Sunday, May 31, 2009

Paul Barford and the "Rape of History"

Never one for understatement, archaeologist Paul Barford has also blogged about UK coin finds, claiming that their sale constitutes a "rape of history." See:

While I agree that such coins should be properly recorded under the UK's VOLUNTARY PAS, let's be realistic about the worth of these coins for the study of British history.

First, from the descriptions provided all are likely very common coins of the Gallo-Roman Empire or later. The types are well known and thousands and thousands of similar examples already reside in museum collections across the UK and elsewhere (as well as in many private collections).

Second, from the encrusted and corroded look of them, it is likely that these coins are largely, if not mostly, groups of single surface or near-surface finds from disturbed contexts. As such, their value to archaeology is likely minimal, or even non-existent. Indeed, it would surprise me if such coins were recorded in any real detail when found at most archaeological sites.

If anything, such coins are so common that they have been ignored by scholars, who are more interested in "sexier areas" of Greek and Roman numismatics. Indeed, because he thought such coins were under appreciated, a collector friend of mine from the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington, D.C. even penned a book about such coins from the late Roman Empire. See: It seems to me that concrete effort to advance the study of numismatics is much more constructive than anything I have or will ever likely read on Mr. Barford's blog.

Given the number and length of his posts, Mr. Barford apparently has a lot of free time on his hands. Perhaps, if he truly thinks these coins are so significant, he could volunteer some of that time to help record, clean and identify by catalogue reference number some of the thousands upon thousands of similar coins found each year in the UK. Maybe, just maybe, a few weeks of weeding through piles and piles of virtually identical "AE 3's" and "AE 4's" might be just the thing to give Mr. Barford some much needed perspective.

Addendum: I asked Paul Barford to clarify this statement in his latest salvo: "'The study of "Numismatics' by itself is not really important in the broader scope of research on the human past ...." See: In this, Barford is demonstrably wrong. For example, much of our knowledge about Bactria is derived from the work of scholars who put together a chronology of the Kingdom based on the study of well-known coin types.

I also asked Nathan Elkins his thoughts on this point. See:

Their responses speak for themselves. I agree with Elkins that a multidisciplinary approach is useful for studying artifacts, but note his own course suggests that the iconography on coins can provide meaning without any reference to archaeology. See: Despite his stated respect for numismatists, it appears Barford's actual experience with coins is limited and that he indeed only values them as archaeological artifacts. Obviously, I disagree with his disdainful approach to the interest and contributions of anyone other than those with archaeological training.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Old Kashgar on Silk Road to Disappear

China's drive for modernity has now claimed the old Silk Road city of Kashgar. See:

Chinese authorities say the threat of devastating earthquakes has made bulldozing most of the Old City a necessity. In contrast, ethnic Uighur Nationalists claim the move is a thinly disguised effort to repress their culture. American archaeologists-- so vocal in supporting import restrictions on Chinese cultural goods because they claim they protect artifacts-- are nowhere to be seen or heard.

As the article notes, Chinese government officials think that is just fine:

What will remain of old Kashgar is unclear. Mr. Xu said that “important buildings and areas of the Old City have already been included in the country’s special preservation list” and would not be disturbed.

No archaeologists monitor the razings, he said, because the government already knows everything about old Kashgar.

Though a quick Internet search found no evidence of archaeological outrage over the plans, the AIA is sponsoring a "Silk Road" tour that will take in Old Kashgar. See: This may be the last chance for a good look.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

WWII Aircraft Salvors and War Dead

Here is an interesting article about WWII aircraft salvors and their impact on the search for war dead:

The article is quite interesting and raises the moral dilemmas inherent in this effort. Unsaid, however, is the fact that before these wrecked planes became valuable as relics, they were only worth their metal content. What makes the wrecks described in this article different is their inaccessibility. Planes that crashed in more easily accessible areas (with or without human remains) were long ago melted as scrap.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What's Wrong with Commercial Interests?

