Friday, January 30, 2009

Wholesale Sale of Historic Coin Collection in the Works

Nathan Elkins writes about the Deutsche Bank's plans to break up and sell the historic coin collection of the Kings of Hannover. See:

The historical nature of this collection is probably magnified because Queen Elizabeth II traces her family's ancestry back to Georg Ludwig van Hannover who in 1714 was crowned as English King George I. Indeed, QE II apparently still is viewed as the head of Hannover's royal house.

This appears to be a distress sale of the entire collection and hence entirely different from the recent deaccession of Greek die duplicates from the ANS. See: For more about the Deutsche bank's financial problems, see:

If such a sale goes through, it will be viewed as devastating for scholars and collectors who think that old collections should remain intact for numismatic study. Still, presumably there may be some legal restrictions on the sale that will make a break up of the collection and transfer from Germany less likely than scholars fear.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Greek Monument in Iraq Commemorating the Clash of Civilizations?

The jingoism of the Greek and Greek Cypriot Governments that collectors and museums have certainly experienced firsthand apparently carries over to flying the Greek Nationalist flag as far away as Mosul, Iraq.

The Museum Security Network listserv reports as part of Greek help to Iraq on cultural matters, Greece plans to build a monument to Alexander the Great's victory over the Persians near Mosul.

Greece to help Iraq cultural reconstruction

ATHENS, Greece (AP) — Greece pledged Tuesday to provide financial and technical aid to help Iraq restore and conserve its damaged archaeological sites and museums.

Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis said Greece and Iraq have also agreed to build a monument honoring the Greek warrior-king Alexander the Great at an ancient battlefield in southern Iraq.

She was speaking after talks in Athens with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari.

Iraqi museums and sites suffered extensive damage and looting in the wake of the U.S.-led invasion in 2003. The National Museum of Baghdad, a treasure trove of artifacts from the Stone Age through the Babylonian, Assyrians and Islamic periods, fell victim to bands of armed thieves. Up to 7,000 pieces are still missing.

Zebari welcomed the Greek offer of cultural assistance, which he said followed an Iraqi request."We have great need of such assistance," he said, adding that technical committees from both countries would meet to discuss the details. Zebari said the battlefield monument would underline the interaction of civilizations in the region. It will be built near the city of Mosul, where Alexander won a crushing victory over a Persian army in 331 B.C. At the time, Iraq was part of the Persian Empire, which stretched throughout most of the Middle East.

While I am glad Greece will offer Iraq some "cultural assistance" and would personally love to see a monument to Alexander, I wonder how that monument will really play in Mosul.

In Persian folklore, Alexander is damned as "Alexander the Accursed." In particular, the few remaining adherents of Zoroastrianism carry a visceral dislike for Alexander and his destruction of the Persian Empire. See:

This should raise an obvious question to anyone but the most ardent Greek nationalist. As we all know from the long running Arab-Israeli and Greek-Turkish disputes, old scores never seem to be settled in the Middle East. While modern Iraq is not exactly Ancient Persia (or even modern Iran), I have to really wonder whether any monument to Alexander will just become a likely target for those who hate the West and view Alexander as merely the first Westerner to target the Middle East for conversion to Western ideals.

Still, I know any misgivings that may be expressed on this blog will likely fall on deaf ears. Who knows. I could be wrong. And, if this monument is actually built and succeeds in bringing in the tourists rather than the terrorists, I would become the first to suggest that perhaps Greece can build another to Alexander in Afghanistan as well.

Interesting Post About Elgin Marbles

Here is an interesting post about the Elgin Marbles that was circulated on the Museum Security Network Listserv. The author previously wrote an interesting post about Greek Cypriot hypocrisy that was previously reported on this blog here:

Dear Dr. Opoku

For quite some time I have read with interest your postings on MSN and elsewhere and closely followed the heated debate on looting, illegal trafficking and restitution since I was a graduate student in the 1990s. Your opinion as to what is right and how the world should deal with cultural heritage appears to be very logical and clear, and in some cases I would certainly agree with your view. In the case of Lord Elgin’s actions, however, you are utterly wrong – either due to your ignorance of the facts or because your position does not allow you to perceive historic events from a scholarly, i. e. ideologically untainted, or even cosmopolitan point of view.

In fall 2007, I studied large parts of the correspondence between Thomas Bruce, 7th Earl of Elgin, and his Italian agent in Athens, Giambattista Lusieri, as well as his correspondence with William Hamilton, Lord Aberdeen and all the others involved in the removal of parts of the Parthenon Sculptures at Broom Hall (where the Elgin-family archives are kept). And I am currently working these findings into a book.

