Friday, October 15, 2010

CPAC Hearing on the Proposed Greek MOU

On October 12, 2010, the United States Cultural Advisory Committee (“CPAC”) conducted a public hearing to discuss a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with the Hellenic Republic.

Despite the importance of the hearing, only six (6) CPAC members attended: Reid (Chair, museum representative); Holladay (public representative); O’Brien (public representative); Korver (trade representative); Connelly (archaeological representative); and Wilkie (archaeological representative).

There was a large Greek delegation present, led by the Deputy Chief of Mission, Ioannis Vrailas. A representative of the Alpha Bank (which maintains a large coin collection) was also present.

Ten speakers spoke in favor of the proposed MOU. Eight speakers expressed reservations about the MOU or the extension of import restrictions to coins.

Chairwoman Reid allowed Mr. Vrailas to address the Committee first. He took the opportunity to read the “public summary” found on the State Department website into the record. Generally speaking, this recounted Greek history down to the 18th c., Greek cultural laws and looting in Greece. He did, however, indicate that Greece only seeks restrictions on artifacts that are “exclusively found on Greek territory.” He also claimed that 61% of seizures were of coins. (This makes sense since coins are so numerous.)

A representative of the Greek cultural establishment then spoke. In possible contradiction to Mr. Vralis, she indicated that Greece seeks restrictions on all unprovenanced artifacts. She justified this request on the basis that context once lost is lost to all future generations.

Proponents of the MOU then spoke. James Wright of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens indicated that there is current looting in Greece, particularly in remote areas. Wright passed around some pictures of looted tombs and then discussed grave robbing by well known locals. He indicated that tomb robbers typically destroy less valuable artifacts along with the context. In response to a question by CPAC member Joan Connelly (archaeology), Wright indicated that coins are subject to looting and that 3 Frankish coins that were found had an important story to tell about a settlement. Wright also maintained that coins struck in Greece did not circulate outside of Greece. CPAC Member Robert O’Brien (public) asked Wright about Greek police enforcement activities. Wright indicated that Greek police are vigilant in such matters. Robert Korver (trade) asked Wright about the use of metal detectors. Wright indicated that he had no personal experience with them, but that it is evident that they are used to look for coins.

Laetitia La Follette is an art history professor at the University of Massachusetts. She also spoke during the Italian MOU hearing. She indicated that looters steal from tombs and destroy what they do not want to sell. She also reiterated the Greek statistic that 61% of recovered artifacts are coins. She believes that museums should pursue long term loans.

Jessica Nitske teaches at Georgetown University. She believe that long term loans are a better solution than purchasing antiquities that lack a provenance and might be fake. She believes the art market fosters the destruction of both artifacts and context.

Elsie Friedland teaches classics at George Washington University. She reiterated her testimony from the Italian MOU hearing last May. She believes students are more interested in ancient art when they can also learn about its context.

Senta German teaches at Montclair State. She supports the MOU and its extension to coins. She is concerned about the loss of context and the fact that the US is a major market for Greek antiquities. She believes that our nation’s founding fathers appreciation for Greek culture argues for supporting this MOU.

Richard Leventhal teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and is a curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Prof. Leventhal reiterated many of the same comments he made during the Italian MOU hearing. He is opposed to licit markets in antiquities. He does not believe in the concept of duplicates because each object is unique. Catherine Reid (CPAC Chair, museum) asked Leventhal about the effect of Penn’s adoption of 1970 provenance rules. Leventhal believes such rules provided the groundwork for the AAMD’s recent adoption of similar rules. He did concede that few new artifacts have come to the museum since the adoption of these rules. What has been accessioned has been only accessioned after a rigorous review process.

Sebastian Heath is a VP for Ethics at the AIA. He is a strong supporter of the proposed MOU and its extension to coins. He discussed the recent seizure of two statues of youths in Greece. He also recounted the repatriation of a rare EID MAR denarius struck by Brutus, purportedly in Greece as a reason the MOU should be adopted. CPAC member Connelly (archaeology) asked Heath about bronze coins. He indicated these did not circulate. CPAC member Korver (trade) asked Heath about whether restrictions should apply to a Roman coin found in Greece. Heath answered in the affirmative. Heath believes that a common Roman coin found in context is equally valuable to a Brutus Denarius found in context.

