wellesley College.  BB supports the MOU.   He thinks more can be done to help Greece digitize collections and ensure site security.   In response to a question from TM, BB says Cycladic art is problematical because the area where this art is found has been heavily looted.     

John Papadopoulos (JP) - JP teaches at UCLA.  Looting is a fact of life in Greece.   There has been an increase in first time offenses.  Artifacts stolen from the Corinth museum ended up in Miami.  Shelby White and the Getty have repatriated artifacts stolen from Greece. 

PG asks about private museums in Greece.  JP indicates there are several, but each has a public function.  TM notes that the Cycladic museum in Greece is a private institution.  JP thinks there should be better on-line inventories.  JP also advocates public awareness campaigns to tackle looting.

Kim Shelton (KS) – KS teaches at University of California, Berkeley.   She works at Nemea and has made efforts of outreach to the local people.  They have repaid her by reporting suspicious activity on site. 

Barbara Tsinakis (BT) – BT teaches at Vanderbilt.  She is speaking on behalf of the AIA.  BT works on excavating homes.  She thinks common artifacts found at the sites of homes have cultural significance because the artifacts have much to tell about how people lived.   Coins are obvious common objects, but others include transport amphora, loom weights and cooking pots.  BT would support making loans more long term, but recognizes the difficulty of transporting fragile artifacts.  

Monday, May 30, 2016

Hitting a Nerve

In the extremes of the archaeological blogosphere, the suggestion that rich American Universities that  sponsor archaeological digs in source countries like Greece should pay their local workers a fair living wage has provoked some controversy.  Yet, with authorities such as Donna Yates admitting that underpaid diggers loot in the long off season, doesn't it make sense that well paid workers will be less likely to use their knowledge of their sites to steal?   And it's also true that after some pressure American Universities have already been paying their service workers at home better?   So, why isn't this instead a common sense solution to an obvious problem that American Universities should adopt and publicize as something they are doing to give back to the localities where they sponsor digs?

Update (5/31/16)-- One of CPO's readers indicates that the issues of site security and fair wages for local archaeological workers were discussed at a recent conference sponsored by the University of Chicago.  Glad to hear there are others out there who support responsible archaeology!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

IAPN and PNG Statement on Greek MOU

I hope to summarize today's proceeding when I can, but in the interim, here is what I said more or less at today's CPAC meeting:

             IAPN and PNG join 88% of the public comments posted on the website that express concerns about the MOU’s restrictions on ancient coins. The cumulative effect of these restrictions has already damaged private and institutional collecting, the preservation of coins, the study of the history they represent, the appreciation of other cultures, and the people to people contacts collecting brings.  And, of course, it has hurt the ability of Greek Americans to get in touch with their own culture.
Greece—which is still trying to dig out of a terrible sovereign debt crisis that has been exacerbated by an influx of Syrian refugees—needs our help, but import restrictions on coins are not the way to go.  As applied by US Customs to coin types made in Greece rather than exclusively found in Greece, they do nothing but hurt legitimate collectors who want to obey the law.  In this regard, I would like to commend Carmen Arnold-Biucchi for recognizing the wrong-headedness of an approach that focuses on where a coin is made rather than found.  However, her proposal that all coins found in Greece be designated will just sow more confusion and further damage legitimate coin collecting UNLESS Customs is directed only to detain and seize coins WHERE there is specific proof that they were illicitly exported from that country.  And, really, who is going to do that?
Restricting all Greek coins merely because some coins of the same type have been found in Greece would make a mockery of the plain meaning of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.  It requires that objects of “archaeological interest” must be first discovered within Greece and subject to Greek export control before they can be restricted.
          Let me also comment on some of the statements made by Dr. Nathan Elkins.   Elkins now suggests the designated list should include all coins “commonly found” in Greece.  However, Elkins previously advanced a different standard in his Journal of Field Archaeology article that attacks the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild and its test case.  There, Elkins claims that the current designated list is proper because it is limited to coins that “primarily circulated there.  Such shifting positions totally ignore the statutory mandate and for that matter the past Greek Ambassador’s promise made on the record at the last MOU hearing that Greece only seeks restrictions on artifacts that are exclusively found there. 
Elkins (and Prof. Jane Evans) also point to an increase in applications for metal detectors as a reason for restrictions, but isn’t that instead a reason for Greece to be either more careful in issuing such permits or adopting something akin to the PAS in the UK? 
Next, Elkins suggests that a seizure of valuable Greek coins from Peter Weiss, a former ANS Trustee back in 2012 justifies restrictions.  However, he fails to mention that a number of the coins had old provenances from the early 20th and late 19th century. If anything, the seizure and repatriation of coins with such old provenances should raise serious questions about overreach by NY State authorities. 
Finally, Elkins points to a change in the ANS acquisition guidelines, but fails to note the ANS’ “cultural property” statement continues to recognize, “because most coins in private collections have been traded and held without any provenance, it is unreasonable to assume that a coin is stolen, illegally exported, or illegally imported merely because the holder cannot establish a chain of custody beyond receipt from a reputable source.”
          Rather than overbroad restrictions that adversely impact Americans interested in Greek culture, let’s consider modest steps archaeologists can take—like ensuring their sites are monitored in the long off-season and ensuring local people they employ are paid a fair living wage so they don’t have an incentive to loot to help make ends meet—instead. 
Simple steps like these could do far more to help protect Greece’s cultural patrimony than prohibitions on imports that only hurt legitimate collecting and people to people contacts and appreciation of Greek culture it engenders. Thank you.     