I can assure you that the idea of removing the sculptures from the grounds of the Acropolis and from the ruined Parthenon itself was first raised by Lusieri in a letter to Lord Elgin dated 16 May 1801, and ever since Lusieri has repeatedly reported the willful destruction of parts of the ancient monuments on the Acropolis of Athens by members of the Ottoman forces that were stationed there.

I can also assure you that Lord Elgin provided all necessary funds possible (presumably from his wife’s bourse according to Susan Nagel in her well-written and entertaining book on Mary Nisbet, Countess of Elgin) to his agent, to enable him to acquire the necessary equipment and to hire the required work force to remove selected items carefully.

Based on the documentary evidence which I found, I came to the conclusion that Lord Elgin had his agents remove the specimens from the Acropolis in the early 1800s because he believed that doing so would preserve them from further destruction. His intentions appear absolutely honorable, patriotic and enlightened since he wanted to improve standards of British art and contribute to Britain’s greatness – aristocratic in the original meaning of the world (and not different from what the Marquis de Nointel wished to do for Louis XIV). I cannot see therefore what we gain from being judgamental and from constantly smearing the name of a historic figure whose achievement still felt today was to set-off the reception process of the Parthenon Sculptures. Without his will to have them removed – and to pay for it – the world would probably never have found out that they are, as Mary Beard once wrote, “worth quarrelling about.”

In my opinion – and based on my experience gained from working in a so-called source country – it would have been highly immoral for Lord Elgin, against his better knowledge to have left the Parthenon Sculptures on the Acropolis of Athens to the vagaries of time. It is therefore not a baseless argument to claim, that his actions helped to preserve some of the marbles from the Parthenon under better conditions than those that remained in Athens.

Similarly false is your assumption that “nobody except officials of the British Museum and their friends believe that the Parthenon /Elgin Marbles ‘are owned by us all, in trust for the world.’” As for your rhetorical “Tell this to the Greeks!” you might want to read Yannis Hamilakis’ The Nation and its Ruins. Antiquity, Archaeology and National Imagination in Greece (Oxford University Press 2007), in which the author demonstrates how monuments from classical antiquity get monopolized by all sorts of people – but certainly not by the ones who created them. And then it would be interesting to know which UN- or UNESCO-resolution did actually demand the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece, as you imply in your next paragraph. Have I missed something?

You obviously do not share the view that the large museums of the world, some of which have their roots in the 17th and 18th century, should keep their historically grown collections intact in order to continue the excellent and important work they have done so far if a modern nation state requests the return of some “unjustifiably taken object”. In doing so you seem to acknowledge that these collections also have holdings of “justifiably” taken objects. I only wonder who in your opinion is entitled to decide which of these items has been justifiably taken from source countries ages ago and which has not, and furthermore, what are the criteria for such decisions? Is your assumption not just as arbitrary as the arguments you claim to hear from those institutions that hold items of material culture in trust?

Claiming that the restitution of some works of art that have left their country of origin several generations ago to a current modern political construct would improve their impact on today’s world or undo old deeds is a fantasy. I must confess that I have always suspected, but could never get concrete proof, that the reasons for requesting the return of the Elgin Marbles by some politicians and scholars are more prosaic than academic, humanitarian or idealistic. I have also seen a lot of vanity-driven hypocrisy in this whole campaign: asking for the pieces in the British Museum but not for the ones in the Louvre, the Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek, the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna, the Martin von Wagner Museum in Würzburg, and so on. Where is the logic? What unification would one achieve? Why destroy one gradually developed ensemble of world culture that for the last 200 years has played and continues to play such an exceptional role in introducing people from every corner of this planet to the cultures of the world? In this respect I find your next claim quite disturbing: “indeed the whole world, including the majority of British citizens hope that the British Museum and the British Government will finally do what is morally and legally correct: return the Parthenon marbles to Athens!” (I love your exclamation marks). You may speak for yourself, but I seriously doubt that you should speak for the “whole world”, as I am inclined to believe that it is not only I who is convinced that the Elgin Marbles are fine where they are and that they should stay there – because the British Museum in its present form and history is arguably one of the most exciting and inspiring museums in the world and, as such, an exception.