Arthur Houghton, identied as representing the Cultural Policy Research Institute, indicated that the MOU as proposed is devoid of specifics. He advocates sending back the request to define what is Greek and to coordinate this with other countries.

Brian Rose is the AIA’s president and is a professor and curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Rose indicated that the AIA has had a long relationship with Greece. He believes the MOU will help preserve context in Greece. He also supports an extension of import restrictions on coins. CPAC Chair Reid (museum) asked if Rose regretted the Penn Museum’s past collecting practices. Rose responded that virtually all the artifacts in the Penn Museum are the products of partage. Penn is working to digitize artifacts from digs it participated in along with those still left in source countries. CPAC member O’Brien (public) asked Rose if he would consider repatriating partage objects given the fact that it is often alleged that they are part of colonial practices. Rose responded that the Kingdom of Iraq gave Penn its first excavation permit after independence from the Ottomans. He further indicated that no country has asked for its partage artifacts back as yet, but the matter will be considered on a case by case basis if raised. Rose then agreed with trade representative Korver’s comment that what we know about coins is the product of a close collaboration between numismatists and archaeologists. When asked by Korver about why a schism between numismatists and archaeologist now exists, Rose disagreed that there is such a schism.

Susan Alcock is an archaeologist associated with Brown University. Her major work has been in Greece and Armenia. Her specialty is the “systematic pedestrian survey,” that is “field walking” with an eye to trying to understand archaeology from an examination of surface finds. She indicated that the MOU would hopefully foster ecological tourism in Greece.

Thomas Kline is an attorney and professor at George Washington University. [He has also served as legal counsel for the Republic of Cyprus]. He hopes more MOU’s are entered into as that will regularize trade to encompass “best practices.” He thinks if an MOU with Greece is entered long term loans will follow. Nancy Wilkie (archaeology) asked Kline about the benefits of MOU’s. Kline believes that they will force collectors and dealers to follow best practices.

Patty Gerstenblith of DePaul University and the Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation focused her presentation on the concerted international response requirement. She indicated that a letter in the record from the Bavarian Economics Ministry is irrelevant because Bavaria is merely a transit point for artifacts, including coins. She also stated that the “first discovery” requirement is implicit in any designated list, in that an artifact must be found in a country for which restrictions are granted rather than produced there. She also indicated as more MOU’s are entered into, the first discovery issue will disappear. CPAC member Korver (trade) took issue with Prof. Gerstenblith’s contention that Germany is merely a transit point for coins. Korver also asked Gerstenblith about the “first discovery” requirement. She acknowledged that the place of modern discovery is the country of origin for purposes of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”). Under this scenario, the late Roman coin Sebastian Heath discussed found in Greece should have a country of origin of Greece.

Larry Feinberg of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art spoke next on behalf of the AAMD. He expressed doubt about the breadth of the request and Greece’s ability to care for its own cultural property given its current economic crisis. He suggested the burden should be on Greece to show artifacts were found in Greece before Customs seizes them. CPAC member Connelly (archaeology) referred to an editorial by former AAMD President Maxwell Anderson in which he stated that museums should move beyond issues of ownership to stewardship. Feinberg indicated he did not disagree with Anderson, but that he thought long term loans were preferable to short term ones for financial reasons. CPAC Chair Reid (museum) asked Feinberg about a contention in the AAMD’s papers that Greece ignored requests for loans of objects. Feinberg indicated he would poll the membership. Reid indicated a similar poll was promised for Italy, but never received.

Josh Knerly spoke next on behalf of the AAMD. He suggested that CPAC take a go slow approach on this MOU. The nature of the request needs much better definition. It is impossible for the public to comment intelligently on the request without it. He suggested that another hearing be held at a later date once more information is received. There is a great problem with identifying whether an artifact from the Greek world comes from Greece or not, which must be addressed. Mr. Knerly promised Chairman Reid that information would be provided with regard to loan requests made of Italy.

Anthony Milavic, a Greek coin collector, spoke next. He described how an open market for ancient coins is necessary for his research into depictions of Greek sporting events on coins. He also described his personal effort to spread the knowledge he has obtained from such coins, including the preparation of articles and the making of presentations at a wide variety of venues.

