Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What's Wrong with ECA Transparency?

One would think that the AIA, the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI), SAFE and its Bloggers Gill, Elkins and Barford would join the ACCG, IAPN, and PNG, several members of Congress, several former CPAC members and certain media outlets in pressing for greater ECA transparency when it comes to how the State Department handles requests for import restrictions on cultural artifacts. After all, as Mr. Kislak states in his declaration, if the State Department ECA worked in a more transparent manner, the quality of information provided to CPAC can only be improved. In addition, when a system is open and transparent, those who don't like a given result will be more likely to accept it. Thus, it would seem to be a "no brainer" that transparency would appear to be in every one's best interest.

Though critical of the ACCG-IAPN-PNG lawsuit, Bloggers Gill, Elkins and Barford have not yet really explained what is wrong with the State Department releasing detailed information about foreign requests for import restrictions and the CPAC reports themselves once a decision has been made. Certainly, in the past, the State Department has prepared at least one "public summary" of the Chinese request for import restrictions and has also released other CPAC reports, including one related to Italy. Doesn't that in itself raise questions about why the State Department first ignored the ACCG-IAPN-PNG FOIA requests (in some cases for years) and then has fought the release of similar information, particularly related to the Cypriot request?

Could it be that its release will just confirm that the controversial decision to change existing precedent with respect to coins was based on little more than blatant cronyism involving former Undersecretary of State Burns, Cultural Heritage Center ED Maria Kouroupas, CAARI, and other archaeological interests? See;

Could such information being made public only raise deeper questions about the incestuous relationship between Cultural Heritage Center staff and advocates for the archaeological community, including an "advisor" for SAFE? See, e.g.: and and

Could fear that openness will "end the party" help explain the motives for SAFE associated Bloggers attacking the ACCG-IAPN-PNG effort to force ECA transparency through a FOIA lawsuit?


Tuesday, April 28, 2009

More "Publicity" About FOIA Lawsuit and Questions That Follow About 1970 Rule for Coins

David Gill and fellow SAFE bloggers Nathan Elkins and Paul Barford have made no less than six (6) posts in 24 (twenty-four) hours commenting in predictably unfavorable terms on various aspects of an update on this blog about the ACCG-IAPN-PNG FOIA lawsuit and its effort to force some transparency on the State Department bureaucracy. To varying degrees, the tenor of their comments suggest that "the distasteful nature of the dialogue" that has developed with respect to cultural property issues has as much to do with themselves as anyone else.

When they are not insulting the Plaintiffs or the former CPAC Chair who submitted a declaration in the litigation, they touch on various legal issues related to the Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") and the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act ("CPIA"). However, rather than relying on Gill and friends for legal analysis, I instead suggest reviewing Scott Hodes' "the FOIA Blog" (see: and the ECA's own "International Cultural Heritage Protection" website for information about the governing law. See: A short recap of the CPIA can also be found on this blog here: Certainly, Barford in particular is way off base when he claims that the only relevant criteria under the CPIA is whether or not coins are "archaeological objects." Additionally, he also shows little, if any, understanding about the practical effect of import restrictions on those trying to legally import large numbers of ancient coins.

In any event, at the end of his own musings on the subject, Gill wonders aloud, "Is it usual, tolerable, moral and legal (and not forgetting ethical) to acquire recently-surfaced archaeological objects (including coins) that have no recorded collecting history prior to 1970?" See:

My answer, at least with respect to coins is, of course, a resounding, Yes! See: Indeed, I would appreciate Gill naming for me any and all well known numismatic scholars that unequivocally support his 1970 acquisition date rule for coins. I certainly am not aware of any, but admittedly, I don't run in Gill's circles.

Eakin on Cuno

Hugh Eakin has written about Jim Cuno's recent works in the New York Review of Books. See: Whether one agrees with Eakin's views or not, he is a thoughtful and careful writer, something we need more of in the cultural property field.

Monday, April 27, 2009

ACCG, IAPN and PNG Press FOIA Claims

For an update of the ACCG-IAPN-PNG FOIA litigation against the State Department see:

Significantly, immediate past CPAC Chairman, Jay Kislak, has submitted a supporting Declaration. See:

That Declaration indicates that greater transparency is necessary to allow museums and members of the public to make informed presentations to CPAC. Mr. Kislak also supports the release of CPAC's recommendations concerning Cypriot coins. He states release of this material should clarify official State Department documentation that falsely suggests that CPAC agreed with the controversial decision to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type.