I would also like to remind you that the Elgin Marbles were not looted, but left the Ottoman Empire with the approval of the then ruling authority, even if this appears unthinkable in today’s terms. Looting is something else. It is caused by two of mankind’s worst deficiencies: vanity and greed. It is this greed that leads to organized crime, which then leads to industrial-scale type looting of archaeological sites – and the destruction of archaeological data – for the financial gain of only a few. This greed also fosters corruption and hypocrisy among some of the responsible authorities in so-called source countries, while, when combined with vanity, it can sometimes lead to unwise and arguably unethical acquisitions by dealers, private collectors and museums alike. We may enter a moral discussion about the events of the past, but we cannot change the principal forces of history. What we can do, however, by accepting history as a man made sequence of events, is to do our best to prevent further mistakes on the “consumer side” and to minimize the damage done on the “producer’s” side. We should try to decrease the ongoing worldwide looting and loss of cultural heritage by educating the people living in source countries and by raising their awareness of what they lose when engaging in looting. In doing so, we make a clear distinction between current and recent looting and the sanctioned removal of ancient artefacts such as the Elgin Marbles, the Venus of Milo or the Great Altar of Pergamon. We should also acknowledge that the Elgin Marbles could only contribute so much to our understanding of the ancient world and the formation of Philhellenism which ultimately lead to the foundation of modern Greece, because they were brought to England in 1806. The British Museum assumed its responsibility and had a crucial educational role in this. It is therefore foolish, in an impulse of misguided post-imperial revisionism, to undermine one of the world’s oldest and greatest public collections, to request its dismemberment, and to continue wasting time, money and energy on demanding the return of the Elgin Marbles to Greece, when there are many more urgent issues that desperately need resources and attention.

Marc Fehlmann
Department of Archaeology and Art HistoryFaculty of Arts and Sciences
Famagusta/ Gazimagusa, Northern Cyprus
Via Mersin 10, Turkey

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Saudi Arabia Joins Repatriation Game as Bulldozers Finish Their Work on Structures Associated with the Prophet

According to news reports, Saudi Arabia has begun efforts to seek repatriation of antiquities from abroad. See:

The article is a bit unclear about the exact nature of the Kingdom's program, but hopefully any antiquities that are repatriated will not suffer the fate of buildings associated with the Prophet. These have been bulldozed in the past few years out of a new found fear that their continued existence would have promoted idolatry. See:

If Saudi religious authorities have such sway that they can order the destruction of Islamic buildings, can we really expect the Saudis to preserve pre-Islamic artifacts that may be characterized as idolatrous?

Monday, January 26, 2009

Italian Show Trial Goes On and On and On ...

David Gill ("Looting Matters" Blog) has a link to this short news item about Italy's trial against Robert Hecht and Marion True starting up again. See: Gill asks whether the resumption of the trial will herald a new round of repatriation claims. See:

I rarely agree with Gill, but I do agree with his implicit suggestion that this trial (now going into its fourth year!) is at this point probably meant to help validate any efforts to seek further repatriations as much as anything else.

The real question is whether the trial has gone on so long that it will be increasingly viewed as a farce. Certainly, whatever problems there may be with the US legal system, our Constitutional protections would preclude such never ending show trials like that going on in Rome. God Bless America!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Will Presidential Transparency Push Finally Shine Light on Controversial Decision to Impose Import Restrictions on Coins of Cypriot Type?

The Obama Administration has taken steps to provide the public with more information in response to FOIA requests. See:

The above McClatchy report quotes Scott Hodes, the attorney representing the ACCG, IAPN and PNG in their FOIA lawsuit against the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) and its Cultural Heritage Center. That lawsuit primarily seeks information about the controversial decision to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type.

Mr. Hodes has detailed information about the Obama Administration's presidential memorandum on his own blog. See:

Hopefully, the ECA will take a cue from President Obama's memorandum and now release in unredacted form many of the documents that have to date been withheld in whole or in part in response to the ACCG-IAPN-PNG FOIA lawsuit. What has been released so far raises more questions than answers about the ECA's decision making process and how it has been shaped by behind the scenes coordination with advocates for the archaeological community and Greek Cypriot interests groups. Hopefully, the Obama memorandum will force the State Department to shine some light on what appears to be a rather shabby process that has reeked of cronyism.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Obama Ministry of Culture?

