Sunday, February 28, 2010

Greek Economic Woes Hit Cultural Establishment

Greece is facing severe economic troubles. Its national debt as a percentage of GDP is a cause for grave concern. As this article makes clear, all this has also impacted Greece's ability to care for its cultural heritage. See The crisis is so bad major cultural sites have been closed. Even worse, corruption and waste has eaten into what funds are available.

Greece needs to rethink its priorities. State control over everything "old" only exacerbates the problems of severe underfunding. Greece should allow a licit market in redundant artifacts and tax it so monies can be used to fund Greece's underfunded cultural treasures.

AIA and SAFE Outreach Programs: Education or Indoctrination?

Nathan Elkins' "scholarly" hatchet job on Ancient Coins for Education ("ACE") and its program to teach kids about ancient history through coins (see below at, got me to think about the Archaeological Institute of America's ("AIA's") and Saving Antiquities for Everyone's ("SAFE's") own outreach programs to youth.

A link to the AIA programs can be found here:

A less well-developed link to SAFE's programs can be found here:

I'll let the reader decide to what extent each organization's programs reflect a desire to educate versus a desire to indoctrinate.

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

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Cyprus Mail on ACCG Test Case

Today's Cyprus Mail (the nation's leading daily newspaper) has published this article about the ACCG's test case. See Though I like the headline "US collectors to regain the right to trade ancient Cypriot coins," I must admit it is a bit premature.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Unposted Comments to Gill Posts

One would think if one is going to do a blog critical of another, one would at least have the courtesy to allow that person to comment.

Apparently, however, archaeological blogger David Gill does not think so. I thus post my comments here to his following blogs:

For this one:

David- Please link to posts you comment on. It is only common courtesy. See

The post should make clear that I found your press release misleading because it said nothing about the actual allegations in [the] Complaint-- which of course are the heart of any lawsuit.

I believe you had some other press releases that touch on this test case, hence the reference to "another."

Peter Tompa

And for this one:


ACCG's Complaint speaks for itself. Look at paragraphs 45, 53,72, and 77. The reader can decide for themselves whether this suggests "behind the scenes lobbying" or not. I should also note that Ms. Herscher has previously claimed that CAARI does not "lobby" at all.

Peter Tompa

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

I would rather just ignore Paul Barford, but...

I would have just ignored archaeo-blogger Paul Barford's latest post (see if it had not already been reproduced on the Museum Security List-Serve (see well as linked to the blogs of Barford supporters David Gill and Nathan Elkins. God only knows where it may pop up next.

It should suffice to state that the CPRI study Barford purports to rely upon for his conclusions does not in any way suggest unprovenanced coins "must be stolen" as Barford suggests. Indeed, to the extent the study discusses coins at all, it simply states,

The study does not include unprovenanced Greek and Roman coins in private hands, which by the estimate of specialists likely number not less than 700,000 (200,000-300,000 Greek, 500,000-600,000 Roman) and which are not routinely of interest to AAMD Member institutions.


Perhaps even more disturbingly, Barford also seems to suggest that the ACCG Test Case will prompt US law enforcement authorities to arrest ancient coin collectors. Barford concludes,

[I]s it really a wise move at this point in time for US ancient coin collectors to be suing the State Department as well as the Department of Homeland Security? Are US collectors so sure of themselves and their leaders that they can continue with impunity to collect no-questions-asked this kind of material, while at the same time pursuing the very bodies responsible in the US for prosecuting culture crime? How sure are they that such acts are not going to provoke for some of them at least a knock at the door at dawn one day like the rude awakening that awaited artefact-collecting residents of Blanding not long ago?

I'm not sure if this is more insulting to US collectors or US law enforcement. No, Mr. Barford, as far as I know, we do not live in a dictatorship here in the United States. Presumably, our law enforcement generally acts in good faith and would not arrest coin collectors willy-nilly just because some group wants to test the applicability of rather obscure [to almost everyone but archaeologists and collectors] regulations.

Indeed, items are imported for purposes of test cases in other contexts. In fact, a court may require it for "standing purposes" so that it is presented with a "live controversy" to adjudicate.

In this particular case, ACCG imported the coins in question through a licensed broker. They were properly declared on entry and presented to Customs with the expectation they would be seized so that ACCG could seek a test of the applicable regulations. There is nothing more to it. That is the way it is done in the good old USA. Win or lose, the ACCG will hopefully at least get its day in court-- which is its right.

