Friday, October 31, 2014

Speaking with Authority on Syria

Michel al-Maqdissi, former director of  Syria's Archaeological Excavations Department, has spoken with authority about severe threats to Syria's cultural heritage.

Al-Maqdissi places most blame on the Syrian government and military which has "destroyed a lot with its incessant bombing."  And even if Assad ultimately prevails, Syria's cultural heritage will remain at risk from a government more interested in grandiose building projects (that will no doubt enrich the dictator's cronies) than in caring for its cultural heritage.  As an example, al-Maqdissi mentions longstanding plans for a hotel and tourist center to be built right over the ruins of an important Phoenician site.

In response to a question, Al-Maqdissi states that looting is a serious problem, particularly at Apamea. However, al-Maqdissi rightly notes that rebels and the "real terrorists" of ISIS are far more likely to make quick cash from easy to sell commodities, like "hot oil."  Simply, antiquities are not very "liquid"-- it's hard to sell them fast and for top dollar. And then there is the real question whether the iconoclasts of ISIS would rather smash than sell what they find anyway.

Revealingly, al-Maqdissi has little good to say about UNESCO and its tired group of experts who use the same cookie-cutter approach to every "cultural heritage crisis."

Instead, what's needed is outside funding for site guards (which would be difficult given international sanctions) and more realistically, effective policing of Turkey's border, something CPO suggested awhile ago.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Warsaw-- A New Numismatic Capital for the World

While a certain blogger might not approve of all the unprovenanced material for sale, CPO is gratified to learn that a Polish firm is conducting an auction of better quality ancient coins which is accessible through the German "Sixbid" auction platform

Warsaw and Krackow were traditionally centers of the cosmopolitan spirit that fosters ancient coin collecting.  Then, the Nazis and Communists came, "liquidating" intellectuals and replacing that cosmopolitanism with first a racist and then a statist ideology.   And in Communist Poland, collectors were considered "speculators" or far worse.

Happily, all that is now getting to be ancient history.

So, let's all celebrate the fact that Warsaw now joins Beijing, London, Munich, New York, Rome and Zurich as a place where ancient coins are bought and sold openly and in abundance, fostering a renewal of cosmopolitanism for which Poland was rightly known.  

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Making of an Urban Legend

One of the main justifications for the purported need for "emergency import restrictions" on Syrian artifacts is that ISIS has netted $36 million from the sale of artifacts from just one area in Syria alone.  This $36 million figure has been repeated so often that it is now taken as fact.

But is it accurate?  First, let's consider the source-- an unnamed Iraqi intelligence official.  Right there, alarm bells should go off given the Iraqi Sectarian Government's questionable  reputation and desperate need for international support.

Next, let's consider the actual report.  Let's assume the source is credible.  Even if so, it's not clear at all whether the $36 million figure relates to looted antiquities or the value of everything ISIS has taken from that one specific area. 

The archaeological community purports to take a "scientific approach" to all issues.  So its disheartening that even those who previously questioned the report as "contradictory" have now latched onto it because they think it will help give their demands to suppress all trade in undocumented artifacts some additional traction. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Cultural Heritage Protection- Egyptian Military Dictatorship Style

The pyramids may be falling down, but it would seem the Egyptian military dictatorship is on the ball when it comes to confiscating anything old.  Indeed, according to the article,

Eldamaty asserted that all these objects are under the protection of Egypt’s antiquities law 11 and explained that negotiations are underway with embassies of Spain, Canada and Yemen among others to return the coins to the countries where they belong. 


Ahmed El-Rawi, head of the Recuperation Antiquities Section explained on Wednesday that the stamps are dated from 1898 to 1972 and that they are the ministry’s property according to the UNESCO convention for safeguarding antiquities and presidential decree number 114 which prohibits exchange of cultural heritage items between countries.

CPAC take note.  More proof, if any was needed, that as far as a MOU with Egypt is concerned, its not at all about conservation but control.

Hopefully, at least Canada's diplomats will be puzzled by the effort to repatriate the old Canadian coin in the trove.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Feds Pay SLAM $425,000 in Legal Fees for Defense of Forfeiture Action

The US Government has paid the Saint Louis Art Museum's lawyers $425,000 in legal fees after the government lost its effort to seek the forfeiture of the Ka Nefer Nefer Mummy Mask.

Hopefully, the DOJ will now think twice before pressing another dubious, stale claim on behalf of a military dictatorship.   And let's also hope that this award stiffens the resolve of museum directors everywhere to fight questionable, stale claims to important pieces in their collections.

Archaeo-blogger Confirms that It's Not About Conservation, It's About Control

Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford, who purports to speak for the archaeological community on portable antiquities issues, has responded to noted cultural property lawyer Bill Pearlstein's views about Cuno's latest article condemning repatriation.

However, in attempting in his own way to "be clever," Barford has only unwittingly confirmed what CPO has "observed" for quite some time:  All the talk at CPAC meetings about supposedly "preserving context" by honoring the UNESCO Convention in applying the broadest restrictions possible really is far more about ensuring "control" than "conservation."

Thank you, Paul Barford.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cuno's Case Against Repatriation

James Cuno has made a well-reasoned case against repatriation.  What a welcome contrast to the blatant propaganda that has become associated with the archaeological lobby.

If Cuno fails at all, it's in his ignoring the interests of collectors, who have traditionally supported healthy museums.

And then there is his failure to reach as a conclusion the all too obvious end result of the cultural nationalism he decries:  if anything, the reality on the ground in Egypt, Syria and Iraq proves that sites are looted and museums are destroyed precisely because angry, disenfranchised locals associate state owned antiquities with hated dictatorial regimes who have appropriated the past to serve their own purposes.