In a variety of posts, bloggers associated with Saving Antiquities for Everyone ("SAFE") have called into question the motivations of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild ("ACCG"), claiming that the ACCG is nothing more than a "dealer lobby" motivated solely by "commercial interests." This oft repeated refrain has recently reached a crescendo on the Barford and Elkins blogs, presumably because they have little constructive to say about the ACCG's good faith efforts to have courts address concerns about State Department transparency as well as the legality of the process for imposing import restrictions on cultural artifacts.

Wayne Sayles has already commented on the fact that these bloggers descriptions of the ACCG are inaccurate. See: "A Rose is a Rose" Nevertheless, that said, even if the ACCG were in fact a "dealer lobby" as is claimed and was solely motivated by "commercial interests," so what?

In America, at least, commercial interests are viewed to be just as legitimate as other interests. Indeed, for both political parties supporting the "commercial interests" of "small business" is “as American as apple pie."

And, let's face it. The numismatic trade is about as "small business" as you can get. Most numismatic dealers are "mom and pop" operations. Even the bigger firms rarely have more than fifteen employees. These “low net worth” small businesses have enough problems remaining economically viable in a recession. Add to that the prospect of government fiats demanding that these American small businesses require foreign small businesses provide certifications about a coin’s whereabouts (which is typically unavailable), before they can legally import the thousands and thousands of low value coins that they depend on to stay in business, and one might see why they might think their legitimate “commercial interests” are threatened.

But I digress. If you think about it, the archaeological community may be based in academia, but overall, it certainly cannot be all that critical of "commercial interests," particularly because such "commercial interests" write the checks that make their work possible. Indeed, I have to assume that the archaeologists that work at major archaeological digs, like that at Troy, are not really "anti-business." If they were, they really could not in good conscious accept funding from "big businesses" like Daimler Benz. See:

Hollywood is about as "commercial' as one can get. Yet, the AIA must have seen some "synergy' in naming Harrison Ford aka "Indiana Jones" as a Trustee, just in time for the opening of his "Crystal Skulls" movie. See:

And, what of the primary advocate for import restrictions on Cypriot coins? As previously stated in this blog, the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute ("CAARI") has accepted at least in-kind support from the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation-- an entity set up by a large privately owned bank. See: Under the circumstances, CAARI can't possibly really be "anti-business" either.

Finally, what about SAFE itself? Its website is nowhere as near as transparent as that of the ACCG as to its funding sources, but it is at least clear that SAFE has some ongoing relationship with the "Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America" (see and has also received support from the New York (repatriation and Holocaust art ) law firm of Herrick Feinstein. See and Presumably, SAFE also is not against "commercial interests," particularly when it is accepting their help for its own work.

In sum, claiming that the ACCG is a "dealer lobby" motivated by "commercial interests" is not only wrong, but it misses the point that there is absolutely nothing wrong with "commercial interests" pressing their own case.

Monday, May 25, 2009

First to Fall: The William Edward Cramsie Story

This Memorial Day it is worth mentioning that Wayne Sayles, better known as a numismatist, publisher, and founder and executive director of the ACCG, has written a book about the first member of West Point's Class of 1943 to fall in combat. See:

The survivors of the generation that fought in WW II are now passing from this earth at an accelerated rate. In this well done and unusual book, Wayne has reconstructed through interviews and research the life and death in the service of his country of an otherwise unknown pilot who was shot down after making a bombing run on a V-1 "Buzz Bomb" launch site.

It is also a book about the power of artifacts-- in this case a West Point class ring-- to inspire us. Through the story of that ring, Wayne's book serves to honor not only Bill Cramsie, but also his comrades whose exploits have begun to fade as their peers and loved ones age and pass on.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Orientations Commentary on China MOU

Orientations Magazine has published my commentary on the recent decision to impose import restrictions on Chinese cultural goods. An abbreviated version can be found here:

Friday, May 22, 2009

Coins from Troy

Sebastian Heath has uploaded a test page from a forthcoming digital publication of coins from Troy. See: and The work will presumably update the site's publication on coins, that dates back to 1961. See:

