Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Jews Banned from Praying at Newly Restored Synagogue

The archaeological establishment in the United States and the United Kingdom have lionized Zahi Hawass because of his highly publicised efforts to repatriate Egyptian artifacts from abroad. They seem to be enamored of his confrontational style and his bigger than life personality.

One hopes they are less enamored of his latest anti-Semitic outburst in banning Jews from praying at a newly restored synagogue. For more, see Dorothy King's blog at

Source material can be found here,7340,L-3862449,00.html and here

For Hawass' own blog on the restoration of the Synagogue of Moses Ben Maimon, see

I'd be surprised if anyone in the archaological establishment criticises Hawass for this decision, but we'll see.

Roof Collapse Raises More Questions About Handling of Italy's Cultural Patrimony

A large section of the roof of a gallery associated with the ruins of Nero's Golden Palace has collapsed. See

Umberto Brocoli, an official from Rome's artistic superintendence, shrugged off the incident as inevitable given the building's age: "There are 1,900 years of history," Broccoli said. "Two months of rain are not responsible for this. It would have happened anyway."

Fixing the damage is estimated to cost 800,000 Euro and will take one year.

in any event, stories like this one again suggest that Italy already has its hands full taking care of its major cultural monuments and efforts to extend State control to common artifacts, like coins, will not as is claimed help support their study, display and conservation.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Voice of Greece on Cyprus Coin Lawsuit

I recently became aware of this story on a website called "Voice of Greece." See

The report states:


State Department sued over Cypriot coins
Σύνταξη/επιμέλεια από τον/την Θεόφιλος Δουμάνης

Washington – Cyprus may frequently complain about the US’s negative stance concerning the Cyprus dispute, but judging from the lawsuit filed against the State Department by the American organisation, Collectors of Ancient Coins Association, the opposite is true. They maintain that the State Department’s decision to extend restrictions on the import of ancient coins from Cyprus serves political expediencies and was influenced by the Cypriot government and its services, the Cypriot lobby in the United States and major Cypriot organisations like the Bank of Cyprus.

So, last week they sued the State Department, calling for the abolition of restrictions on coins from Cyprus and China, also demanding the return of 23 coins (seven of them Cypriot) which were confiscated last year by American authorities.

Comment: The State Department has been accused in the past of using import restrictions as a quid pro quo for other issues. In this particular case, it appears that former Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns could not give Greek and Greek Cypriots advocacy groups what they really want-- unqualified support for their position on the divided Island. On the other hand, Burns could easily dictate that the these groups receive import restrictions on ancient Cypriot coins, no matter what procedures had to be broken in the process.

State would have likely viewed import restrictions as a "no cost" concession at the time. Moreover, import restrictions on coins would certainly garner applause from an important stakeholder as far as the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is concerned--namely the archaeological community. Certainly, State does not have to enforce such unpopular restrictions-- U.S. Customs does. Nor do State or archaeologists have to live by them -- collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade do. So, from a State perspective, why not?

As it turns out, however, State's actions have only prompted a lawsuit. Of course, the real cost of that lawsuit to State is yet to be seen. But, at least State Department decision makers can no longer assume import restrictions are a "no cost" concession. Hence, at a minimum, there should be less of an incentive to violate the law just to throw a bone to foreign interests State cannot really please anyway.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Collectors and Archaeologists Engage in Dialogue

The ACCG website has this blurb about the Newcastle Portable Antiquities Conference:

This begs a question: why can't something like that happen here?

I suspect in the Portable Antiquities Scheme has already given archaeologists in the U.K. far greater exposure to the benefits of collaborating with members of the public than their U.S. counterparts. It probably also does not help that many U.S. archaeologists who dig abroad often do so in countries where members of the public are actively discouraged from participating in preserving, studying and displaying artifacts from the past.

It is also a bit odd to me that to the extent there are any public debates about the issues in the U.S., only two stakeholders-- archaeologists and museums-- are typically represented. One wonders if academic snobbery is at work on some level.