The "Culture Grrl" Blog has an interesting story about a proposal for a US Ministry of Culture. See: Culture Grrl obviously does not like the idea. Others do. See:

I suspect this idea is not a high priority for the new President. However, if the idea ever gains serious traction, I wonder if a US Department of Culture would take on at at least some of the responsibilities of the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). The State Department has been criticised in the past for using import restrictions as bone to throw to other countries (which, of course, is not provided for or contemplated by the governing statute, the CPIA). Thus, Canada allegedly received (now lapsed) import restrictions to help assuage anger over Canadian companies being targeted under the Helms-Burton Act. Italy was allegedly awarded import restrictions as an expression of sorrow after a Marine Corps jet negligently caused the deaths of some skiers riding in a gondola that had its cable cut in a freak accident. And, of course, Cyprus received a then unprecedented extension of import restrictions to include ancient coins of Cypriot type after the small, island nation agreed to temporarily host American refugees fleeing fighting in Lebanon. It also probably did not hurt that Cypriot advocacy groups awarded then Undersecretary of State Burns with the "Livanos Award" only days before the decision was made by Burns' subordinate, Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, Dina Powell. See:

If a US Department of Culture ultimately takes over the responsibilities of ECA, the diplomatic reasons for offering import restrictions as a quid pro quo will likely change to ones more closely related to cultural issues. However, unless the provisions of the CPIA are honored in anything other than their flagrant breach, the same ultimate concerns with fidelity to the statutory mandate will persist.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Prominent Numismatist Passes Away

Sylvia Hurter, long associated with the numismatic department of Bank Leu, and a well known scholar, has passed away. She began work in the coin trade as Leo Mildenberg's secretary, then became his principal assistant, then took on herself the responsibilities of Leu coins.

Here is a write up about her latest work. It should give some idea about type of work dealer-scholars like Ms. Hurter have produced:

Hurter Sylvia Mani. Die Didrachmenprägung von Segesta mit einem Anhang der Hybriden, Teilstücke und Tetradrachmen sowie mit einem Überblick über die Bronzeprägung. Biel, 2008. 440 pp. (text in German; five page summary in English), 29 plates of coins illustrated. (G322) $135. Segesta was founded by the Elymians, who, along with the Sicani and the Siceli, formed the indigenous pre-Greek population of Sicily. Located in the northwestern part of the island, it became a major city in the area and soon became involved in local trading difficulties with its neighbor, Selinos. These initial difficulties son became more widespread as Segesta began to form alliances, first with the Carthaginians, and then with Athens, who, prompted by Segesta’s pleas for assistance, engaged in the disastrous Sicilian expedition (415-413 BC). Until now, interested collectors and scholars of the silver issues of Segesta have had to rely on several different published collections, which are out-of-print and a challenge to acquire. Now, Sylvia Hurter, a well-known and respected numismatist, has brought together together the silver coinage of this city in Die Didrachmenprägung von Segesta mit einem Anhang der Hybriden, Teilstücke und Tetradrachmen sowie mit einem Überblick über die Bronzeprägung.As the title indicates, this book is primarily a catalog of the didrachms struck by the city of Segesta. Beginning with the first issue in 475/70 BC, long after its immediate neighbors had already been minting this denomination, this book traces this coinage through the following 80 years, when Segesta ceased minting didrachms in favor of tetradrachms. The catalog, divided into four distinct periods, consists of a die study listing each obverse and reverse die pair, accompanied by a record of examples in major collections and auction catalogs. Perhaps most welcome among the appendices are additional die studies of Segesta’s silver fractions and tetradrachms, as well as a brief overview of the bronze issues of the fifth and fourth centuries BC. Other appendices cover known examples of local hybrids (dies of Segesta used with coin dies of its immediate neighbors), ancient imitations and fourrées, and modern fakes. A helpful and detailed introduction to the city and its coinage provides a useful supplement to the catolog (including a six-page summary in English), and an up-to-date bibliography and register of examples found in public and private collections, hoards, and auction catalogs and price lists offers further information for study. Although the text is in German, it is highly accessible to a non-German audience, and should not prevent the collector and scholar from adding this important specialized work to his library.

China and the Realities on the Ground

The realities on the ground in China discussed in this article from Sunday's New York Times (see: ) stand in stark contrast with the supposed goals of preservation behind the recent MOU with China, publicised in Saturday's paper and linked previously on this blog. (See: ) Yet, included amongst the restrictions imposed are those on wall art over 250 years old. Most outside of academia and the State Department bureaucracy would ask, what gives?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Chinese View of MOU

Here is a report from a Chinese news outlet about the recent MOU:

I would take issue with the following statement:

"In addition to the newly-signed Sino-U.S. memorandum, China has signed similar agreements with Peru, India, Italy, the Philippines, Greece, Chile, Cyprus, and Venezuela, according to the official."