Overall, I find Barford's, Gill's and Elkins' increasingly strident posts in various venues about this test case to be very disturbing. We may disagree on whether it is "okay" to collect unprovenanced ancient coins, but we should all agree that ACCG is entitled to seek judicial review of the applicable regulations.

Are Archaeological Ethics Mostly for the Other Guy?

If one is interested in cultural property issues, one quickly notices that the archaeological blogosphere is full of highly moralistic denunciations of those who collect unproveanced artifacts, including those as common as coins.

One suspects this only carries over from the official pronouncements of archaeological groups like the Archaeological Institute of America. See

The AIA's website suggests that most of its ethical pronouncements relate to the perceived evils of the antiquities trade, and, indeed, they go so far as to suggest AIA members should inform the authorities about suspected illegal exports and imports of archaeological material. (In my opinion, this stricture may unfortunately be taken by some to authorize "witch hunts" for illicit antiquities.)

Archaeological groups are free to write their own ethical rules, but when those rules largely focus on the activities of others, outsiders are also entitled to wonder some about it.

In particular, why not more emphasis on requiring AIA members to:

"Seek to ensure that the exploration of archaeological sites be conducted according to the highest standards under the direct supervision of qualified personnel, and that the results of such research be made public."

Certainly, proper publication and conservation of archaeological artifacts is an important, but seemingly underemphasized issue, at least when it comes to the archaeological blogosphere. It is perhaps easier to criticize others outside of one's discipline, but if it is all about preserving the world's culture, isn't it also important for the archaeological community to monitor whether its own house is in order too?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Response to CAARI VP Ellen Herscher

This is what I posted to the Museum Security List. A similar note was sent to David Gill, but has yet to be published:

Dear Ms. Herscher and Museum Security List-Serve: Ms. Herscher misses the point about CAARI's lobbying and the excavation permits issued to CAARI affiliated archaeologists. My original post simply stated, "Additional FOIA information has revealed that the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) was involved in behind-the-scenes lobbying on behalf of the Cypriot Department of Antiquities, the Cypriot government body that issues excavation permits that allow CAARI affiliated archaeologists to excavate on the Island."

Although Ms. Herscher may deny it, ACCG's Complaint speaks for itself. Look at paragraphs 45 (CAARI facilitates meeting for Cypriot Antiquities head with State Department Cultural Heritage Center officials), 53 (CAARI-associated archaeologist confers behind-the- scenes with State Depatment officials about restrictions on coins before Cyprus makes request), 72 (CAARI members invited to MOU signing ceremony), and 77 (CAARI President brags about his group's efforts to Cypriot media). The reader can decide for themselves whether this suggests "behind-the-scenes lobbying" or not. I should also note that Ms. Herscher has previously claimed that CAARI does not "lobby" at all.

The Complaint can be reviewed here:

Peter Tompa

original message: Ellen Herscher of CAARI writes, Once again the ACCG has made false claims about the role of the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute in the U.S. government's decision to enter into a bilateral agreement with Cyprus. CAARI's Director and several trustees publicly submitted statements insupport of the agreement. This position is in accordance with CAARI's Code of Ethics, which states that the organization "is dedicated tothe protection and preservation of archaeological sites in Cyprus andthe information they contain." There was no "behind-the-scenes lobbying" involved. Secondly, "CAARI-affiliation" has nothing to do with the granting ofexcavation permits in Cyprus. Permits are the sole responsibility ofthe Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus. It is unfortunate that the ACCG continues to publish these erroneous statements, despite the fact that CAARI has responded and refuted them in the past.