In contrast, the drafters of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act considered dealers and interested members of the public also to be important participants. Indeed, the CPIA mandated more dealer and public spots on CPAC (3 each) than museums slots (2).

Monday, March 22, 2010

Ancient Rome and America

Recently, I was able to take in the "Ancient Rome and America" Exhibit at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. For more, see

The exhibit featured many Roman artifacts, courtesy of the Italian Cultural Ministry, juxtaposed against American artifacts from various sources. I really liked how it used this juxtaposition to chronicle the great influence Ancient Rome has had on our own country's conceptions of itself from the time of our Founding Fathers till today. The ancient artifacts ranged from portrait busts to models to coins and seals. One of my favorites was a bronze tablet from S. Italy and a ring with an intaglio said to have belonged to the Emperor Augustus. The American artifacts ranged from portrait busts of our founding fathers to letters. I particularly liked the correspondence between John and Abigail Adams, which was replete with ancient Roman imagery.

Here are a few nit pics. First, the cost. Like the "Chinese Warrior" exhibit in Washington, the entry fee for the Rome exhibit seemed a bit steep given the lack of "blockbuster" artifacts. In this regard, I was particularly disappointed that more than a few of the Roman portrait busts were actually reproductions from the 1930's,

Entry fees for exhibits touted as cultural exchange raise other issues as well. See As I also observed with respect to the "Chinese Warriors" exhibit,

Archaeologists are always talking about how loans can substitute for imports of cultural artifacts, with the underlying premise that commerce is bad and pure knowledge is good. But if such loans seem mostly designed to generate cash for countries like China, does this argument really hold?

In any event, further in that regard, I find it a bit humorous that the august University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology teamed up with the likes of chain restaurateurs Buca di Beppo and Maggiano's Little Italy to help make the exhibit possible. See

Perhaps, as the Romans themselves have understood for several millennium, a little commerce mixed in with culture isn't so bad after all.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Retaliation for Seeking Access to the Courts?

Wayne Sayles recounts his experience returning home from the Newcastle archaeological conference here:

One would hope U.S. Customs and Border Protection has not placed Wayne Sayles on a "watch list" in retaliation for his part in filing a case to test U.S. Customs and State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs regulations concerning Cypriot and Chinese coins. That, of course, would constitute a very serious breach of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment right to seek access to the courts.

The coins in question were properly declared on entry to the U.S. ACCG's customs broker even directed U.S. Customs and Border Protection personnel to the applicable regulations. In other words, U.S. Customs was apprised from the get-go that the coins were imported for purposes of a test case. Under the circumstances, any possibility that that the search of Wayne Sayles on his entry back into the U.S. is related to that test case would be troubling indeed.

Back in January, U.S. Customs also detained the stock of a dealer who supplied the coins for the test case. See Is it all just another coincidence or is something much more sinister at work?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

American Bar Association Program on 1970 UNESCO Convention and the CPIA

The American Bar Association Art and Cultural Heritage Law Committee will sponsor the following event at the ABA Section of International Law's Spring meeting:

ABA Section of International Law Spring Meeting
April 13, 2010 - April 17, 2010
Art & Cultural Heritage Law Committee event on
Thursday, April 15, 2010 at 2:30 p.m.
Grand Hyatt New York
Park Avenue/Grand Central
109 E 42nd St
New York, NY, 10017-5698

Moderated round table discussion: International Trade in Ancient Art and Archaeological Objects: Controversies Over U.S. Implementation of the 1970 UNESCO Convention on Cultural Property.

Speakers: Mark B. Feldman (moderator), Garvey Schubert Barer,Washington, D.C; James Fitzpatrick, Arnold & Porter, Washington, D.C.; Patty Gerstenblith, DePaul University College of Law, Chicago, IL; Josh Knerly, Hahn Loeser & Parks, Cleveland OH; Professor Nancy C. Wilkie, Carleton College, Northfield, MN

Although the event is for ABA members registered to attend the Spring meeting, the discussion should also be open to members of the press that register. Non-ABA members interested in the session should contact the meetings staff to ascertain whether it is possible to just attend this event, and if, so the fee.