The numismatic groups have also contested the State Department’s search for responsive records to or from Maria Kouroupas, the Executive Director of the State Department’s Cultural Heritage Center, and to or from former Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns. Both Kouroupas and Burns are believed to have played important roles in changing then existing precedent exempting coins from import restrictions.

The Court is expected to decide within the next six (6) months whether the State Department is entitled to withhold the remaining information at issue.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Another Perspective on the "Status Quo"

Nathan Elkins has an interesting post where he expresses concern about the "status quo." See: For some reason, I can't open the link to Nathan's lecture, but I think I understand his drift from this post and others he has done over the past several years.

Specifically, he complains about

"an unregulated and unconcerned market, the distasteful nature of the dialogue that has developed in North America, and the urgent need for thoughtful collectors, archaeologists, and law enforcement to find common ground in the face of organized and unconcerned commercial interests."

Let me agree on some points and disagree on others. First, one must conclude that the market is hardly "unregulated." Customs officials in the US and Europe actively enforce their regulations. Nathan may think those regulations do not go far enough, but that is a different issue.

Second, Nathan wrongly discounts the contributions and views of ancient coin dealers, because like many in the archaeological community, he betrays a distrust for "commercial interests." But why are such interests any less valid than those of source countries, collectors and archaeologists? Certainly, all these groups are motivated to some extent by "self-interest." What dealers, collectors, archaeologists and source countries share is an interest in preserving artifacts, like ancient coins.

The differences between archaeologists and source countries on one hand and collectors and dealers on the other hand relate to value of private efforts to preserve ancient artifacts. In my opinion, a heavy dose of academic snobbery motivates those who constantly belittle the contributions of collectors and dealers in preserving, publishing and displaying artifacts from the past.

Nathan may or may not agree with this himself, but certainly coin dealers and collectors have been responsible for preserving millions and millions of ancient coins from oblivion. Coin dealers are also heavy contributors to organizations like the American Numismatic Society and American Numismatic Association. Without their generous funding, there would be a large void in numismatic research in the United States. In short, if coin dealers and collectors are suppressed, who will preserve, display and study all those coins? Certainly, archaeologists and source countries have difficulty handling those coins already in their charge. For example, it often takes decades for coin finds to be published, if they are published at all. This will hopefully change over time with the ability to post coins on line, but such a project is massive, and it is doubtful it will ever be mandated.

Third, as to the "distasteful nature of the dialogue that has developed in North America," I would have to agree that strongly held opinions in the area are all too often expressed in unfortunate terms. Still, it is wrong to imply that only those supporting the rights of collectors and coin and antiquities dealers are at fault or to suggest that the problem is limited to North America. Indeed, one of the very worst offenders posts from Eastern Europe and purports to represent the interests of the archaeological community.

All this raises another important point. The impact of spirited, but all too often nasty debate on the Internet between collectors and archaeologists pales in comparison to the effect of efforts to "blackball" academics who question the status quo within the archaeological community itself. Sometimes this is a none too subtle hint that speaking too strongly in favor of collectors is not good for one's career. Other times, there are more active "disciplinary measures" in the form of delays in processing excavation permits and the like.

Expressing one's opinion in negative terms on the Internet is one thing. Threatening an other's academic career is quite another. Such efforts to stifle debate within the archaeological community can only diminish any real hope for a workable compromise between the archaeological community and source countries on one hand and collectors and dealers on the other about the best way of protecting ancient artifacts. That is what is really wrong with the "status quo" in my opinion.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

NY Times Profiles Zahi Hawass

The New York Times has profiled Egypt's antiquities Pharoh, Zahi Hawass. See: As the Times observes,

There are scientists who say he is too concerned with self-promotion and is often loose with facts. There are Egyptian antiquities workers who complain that he takes credit for their accomplishments. But his penchant for drama and his virtual monopoly over Egypt’s unrivaled ancient riches have earned him an international following and helped Egypt sell itself to tourists at a time when tourism dollars are increasingly scarce.

Not everyone (me included) likes Hawass' methods, but he certainly has his own "style."

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

More Scorekeeping on the Koh Nomination to State Department Legal Post

The New York Times has the latest "scorecard" on problems facing the Koh nomination. See:

How One Archaeologist Has Come to Love eBay

The AIA Magazine has an interesting article from an archaeologist who purports to love eBay because it has brought a host of fakes onto the market. See: In essence, he believes that this cottage industry has led to a decline in looting as faking is "easier" than looting and far less likely to attract the unwelcome attention of the local authorities.