Friday, May 20, 2016

Italy Squanders 150 Million Euros in Grant Money

More evidence, if any were needed, that MOU's won't cure  what really ails places like Italy.

Friday, May 13, 2016

HR 1493: The View from Beirut; Propaganda vs. the Reality on the Ground

Franklin Lamb, a sympathizer of the Assad regime, states in an article he published in April that US Congressional sources told him that Palmyra's recapture by Syrian Government forces helped move HR 1493 forward.  Yet, while Palmyra is a rallying cry for Assad's propaganda machine, Syrian government forces shelled it when it was initially in rebel hands, looted it when it was previously in government hands, and with its recapture, have given over part of the site so that it can be turned into a Russian military camp.  This again begs the question whether repatriation contemplated under HR 1493 to Syria and its government is a good thing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

88% of Public Comments Either Oppose Renewal of Greek MOU or Restrictions on Coins

The overall numbers may be down from five years ago, but, if anything, the percentage of public comments against the MOU with Greece or its inclusion of coins has gone up.  Some 88% of the 207 public comments recorded on the website express qualms about the MOU.  And of the 25 comments in favor, those of AAMD member museums may support the MOU, but only with substantial changes.  In contrast, those who expressed unqualified support appear largely to be archaeologists who excavate in Greece at the sufferance of the Greek government.

More evidence, if any were needed, that MOUs are special interest programs for small numbers of politically connected archaeologists and their trade associations.

HR 1493 Becomes Law

Congressman Engel, HR 1493's sponsor, has issued a press release to mark the passage of the bill into law.  CPO finds it a bit ironic that the press release indicates that Prof. Patty Gerstenblith actively lobbied for the bill that allowed the State Department to bypass the Cultural Property Advisory Committee she chairs before imposing import restrictions.  The numismatic trade and collector's groups supported CPAC review under the CPIA's well established procedures, and it unclear why Prof. Gerstenblith sought to cut out her own Committee from the process.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Worth the Wait?

The House has approved the Senate's trimmed down version of HR 1493.  Now, the legislation will go to President Obama for signature.

Both bills included Syrian import restrictions, but the Senate did away with a controversial new State Department "Cultural Property Czar" in favor of recommending a coordinating committee.  In addition, the Senate bill strengthened the House "safe harbor" provision for certain Syrian antiquities brought into the country for protection by Museums.

As much of the delay in passing the legislation appears related to the proponent's desire to use the Syrian crisis as a justification for the creation of a new State Department enforcement bureaucracy, CPO wonders whether all this again begs the question whether it's really about "cultural heritage preservation" or "bureaucratic fiefdom building" and "control."

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Blame Game

Archaeologist Donna Yates has again blamed Western collectors for looting in third world countries.  Yet, in so doing, Yates lets on that workers employed on digs she has worked on have admitted to her that they engage in looting in the long off season.  If archaeologists paid local diggers a fair living wage they would see no need to loot to help make ends meet.  So, perhaps the blame should be on rich American Universities and archaeologists themselves rather than on Western collectors, who after all, collect not for money or fame, but for genuine interest in past societies.