Friday, October 30, 2009
If so, I find the following information gleaned from Primo Magazine's recent interview with an FBI agent who worked on the Sisto case to be troubling. (For more about the Sisto case, see http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/06/strange-case-of-sisto-collection.html and http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/06/some-thoughts-about-materials-from.html)
According to [FBI Special Agent] Mondini, Michael [Sisto] had hoped to sell part of the collection [of his father John] to fund his children's college education.
"He wanted to make sure all the items were legally obtained," said Mondini. "FBI Agents searched the house and took inventory. If Italian authorities could prove his father's items were stolen, then he would allow the Italians to take them back. He would not fight it."
The FBI dd not remove the material at the home at first. "It was a big task because of so many items," says Mondini. "We photographed 400 manuscripts and religous books. Many had stamps on them from specific libraries, private collections and archives. There were papal seals and decrees in Old Latin. Italian authorities reviewed them and agreed that the sample material would never had been allowed to leave Italy. These conclusions were made by three experts on religious history, two of whom were priests."
After more were photographed, Italian authorities claimed all were historically valuable and illegally obtained. The entire collection was seized by the FBI. Objects wrapped in wax paper were boxed for a new home inside two empty offices at regional headquarters in Chicago.
Mondini admits much of Sisto's collection was illegal because of the simple fact they left Italy without official authorization. Italian law sets a high bar and permission to trade and export artifacts, even inside Italy itself, is rarely if ever given.
Was the FBI following U.S. law or Italian law in seizing the items? Did the F.B.I. merely let the Italians "cherry pick" what they deemed "culturally significant" from the collection?
And on a more basic human level, did our government's premier law enforcement agency effectively take advantage of a grieving son who apparently never consulted a lawyer as to the legality of the FBI's actions just to please the cultural bureaucracy of a friendly foreign nation?
For more about Primo Magazine, see http://www.onlineprimo.com/primo/ Primo interviewed Special Agent Mondini for an article entitled, "Father's Legacy, Brother's Dispute: The Case of John Sisto. That article can be found in the September-October 2009 issue of the Magazine at page 30. The Magazine also includes my own views about the Sisto case and Italy's approach to repatriation issues.
Thursday, October 29, 2009
As the website explains,
The New Web Site for the Cultural Heritage Center
This new site brings together under a single banner the several areas of activity for which the Center is responsible, including International Cultural Property Protection, the U.S. Ambassadors Fund for Cultural Preservation, the Iraq Initiative, and Special Projects. The original content of the retired “Cultural Property” site has been updated, and reorganized. Please use the navigation bar (left) or the Site Index to find specific information or features.
This page will contain news relating to all areas of the Center’s work.
The Emali Hoard includes 1,348 pieces minted in Anatolia, 287 from Central and Northern Greece and 44 from the Aegian islands. The hoard is notable because it also includes 14 rare Athenian Decadrachms. Before the hoard came to light, only 13 of these coins were known.
The hoard was previously displayed at the Museum of Anatlolian Civilizations in Ankara. Displaying the coins in a museum in Turkey's capital did not sit well with local officials in Antayla, where Emali is located. As the article states,
"During the opening ceremony, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP’s, Antalya deputy Sadık Badak was presented with a plaque for his contributions to bringing the coins to the Antalya museum. Badak said the historic artifacts should be displayed in the museums of the districts or cities where they were found, “'but bureaucracy resisted bringing the coins to Antalya for 10 years.'”
Most of the coins were repatriated after the settlement of a court case. Turkey says it spent some 2 million Turkish lira on lawyers to help recover the coins. (This is approximately $1.3 million at current exchange rates).
The high costs of hiring lawyers helps explain why source countries now generally look to the the U.S. Justice Department to pursue such matters in court. That in turn forces the U.S. taxpayer to in effect subsidize the enforcement of unfair, foreign laws, like those of Turkey, here.
Cynics will wonder whether the announcement was timed to coincide with CPAC's upcoming Nov. 13th review of the current MOU with Italy.
In any event, it will be interesting to see if more details about the seizure comes out at that hearing.
