Saturday, June 28, 2008
As indicated in a prior post, similar materials have also been saved by others and then donated to synagogues both here and abroad: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/05/emergency-restrictions-on-iraqi.html with the following link: http://www.thejewishbugle.com/community-news/a-400-year-old-sifrrei-torahs-journey-from-iraq-to-am-2.html
Will the archaeological community demand the repatriation of these artifacts to Iraq even though the Jewish congregations that created and used these artifacts for liturgical purposes no longer exist? Stay tuned.
Friday, June 27, 2008
Let's face it. Most "looters" are locals who may view foreign archaeologists and the governments that sponsor them with suspicion, if not outright hostility. It stands to reason then that the more archaeologists and host governments take into account the interests of local communities, the less likely the local populace will loot or otherwise damage archaeological sites.
Thursday, June 26, 2008
The major dispute relates to the date. Should the museums disgorge artifacts that can't be traced back to 1970 as David Gill maintains or is a 1983 date more "reasonable" as "Culture Grrl" suggests? See: http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com/2008/06/towards-ceasefire-in-antiquities-wars.html and http://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/2008/06/towards_a_ceasefire_in_the_ant.html
Before jumping on the band waggon, I hope others will consider the difference between voluntary guidelines for current acquisitions and the repatriation of artifacts already in AAMD member collections. Repatriation decisions should never be taken lightly, particularly when lack of provenance information does not necessarily mean lack of good faith.
Significantly, both the 1970 and 1983 dates Gill and "Culture Grrl" propose are mere constructs. The UNESCO Convention may have been promulgated in 1970, but the US only adopted it with reservations. Those reservations-- embodied in the 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA)-- were meant to ensure that the US retained its "independent judgment" in such matters.
Put another way, the UNESCO Convention is not self-executing. Rather, for it to be given the force of US law, another signatory must make a formal request to the State Department for import restrictions on cultural artifacts. The Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) is then responsible for reviewing that request. It makes recommendations to the State Department decision maker (currently Goli Ameri) about whether and to what extent import restrictions should be imposed.
A number of source countries known for their aggressive repatriation efforts-- including Egypt, Greece and Turkey-- have never made such requests for import restrictions under the CPIA. To date, there are only import restrictions imposed on artifacts from 12 UNESCO Convention signatories. (Iraq is a special case. A Congressional statute provided the State Department with special authority to impose "emergency import restrictions" without CPAC review.) Most of the beneficiaries are poor nations which arguably do not have the resources to protect artifacts from looters. The exceptions are Cyprus and Italy, two wealthy EU members. A request from China made in 2005 remains pending.
These restrictions have been put in place at different times. For example, restrictions on ancient artifacts from Italy (excluding coins) were first imposed in 2001. Restrictions on Cypriot ethnological artifacts were imposed in 1999. Those on archaeological artifacts were first imposed in 2002. In 2007, these were controversially amended to include coins. For more, see: http://exchanges.state.gov/culprop/chart.html Under the circumstances, if an "operative date" is to be chosen, shouldn't it be the date import restrictions were imposed on artifacts from a specific country and not a more general 1970 or 1983 date based on a Convention that is not even self- executing?
In any event, the effect of restrictions is not to require the return of artifacts already on display. Rather, it is to preclude on a going-forward basis imports of undocumented artifacts "first found in the ground" in countries for which import restrictions have been imposed. Accordingly, those advocating that AAMD members should disgorge artifacts based on an artificial 1970 or 1983 date are basing their claims on little more than an artificial construct. But in making judgements on whether to denude our museums of artifacts long on display, AAMD members have a much higher obligation. They should continue to hold, study and display such objects for the benefit of the American public unless and until a claimant demonstrates some legal obligation that supports repatriation.
Tuesday, June 24, 2008
It does raise an obvious question at least for me. Wouldn't it be better for countries like Greece and Cambodia to focus efforts on protecting culturally significant monuments like Angkor Wat and the Acropolis rather than seeking control over virtually anything and everything "old" first found in the ground?
Monday, June 23, 2008
There has been other embarrassing news about Greek cultural officials recently, including corruption charges and a suicide attempt by a former minister.
What gives? A cynic might suspect that the Greek government's "chest thumping" on repatriatons may at least in part be an attempt to create a diversion from real problems at home.
http://www.aftenposten.no/english/local/article2491231.ece Until information is developed that shows otherwise, I think it is wrong for them to assume the worst and attack this soldier in such a fashion.
The information posted to date does not indicate how the soldier came by the artifacts, but from other stories I have heard, I suspect he likely bought them quite openly from poor farmers who found them. Indeed, before first the Communists and then the Taliban took over Afghanistan, small artifacts like coins were sold quite openly in markets in Kabul. It would not shock me if they still are.