Dr. Scott Rottinghaus spoke on behalf of the American Numismatic Association and its 28,000 members. He indicated that the ANA is opposed to import restrictions on coins because they would negatively impact people to people contacts and the ANA’s educational mission. Further in this regard, he noted that import restrictions could have a devastating effect on foreign collectors and dealers attending the ANA’s conventions and that donations of coins to the ANA museum could also suffer over time. In response to a comment by CPAC member Wilkie (archaeology), that restrictions were only prospective, Dr. Rottinghaus indicated his agreement, but that over time restrictions would still impact the ANA ‘s and its members’ ability to procure coins.

Dr. Rottinghaus also read into the record a statement from the past president of the Hellenic Numismatic Society, Anastasios P. Tzamalis. Mr. Tzamalis stated,
“My opinion is that coins should certainly not be included in “cultural objects”. They were, in a way, mass-produced: many copies (often thousands) from the same dies, and cannot therefore be considered unique as another work of art would be. Apart from this, I feel they are wonderful ambassadors for Greece and should be allowed to continue doing their good work.“

Wayne Sayles spoke next on behalf of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild. Given the lateness of the hour, he departed from his prepared remarks to make a few points. First, he indicated that the ACCG supports the CPIA, but believes that its protections for collectors are not being applied. Second, he expressed surprise that Brian Rose did not understand that a schism has developed between archaeologists and numismatists. Mr. Sayles also acknowledged the opposition of the past president of the Hellenic Numismatic Society to import restrictions and complimented the representative of the Alpha Bank on the comprehensiveness of its own ancient coin collection.

Rick Witschonke spoke next on his own behalf. Like he did at the Italian MOU hearing, he suggested that Greece adopt a program similar to the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in Britain and Wales. He noted that Greek law already had provisions that provided for rewards and the returns of insignificant items to finders, but that the Greek cultural bureaucracy had failed to apply them. He suggested that consideration of the MOU be tabled until such time that Greece complied with its own laws on this point.

Peter Tompa spoke next on behalf of the International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild. Though he has done so for over ten years, he was not allowed to pass around examples of ancient Greek coinage and contemporary copies, “on advice of [State Department] counsel." See

He first mentioned the 70% of the public comment posted on the website either opposed the MOU or to its extension to coins. He then indicated that coin collecting remained the “hobby of kings” in Greece as it once was elsewhere. He noted that those few allowed to collect can collect pretty much any unprovenanced coin they want. He gave two rare unprovenanced Athenian Decadrachma in the Greek National Coin collection and the Alpha Bank as examples. He then asked rhetorically if any Greek request for import restrictions on coins should be considered hypocritical. He indicated that a letter from the Bavarian Minister of Economy in the record about extensive trade in Germany means the CPIA’s concerted international response requirement cannot be met. He also noted that a study of coin finds demonstrates that of the 350,000,000 or more ancient Greek coins extant, some 18% are coins struck in Greece, but which are found elsewhere. He asked CPAC not to help make coin collecting the “hobby of kings” once more by approving hard to comply with regulation. Tompa also indicated that the dealer that purchased the Brutus coin in the UK had its money returned, indicating its good faith. CPAC member Connelly (archaeology) asked about an artifact’s cultural significance. Tompa indicated that cultural significance was not the same thing as archaeological significance under the CPIA. He also indicated the legislative history strongly suggested that objects that exist in multiples cannot be culturally significant under the statute. There was also some discussion between Prof. Connelly and Tompa about the circulation of bronze coins. Connelly maintained they did not circulate. Tompa reminded Prof. Connelly about a Cypriot bronze coin that was introduced at the Cyprus hearing that was bought at a tourist stall in Petra, Jordan. There was some disagreement about its significance. Tompa's prepared statement can be found here:

Michael McCullough, an attorney who practices customs law, spoke last. He first questioned whether the art market is contributing to looting in Greece. He then explained that US Customs has difficulty understanding that the country of origin of an antiquity under the CPIA is the modern find spot, not the country of manufacture. He also indicated that Customs typically will only allow import of artifacts pictured in auction catalogues or for which bills of sale are provided that show the artifact was out of its country of manufacture before the date of restrictions. He noted this is also contrary to the CPIA, which allows this information to be conveyed by certification.

Under the governing law, CPAC is required to recommend whether to enter into a MOU with Greece, and, if so, what types of artifacts should be subject to import restrictions. At this juncture, Greece's request remains a proposal and not a "done deal" as some suggested in their comments.

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