Monday, October 26, 2009
Michael Kimmelman has written an interesting article in the New York Times that explores these issues, particularly as they relate to Egypt's latest demands for repatriation against state run museums in France and Germany. See http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/24/arts/design/24abroad.html?emc=eta1
While some in the archaeological community may claim Kimmelman's analysis is just another one of many "conspiracy theories" fostered by those who do not agree with an "archaeology over all" perspective, I for one cannot agree more with Kimmelman when he says,
That’s what restitution often comes down to these days.
Nationalism by other means.
Politics by proxy.
Sunday, October 25, 2009
Some time ago, the ACCG, IAPN and PNG asked the State Department IG to review the practices of the ECA's Cultural Heritage Center. The Bush Administration State Department IG (who later resigned under pressure over an appearance of conflict related to the Iraq reconstruction effort (see http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/12/07/embattled-state-dept-inspector-general-resigning/)) simply punted the request back to ECA, which shortly thereafter departed from existing precedent and the Cultural Property Advisory Committee's recommendations before imposing import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type. See http://www.accg.us/issues/news/import-restrictions-imposed-on-cypriot-coins/?searchterm=IG
Of course, having been rebuffed by the Department of State IG (and perhaps having been retaliated against for even bringing up concerns about process), the ACCG, IAPN and PNG had no recourse but to litigation.
Hopefully, the Obama Administration State Department will take the concerns about how ECA handles requests for import restrictions on cultural goods more seriously than did the Bush Administration's State Department. So far, the jury is still out. While ECA has reconsidered its initial decision to disallow public comments on the interim review of the Italian MOU (see http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/10/public-hearing-on-interim-review-of.html), it has also refused to reconsider the Bush Administration's extensive FOIA withholdings of documents relevant to the decisions to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot and Chinese type-- this despite a directive from the Obama Justice Department to reevaluate such issues. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/06/judith-mchale-confirmed-to-dos-public.html
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
I wish the State Department could have provided notice sooner, but still appreciate their decision to allow for public comment on the interim review of this important MOU.
For more details about the hearing on Nov. 13th, see today's Federal Register Notice at http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/E9-25324.htm
Those wishing to comment or attend should note the following deadlines, which are fast approaching.
- Nov. 2- Deadline for written comments (limited to Art. II of the MOU, which relates to Italy's obligations under the agreement).
- Nov.4- Deadline to reserve seating.
A hearing on Nov. 12th will also address the renewal of the MOU with El Salvador.
For those wishing to comment, here are the Committee’s procedures: http://culturalheritage.state.gov/cpacproc.html
The most recent and earlier Italian MOU can be found here: http://culturalheritage.state.gov/itfact.html
Those writing should also comply with the State Department's request that comments solely address Art. II, Italy's obligations. This can include discussions about Italy's stewardship of its own cultural property as well as whether Italy should consider programs like the U.K.'s Treasure Act and PAS. Back in 2000, CPAC recommended that Italy consider a Treasure Trove program, but that recommendation was not included in the initial or current MOU.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
The report further stated that a high level Iraqi delegation had been sent to spring the pair:
A number of Iraqi officials including the former ambassador to Qatar Mr Sadiq al-Rikabi, Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh and Dr. Muwafaq al-Ruba'i are negotiating with the Director of the Dubai airport Mansour bin Ali al-'Utaibi to release them.
I observed that if the report were true, the preferential treatment being afforded the Prime Minister's relatives suggested that the Iraqi Government's "two-tiered" approach to antiquities offenses had not changed all that much from the days of Saddam. If you are just a "regular Joe" or a "foreigner," beware. On the other hand, if you are a member of the elite, you can pretty much do what you want.
Of course, a corollary to such a "two-tiered" approach to such issues is that the story will be swept under the rug-- and so it apparently has.
And what of the archaeological bloggers' views? Other than one "shoot the messenger" blog from Paul Barford (See http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2009/10/two-wrongs-make-right-for-collector.html), silence.....