In my opinion, those who do not want to give this soldier the "benefit of the doubt" are themselves guilty of applying their own knowledge and prejudices as archaeologists to others who are not likely to be as "sophisticated" as themselves in such matters. Certainly, the soldier's efforts to donate the items to a museum do not suggest he knew what he was doing was "wrong" (if it indeed was wrong under Afghan law). In this regard, it is interesting that the Afghan museum official quoted in the article does not condemn the soldier, based on the information at hand. Yet, that is just what some members of the archaeological community are all too willing to do-- even without any hard information about the underlying facts.
There is a recurring story here. People buy things quite openly in source countries. They bring them back to the West and try to sell them or donate them to museums. If this becomes known somehow to archaeological fanatics, these unsuspecting individuals find themselves crucified on the archaeological blogs. The information then finds its way into the press. Then, it's only a matter of time before government officials get into the act to seek repatriatons or even prosecutions for the return of '"priceless" cultural property. This is what is "wrong" in my opinion.
The US has already committed billions of dollars to various economic development programs in Afghanistan. Rather than crucifying this Norwegian soldier who risked his life for the Afghans (and by extension us), doesn't it make more sense to support funding a pilot program in Afghanistan that will encourage the locals to report their finds to the authorities, allow the government to have a right of first refusal for such finds, and get the finders a fair price that will help allow them to feed their families? Such programs have proved extremely cost effective in Britain and Wales. I can only assume they would be even more so in an undeveloped country like Afghanistan, given the fact that artifacts like coins are probably sold for only little more than melt value (if that) there by impoverished Afghan farmers.
Thursday, June 19, 2008
The exhibit tells this relatively unknown story. Starting in the early 1400's the Chinese sent large trading fleets to far flung ports including Malacca, Sri Lanka, the Malabar Coast of India, the Arabian Peninsula, and Malindi in East Africa, East to Sri Lanka and Indonesia and South and West to Africa and the Persian Gulf. In doing so, the Chinese Emperor sought to learn more about the "barbarian peoples" as well as trade with them, and perhaps enlist them as vassals. Certainly, history would have been far different had China continued these explorations, rather than to end them precipitously and instead turn inward.
As a "guy," I must admit I loved the well done models of all the types of ships that were part of the fleets. These ranged from small oar and sail powered vessels to the large "treasure ships' that had multiple sails and watertight compartments. There is some dispute about the size of the largest "treasure ships", but they certainly dwarfed the size and bested the technology of anything the West or the Arab world had afloat at the time.
The exhibit also featured displays of navigational equipment, pictures of the various ports of call, and typical trading goods, including porcelain and coins. The coins, of course, especially piqued my interest. Such coins- with their distinctive center hole for stringing them together-- are found even today in great numbers in East Africa and in countries such as Indonesia.
But they travelled even further. The exhibit did not mention it, but believe it or not, similar coins are also commonly found in archaeological contexts in the American West. These coins, however, are not from these early voyages. Rather, they were brought along by Chinese migrants in the 19th c.
The show definitely also had some subtle political overtones. In particular, the show billed China of the day as "the world's only superpower" with the implication that "our time has come once again." Further in that regard, it is also interesting to note that China decided to to send an exhibit about sea power to Washington at the very same time Washington naval strategists have expressed alarm about China's plans to build a modern fleet of warships, complete with aircraft carriers. Could the exhibit then be viewed as a subtle warning to Washington about China's hopes to be able to confront the U.S. Pacific Fleet and its Japanese allies sometime in the not too future, perhaps in the Taiwan Strait?
But I digress. For purpose of a weblog on cultural property, it is sufficient to note that this exhibit rightly celebrates China's first effort to send trade goods around the known world.
Under the circumstances, isn't it odd that such trade goods-- including coins and porcelain-- also figure in the pending request for import restrictions on cultural artifacts from China?
Wednesday, June 18, 2008
I'm not sure I fully agree that all items without a pre-1970 provenance will become increasingly unsalable while ones with such a provenance will become increasingly valuable, at least across the board. What I do see is that this trend may very well impact the upper end of the market. It’s one thing to have doubts about something worth $250 and quite another to have doubts about something worth $2.5 million.
I suspect unprovenanced antiquities will still be collected, but a two-tier market may develop. Large auction houses like Sotheby's and Christie's will probably become less likely to deal in such materials, but they will continue to be sold openly in other outlets (unless it becomes illegal to do so).