Sebastian Heath and his University sponsors deserve kudos for this effort. Few sites have published catalogues of coins in book form and when available, they are often dated, hard to find and expensive. Digital catalogues of site finds would seem to be a way to make information about coins found at archaeological sites easily available to both scholars and interested members of the public. Hopefully, more archaeologists will make publishing site finds of coins a priority in the future.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Nathan Ekins Post on Detectorist Finds from the UK

Nathan Elkins has commented on two groups of coins being sold as coming from detectorists in England. See:

Though I disagree with Nathan's tone and some of his conclusions, I do agree with his main point that artifacts found in the UK should be properly recorded and exported consistently with UK law. In this regard readers should note that the Treasure Act does not necessarily require reporting for individual coin finds , but that the law does encourage voluntary reporting of all finds under the Portable Antiquities Scheme.

I suspect it is quite possible that there was no legal obligation to report the coins if they were found individually. I also suppose it’s possible that the coins were reported by the finders under PAS and then sold to these two dealers, but I readily admit that might not be the case. I also suspect that the US dealers or the finders may have not sought to procure an export license for the coins, though it is possible that the individuals involved might have not realized that an export license was required under UK law.

In any event, the PAS publishes a nice summary of "advice for people buying archaeological artifacts from the UK:"

UK authorities also have issued this guidance for the export of cultural goods, including numismatic items:

From my perspective, I would be happy if US Customs was more forceful in helping the UK to enforce its fair laws rather than in effect underwriting enforcement of Cyprus' unfair, nationalistic laws by detaining any and all designated coins of Cypriot type based on the erroneous assumption that they "must be stolen" from Cyprus.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Coins of Cyprus from the Collection of the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation

The Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation (BOCCF) has published its collection in an extremely well done book. It is available here:

I have previously blogged about the collection and the hypocrisy of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CARRI) and the BOCCF in arguing for a clamp down on Americans collecting unprovenanced coins when the BOCCF collection is filled with coins with no published ownership history. See:

The new book only underscores that point. The forward notes, "Beginning in the 1960's, the Bank of Cyprus has been purchasing ancient and medieval Cypriot coins from European auction houses" i.e., from the exact same sources many American collectors and dealers rely upon.

No provenance information for the coins is provided with the otherwise detailed descriptions of individual pieces in the collection. Moreover, as most of the coins have accession dates after 1970, one suspects that many likely have no provenance information stretching back to the "1970 cut-off" date demanded by archaeologists like David Gill.

Yet, I am not aware of Gill, or, for that matter, his echos, Elkins and Barford, the two other SAFE-associated bloggers that criticise American ancient coin collectors and dealers almost daily for purchasing unprovenanced coins, similarly criticising the BOCCF, or, for that matter, other private or public museums in source countries, like Greece, that purchase and display similar unprovenanced coins.

The BOCCF hopes that its book "will become the definitive source of information for scholars, for students and for all who wish to study the history of Cypriot coinage." I would add this book should also be of much value to American collectors and dealers, who only want to be able to continue to enjoy preserving and displaying historic Cypriot coinage, like the BOCCF and fellow collectors residing in Cyprus.

Friday, May 15, 2009

"Looting Matters" Takes to PR Newswire

David Gill promises weekly stories to be circulated to media outlets via PR Newswire. See: and

The ACCG has also used PR Newswire in the past, but only on an occasional basis due to cost concerns. PR Newswire is not a free service. The base cost for posting in the "top public interest markets" is $450.00 with an additional $115.00 fee per each additional 100 words. See: Presumably, Gill is paying these or similar rates weekly unless he is eligible for some particular discount.

I don't begrudge Gill publicizing his views on unprovenanced artifacts and repatriation to source countries, but the cost of PR Newswire raises an obvious question about funding.

Gill does not identify the funding source(s) for this effort. He should do so in the interests of transparency. (I've asked him point blank in the comments section to his blog. Hopefully, he will provide an answer. If he is funding it himself, I will be duly impressed by his level of commitment. If, on the other hand, his work is being funded by some entity associated with a foreign government seeking repatriation of artifacts, that would suggest something entirely different.)