Are double standards at work in the archaeological community as well? Are such stories ignored because they don't fit the narrative they want to sell?
Monday, October 19, 2009
The book sounds like a good read that promises to offer some interesting historical context to the current debate about identical issues.
Saturday, October 17, 2009
Most of the ACCG's efforts are performed on a volunteer basis, but prosecution of cases before the federal courts will tap into ACCG's funding. The annual auction helps pay for these legal expenses.
ACCG has three law firms assisting it. Scott Hodes, a lawyer with extensive experience in the area, is handling the Freedom of Information Act case brought on behalf of the ACCG, IAPN and PNG against the U.S. State Department. For Mr. Hodes' website, see: http://www.infoprivacylaw.com/
ACCG has also imported coins for purposes of a case to test the current Chinese and Cypriot coin restrictions. That case will be pending in US District Court in Baltimore. My firm, Bailey & Ehrenberg, PLLC, is representing the ACCG in that matter at highly reduced rates. For more about Bailey & Ehrenberg, see http://www.becounsel.com/ In addition, ACCG has also retained the services of Serko Simon Gluck & Kane, LLP, a Customs law firm, to assist in the technical aspects of the case. See http://www.customs-law.com/ourfirm.php That NY Based firm has also offered reduced rates in recognition of the importance of ACCG's efforts to protect the rights of those interested in the legitimate, international exchange of ancient artifacts.
Wednesday, October 14, 2009
Translated by Lamia al-Gailani Werr
Nouri Kamil al-Maliki the Brother in Law on the Prime Minister of Iraq Dr al-Maliki had s been detained at Dhubai airport, he was caught with Sumerian antiquities trying to smuggle them to the United States. Also detained with him, his bodyguard Abu Ali al-Asfahani, who is also a relative of the Prime Minister.
A number of Iraqi officials including the former ambassador to Qatar Mr Sadiq al-Rikabi, Dr. Ali al-Dabbagh and Dr. Muwafaq al-Ruba'i are negotiating with the Director of the Dubai airport Mansour bin Ali al-'Utaibi to release them.
Mr Asfahani who was caught with four passports: American, Syrian, Iranian and Iraqi, lives in the Green Zone in Baghdad and has been nicknamed by the people as Mr. Yaseen in reference to Arshad Yaseen the brother in law of Saddam who was notorious for his antique dealings.
[End of Translation]
If true, this article demonstrates the continued hypocrisy of the Iraqi Government when it comes to antiquities. During Saddam's reign, common people were executed for dealing in antiquities while the Baathist elite collected and sold what they wished. Today, no one is executed, but they are punished when found with such items. Yet, connected people still apparently continue to deal in them. We will see if the Iraqi PM's family members are ultimately treated like everyone else, but the article already suggests that will not be the case.
If harsh laws cannot be applied equally, perhaps it is time to loosen them for everyone!
Auctions do put coins and other artifacts out in the public domain. This allows anyone with claims to such items to make them. Quoting Greek sources, Gill states that Greece has made such a claim to a valuable coin. Still, the pictures in the articles raise questions. I can't read Greek, but I have been informed that the coin pictured in the main article appears to be an Athenian Decadrachm, and the coin pictured in the story in the comments appears to be a Macedonian Drachm.
Gill evidently enjoys posting about seizures of cultural property, including coins, but sometimes it is better not to "jump the gun" on such issues. Time will tell whether a claim has been made, and, if so, if it will be found to be valid. In the meantime, the pictures that illustrate the articles Gill relies upon raise questions about the accuracy of his post.
Addendum: Here is an imperfect "Google" translation of the article:
The road to ancient Greece gets oktadrachmo by Interpol after it is sold at auction for the sum of 77,000 euros. In two successive publications before and after the auction for its sale, the "M" revealed the attempt of the ancient coin money.
Procedures-Express begins in Culture Ministry in order to restore the ancient Greece currency, which was sold last week at auction in Zurich, Switzerland for the sum of 77,000 euros. Following the movements of the Interpol office in Athens, the currency "committed" by Swiss police, before he delivered to the buyer.