The archaeologist in question might be less happy about locals producing fakes if he were the victim of one of the local "entrepreneurs" I have heard about in Turkey. Apparently, they bury high quality fakes on archaeological sites with the hope they will be discovered and treated as genuine. What better way for a faker to prove the "authenticity" of a piece he wants to sell than to be able to point to a similar piece found in a bonafide local archaeological excavation?

And can we really be sure that an archaeologist will be any better than a collector or a dealer in telling a fake from the real thing? In the article itself, the author admits that the owner of a La Paz antiquities shop told him that an antiquity he thought was real was actually a fake. He then goes onto state that "the experts who study the objects are sometimes being trained on fakes. As a result, they may authenticate pieces that are not real." Certainly, none other than Zahi Hawass was apparently recently fooled by what purported to be a "real" Iraqi antiquity. See:

All in all, archaeologists should be careful what they wish for!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Vatican Says Knights Templar Hid Shroud of Turin

Many Christians believe that the Shroud of Turin is the burial cloth of Jesus. This Easter, the Vatican has weighed in with information that the Knights Templar hid the shroud for the period it disappeared from the historical record.

Here is an article about the revered relic, which was published in the Times of London and was circulated on the "Milnet" list serve:

Medieval knights hid and secretly venerated The Holy Shroud of Turin for more than 100 years after the Crusades, the Vatican said yesterday in an announcement that appeared to solve the mystery of the relic's missing years.

The Knights Templar, an order which was suppressed and disbanded for alleged heresy, took care of the linen cloth, which bears the image of a man with a beard, long hair and the wounds of crucifixion, according to Vatican researchers.

The Shroud, which is kept in the royal chapel of Turin Cathedral, has long been revered as the shroud in which Jesus was buried, although the image only appeared clearly in 1898 when a photographer developed a negative.

Barbara Frale, a researcher in the Vatican Secret Archives, said the Shroud had disappeared in the sack of Constantinople in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, and did not surface again until the middle of the fourteenth century. Writing in L'Osservatore Romano, the Vatican newspaper, Dr Frale said its fate in those years had always puzzled historians.

However her study of the trial of the Knights Templar had brought to light a document in which Arnaut Sabbatier, a young Frenchman who entered the order in 1287, testified that as part of his initiation he was taken to ´a secret place to which only the brothers of the Temple had access¡. There he was shown ´a long linen cloth on which was impressed the figure of a man¡ and instructed to venerate the image by kissing its feet three times.

Dr Frale said that among other alleged offences such as sodomy, the Knights Templar had been accused of worshipping idols, in particular a ´bearded figure¡. In reality however the object they had secretly venerated was the Shroud.

They had rescued it to ensure that it did not fall into the hands of heretical groups such as the Cathars, who claimed that Christ did not have a true human body, only the appearance of a man, and could therefore not have died on the Cross and been resurrected. She said her discovery vindicated a theory first put forward by the British historian Ian Wilson in 1978.

The Knights Templar were founded at the time of the First Crusade in the eleventh century to protect Christians making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The Order was endorsed by the Pope, but when Acre fell in 1291 and the Crusaders lost their hold on the Holy Land their support faded, amid growing envy of their fortune in property and banking.

Rumours about the order?s corrupt and arcane secret ceremonies claimed that novices had to deny Christ three times, spit on the cross, strip naked and kiss their superior on the buttocks, navel, and lips and submit to sodomy. King Philip IV of France, who coveted the order?s wealth and owed it money, arrested its leaders and put pressure on Pope Clement V to dissolve it.
Several knights, including the Grand Master, Jacques de Molay, were burned at the stake. Legends of the Templars? secret rituals and lost treasures have long fascinated conspiracy theorists, and figure in The Da Vinci Code, which repeated the theory that the knights were entrusted with the Holy Grail.

In 2003 Dr Frale, the Vatican?s medieval specialist, unearthed the record of the trial of the Templars, also known as the Chinon Parchment, after realising that it had been wrongly catalogued. The parchment showed that Pope Clement V had accepted the Templars were guilty of ´grave sins¡, such as corruption and sexual immorality, but not of heresy.

Their initiation ceremony involved spitting on the Cross, but this was to brace them for having to do so if captured by Muslim forces, Dr Frale said. Last year she published for the first time the prayer the Knights Templar composed when ´unjustly imprisoned¡, in which they appealed to the Virgin Mary to persuade "our enemies¡ to abandon calumnies and lies and revert to truth and charity.

Radiocarbon dating tests on the Turin Shroud in 1988 indicated that it was a medieval fake. However this had been challenged on the grounds that the dated sample was taken from an area of the shroud mended after a fire in the Middle Ages and not a part of the original cloth.
After the sack of Constantinople it was next seen at Lirey in France in 1353, when it was displayed in a local church by descendants of Geoffroy de Charney, a Templar Knight burned at the stake with Jacques de Molay.