In any event, by placing stories on PR Newswire, Gill ultimately simply underscores the fact that his work (like that of fellow SAFE associated bloggers Elkins and Barford) has precious little to do with dispassionate academic research and, instead, has everything to do with advocacy for an "archaeology over all perspective." However impressive Gill's credentials, readers of "PR Newswire" should judge that work accordingly.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Recording the Past: How Different European Countries Deal with Portable Antiquities

On September 7, 2009, the BM will be sponsoring a program about how different European countries deal with portable antiquities:



This conference aims to gain a wider understanding of how different European countries deal with portable antiquities (archaeological small finds) found by members of the public and promote best practice amongst finders. The key questions that speakers will address are: whether there is a legal requirement for finders of portable antiquities to report archaeological objects and whether the state claims ownership of them; whether it is permissible to search for such finds with a metal-detector or by other means; how many people (in that country) are known to search for archaeological objects (legally or not); how many objects are reported each year; and whether the systems in place (in that country) work as well as they could or whether improvements could be made. It is hoped the conference will help identify the main strengths and weaknesses of the different approaches adopted by countries across Europe, in order to draw conclusions as to how best to preserve an archaeological record of finds found, develop best practice, and find ways to educate the public about the importance of such finds for understanding the past.

09:30 Registration

09:45 Welcome: Neil MacGregor, Director, British Museum

10:00 Dr Roger Bland (British Museum, London), The English and Welsh approach to portable antiquities: a perfect system or fundamentally flawed?

10:25 Dr Alan Saville (National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh), Little and large: portable antiquities and treasure trove in Scotland.

10:50 Dr Cormac Bourke (Ulster Museum, Belfast), Found objects: the Northern Ireland

11:15 coffee

11.45 Dr Eamonn P Kelly (National Museum, Dublin), Portable antiquities in the Republic of

12:10 Dr Johan Nicolay (University of Groningen), Metal detection in the Netherlands: the law and reality.

12:35 Dr Martin Segschneider (Archäologisches Landesamt, Schleswig Holstein), Methods of cooperation with metal detectorists in Schleswig-Holstein - first results and experiences.

13:00 lunch (not provided)

14:00 Dr Mogens Bo Henrikson (Odense Museum), Detectors and Danefæ in Denmark.

14:30 Dr Michel Amandry (Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris), The French law on antiquities.

15:00 Dr Andrej Gaspari (Military Museum of Slovenian Armed Forces, Ljubljana), Purchase, compensation or reward? Abolition scheme for the illegally excavated archaeological artefacts between law and practice (experience from the Republic of Slovenia).

15:30 coffee

16:00 Gábor Lassányi (Aquincum Museum), Metal detecting and the antiquities law in Hungary.

16:30 Prof Aleksander Bursche (Instytut Archeologii, Uniwersytet Warszawski), Metal Detecting in Poland – law and reality.

17:00 Discussion

17:30 Close

Bookings: please send a cheque for £15 payable and your contact details to The British Museum to Claire Costin, Department of Portable Antiquities & Treasure, The British Museum, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DG. Tel: 0207 323 8618.

Monday, May 11, 2009

In Britain, Guys With Metal Detectors Find Respect Along With History

Today's Washington Post has a front page article about the success of the British and Welsh Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme and its possible applicability elsewhere.

The UK system works because it recognizes that finders, dealers, collectors and museums have just as legitimate interests as archaeologists and the state. The article suggests if more countries adopted such a system, we would be hearing much more about new finds being recorded for posterity and much less about looting.

Two years ago Roger Bland came to speak at the Capitol building. Representatives of the Cypriot and Turkish governments were there. Too bad his words apparently fell on deaf ears.

Perhaps, this system can also be applied here in the US in some fashion. Here is the article:

In Britain, Guys With Metal Detectors Find Respect Along With History

By Mary Jordan
Washington Post Foreign Service Monday, May 11, 2009

PENARTH, Wales -- Derek Eveleigh walked carefully, searching for buried treasure.
"It's such a thrill when I find something -- and I often do," Eveleigh said as he listened to the steady beeps of his metal detector. Not far away from this Welsh seaside town, he recently found 6,000 copper coins dating to the Roman Empire.

"It turned out they were 1,700 years old! Many emperors ago," said Eveleigh, 79, one of thousands of British "metal detectorists" who search for history as a hobby.