The path of the ancient ochtadrachmou, described by scientists very rare, found the "M" and "MTK" to publish before the end of the auction house in Switzerland. The price raised the auctioneers had raised the interest of the Greek law enforcement authorities, and after research showed that this ancient coin was released for sale on the black market antiquities in Greece. Indeed, according to information to prove so there are photos of the same coin taken before about two years from this region of northern Greece.
The auction in Zurich organized by the English house, completed last Tuesday and the currency was sold for the sum of 116,500 Swiss francs (about 77,000 euros). Before its completion, the Ministry of Culture and Interpol briefing notes sent to Interpol in Switzerland, but without success, since the process of the sale was completed properly. Buyer was a person who attended the auction process, the site where it conducted in Zurich.
However, an alert from Interpol Switzerland, who arrived in Greek service offices in Athens in the afternoon last Friday, brought back the smiles to the Greek authorities of the Ministry of Culture, now expect the return of the currency. "Please be advised, in response to your relevant documents, that the currency tendered kept under the responsibility of our service and we expect your actions and evidence", the document shall state the Swiss office of Interpol.
Even after this development came to a general mobilization services of Interpol and the Ministry of Culture in Athens, called the police, which involved the collection of data and photo-specific proof that the product of antiquities, all related evidence in the case. By sending back data from the Greek side will be presented and the request for the return of ancient coin in our country.
"It's very positive developments", commented the "M" Professor of Historical Archeology of AUTH Michael Tiberius. The ochtadrachmo comes from the region of ancient Visaltia and cut on a Mossi kingdom, which is well known and appreciated that he was ruler of the kingdom of Visaltia the era of 480 BC "Such major currencies is very rare, usually used for export activities, and to pay for mercenaries," said Mr Tiberius.
Systematically "to hammer" products antiquities
Most ancient coins and other findings come in hammer international auction houses are products of antiquities, according to the prosecuting authorities. Only some large auction houses, and museums, have stopped hosting findings, which demonstrated not come from legitimate excavations.
"About 70% of institutions that come to auction products are illegal excavations," he said Mr Tiberius. "The rest may come from formal private collections that are registered", he said. In Switzerland, ancient finds particularly easy to come round and it is no coincidence that the organization of the event for the ancient ochtadrachmo had English auction house, whose managers chose to Zurich. "The system in Switzerland I think is very relaxed, and at least two years ago, possibly still today, did not require certificates of origin for findings auctioned, only those certificates," said Mr Tiberius.
It will be interesting to see if the Greek case holds up, i.e., are the pictures taken "two years ago" in Northern Greece of the same coin? Even then, it should be noted that there are collectors and collections in Greece. Is this a case of Greece asking for application of their export controls on coins from "registered collections" or is this a case of Greece having evidence the coins were illicitly excavated in Greece?
It should also be noted that Greece and Switzerland have yet to complete work on a MOU to govern the return of cultural property. One suspects this might provide a legal argument to the consigner, auction house and/or buyer.
Only one thing is for sure. The pictures in the newspapers Gill cites cannot be of the same coin.
Tuesday, October 13, 2009
While this approach sounds promising, I wonder if the successes in Peru and Mali can be replicated in a place like Iraq. I suspect at least part of the success in Peru and Mali may come from the links the local people feel towards the tombs of their ancestors. I wonder if the same feeling may be absent in Iraq where looting concentrates on pre-Islamic sites.
I also question whether "binoculars, cellphones, maybe a few dirt bikes and some basic training" is all that is needed. Though Atwood does not seem to want to admit it, most looters are poor, local people. That is not surprising. All too often locals receive few tangible benefits from archaeological digs in their midst. Some might be hired to help with the digging, but such artifacts that are found tend to be removed by the authorities to a national or regional museum.
Then, there is the question of common, redundant artifacts. Is it really necessary for the state to keep them all? Perhaps, a version of the U.K.'s Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme can be investigated as well. This would ensure that everything would be recorded, but that the State would only keep that which it realistically can take care of. The rest would be returned to the community for them to decide whether to display it locally or to sell it for the community's good. The community should also be rewarded in some fashion when something significant is found on its land. Archaeologists may believe they are "saving antiquities for everyone," but the local people will naturally feel that they should have rights to the artifacts found on their land.
Muscarella names names, including current AIA President Brian Rose. After reading Muscarella's denunciations of Rose and others for their alleged lack of purity, one might ask why Muscarella accepted paychecks from the "evil" Met as long as he did.
Monday, October 12, 2009
Media outlets like the "History" and "Discovery" Channels, carry some great, serious programing, but many of their shows can rightfully only be characterized as "entertainment." There is nothing wrong with that, but I wonder about what message that is being sent when archaeologists or scientists appear. Does their mere presence help confuse "pop culture" with "scientific fact," particularly to children?
Under the circumstances, I found it highly ironic when I viewed an archaeologist who has publicly belittled Ancient Coins for Education ("ACE") pontificating on two such "entertainment" programs (though not about the Maya). Here was a highly educated PhD lending her name to what many would consider programs celebrating "junk science." Yet, at a public meeting of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, she criticized ACE's founder for using ancient coins to teach children about history, apparently because in her mind, that was tantamount to teaching children "to loot."
I would suggest we need more programs like those of ACE. See http://ancientcoinsforeducation.org/ Allowing children to handle common ancient artifacts, like coins, helps encourage learning and true love of history. In contrast, we need fewer celebrity archaeologists and scientists providing the patina of "science" on what is actually pure TV entertainment.
Addendum: For critiques of the History Channel show from 2006 see: http://alignment2012.com/historychannel.html and http://skeptico.blogs.com/skeptico/2006/08/2012_mayan_prop.html
Thursday, October 8, 2009
While archaeological bloggers seem unwilling or unable to consider the possibility that politics impacts how nations deal with cultural property issues far more than their polestar of "preservation of context," three recent news stories suggest otherwise.
- France has just announced that it will repatriate some reliefs that Zahi Hawass says were stolen. See http://news.yahoo.com/s/nm/20091007/sc_nm/us_france_egypt_louvre Hawass had threatened to break off contacts with the Louvre on account of it. "Culture Grrl" has noted that the Louvre (which is building a museum in Abu Dhabi) values its ties to the Arabs and the Middle East. See http://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/2009/10/news_flash_hawass_cuts_off_egy.html Apparently so. Unlike the Saint Louis Art Museum (which continues to contest Egypt's claims to the Ka Nefer Nefer Mask), the Louvre has quickly acceded to the Egyptian demands.
- In the meantime, Iran has threatened to cut off ties with the British Museum because the Museum has delayed a loan of the "Cyrus Cylinder." http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601088&sid=aZmy0YWB2aKo The British Government (along with most of the Western world) has raised serious concerns about the recent Iranian election. In return, Iranian authorities have branded Britain the "Little Satan" to associate it with its ally, "the Great Satan," i.e., the United States. http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1907066,00.html I suspect the "Cyrus Cylinder" is not leaving the British Museum soon, despite Iranian threats.
- Finally, one museum in Taiwan has declined a donation of the bronze rabbit and rat fountain heads from the Qing Dynasty's Yuanmingyuan (Summer Palace) that were subject of a disputed auction earlier this year. See http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5jpBbcQZ9T56kgQFFBVeOcuw1kPzQ Taiwan recently elected a government more friendly to the mainland. Could that have something to do with the decision? Despite the comments of the legislator associated with the ruling party, quite probably.
At the time, he thought he was "liberating" some souvenirs. Today, however, such activities are frowned upon, at least officially.
In any event, it is nice that Germany finally has received back the books, though I suspect they are of limited monetary value.
Will the gesture encourage others to return similar "liberated items?" Perhaps. As WW II Veterans leave us, their children may be less attached to such items, and hence may be more inclined to follow suit, at least in cases where they know their significance.
Tuesday, October 6, 2009
Never mind that a recent government sponsored survey concluded that "Nighthawking" has actually declined. See: http://www.finds.org.uk/wordpress/?p=680 ("The Report shows that Nighthawking seems to have declined on two counts compared with an earlier survey in 1995, ...").
In the meantime, another large hoard-- this one of some 10,000 coins-- was also reported to the authorities in England. http://forums.canadiancontent.net/history/87101-10-000-roman-coins-unearthed.html Though overshadowed by publicity about the massive Anglo-Saxon hoard, it is also important in its own right as one of the largest found in the area.
Can Italian authorities boast of similar successes?
Is it about "saving antiquities for everyone" or is it really a question of "academic snobbery" and "control?"
Sunday, October 4, 2009
But doesn't all this just divert attention from the real problems-- Italy's inablity to reform its cultural bureaucracy, unwillingness to fund its cultural establishment adequately, and to adopt more rational laws-- like the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act --that would ensure that the State only keeps what it can reasonably be expected to take care of?
Gill certainly ignores the politics behind the exhibit. The latest display, celebrating 40 years of the Comando Carabinieri per la Tutela del Patrimonio Culturale, continues the theme of a far more prominent "trophy art" exhibit, entitled "Nostoi," that opened before the last Italian election. Efforts of then Culture Minister Francesco Rutelli, "the Great Repatriator," to use the exhibit to drum up nationalist sentiment and votes before the last election failed miserably. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/04/arrivederci-rutelli-time-for-rational.html
Rutelli's Center Left Coalition was defeated resoundingly by a Center Right Coalition headed by current Prime Minister Berlusconi. Since then, the Berulsconi Government has taken a less confrontational approach to repatriations and has instead focused its attentions on trying to reform -- with limited success-- Italy's entrenched cultural bureaucracy. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/01/mario-resca-to-rescue.html In revenge, Italian cultural bureaucrats have helped hype tape-recorded revelations that the Prime Minister failed to report Punic tombs under his Sardinian estate in a sex scandal that the Center Left hopes will undercut Berlusconi's popularity. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/07/archaeologists-demand-investigation-as.html
The fact that these exhibits are so mixed up with Italian politics should raise questions for "cultural property observers" unencumbered by the "archaeology over all" perspective of Gill and his associates at SAFE. One suspects Italian cultural bureaucrats hope the new exhibit will encourage the government to return to a more aggressive stance on repatriations, and forget about real reforms of the system that could undercut their own power.
But one need look no further than the condition of the Castel Sant' Angelo, where the latest "trophy art" exhibit is being held, to conclude that true reforms are desperately needed. According to a 2005 article, the cultural landmark is badly in need of repair and is in danger of collapse. See http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/hadrians-neglected-mausoleum-close-to-collapse-503950.html
The same can be said of Italy's cultural heritage establishment despite efforts to divert attention away from its problems through "trophy art" exhibits like that publicized in Gill's latest press release.
Friday, October 2, 2009
As I understand it from a Bulgarian source,
1. The possessors of cultural goods now can demonstrate their ownership with an invoice, a declaration from a previous owner, etc. It is not necessary to have an "official document" to do so.
2. For cultural goods considered to be "national heritage" one may now be an "owner" without presentation of an official document (issued by the state institution). The law had stated the possessor was only entitled to "hold" the artifact without an official document.
The effect of the ruling will presumably make it easier for Bulgarian collectors to "own" artifacts legally, and, as such, is a recognition that ancient artifacts are sold quite openly in Bulgaria, despite suggestions to the contrary on some of the archaeological blogs.
Both these organizations were instrumental in getting the United States Senate to ratify the 1954 Hague Convention, see http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/search/label/1954%20Hague%20Convention and the topic is an important one.
I also understand that there will be an earlier, invitation only "closed forum" on domestic implementation of the 1954 Hague Convention with government decision makers as well.
This begs the question why such secrecy is necessary and again suggests that archaeological organizations often seem to get "behind the scenes" access not readily available to others. Surely, despite protestations to the contrary by some elements within the archaeological community, see http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/08/caari-vp-ellen-herscher-response-to.html , archaeologists do lobby, and quite effectively at that.