It was moved to various European cities until it was acquired by the Savoy dynasty in Turin in the sixteenth century. Holy See property since 1983, the Shroud was last publicly exhibited in 2000, and is due to go on show again next year.

The Vatican has not declared whether it is genuine or a forgery, leaving it to believers to decide. The late John Paul II said it was ´an icon of the suffering of the innocent in every age.¡ The self proclaimed heirs of the Knights Templar have asked the Vatican to ´restore the reputation of the disgraced order and acknowledge that assets worth some £80 million were confiscated.

The Association of the Sovereign Order of the Temple of Christ, based in Spain, said that when the order was dissolved by Pope Clement V in 1307, more than 9,000 properties, farms and commercial ventures belonging to knights were seized by the Church. A British branch also claiming descent from the Knights Templar and based in Hertfordshire has called for a papal apology for the persecution of the order.

There were several orders of knights that figured during the Crusades, but perversely the demise of the Knights Templar has ensured their everlasting fame, albeit as the victims of conspiracy theories involving the Church.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Death and Destruction in Old Italian Mountain Towns

Michael Kimmelman writes in today's New York Times about the recent earthquake in Italy and its toll not only in human lives but in severe damage to historical properties in old mountain towns near Rome. See:

"Cultural Property Observer" offers its sincere condolences to Italy and its people during this Holy Week.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Holocaust Art "Town Hall Meetings"

The State Department has announced "Town Hall Meetings" in preparation for an upcoming international conference about Holocaust era art:

Holding such "Town Hall Meetings" is an interesting concept. I believe CPAC held a similar meeting in New York some time ago about import restrictions on cultural goods. With a new administration and new members of CPAC, perhaps now is the time to schedule another "Town Hall" on these issues as well.

Monday, April 6, 2009

A Scholar's Analysis of the Situation in Cyprus

The Cyprus Mail has reported on Swiss scholar Marc Fehlmann's analysis of the situation in Cyprus. See:

Fehlmann disagrees with the propaganda of the nationalist Greek Cypriot government that blames foreigners for looting in Cyprus. Instead, Fehlmann suspects most artifacts go to wealthy Cypriots. Fehlmann also suggests that Cyprus investigate a system akin to the British Treasure Trove and Portable Antiquities Scheme, though he wonders if it will work given the Cypriot "mindset."

For more about Fehlmann's views see: and

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Zahi Hawass: Jews Control the Entire World!

PhDiva provides a link to an interview in which Egypt's Antiquities Pharaoh, Zahi Hawass, maintains that "Jews control the entire world." See: Unfortunately, Hawass' views are common not only in Egypt, but in other parts of the Arab world as well. See:

Hawass' anti-semetic comments also have some relevance to cultural patrimony issues. Archaeology has been promoted in places like Egypt for blatantly nationalistic purposes. In extreme cases, such as in Baathist Iraq, nationalism and anti-semetism have even combined to promote the erasure of evidence of the presence of Jewish culture in the archaeological record. See:

Yet, archaeological activists continue to promote the jingoistic nationalism of countries like Egypt and Iraq and in so doing lionize individuals like Zahi Hawass. Why?

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Advocacy Group Hopes to "Recontextualize" Artifacts

The archaeological advocacy group Saving Antiquities from Everyone ("SAFrE') has announced a new initiative in conjunction with source countries to "recontextualize" artifacts repatriated from collectors and museums. According to SAFrE's spokesman, Gill Barmore, the idea to rebury artifacts is meant to give them a new life for archaeologists.

Certain Native American tribes and Native Hawaiian groups already rebury repatriated artifacts for religious purposes. SAFrE is merely taking this practice international with the help of cultural bureaucrats in countries like Cyprus, Greece and Egypt.

According to Barmore, "context is our religion so it makes sense that we give new context to artifacts which have lost their original context over the years through looting or failure to keep detailed provenance information." When asked what SAFrE plans to do once stocks of repatriated artifacts are gone, he indicated that the group will turn to all those artifacts sitting unstudied in archaeological storerooms around the world. "Let's face it," said Barmore. "Once an artifact sits on the shelf for a decade or so, without being published, the excitement is gone. Reburying the artifacts will give a new generation of archaeologists the thrill of discovery, and who knows, perhaps that will be all the incentive that is needed for them to actually sit down, record the provenance and get the artifact published. It's a win-win for all concerned."