I also suspect that ultimately this requirement may encourage further "repatriations by sale." It is no secret that the dollar's decline against other international currencies, coupled with increases in wealth in what have been traditionally viewed as "source countries," has already contributed to antiquities being repatriated to countries like Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Turkey and China. In addition, I'm certainly not aware that wealthy collectors or "private museums" in such countries are under similar constraints to only collect "provenanced material." Instead, at least in countries like Cyprus, Greece and Turkey, it is my understanding that once an artifact is repatriated, it must be registered with the state and then cannot typically be re-exported, at least legally.
I would be most interested in any outside comments on this topic.
Tuesday, June 17, 2008
Friday, June 13, 2008
While time is short, one can only hope that Glassman's background in journalism and Ameri's background in business will prompt each of them to ask some hard questions about how the staff of the Cultural Heritage Center process import restriction requests. As a start, I would suggest that Glassman and Ameri order the Cultural Heritage Center to release all the documents requested in the Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit filed by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, the International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild. Depending on what they show about the bias of staff against anyone not associated with the archaeological community, further action may very well be warranted.
For more about Glassman's and Ameri's background, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_K._Glassman
Thursday, June 12, 2008
While I am all for protecting endangered animals, it was pointed out to me that in doing so State is also suggesting that wildlife trafficking is bad because the animals in question "belong" to nation states as "natural and nature-based assets."
Does that mean that if a foreign country promotes the use of indigenous tiger parts for traditional medicine it's ok?
I also have to wonder if Harrison Ford and the State Department are also working on PSAs that will expose the evils of collecting "illicit cultural property" now that Ford has joined the AIA board. If so, I hope they will at least avoid implying that any artifact without a detailed ownership history should be "deemed stolen."
But why stop there? While they are at it, perhaps Ford and State will also do a PSA warning archaeologists about the evils of collaborating with rogue states like that of Saddam Hussein's Iraq. Recent history shows there is some need for that.
Wednesday, June 11, 2008
In it, Macedonians complain about Greeks coming in and buying "their looted cultural property," particularly from the period of Alexander the Great (the article confuses 4th c. AD with 4th c. BC). As such, this is a welcome change from the usual tired stories where Greeks complain about other foreigners coming in and buying "their looted cultural property."
I again quote the article in full as I am not sure how long the link will remain active:
Greeks Are Buying up Macedonia’s Archaeological Treasures
9 June 2008 Buyers from Greece are purchasing archaeological artefacts from Macedonia through illegal channels, Macedonian media reported today.“Treasure-seekers and gullible citizens,” according to the Utrinski vestnik newspaper, are selling antiques they have discovered at exceptionally low prices. In this way they are selling history, archaeologists from the town of Bitola say.Historical treasures, ceramics, coins, glass, metal and decorative objects found by citizens of Bitola in their yards or fields often end up at the antiques black market in Greece.Greek buyers are especially interested in objects from the fourth century AD, the time of Alexander the Great, who is also known as Alexander III of Macedon. Claims over his nationality play an important part in the dispute between Greece and Macedonia about the latter’s name, which have marked the tense relationship between the two countries for more than 50 years, reaching a high point in recent months.Experts, quoted by Utrinski Vestik, appeal to the Macedonian state to establish a fund for the trade of Macedonian antique artefacts in order to create a legal market and set adequate prices for them. This, they claim, would be the only way to counteract the trend which could harm Macedonia’s national identity.
In truth, I suspect the article might really be largely motivated by the testy diplomatic relations between the two neighbors briefly alluded to in the piece. The Nationalistic Greek Government can't even really accept the fact that Macedonia exists as a sovereign nation. Ever since it gained independence, Greece and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have traded barbs over most everything, including the new country's name and its flag. See: http://www.axisglobe.com/article.asp?article=704
In any event, it should also be noted that the article suggests that creation of licit markets will at least keep the locals from being cheated by Greeks in search of a bargain. Perhaps, Roger Bland can visit Macedonia sometime. It might be a good place to see if the UK's success with the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme could be replicated.
Saturday, June 7, 2008
The grant is being administered by the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), through the so-called "Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Heritage Preservation." For more, http://exchanges.state.gov/news/2007/081607.htm
But the Ambassador's Fund is not only used to fund organizations solely interested in working "in country" to address cultural preservation issues. Rather, the fund has also been used to provide money to organizations that also actively lobby ECA to impose import restrictions on cultural artifacts that have been opposed by American collectors, museums, auction houses, and the small businesses of the numismatic trade.