For more about the ABA International Law Section Spring Meeting, see:

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Do Antiquities Have Rights?

Prof. Malcolm Bell thinks they do and explained why during his lecture at GWU on March 4, 2010. Prof. Bell is a past VP of Professional Responsibilities for the Archaeological Institute of America. He is best known as the excavator of Morgantina in Sicily and for his work assisting the Italian Government in its repatriation efforts.

Somewhat unexpectedly, Prof. Bell did not start his lecture with slides of the magnificent Morgantina treasure that was repatriated from the Met. Instead, Bell began with an image of a 13th c. representation of Shiva. The statute was allegedly discovered by a farmer in India in 1976. It ended up in London where it was restored, then seized and repatriated. Along the way, a court evidently recognized the archaeological site from which it was taken as the Plaintiff in the case. This story helped inspire the idea that antiquities themselves should be granted rights.

Prof. Bell passed out a hand-out that elucidated these antiquities' rights. They include the rights to: (1) preservation of original context; (2) physical integrity; (3) proper conservation; (4) accessibility; (5) appropriate maintenance; and (6) documentation. He then applied these rights to the Morgantina treasure, along the way recounting the now familiar tale of how the artifacts were thought to have been found and the story about how the Met was pressured to repatriate them.

Basically, the Italian government asked Bell to excavate the area in Morgantina from which Italian authorities thought the treasure had been illicitly excavated. This took Bell to the ruins of a small house which showed evidence of looting. After hearing the story, I wondered how such a magnificent treasure could have ended up in such a small house. One might expect its find spot would have been in a much more substantial structure, but perhaps the treasure was hidden in this rather unlikely location to keep it from the Romans, who sacked the city circa 211 BC. [It is my understanding though the Met has turned over the treasure to Italy, it still disputes the proof offered by the Italians for its origins.]

In any event, Bell's views about giving antiquities rights took me back to law school where we discussed whether "trees' should have standing to bring court cases. In the US, we do not recognize standing for things such as antiquities for fear of flooding the courts with lawsuits.

One also can criticize Bell's proposal because he seems to assume archaeologists and nation states should be the ones to "speak" for antiquities. Of course, who does the "speaking" will decide what the antiquities "want." For example, let's flip this around to having coin collectors "speak" for ancient coins: "I've conferred with the coins in my collection--and they have informed me they are much happier living with me in comfortable surroundings rather than being cooped up in some dank storage somewhere!"

Kidding aside, Prof. Bell's lecture was an interesting one and well worth attending. He made excellent use of his slides, particularly to explain how he tried to reconstruct the context of the Morgantina treasure.

Oddly, at the end of his lecture Prof. Bell also expressed some of the same feelings about "communing" with antiquities that I have heard from fellow collectors. I suppose antiquities hold the same mystical power over some archaeologists, even as other archaeologists belittle such feelings in favor of a strictly "scientific approach" to the past.

Monday, March 15, 2010

News of the Demise of the Cabinet des Médailles of the Bibliothèque Nationale Greatly Exaggerated

Good news from "Coins Weekly." According to numismatic scholar Ursula Kampmann news of the demise of the Cabinet des Médailles of the Bibliothèque Nationale has been greatly exaggerated. See Let's hope so!

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Pre-1970 Provenance No Safe Harbor for Egyptian Antiquities?

The Archaeological Institute of American ("AIA") has sought to reassure us it is not anti-collecting. Rather, according to various pronouncements, the AIA purports to only want collectors to purchase artifacts with provenances dating back to 1970, the year of the UNESCO Convention. See

If so, the 1970 date may very well not be much of a "safe harbor"now that the US Government has repatriated an ancient Egyptian sarcophagus at a ceremony conducted at the National Geographic Society. See According to some reports, it left the country over a century ago. See

It's understandable, but nonetheless too bad the owner of the sarcophagus merely abandoned it rather than spend the money on lawyers to fight the forfeiture in Court. It would have been interesting to see if the basis for the seizure would have stood up to judicial review.