While archaeologists in many countries, including the United States, disparage amateurs like Eveleigh, Britain embraces them. Last year alone, 4,300 metal detectorists reported tens of thousands of finds: Bronze Age axes, Roman brooches and hairpins, medieval candlesticks and swords, and thousands of other relics.

Before museum archaeologists began working with metal detector enthusiasts a decade ago, only about 25 reported discoveries annually met the official definition of "treasure" -- the most rare finds, which include gold and silver caches more than 300 years old. Every year since, that number has soared, hitting 802 last year.

"The collections in our museums would be thinner without the detectorists' finds," said Roger Bland, head of Portable Antiquities and Treasure at the British Museum in London, as he pointed out jewelry, coins and other displays found by weekend warriors combing fields for fun.
All around the world, long-buried antiquities are turning up as modern farm machinery plows ever deeper into the soil. At the same time, more sophisticated detectors can pinpoint coins, swords, necklaces, knives and other relics hidden deeper underground.

This has alarmed many.

Looters are sneaking onto protected historical sites -- Civil War battlefields in the United States, archaeological sites in Thailand, cemeteries in Italy -- and finding objects to sell privately.
In England, these thieves with metal detectors are called "nighthawks." People are prohibited from bringing detectors onto protected historical sites and monuments, but many holes in the ground have been discovered where items have been removed.

In Ireland, as in many countries, the use of metal detectors is restricted.

Nessa O'Connor, archaeological curator at the National Museum of Ireland, said there is concern that treasure seekers will "dig a hole through an Iron Age burial" to get a brooch and destroy the historical information that could be gleaned from a careful unearthing.

British authorities estimate there are about 10,000 metal-detecting enthusiasts and say the vast majority are responsible people who obey the law, seek permission to go on private land and even watch out for thieves. Also, by working with detectorists, offering to authenticate objects and paying market value for those declared treasure, British museums aim to minimize the number of antiquities quietly dug up and sold on eBay.

In many European countries, buried treasures recovered from the soil and not traced to any family are deemed state property; often a relatively small fee is paid to the finder. That is also seen as a reason many finders choose to keep secret their discoveries and sell them privately.
Since the 1996 Treasure Act became law, finders in Britain are offered market value for their discoveries, and museums have the first option to buy official treasures.

Mark Lodwick is an archaeologist at the National Museum Wales who works out of the back room of the grand museum in Cardiff.

He is part of a network of "finds liaison officers" -- archaeologists throughout England and Wales who regularly attend metal-detectorist club meetings so people know to call them when they hit a relic.

"Every day the phone rings," Lodwick said.

His office is cluttered with labeled plastic bags full of items brought to him by collectors, most of whom are men, he said. He visits sites where significant artifacts are found, such as the field where Eveleigh unearthed his hoard of coins in two broken pots.

The overwhelming majority of items turned over to museum archaeologists are returned to the finders after their information is recorded.

Rare discoveries -- such as the million-dollar 10th-century Viking treasure trove a father and son discovered with their metal detectors two years ago -- receive extensive publicity. But most have little commercial value -- cracked pieces of medieval pottery, for instance -- though archaeologists and enthusiasts still cherish what they tell of life centuries ago.

"If you want to get into metal detecting to make a profit, forget it," said Trevor Austin, general secretary for the National Council for Metal Detecting, a body that represents those in the hobby. "As a general rule, people get into it for the historical aspect, to find a Roman or medieval coin -- that's the interest."

Americans come to Britain to pursue the hobby here because of the liberal laws and the richness of the country's buried bounty.

Dick Stout, founder of the Federation of Metal Detector and Archaeological Clubs in the United States, said there have been only rare examples of U.S. archaeologists working with detectorists. After a fire swept through the Little Bighorn Battlefield in eastern Montana in 1984, a team of detectorists helped find remnants of battles where George Armstrong Custer made his famous last stand.

Stout, a Texas resident, said that on his side of the Atlantic, "too many people associate the pastime with the old guy at the beach searching for pennies and dimes."

