Tuesday, December 1, 2015

UNESCO Eggs Panama On to Break Deal with Treasure Hunter

UNESCO has evidently egged on Panama to renege on an agreement with an American treasure salvor to share the proceeds of a Spanish wreck in Panamanian territorial waters.  Recovering treasure from  wrecks is an expensive and time consuming process that will only happen if nation states are willing to share the proceeds.  There is a middle ground where wrecks are surveyed by archaeologists employed by treasure hunters and a representative sample of what is found is put on display on a museum.  To leave wrecks in situ is to allow valuable knowledge and objects to be lost to the vagaries of the sea.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Dubious Numbers Still Being Cited

It has come to CPO's attention that elements within the archaeological lobby are still claiming that ISIS has made "$100s of millions" or "tens of millions" from looting.   However, the former number traces back to Iraq's UN Ambassador. It is unclear what, if any basis, he had for the number.  And the "tens of millions" claim is yet another version of discredited tale that ISIS has stolen $36 million from one area within Syria alone.

At this late date, it can only be stated with some degree of certainty that ISIS has made at most "several million dollars" from antiquities sales.  Given ISIS' take of approximately $1 billion dollars, antiquities must be just one of many minor ISIS funding sources.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

France to Offer Safe Harbor to Syrian Antiquities

France has proposed an aggressive program to gather up Syrian antiquities and offer them "safe harbor" in France.   The AAMD previously offered a far more modest "safe harbor" proposal that elicited opposition in the archaeological lobby.  Hopefully, these ideological objections to "safe harbor" will be dropped and these groups will put protecting Syrian archaeological objects from destruction at the hands of fanatics first.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Terrorist Financing

A House Foreign Relations subcommittee held a hearing on terrorist financing.  ISIS gets most of its $1 bn from confiscations, taxes and "hot oil," but the terror group  also gains funding from ransoms, donations and sales of looted antiquities.  ASOR/State Department Point Man Michael Danti rightly declined to to put a number  on the value of these looted antiquities, and noted that far more needs to be done by Lebanon, Turkey, Greece, Cyprus and Bulgaria, which are the main transit points to the EU.   Frankly, the last four have a special obligation to act given their own self-righteous stance when it comes to their own cultural patrimony.  But will the archaeological lobby hold their feet to the fire?

Monday, November 9, 2015

Tons of Cash

Ten tons or some 2 million "cash coins" were recently excavated in China.   For import restrictions under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act to apply, the item of "archaeological interest" must also be of  "cultural significance." With numbers like that, one wonders why there are any import restrictions on Chinese cash coins at all.  China allows its own citizens to collect such cash coins freely.  So why can't Americans freely import them from abroad as well?

Thursday, November 5, 2015


While Egyptian officials blame  locals for the abysmal state of  important archaeological sites  in the country, cultural heritage lobbyists with ties to the Egyptian government are once again scapegoating collectors for the rise of ISIS.  Perhaps the real problem, however, is that Arab dictators have appropriated early civilizations for their own nationalistic purposes, making antiquities a target for disaffected individuals and groups.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Muted Response to Russian Bombing Attack Near Palmyra's Ancient Citadel

The archaeological blogosphere has had a muted response to a Russian attack on ISIS positions near the ancient citadel of Palmyra.  Last month, Assad's director of antiquities reacted favorably to other such reports.  CPO wonders if the response would be as muted if US warplanes conducted similar attacks on archaeologically significant areas.