Ellen Herscher
Vice President, CAARI

Friday, February 19, 2010

Archaeologist Fails to Uncover the Truth About ACCG Test Case

Archaeologist David Gill has issued another misleading press release about the ACCG's test case related to import restrictions on "coins of Cypriot type." Looting Matters: Do Coin Collectors Care About the Archaeology of Cyprus? -- SWANSEA, Wales, Feb. 19 /PRNewswire/ --

In so doing, Gill confuses a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) case with a separate action to test import restrictions. ACCG imported coins for purposes of this test case in April 2009 after documents released under FOIA suggested that State Department officials ignored the findings of an expert advisory committee recommending AGAINST import restrictions on coins and then mislead Congress and the public about the decision. Additional FOIA information has revealed that the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) was involved in behind-the-scenes lobbying on behalf of the Cypriot Department of Antiquities, the Cypriot government body that issues excavation permits that allow CAARI affiliated archaeologists to excavate on the Island. ACCG's test case asks the Court to determine whether these and other related procedural irregularities require the regulations to be thrown-out. Certification requirements that import restrictions impose now make it very difficult for American collectors to import Cypriot coins from abroad. In the meantime, collectors within the EU-- including within Cyprus itself--face no similar restrictions.

For the ACCG's own press release on the issue, see:

Preserving the Past by Regulating the Antiquties Market

I attended Prof. Patty Gerstenblith's GWU lecture, entitled, "Museums and the Market: Preserving the Past by Regulating the Market in Antiquities." Although Prof. Gerstenblith ("PG")covered little new ground, her presentation was (as always) very well done.

Here are some highlights:

Some Background

  • Looting started early. The Romans practiced it extensively. Even then, some thought it wrong. Cicero prosecuted Verres, in part for looting Sicilian religious sanctuaries.
  • In the 18th and 19th centuries the colonial powers competed for spoils. Paris was to be the "New Rome;" London, the "New Athens."
  • When Napoleon lost, the French were forced to return much (but not all) of their loot, mainly from Italy.
  • Serious archaeology began in the 19th c. Petrie did wonderful stratigraphic views of sites in the Middle East [He was also a prolific collector-- which PG did not mention.]
  • With the advent of serious archaeology, "connoisseurship" became less important as a means of understanding artifacts. Nevertheless, it still retains some importance, even today. [In this regard, PG departs from some of her more extreme colleagues in the archaeological community who hold an artifact loses all meaning if its archaeological context has been lost.]

Demand and Supply and its Consequences

  • In the aftermath of WW II, new found wealth prompted collectors to compete for artifacts. This increase in demand led to looting of archaeological sites.
  • PG denies that "subsistence digging" is a big issue. She maintains most looting is the result of an organized criminal enterprise.
  • As evidence, PG showed slides of bulldozed tells in Turkey and looters' pits in Iraq.

Loss of Knowledge From Looting

  • PG admits that we know a lot about the Euphronios krater from the object itself, but maintains we would know much more if we knew its context. We would know the station of the person it was buried with. We would learn something about its relationship to other grave goods, etc.
  • Cycladic figures are far more mysterious than they should be because most of their find spots have been looted. There is also a problem with possible forgeries in the series.
  • The "Getty Kouros" and the "James Ossuary" are likely forgeries. If their context had been preserved, they could have been authenticated.
  • Collectors often say if artifacts were made unsalable they would be destroyed. But, looters often destroy less valuable artifacts in their search for artifacts with value.
  • Byzantine mosaics removed from a Church in Cyprus were flattened out to make them more salable, but they no longer look as they did.

Legal Restrictions

  • The U.S. enters into bilateral agreements with other countries that impose import restrictions on cultural artifacts. [Interestingly, PG acknowledges that these are the most controversial types of restrictions. I agree. They preclude import of artifacts openly traded in foreign markets merely because there is no paper trail back to the date the restrictions were imposed.]
  • The U.S. and the U.K. also recognise foreign laws declaring artifacts found in the ground to be state property.
  • U.S. Customs also repatriates artifacts that have been smuggled or which have been imported with improper valuations or countries of origin.
  • PG believes that collectors should not get tax deductions for donating unprovenanced artifacts.
  • She also believes Museum Trustees should be potentially investigated by state authorities if they waste museum assets purchasing unprovenanced artifacts which later must be repatriated.

Long Term Loans

  • PG notes the current MOU with Italy provides for long term loans, but believes there should be more such loans. [At the interim hearing on the Italian MOU, several speakers from the AAMD suggested only museums that repatriated artifacts received such loans.]

New Acquisition Guidelines

  • PG applauded the AAM's and AAMD's new acquisition guidelines generally requiring a 1970 provenance before artifacts are newly accessioned.
  • She notes, however, that AAMD guidelines allow for accession of artifacts that lack provenance information, as long they are posted on-line in an artifacts registry. She worries this exception over time may swallow the 1970 rule.