Eveleigh's 5,913 copper coins were found to date from A.D. 260 to 269 and valued at $83,000. "If they were gold or silver, they would be worth much more," said Eveleigh, an optimistic man who likes to be alone. He will split the money with the landowner, as is customary.

He is delighted his find will be displayed at the National Museum in Cardiff, five miles from his home in Penarth. "One day I'll be gone, and my grandchildren will go to the museum and say, 'My grandfather found that,' " he said.

His 17-year-old grandson remembers the one and only time he joined Eveleigh on a search. "I ended up staying in the car eating a sandwich. It was pouring but he was out for hours, even jumping over fences," he said.

Eveleigh, a retired watch repairman, said only now is he really getting into his hobby, as he nears 80.

"When I rubbed those coins in my hands, I couldn't believe it," he said.

As he walked through a neighbor's horse farm on a recent cloudy day, the signal on his detector grew stronger. He shoved his spade into the soft ground. He found an inch-long piece of metal, encrusted in dirt, that he held close to his pale blue eyes.

"Looks like shrapnel," he surmised.

Bombs were dropped here during World War II, he said as he put his newest find in a worn blue plastic bag, just as he has with 19th-century coins, brooches and shoe buckles on days past.
"I like walking in the country," Eveleigh said. "Sometimes pheasants walk beside me. Sometimes there are rabbits or a view to the sea. It's fantastic. "

ACCG Imports Restricted Coins for Test Case

The ACCG has imported unprovenanced coins of Cypriot and Chinese type for purposes of a test case. See:

As I state in the ACCG press release, “Research and discovery to date in a separate ongoing Freedom of Information Act case strongly suggests that State Department bureaucrats acted improperly by adding coins to import restrictions on Chinese cultural goods without any formal request from PRC officials. Even more troubling, is their July 2007 decision to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type, which appears to have been adopted contrary to the recommendations of CPAC.”

My firm will be pursuing this matter on behalf of the ACCG. See:
In addition, the ACCG is also receiving legal advice and counsel from the well-known customs law firm of Serko, Simon, Gluck & Kane LLP for purposes of this litigation. See:

The ACCG hopes that this Customs action will allow a Court to ultimately determine whether the Department of State's actions are arbitrary and capricious.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Iraqi Bureaucratic Infighting, Babylon, Anti-Semitism and Torahs

The New York Times has reported on the new Iraqi government reasserting control over the site of ancient Babylon. See: For more about Babylon, also see:

The New York Times article chronicles the bureaucratic infighting over control of the site and touches upon the anti-Semitic comments of an Iraqi official associated with the State Board of Antiquities. As part of a political blame game, that official makes the claim that soldiers of Jewish heritage from Poland might have damaged the site in revenge for the "Babylonian Captivity" of the Jews thousands of years ago. As SAFE associated Blogger Paul Barford points out, this claim is simply ridiculous based on census data alone. See: (Finally, I agree with Mr. Barford on something!)

Unfortunately, this brand of anti-Semitism is not confined to the new Iraq, but rather is prevalent in the Arab world. And, though Mr. Barford does not mention it, if anything, such views were even more prevalent in the "Old Iraq" of Saddam Hussein.

I recently watched a rather interesting "History Channel" presentation that traced the roots of Saddam Hussein's Baathist party back to a failed pro-Nazi coup in Iraq in 1941. Like Hitler and the Nazis, the leader of that coup , "the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem," made hatred of Jews a cornerstone of his politics. See: This hatred of Jews later manifested itself in Saddam's Iraq to such an extent that Jews were even literally erased from the archaeological record. See:

Of course, though Mr. Barford is right to condemn Iraqi anti-Semitism, the fact that it continues to flourish at such a high level in the Iraqi government raises serious questions about returning Jewish artifacts like Torahs to Iraq that Barford and fellow SAFE associated archaeologists fail to acknowledge. See:

If the State manifests such a hatred for a particular religious group, isn't returning artifacts to that State's care simply wrong? Rather, shouldn't Joffe's principle of "non-refoulment" apply to ensure that Torahs from Iraq are instead reunited with Jewish groups that will treasure them? See again: