Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Ancient Coins and the Cultural Property Debate at the ANS

The American Numismatic Society (ANS) Magazine is carrying a feature about ancient coins and the cultural property debate. As the ANS notes in an email to members,

The ANS has a long tradition of scholarly numismatic research and publication, often based upon the availability of information about the source of ancient coins, and thus supports efforts to preserve contextual information. On the other hand, much of the membership of the ANS consists of coin collectors and dealers, who have a strong interest in preserving the right to collect ancient coins. In the interest of informing its membership (and the public at large) on the issues involved, we have inaugurated a series of articles in ANS Magazine on various topics relating to ancient numismatics and the cultural property debate. An extended version of the print article is available to view online. All subsequent articles within this column will be published online as well.

For an overview by Rick Witchonke and an archaeologist's perspective by Sebastian Heath, see

In his overview, Witchonke rightly notes that aggressive application of cultural property laws has disincentivized the sharing of numismatic knowledge. Meanwhile, while I agree with Heath that we all benefit from information gleaned from the Frome hoard, it does not follow that the State should keep all coins once they are recorded or that it is a legal requirement to record all coins found in the UK. In fact, the Treasure Act sets forth the legal duties of finders while the Portable Antiquities Scheme is a voluntary program that encourages coins not legally required to be reported to be recorded. Finally, I commend Heath's desire for greater transparency in the US process for imposing import restrictions on cultural goods, but would nonetheless suggest such restrictions have little practical impact other than to punish those importers who seek to comply with the law.

My own perspective should follow in the next of the series.

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