In any event, while the AIA's "Archaeology Magazine" has reported on the repatriation, see, as far as I know, no one associated with the archaeological community has questioned whether the repatriation will undercut any faith collectors might have in the "1970 Rule" as a some sort of safe harbor.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

IADAA Presents Pro-Collector, Pro-Trade, Pro-Museum Views on Cultural Property Issues: So What?

The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) has offered the opinions of some scholars who are friendly to museums, antiquities dealers and collectors in the debate over cultural property issues on its website. See

Apparently, that is controversial in some circles. But, I find it a more than a bit ironic that archaeo-bloggers David Gill (see and Paul Barford (see feel so free to criticize the IADD for publicizing views in sync with those of its members. Anyone who has read the fare on the Gill or Barford blogs will be hard pressed to find any collector-friendly views expressed therein. Indeed, Gill even feels free to engage in ad hominem attacks in the Blogosphere without giving his targets the opportunity to comment. See

The IADAA is free to post what it wishes on its website on this subject. The views the IADAA expresses are no more unbalanced than what one finds on the websites of pro-archaeological groups like the Archaeological Institute of America or Saving Antiquities for Everyone. Gill's and Barford's complaints to the contrary are just plain silly.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Venerable French Numismatic Museums to Close: What's Next?

Coin World (March 16, 2010) reports that both the museum of Monnaie de Paris (founded in 1833) and the Cabinet des Medailles of the Biblotheque Nationale de France (with collections dating back to at least the 17th c.) will close this year. Smaller displays may replace them, but even that is unclear. There is an international petition to try to save the Cabinet des Medallies that has been posted on-line. See But it all may be too little too late.

In any event, this continues an unfortunate trend. In the United States, the Smithsonian traded its wonderful (if a bit ragged around the edges) coin display for a few panels of mostly American coins. See

This leaves the ANA and the ANS-- which are both funded almost exclusively by collectors and coin dealers-- with two of the last remaining decent coin displays in the US (though the ANS mostly uses borrowed space at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York). See and

I have a real question how long this can continue, particularly if the AIA gets its way and greatly limits the ability of collectors to trade in ancient Italian coins from abroad. Without a vibrant numismatic trade in ancient coins, funding will dry up for the ANS in particular. Of course, the prospective money drain won't just impact coin displays. It will also decimate the academic research archaeologists also purport to support.

Monday, March 8, 2010

MOU with El Salvador Extended

The State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs ("ECA") has extended the US MOU with El Salvador. See and

I attended the CPAC hearing to consider the renewal back in November. No speakers testified against the restrictions. Indeed, most MOU's are really not that controversial. Instead, the real controversy comes when restrictions impact artifacts long and extensively traded on international markets.

That is not to say the MOU does not raise any issues. Interestingly, in this particular case, I recall that an El Salvadorian archaeologist that testified in favor of the MOU also suggested that El Salvadorian artifacts should be made available to US based community groups. He explained that access to these artifacts would help El Salvadorian immigrants keep in touch with their own culture. I agree with him that this would be a good idea. I will be pleasantly surprised if his suggestion finds its way into the new MOU (which has not yet been posted).

In any event, the series of MOU's with El Salvador are notable for several other reasons. First, by the time this extension is again up for renewal in 2015, restrictions will have been in place for some twenty-eight (28) years. There is a strong argument to be made that the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act ("CPIA") did not contemplate restrictions being left in place for so long. Rather, the legislative history suggests that restrictions were only meant to be imposed for a limited period to give the requesting nation some time to "get its own house in order." Some might consider five (5) or even ten (10) years to be long enough.

Second, the series of MOU's with El Salvador demonstrates the principle of "culture creep." When restrictions were first imposed in 1987, they were limited to artifacts from a specific region that was in danger of pillage. As time went on, however, the scope of the restrictions have been extended to all of El Salvador. At least, the El Salvador restrictions have remained limited to Pre-Columbian artifacts. Restrictions in place for other Latin American countries have over time been extended to a host of Colonial period artifacts as well.

For example, it is debatable whether some of the items on the Bolivian "designated list" truly meet the threshold criteria for "ethnological" artifacts for coverage under the CPIA. Compare CPIA Section 302 (2) (B) (ii) with and and

Time will only tell if the current MOU with El Salvador will also be expanded in the future to Colonial era artifacts if it is extended again.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Cypriot Icons: Presumed "Stolen" on Entry to America but "For Sale" Legally in Cyprus?

Back in 1999, the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs imposed "emergency" import restrictions on Cypriot Icons. See
These were later converted to "regular" restrictions, and extended along with the new, controversial restrictions on ancient coins back in 2007. See

It's a bit odd then that "La Parole Divine" is auctioning off icons that appear to be subject to restrictions at an auction in Cyprus. See

According to the firm's website,

Around 130 lots dating from the 15th - 20th century and representative of the religious cultures of Russia, Greece, Cyprus, the Balkans and the Orthodox Levant will be offered. Worth in excess of one million Euros, the sale provides the opportunity for established and new collectors alike to acquire artworks from this highly specialised field.

While I am happy this seems to be an effort to create a "licit market" within Cyprus, one wonders how this firm was able to accomplish what otherwise seems officially frowned upon in Cyprus (or so we have been told)-- the sale of items of cultural heritage.

In this regard, it is interesting to note that the Island's all powerful "Bank of Cyprus" has sponsored the sale. Under the circumstances, one also wonders whether this sale is getting "special treatment" due to this relationship. In short, is this another case of one rule for the "connected few" and another for the "little guy?"

For more on the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation and the controversial decision to extend import restrictions to coins, see

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Old Chinese Coins Sacrificed to the Sea

Ed Snible reports that a Chinese local government official will throw ancient Chinese coins into the sea to help promote a yacht race. See

The publicity stunt also seeks to link modern China's seafaring prowess with that of the Ming Dynasty by gluing the ancient coins together with modern ones.

For more about China's great seafaring past, see

In any event, if old Chinese coins are important enough to be restricted under the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' MOU with China, should anyone really be throwing similar (though somewhat later) ones into the ocean?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Terracotta Warriors at Nat Geo-- The Emperor Has No Clothes!

I just visited the much-hyped "Terracotta Warrior" Exhibit at the National Geographic Society in Washington, D.C. See The exhibit chronicles the discovery of the "Terracotta Army" found near the site of the mausoleum of China's first emperor, Qin Shi Huang.

At the end of the exhibit, there was the usual guest registry. I paged through it. Kids loved the exhibit, judging from the child-like scrawls. Grownup reaction was more mixed. Some loved it. Others complained about the difficult to read explanatory texts. I was particularly struck by the contrast between pictures of the excavations at Xi'an (see and the reality that relatively few warriors were actually on display. Couldn't they have at least mustered a line of infantry? I had to agree with the rather unkind but apt comment I also found in the guest registry:" The Emperor Has No Clothes!"

It's not that it was a bad exhibit. What warriors there were were interesting. I also liked the architectural elements that were displayed as well as some of the weapons and jade. There were coins too, but all from the American Numismatic Society in New York. You would think if China really thought coins were important enough to ask for import restrictions on them, they could have at least sent a few along with this exhibit for display. After all, there are bazillions of them floating around-- and its not as if shipping them would have been an insurmountable task.

I also question the entry fee. For what you got, it seemed steep at $12 ($10 for National Geographic members). And don't forget an extra $5 to rent the audio tour. And by all means save some money for all those trinkets at the end-- like the Chinese piggy bank!

Archaeologists are always talking about how loans can substitute for imports of cultural artifacts, with the underlying premise that commerce is bad and pure knowledge is good. But if such loans seem mostly designed to generate cash for countries like China, does this argument really hold?