Prior posts have raised questions about the use of ECA funds to benefit the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI). See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/05/cash-and-caari-cyprus-american.html
Looking further into the Cambodian issue, I have also come across the fact that another archaeological pressure group, Heritage Watch, has also been the beneficiary of ECA's financial largess: http://www.heritagewatch.org/about.php
In March, a Heritage Watch representative appeared before ECA's Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) to argue for the renewal of the current MOU with Cambodia. The renewal in its current form was opposed by the AAMD and others on the grounds that Cambodia had failed to make the requisite showings under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) to justify the renewal. Goli Ameri, the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of ECA, is also the decision maker on the renewal, which remains pending.
So there you have it. ECA has provided grant money to Heritage Watch and CAARI. Heritage Watch and CAARI have appeared before the ECA's CPAC to argue for import restrictions. CAARI certainly has done more, including lobbying ECA behind the scenes on behalf of Cyprus with respect to the MOU. ECA, Heritage Watch and CAARI's funding source, is also responsible for deciding to impose import restrictions on cultural artifacts.
Does anyone else feel something is wrong with decision making on import restrictions being made where there are such incestuous relationships between ECA and archaeological pressure groups? Is it possible that at least some of this grant money is being used to at least indirectly support lobbying campaigns in favor of import restrictions? Doesn't all this, at a minimum, raise potential conflict of interest questions?
The mint's press release recounts the younger Adams' biography which included a stint as a diplomat and US Secretary of State. Curiously, the mint's press release fails to mention Adams was also a very serious ancient coin collector, who particularly loved ancient Roman coins.
I can only imagine that John Quincy Adams would be unhappy about the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' bias against ancient coin collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade and its continuing efforts to hide its decision making processes through its failure to voluntarily produce information subject to Freedom of Information Act requests.
Hopefully, with both major candidates for President promising greater transparency in government and a "fair shake" for the "little guy," this will change for the better.
Friday, June 6, 2008
The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme encourages the pubic to report their finds of archaeological objects so they can be recorded by archaeologists. Bland will discuss the approach to archaeology that England and Wales employ and what lessons that approach may offer to other countries.
The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild has provided financial support to help make this program possible.
The Lecture is free with admission to the Museum. For more information, telephone the museum at (312) 922-9410 or visit its Web site at:
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
The new guidelines abandon the previous "rolling 10 year" provenance period in favor of a 1970 date that has been relentlessly pushed by source countries and their allies within the archaeological community. The AAMD guidelines also leave some "wiggle room" where ownership history is incomplete, but only under circumstances that suggest that the item has a good provenance.
As an organization, the AAMD is obviously offering an "olive branch" to source countries and the archaeological community.
Will source countries now reciprocate with internal reforms such as the creation of licit markets and programs like the British Treasure Act that encourage finders to report their finds?
Will archaeologists now change their focus from denouncing museums to publishing their finds promptly?
I tend to doubt it. Rather, I fear this change will be viewed as a capitulation. If so, it will only encourage source countries to continue their failed policies and members of the archaeological community to focus much of their attention on the "ethics of collecting" rather than on the "ethics of archaeology."
Sunday, June 1, 2008
I am quoting this article in full because I am not sure how long this link will remain active:
'Let's sell redundant samples'
Saturday, May 31, 2008
Turgay Artam, owner of the Antik A.Ş., one of Turkey’s prominent art auctioneers, says it is possible to earn income by selling redundant samples of historic artifacts displayed in state museums rather than allowing them to decay in museum storehouses.
Thousands of historic artifacts cannot be exhibited and languish unseen due to space limitations in Turkey's museums.
The Istanbul Archaeology Museum has a total of 1 million works, a large number of which cannot be displayed. In two big museums located in the center of the Mediterranean province of Adana, only 3,000 artifacts of a total 26,500 ancient coins and 17,000 archaeological artifacts are on display for visitors.
Likewise, the Archaeology Museum in the western province of Uşak is home to 39,000 artifacts, including coins, seals and ethnographic works, but there is room to display only 10 percent of them in the museum. The situation in the Archaeology Museum of the Mediterranean resort town of Antalya is no different, where about 30,000 historic artifacts are kept in the museum's storehouse.
There are 185 museums in Turkey, all of which operate under the supervision of the Culture Ministry. But the ministry must distribute a small budget amongst a number of different museums that all require funding. Museums the ministry cannot afford to properly fund cannot, therefore, take the necessary care of the archaeological artifacts they are supposed to protect.
