Saturday, February 27, 2010

Elkins' "Treasure Hunting 101 in America's Classrooms:" Propaganda or Scholarship?

With some difficulty, I've finally been able to procure a copy of Nathan Elkins' "Treasure Hunting 101 in America's Classrooms," published in the rather obscure (to at least some well-known libraries) "Journal of Field Archaeology." While an archaeologist of the David Gill school may view Elkins' work as scholarship, I consider it little more than distasteful propaganda, designed to demean Ancient Coins for Education ("ACE") and its program to pair collectors with schools to teach children about ancient history through coins.

According to Elkins, "[t]he program's practices directly sponsor criminal activities in source countries, such as Bulgaria, and the destruction of archaeological and cultural heritage." (Elkins at 487.) Never mind ancient coins of the type ACE uses in its program are widely available for sale in Bulgaria itself, and, indeed, the Bulgarian Constitutional Court recently struck down aspects of Bulgaria's recent antiquities law and instead concluded that an invoice will be sufficient to establish ownership. See, a fact Morag Kersel and Christina Luke rather crankily admit in their "editorial introduction." (Id. at 481.)

Darkly, Elkins also claims ACE effectively exploits children, cynically using them as pawns to support the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild's (ACCG's) agenda. He states, "ACE's activities ought to be of concern for another reason: the program is clearly being used to manipulate school children in order to promote their own private and commercial interests, especially since it became an affiliate member and ally of the ACCG in 2004." (Id. at 485.)

In this regard, Elkins first takes ACE to task because its founder appeared at a meeting of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee in 2005 to testify in favor of continuing an exemption for coins from import restrictions [because such would likely impact the ability of ACE to perform its core mission to use Roman coins to teach children about ancient history]. (Id.) But really, what's wrong with that? Elkins himself has testified at a subsequent CPAC hearing on Italy in favor of restrictions on coins, and pro-archaeological groups like the Archaeological Institute of America ("AIA"), Lawyer's Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, Saving Antiquities for Everyone, and the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute ("CAARI") have become fixtures at such meetings. Does Elkins agree with CAARI VP Ellen Herscher's patently ridiculous claim that archaeologists don't lobby? Or, is "lobbying" only okay if you take Elkins' "archaeology over all perspective?"

Elkins specifically dislikes ACCG's work with ACE to promote ancient coin collecting, suggesting that it is corrupting our youth. According to Elkins, "the remarks made by [ACCG ED] Wayne Sayles and [ACE Director] Scott Uhrick indicate an awareness that the ACE program is an excellent way to recruit future hobbyists and collectors and to indoctrinate them to the dealer lobby's point of view regarding the ethics of collecting and the attitudes they wish to impart." (Elkins at 486.) His antidote? Well, what I might characterizes as a good "brainwashing" by archaeologists, of course! (Id. at 487.) But really, is what ACE actually teaches children about ancient coins and history substantially different from similar programs undertaken over the years? No, but then, ACE actually gives ancient coins to both teachers and students. And that is what likely actually irks Elkins the most.

For more about ACE and its programs, see

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