The "multilateral response" requirement of the CPIA requires such agreements to enforce similar restrictions as contemplated by the US as a pre-requisite for the US entering into an MOU. My recollection is that most, if not all, of these other agreements are largely aspirational in character. Here, of course, the MOU with the United States actually calls for specific import restrictions on specific categories of cultural goods. I would also note none of the countries mentioned are known to host a significant trade in Chinese artifacts. In contrast, the "multilateral response" requirement assumes that other countries with a significant trade in similar types of cultural goods will also enter into similar agreements restricting trade. Otherwise, (and as likely will happen here) that trade will just go elsewhere.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Some Additional Thoughts on the China MOU

Having had some time to mull the MOU over a bit, here are a few thoughts for what they are worth:

1. The decision is likely a victory, of sorts, for a prominent auction house. If memory serves, that auction house provided CPAC with a chart and back-up information that demonstrated that many extant Chinese artifacts post-Tang were never buried in the ground, but rather were handed down to subsequent generations. What CPAC or the State Department ignored, however, was an important second step in the analysis. For archaeological objects to be restricted under the CPIA, they must be "culturally significant." The auction house proposed a common-sense analysis for determining what is "culturally significant" and what is not "culturally significant." That analysis suggested that the question of restriction should be evaluated in light of the following factors related to a given object: the quality and state of the existing archaeological and art-historical record; site specificity, portability, and documentary importance; mass production and lack of rarity; frequent and long-term market incidence. This approach is far more thoughtful than simply banning anything old "found in the ground," but that is just what CPAC or State did in deciding to impose import restrictions on even common artifacts, like coins.

2. The AAMD decision to retreat from its prior "10 year rolling provenance" acquisition guidelines in favor of a 1970 date made the museum community's prior strong opposition to the Chinese restrictions largely moot.

3. Although the archaeological community will likely paint this decision as yet another "great victory," at least some are probably disappointed that the restrictions did not extend up to the 250 year old threshold under the CPIA. On the other hand, ending the restrictions at the end of the Tang Dynasty makes much sense from the perspective that many later goods were widely traded around the world. The most famous examples, of course, are Chinese porcelain objects.

4. The State Department bureaucracy is largely oblivious (or more likely uncaring) about practical concerns. The great similarity amongst cash coins of all eras was mentioned to State Department officials on several occasions. Yet, this practical concern about Customs confusing cash coins of different eras was largely ignored, as was the point that the minimal value of many such Chinese cash coins makes complying with the stringent documentation requirements "not worth the trouble." Of course, neither the State Department nor the archaeological community has to enforce or live by these restrictions. Rather, Customs and importers do. Wouldn't it be interesting to mandate detailed record keeping about the find spots, as well as the storage and disposition of archaeological finds like individual coins, and then see how the archaeological community would react?

DOS Press Release, China MOU, New York Times Article and Some Additional Thoughts About the MOU's Impact on Coins

The Department of State has issued the following press release concerning the MOU with China:

The State Department has also released the text of the MOU:

On an initial read, two of the provisions stand out:

9. The Government of the People’s Republic of China shall continue to license the sale and export of certain antiquities as provided by law and will explore ways to make more of these objects available licitly.

10. Recognizing that, pursuant to this Memorandum of Understanding, museums in the United States will be restricted from acquiring certain archaeological objects, the Government of the People’s Republic of China agrees that its museums will similarly refrain from acquiring such restricted archaeological objects that are looted and illegally exported from Mainland China to destinations abroad, unless the seller or donor provides evidence of legal export from Mainland China or verifiable documentation that the item left Mainland China prior to the imposition of U.S. import restrictions. This will apply to purchases made outside Mainland China by any museum in Mainland China and only to the categories of objects representing China’s cultural heritage from the Paleolithic Period through the end of the Tang Dynasty (A.D. 907), and monumental sculpture and wall art at least 250 years old, as covered by this Memorandum of Understanding.

The first may be considered as a recognition that licit markets exist in China and that opportunities for licit export may be expanded. The second point may be viewed as a recognition that Chinese museums (many of which though technically "private" are in fact run by entities associated with elements within the government) should be held to the same standards as American museums-- at least as to artifacts acquired abroad.

Finally, today's New York Times has a story about the agreement:

Despite the title that suggests little opposition to the agreement, I find the text to be fairly balanced.

I would, however, echo Jim Lally's concerns about fair enforcement, particularly when it comes to coins. Indeed, many Chinese coins of the types covered under the agreement have so little monetary value that it makes little sense for importers to go through the time and effort to secure the necessary certifications for licit import. For example, at the CPAC hearing in February 2005, I passed around a Han Dynasty cash coin from the 1st c. BC (bought for $2.25) and a Tang Dynasty cash coin c. 618-907 AD (bought for $8.00).

Given the transactional costs involved in preparing the necessary paperwork, again, we have the classic case of government regulation falling heavily on those who want to comply with the law by declaring items properly. In contrast, others so inclined will probably be able to easily smuggle these highly concealable objects into the country with only a limited chance of "getting caught."

Report on Lord Renfrew Talk in New York

Rick Witschonke, a fellow ancient coin collector, wrote the following report about Lord Renfrew's recent talk in New York sponsored by the advocacy group, SAFE. Rick kindly gave his consent to post his report on my blog. Here it is:


Thought you might be interested in a brief report on Renfrew's talk at CUNY last evening.

The event was sponsored by SAFE, so Renfrew was introduced by Cindy Ho; his topic was "Combating the Illicit Antiquities Trade: A Time for Clarity". He spoke for about an hour, and it was mostly his standard anti-Museum agenda, with a few differences. He still spent a lot of time on the Met and Getty (his primary targets last time I saw him), but, with new Directors and new acquisition policies in place at both, he expressed cautious optimism that things had really changed. Ironically, in his discussion of the return of the Lydian treasure, he showed a photo including the gold hippocamp, but failed to mention that subsequent to its return to Turkey it has been stolen and presumably melted (cf. Waxman "Loot"). He also focused on the Bactrian gold trumpet (L.2001.65.1) which has been published as seen in Kabul in 1977, but is still on exhibit at the Met as "Promised gift of Shelby White". He also showed some very detailed color photos of the Medici Geneva warehouse, which I have never seen in print (I wonder where he got them). Renfrew's new primary target seems to be BMFA, which he strongly criticised; he spent about 5 minutes on the Weary Hercules. The overall message was the need for vigilance to ensure that museums live up to their new policies.

The talk was followed by Q&A, so, knowing that Renfrew had supported PAS when its funding was threatened, I took the opportunity to ask: "Do you think that if other source countries were to adopt similar schemes, that it would help to reduce looting ?". His answer was an unqualified yes ("brilliant scheme"), with none of the usual caveats about it not being our place to dictate antiquity policy to other nations. He did, however, express regret that about the increase in UK metal detecting, but says he considers it a lost cause. Overall, an interesting evening.



Friday, January 16, 2009

Summary of Public Hearing on China

To provide the decision to impose import restrictions on Chinese artifacts some context, here is a link to a report done about the 2005 CPAC hearing on China from NY Chinese Art Dealer, James Lally:

Text of Chinese Import Restrictions Published


Following the internal links, one should also note that these restrictions assume China includes Taiwan. Thus, archaeological artifacts legally exported from Taiwan could be subject to seizure by US Customs for return to China.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Long-Delayed Chinese Import Restrictions Imposed

The State Department and US Customs have finally "pulled the trigger" on the PRC import restrictions, which have been pending since 2005. The restrictions will be published in the Federal Register and become effective tomorrow.

This 12th hour decision of the Bush Administration reminds me of the 12th hour decision of the Clinton Administration to impose import restrictions on Classical Greek and Roman artifacts from Italy.

The Chinese restrictions cover archaeological materials representing China’s cultural heritage from the Paleolithic Period (c. 75,000 B.C.) through the end of the Tang Period (A.D. 907) and irreplaceable monumental sculpture and wall art at least 250 years old.

On first reading, the breadth of the restrictions are extensive, but for most categories, no where near as extensive as China's original request which purportedly sought restrictions on artifacts made as recently as 1911.

As those following the ACCG-IAPN-PNG FOIA litigation against the State Department know, there continues to be some question as to whether China actually asked for coins to be included in the request, or whether bureaucrats within the State Department's "Cultural Heritage Center" added them on their own or at the behest of American archaeologists.

In any event, the following types are now restricted:

3. Coins.

a. Zhou Media of Exchange and Tool-shaped Coins: Early media of exchange include bronze spades, bronze knives, and cowrie shells. During the 6th century BC, flat, simplified, and standardized cast bronze versions of spades appear and these constitute China’s first coins. Other coin shapes appear in bronze including knives and cowrie shells. These early coins may bear inscriptions.

b. Later, tool-shaped coins began to be replaced by disc-shaped ones which are also cast in bronze and marked with inscriptions. These coins have a central round or square hole.

c. Qin: In the reign of Qin Shi Huangdi (221–210 BC) the square-holed round coins become the norm. The new Qin coin is inscribed simply with its weight, expressed in two Chinese characters ban liang. These are written in small seal script and are placed symmetrically to the right and left of the central hole.

d. Han through Sui: Inscriptions become longer, and may indicate that inscribed object is a coin, its value in relation to other coins, or its size. Later, the period of issue, name of the mint, and numerals representing dates may also appear on obverse or reverse. A new script, clerical (lishu), comes into use in the Jin.

e. Tang: The clerical script becomes the norm until 959, when coins with regular script (kaishu) also begin to be issued.

In point of fact it will be exceptionally difficult for any Customs inspector to distinguish a round cash coin with a central hole from the Qin -Tang dynasties from other equally numerous cash coins dating down to 1911. And, of course, given the millions of such coins extant, one might ask why even try?

In any event, I am sure this decision will be an exceptionally hot topic.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Is Transparency a One-Way Street?

In a series of recent lectures, Lord Renfrew and the advocacy group SAFE have made a big show of demanding greater transparency from museums about their acquisition policies. The same group -- along with associated bloggers and organizations like the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CARRI) --has also demanded greater transparency from the antiquities and coin trade. I'm not so sure that demands on private parties should be the same as those on public ones. In any case, what about more transparency within the archaeological community itself, particularly when it comes to the archaeological community's interactions with foreign governments as well as its stewardship over archaeological digs and the artifacts found within them?

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Resca to the Rescue

Italians are trendsetters in food, fashion and lifestyle, but certainly no one wants to copy Italy's system of government. Its fractious politics have allowed a choking bureaucracy to take hold over most everything in government, including cultural affairs. From a recent report in the New York Times, I had thought this bureaucracy had staved off reform once again. See

However, perhaps the New York Times was a bit too pessimistic. At least according to the Wall Street Journal, the prospect for reform actually lives on in the person of Mario Resca. Resca, previously best known for running Italy's McDonald's franchises, has apparently survived efforts to derail the Berlusconi Government's plans to appoint him to help turn around Italy's ailing museums. See:

I wish Mr. Resca luck in making Italy's museums more user-friendly as well as in clamping down on the "fannulloni" or "slackers."

Incidentally, if Mr. Resca wants to take in a model museum display, he should visit the National Gallery of Art's exhibit entitled, "Pompeii and the Roman Villa." See: As always, the National Gallery has done a fantastic job of installing artifacts (many of which are from Italy) in a manner that makes them just shine.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Milken, Treasure Act and PAS

I have to admit, I have been meaning to read the Milken Institutes's report mentioned here on my blog: However, a busy spell at work, plus an antiquated computer that makes downloads of this nature exceptionally tedious has thwarted my plans. Anyway, David Gill of the "Looting Matters" blog has saved me the trouble. I was particularly interested to learn what Milken had to say about the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). According to Gill, the nub of the discussion was as follows:

The scheme has also been criticized by some scholars as legalizing looting, promoting the removal of artifacts by amateurs. Proponents of the plan counter that the looting was happening already and that the scheme encourages those who have looted to at least document what was taken and from where, preserving minimal cultural context.


I have a differnt take. I suspect that the Milken Institute's pejorative analysis probably says much more about the jaundiced views of the those who organized its conference than anything else. In contrast, the British Government and most commentators have viewed the Treasure Act and PAS in a much more positive light.

Where members of the archaeological community that dominated the Milken Institute's conference may have viewed the Treasure Act and PAS as a "license to loot," others --including many prominent archaeologists and archaeological groups-- instead see the Treasure Act and PAS as a successful program that brings archaeologists and members of the public together to help study and preserve artifacts from the past. Even some not normally friendly to the interests of collectors, like Lord Renfrew and the AIA, have voiced support for the PAS during a recent debate over funding for the program. Hopefully, the Milken Institute will reevaluate its own stance on the Treasure Act and PAS in the not too distant future.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

LA Times "Culture Monster" Swallows SAFE Bait-- Hook, Line and Sinker

Like many other once powerful newspapers, the venerable LA Times is dying a slow and painful death. Circulation numbers and profits are way down. Editorial staff are being laid off. See: Like other news outlets, the LA Times may even eventually have to abandon the print format altogether just to survive.