Questions and Answers

PG took some questions:

  • I asked PG if provenance requirements should be "one size fits all," i.e., should a holder be required to show the same level of provenance information for the Euphronios krater as for a coin. PG indicated, yes. Interestingly, she also indicated that she was not wedded to the 1970 rule as it is a mere "construct." [I agree.] She emphasized, however, that there should be a date certain. She did not like the AAMD's former "rolling" 10 year rule.
  • Well known cultural property lawyer Jim Fitzpatrick asked PG about what the theft of part of the repatriated Lydian hoard said about repatriating artifacts to countries without the money or will to protect them. PG countered that museum theft is a problem everywhere and this should not count against repatriation.
  • CAARI VP Ellen Herscher asked why there were not more bilateral agreements. PG maintained it is time consuming and costly for source countries to make a request to the State Department. She also indicated once an MOU was entered, it should go on in perpetuity. [I have heard from reliable sources US archaeologists do most of the "leg work" in preparing such requests. The 5 year renewal requirement was meant to ensure that import restrictions-- which disadvantage American collectors, dealers and institutions-- DO NOT go on forever, but only for a limited period to allow the requesting country time to get its looting problem under control.]

Question I Wish Was Asked

  • In PG's view, what to do with all those orphan artifacts?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Ancient Coin Collectors Seek Judicial Review of Controversial Decisions to Bar Coin Imports

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild has issued the following press release about this case my firm filed on the ACCG's behalf. See

The case seeks to test the validity of import restrictions on coins of Cypriot and Chinese type. The Defendants include US Customs and the US State Department. The Commissioner of Customs and the Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs were also named as Defendants as a matter of administrative procedure.

In the Complaint, the ACCG asks the Court: (a) to declare that the decision to impose import restrictions on ancient coins of Cypriot type is arbitrary and capricious because, pursuant to applicable law, State failed to disclose to Congress a rational basis for the reason, or reasons, behind State’s decision to reject the advice of its own advisory committee and also in departing from prior agency practice; (b) to declare that the decisions to impose import restrictions on ancient coins of both Cypriot and Chinese type are also arbitrary and capricious because they are both contrary to law and the product of bias, prejudgment and ex parte contact; and (c) to declare that under the applicable statutes Customs must prove that the Cypriot or Chinese coins at issue were illicitly removed from Cypriot or Chinese find spots before they may be forfeited.

The Complaint also asks the coins ACCG imported for purposes of the test case be released due to Customs' unreasonable delays in filing a forfeiture action.

Jason Ehrenberg is attorney of record in the case. I plan to file a motion for pro hac vice admission to be granted the opportunity to assist in litigating the case as well.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Is the Journal of Field Archaeology Now Just Another Propaganda Tool in the Cultural Property Wars?

As set forth below, the Journal of Field Archaeology has evidently published Nathan Elkins' "Treasure hunting 101 in America's classrooms" (2009, Journal of Field Archaeology 34 (4):482-9), an apparent "expose" about the Ancient Coins for Education ("ACE") program to teach children about ancient Greece and Rome through the use of historical coins.

The Journal of Field Archaeology purports to publish:
  • Field reports whose results in terms of interpretive content or of techniques and methods employed seem clearly to be of more than regional interest.
  • Technical and methodological studies that relate to actual archaeological data, are also of general rather than only regional significance, and would be comprehensible to most readers.
  • Review articles such as updated regional or topical summaries designed to appeal to a fairly wide professional readership.
  • Occasional essays on the history of archaeology in major geographical areas, or with respect to research topics of general archaeological concern.
  • Brief preliminary reports describing the results of recent fieldwork or other research.


I'm not sure where Elkins' attack on a non-profit group that uses ancient coins to teach kids fits exactly under these criteria.

Is Elkins' subject matter really the stuff of scholarship today? Even if one disagrees with ACE's sourcing of the ancient coins it uses to teach kids, should a journal that purports to foster scholarship help denigrate the efforts of members of public to encourage our nation's youth to learn more about ancient Greece and Rome? Isn't Elkins' subject matter more appropriate for blogs than scholarly journals?

Unfortunately, it thus appears that the Journal of Field Archaeology has departed from its original scholarly mission in favor of becoming just another propaganda tool in the culture property wars.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Ancient Coins and the Corruption of Youth?

Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford reports that fellow blogger Nathan Elkins has written a "peer reviewed" article entitled, "Treasure hunting 101 in America's classrooms" (2009, Journal of Field Archaeology 34 (4):482-9). That article is apparently an "expose" about the Ancient Coins for Education ("ACE") program to teach children about ancient Greece and Rome through the use of historical coins. See

For more about ACE, see

Elkins' article is not readily available to those not associated with the university culture for free and I don't want to spend any money to get it so I must confess I have not read his work.

Nevertheless, Mr. Barford evidently captures the spirit of Elkins' writing when he says,

The idea that one can be "educated" by collecting decontextualised artefacts potentially stolen from the archaeological record of another region really is a totally false argument.

There is thus some irony then in the fact that Mr. Elkins is currently studying such "decontextualized" coins himself as an employee of Yale University. See Indeed, Yale's collection contains a large number of unprovenanced coins of the sort normally available on the market, including those from a recent purchase. See ("The Yale University Art Gallery has acquired a collection of 4,100 coins from one of Europe's most renowned numismatic scholars, Peter R. Franke.
The collection, amassed by Franke over the course of a lifetime, includes coins from throughout the Mediterranean basin, with a principal focus on Greek coins of the Roman period."). Presumably, both Yale and Elkins believe these coins have some value outside of any "lost archaeological context."

In any event, I'm all for using ancient coins ("decontextualized" or not) to help teach our children about ancient history. In that regard, ACE is only doing in the classroom what museums themselves have started to do-- give the public and particularly children-- the opportunity for some "hands on" experience with common ancient artifacts, like ancient coins.

A few years back, I visited the British Museum "coin room" where a young museum employee was cruising the gallery with a cart containing ancient coins for the public to touch.

Perhaps Yale and even some less collector friendly institutions like the University of Pennsylvania can set up similar programs to give the public some direct contact with artifacts from the past. Understanding of ancient cultures needs to be encouraged in our society. Most ancient coins in University collections gather little but dust. Perhaps, now is the time to put at least some of the lesser specimens to work to engage our youth just as the volunteers at ACE have been doing for some six years-- and all without government handouts or large institutional grants.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Bishop's Wood Hoard To Be Sold Over 100 Years After its Discovery

Not all hoards on the market are recent finds. For a case in point, see this press release about the upcoming sale of the Bishop's Wood Hoard of 1895. See

Other times, groups of coins from older hoards also come up for sale. A few years back coins from the "Paeonian Hoard" sold by Sotheby's in 1969 came onto the market. I understand a coin dealer who had bought a large group of the coins back in 1969 decided to disburse some coins he had saved as he neared retirement.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Metal Detectorists Help Record Journeys of Medieval Pilgrims

Most ancient coin collectors know how English and Welsh metal detectorists have helped record thousands upon thousands of Iron Age, Roman and Anglo-Saxon coins under the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme.

A "Cultural Property Observer" reader sent me this interesting article discussing how the PAS also has encouraged metal detectorists to help record relics from medieval pilgrimages in England. See

As the article notes,

Peter Liddle, community archeologist for Leicestershire County Council, said: "When I started with the county museums service over 20 years ago our collection included just a handful of religious relics.

"But thanks to the work of metal detectorists and the portable antiquities scheme, particularly since 2003, we are building a picture of the journeys undertaken by Leicestershire's pilgrims. We now have about 75 relics, many of which have been donated to us.

The finds include small flasks which held holy water from the shrines and medallions.

"The flasks were used as 'medieval first aid kits' which were used to heal wounds or cure illnesses."

King Henry VIII suppressed England's monasteries for political and economic reasons. See Some of their medieval art and architecture were recycled. Most of it, however, was unfortunately utterly destroyed.

Now, with the help of metal detectorists, some previously lost evidence about England's great medieval monasteries and the pilgrims that helped support them has come to light.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Iran Cuts Ties with British Museum

The Islamic Republic of Iran has cut ties with the British Museum over the Museum's decision to delay a loan of the so-called Cyrus Cylinder. See

Diplomatic relations between the two countries have been particularly poor since Iran's stolen presidential election. Indeed, the Iranians have branded the UK the "Little Satan" [to distinguish it from the "Great Satan," i.e., the US] due to the UK's support for the pro-democracy demonstrators. See,8599,1907066,00.html

In any event, I suspect the current Iranian regime wants to display the seal at least in part because it feels it will confer some sort of legitimacy upon it, as the guardian of the great Persian civilization. If so, this a bit of an odd throwback to the time of the Shah, who also tried to identify his own government with the glories of the past.