Bad preservation conditions
The failure of museums to properly protect archaeological artifacts arises from financial restrictions. While some parts of museum collections have been stolen due to loose security measures, many other precious artifacts are decaying in storehouses because of bad preservation conditions. Even newly unearthed archaeological artifacts cannot be protected well. In Turkey, where thousands of artifacts emanate from every corner of the land, the Culture Ministry, unfortunately, does not have the budget needed to purchase all unearthed archaeological artifacts and put them on display in museums. Additionally, many people who discover archaeological artifacts sell them illegally rather than submitting them to the Culture Ministry because it pays very little for many such finds.
The question: Is there any solution to this serious problem in Turkey? Turgay Artam, owner of the Antik A.Ş., Turkey's leading art auctioneer, has an idea. “State museums own hundreds of samples of a certain type of artifact. World museums sell from time to time redundant samples of artifacts and buy new unique ones instead, thereby enriching their collection,” he suggested.
“Some redundant artifacts in state museums can be sold to art collectors upon the condition of not moving them abroad. This would save from decay thousands of artifacts in museum storehouses and bring an income of $10 billion,” he added.
Artam argued that state museums should also sell archaeological artifacts to art collectors in Turkey. “This would prevent smuggling of historic artifacts.”
Need for private museums
For Artam, if state museums were to sell artifacts to art collectors, this would contribute to the formation of a private museum business in Turkey.
According to 2008 figures provided by the Treasury, Turkey's foreign public sector debt is about $7.4 billion. Thus, Turkey has a foreign debt of more than $7 billion, while there is a huge corpus of historic artifacts valued at around $10 billion that is simply decaying in museum storehouses.
‘10 times the number of exhibited artifacts in museum storehouses'
Dikran Masis, owner of Eskidji, another prominent auction house in Turkey, said 10 times the number of artifacts exhibited in museums are kept in museum storehouses in poor conditions.
“I do not see any problem with the sale of these artifacts to art collectors in the country,” said Masis, adding one condition – that the artifacts not be taken abroad.
“Museum storehouses are in a bad condition in Turkey. They have difficulties preserving the historic artifacts,” he argued.
For Masis, the Turkish economy can benefit from the sale of those artifacts to art collectors. He cites the Japanese case. The Nezu Museum in Japan sold some redundant samples of its clock collection composed of pieces dating from the Chinese Empire, and used the income it earned from that to enrich its porcelain collection. If a museum has a redundant selection of pieces of the same type of historic artifacts, it can sell the unnecessary ones and preserve unique samples, said Masis.
“If museums in Turkey apply that method, the Turkish economy will gain a considerable amount of income,” he added.
“Chinese porcelain at Topkapı Palace are very famous, and as far as I know, many of them are kept in the palace's storehouse. With the income earned from the sale of these items, Turkey could have another Topkapı Palace,” he said.
Museum storehouses often contain an abundance of similar types of coins dating from the same time period. According to Masis, some of these coins could be sold to art collectors, and the state could gain a large income from the sale.
Masis notes that the sale of historic artifacts, even to museums abroad, does not necessarily show disrespect to Turkey's history. “A latest circular banned the sale of some paintings of master Turkish artists to museums in other countries. But seeing the work of the grand Turkish painter Osman Hamdi at a U.S. museum makes me more proud. Can you think that Spain imprisons Picasso within its borders?” emphasized Masis.
“Art cannot be imprisoned inside national borders. We can buy Napoleon's pocket watch in France, but a German cannot buy a pocket watch of Ottoman Sultan Abdülmecit in Turkey and take it to Germany,” he said.
Japanese sell for charity
Japan is a country where museums sell redundant samples of same types of historic pieces. The Nezu Museum in Japan has put up for auction 15 precious clocks dating from the time of the Chinese Empire through Christies, the well-known art auctioneer. If all the pieces are sold, an income of more than $4.5 millions will be earned. The income will be donated to victims of the latest Chinese earthquake.
Similar Chinese clocks – around 1,500 items – are exhibited at the Palace Museum located in the Forbidden City in China.
Some pieces stolen from Turkish museums within the last 10 years
A winged sea horse brooch that belonged to the ‘Treasures of Kharun' was stolen from the Uşak Archeology Museum.
Four precious handwritten Koran copies stolen from the Süleymaniye Historic Manuscripts Library.
A Head of Hermes was stolen from the grave stele in the garden of the Bolu Museum.
A Byzantine column heading, a Roman column heading and a grave head stone stolen from the Milas Museum.
Five-hundred-and-fifty-four coins and a stone inscription stolen from Kahramanmaraş Museum.
A copper plate stolen from the Hazeranlar Mansion in Amasya Museum.
A grave bas-relief stolen from the Sart Gymnasium in the Salihli district of Manisa .
Fourteen strings of a gold necklace that was stolen from the Afrodisias Museum.
© 2005 Dogan
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