Perhaps, this sad state of affairs helps explain why the LA Times "Culture Monster" published what appeared to be little more than a publicity piece for the upcoming Renfrew talks being sponsored by the archaeological advocacy group Saving Antiquities for Everyone or "SAFE." In the initial piece, the "Culture Monster" reported that Lord Renfrew had planned to criticize the MET for failing to adopt as stringent acquisition standards as the Getty or even agreeing to adopt the acquisition standards of the AAMD, a group with which the MET is affiliated. See:

The problem is that the MET has in fact adopted the new AAMD standards, a fact reported on the "CultureGirrl" blog some time ago. See: What is a "Culture Monster" to do then? Apologize for the mistake? Of course not-- he's a "Monster" after all. So instead, why not just take the opposite tact and give Renfrew and SAFE yet another opportunity to take the MET to task for not going "far enough?" See:

The real problem here of course is not the MET, but the declining journalistic standards at the LA Times. One would have hoped that the "Culture Monster" would have learned the hard way that relying on an advocacy group with an axe to grind against collectors and museums for one's stories is a recipe for trouble. But that would not appear to be the case given the "Culture Monster's" approach to "correcting" the story. Normally, editorial staff would be expected to help avoid such problems, but as we have seen, many of them have been laid off.

And what of SAFE? "PhDiva" has an amusing take on SAFE and Renfrew "taking credit" for "changing" the MET's policies. See: Now that's Chutzpa! And I thought the "Culture Monster" was bad....

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Brodie's Analysis of the Market in Iraqi Antiquities

Neil Brodie, formerly of the now defunct Illicit Antiquities Research Centre at Cambridge, has found a new home at Stanford at its "Archaeology Center." See:

Stanford is also the home of the celebrated legal scholar, John Merryman, though I suspect Merryman and Brodie "travel in different circles."

In any event, Brodie has written a paper entitled "The Market in Iraqi Antiquities 1980-2008." See:

The paper is "a work in progress." If so, hopefully Brodie will address a few issues that become readily apparent even after a rather cursory reading:

1. Brodie should do more to acknowledge the large numbers of Iraqi antiquities on the open market before 1980. Jerome Eisenberg of Royal Athena Galleries has stated that large numbers of cuneiform tablets were sold in department stores around the United States during the early years of the last century. Presumably, many of these tablets have lost their provenance by now. If Iraqi antiquities were widely available before 1980, doesn't that undercut Brodie's central thesis that unprovenanced Iraqi antiquities "must be recently looted?"

2. Brodie appears to be one of those willing to overlook Saddam Hussein's crimes just because he spent lavishly on archaeology (though with the primary purpose of aggrandizing his regime through a pseudo-association with early Mesopotamian civilizations). Brodie should at least acknowledge the involvement of Baath party officials in selling off Iraqi artifacts. This involvement has been detailed in several published sources.

3. There has been considerable recent press suggesting that tales of looting of Iraqi sites post 2003 have been greatly exaggerated. Brodie should acknowledge as much.

4. In figures 1 and 2, there appears to be a spike in the number of unprovenanced cylinder seals and cuneiform tablets in Christie's auctions in 2001 and in Sotheby's auctions in 1999. If this spike is due to increased looting as Brodie suggests, shouldn't we see that spike in the same year? Isn't it possible that all this means is that Christie's was more successful in winning collections of such items to bring to auction in 2001 while 1999 was a better year for Sotheby's?

5. Figures 3-7 and Tables 1-3 and 6 are interesting as they detail the limited number of lots available for sale (which stands in stark contrast to the oft heard claim that the Western markets have been "awash" in looted Iraqi antiquities) and their generally modest value (at least compared to other art). Does this support or detract from the archaeological establishment's claim that Western collectors have "driven looting" of Iraqi archaeological sites?

6. Brodie acknowledges that the glare of adverse publicity may have convinced auctioneers to stop auctioning unprovenanced Iraqi antiquites in 2003, but then states, "The fact that unprovenanced Iraqi artifacts suddenly disappeared from the market after the adoption of the resolution [of the UN asking member states to clamp down on exports from Iraq] is an important one as it suggests that before 2003 a large part of the unprovenanced material on the market really had been illegally exported. Otherwise it could have been sold quite openly after that date without contravening UNSCR 1483." I am not sure this follows logically. The resolution in question asked UN member states to clamp down on Iraqi artifacts illicitly removed from Iraq after 1991. In the climate of the times and as Brodie himself suggests, many dealers were scared to sell any Iraqi antiquity provenanced or not.

7. Brodie states that there are more Iraqi cultural antiquities available on the Internet in 2008 than in 2006, but couldn't that just reflect the increased popularity of the Internet as a sales tool?

I suspect a specialist in the field may have more thoughts about Brodie's research. It would be interesting to hear more reactions to Brodie's efforts.