And this desire to display an artifact associated with the glories of ancient Persia is more than a bit ironic too. After the Iranian revolution, there was serious talk of bulldozing Persepolis, and even now this world heritage site is both neglected and in danger of damage due to pollution. See

Under the circumstances, I cannot fault the British for holding onto the Cyrus Cylinder. The British have every right to decide when and whether to loan the seal.

And as was noted by Chuck Jones on the SAFE Corner blog (see, this is certainly not a repatriation issue as the Cylinder was found in Iraq. Hence, the arguments usually marshaled for such claims simply do not apply in this particular case.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Nicholas Burns, "the Philhellene," to Return to the State Department?

Foreign Policy Magazine reports that former Undersecretary of State, Nicholas Burns, is on a short list to become the No. 2 person at the State Department, should the current office-holder leave State to become Dean of Georgetown University's Foreign Service School. See

If Burns is ultimately nominated for the job, he will likely be asked about his prior support for the failed policy of engagement with Iran during his confirmation hearings. See

Just maybe though, an inquiring Senator might also want to ask Burns about any part he played in throwing American small businesses and ancient coin collectors "under the bus" after receiving an award from Greek and Greek Cypriot interest groups. See

Some might dismiss all this as but a "minor issue." But doesn't the way a public official handles such "minor issues" potentially speak volumes about how they might handle the "larger issues" of the day?

Friday, February 5, 2010

Hawass Gets His Way: Egypt's Draconian New Antiquities Law

A "Cultural Property Observer" reader sent me this article about Egypt's new antiquities law. See

The new law and the how it was promulgated are yet another testament to the power of the Hawass personality cult and its part in the effective nationalization of ancient Egypt's culture by the Mubarak regime.

Penalties for antiquities trafficking are increased; the last vestiges of partage are extinguished; the definition of antiquities is extended to anything and everything 100 years old or more; only authorized individuals [in the elite?] may possess antiquities; and the past is now copyrighted by the Egyptian government.

As for reports that a powerful MP wanted a Parliamentary debate about establishing a licit trade in antiquities? It was all a misunderstanding.....

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Haiti: UNESCO to the Rescue?

According to a recent report, Irina Bokova, UNESCO's new Director General, speaking from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, has called for "a campaign to protect art collections in the Caribbean country's damaged museums and historical sites 'so that we don't find these objects in Christie's tomorrow.'" See

The article goes onto to state that "Bokova appealed to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for security forces to protect Haitian heritage sites and urged a Security Council resolution temporarily banning trade in Haitian cultural property, to be monitored by Interpol."

While I'm all for protecting Haitian cultural heritage sites from looting, it seems to me that the call for a ban in trade in Haitian artifacts smacks of some of the otherworldly thinking that sometimes comes out of this annual meeting of the world's elites.

Church groups often sell Haitian paintings to benefit the poor of the country. One might suspect formerly wealthy Haitians who were ruined financially by the quake might just want to sell some of their art too.

Does UNESCO want to preclude this all because,

"This heritage is an invaluable source of identity and pride for the people on the island and will be essential to the success of their national reconstruction" ?

Perhaps so....

Addendum: For more on the situation on the ground in Haiti focusing on the fate of art works in private galleries, see

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Confirmation Hearings for Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary Designate, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs

Today, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee conducted the confirmation hearings for Ann Stock, Assistant Secretary Designate, State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.

Nary a word was said about ECA's Cultural Heritage Center and its archaeo-centric programs and emphasis.

In her prepared opening remarks, Ms. Stock did state,

The mission of ECA is to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries through educational and cultural exchanges. I believe that these initiatives are essential for achieving America's foreign policy objectives and for strengthening America's international leadership.

After hearing Ms. Stock speak, it struck me that particularly with virtual contacts through the Internet and in person contacts at international coin shows like the New York International, coin collecting and especially ancient coin collecting fosters just such people-to-people exchanges ---and all without any government programs or expense!