Monday, September 24, 2012

Reader Beware: Peter Weiss' Mea Culpa and Ancient Coin Collecting

The archaeological blogosphere is seeking to make the most of Peter Weiss' article in the ANS Magazine. While I don't have much to quibble with concerning Peter's recommendations-- at least as they relate to purchasing very expensive ancient coins-- one must also acknowledge that the article was written under duress as part of a plea deal, and one wonders if getting the article vetted by members of the archaeological lobby was some sort of requirement. It is of particular note that John Russell, a former (or current?) State Department employee also associated with the archaeological lobby (but not known as an expert in coins) is specifically mentioned in the introduction as one of Weiss' editors. Did prosecutor Bogdanos want to help his friends in the State Department justify their much criticized decision making concerning import restrictions on coins by "suggesting" that Russell and other members of the archaeological lobby be given editorial rights? The article certainly fails to mention some of the problems with the archaeological orthodoxy, including poor stewardship of coin finds by archaeologists and countries like Greece, Cyprus and Italy.  And let us not forget that unprovenanced coins are widely collected in each of the countries for which the US has granted import restrictions.  Yet, I hear no US archaeologist or State Department official criticizing such practices.

For more about Russell's apparent transformation from sanctions breaker to rule maker, see an earlier blog.

Update:  As some in the archaeological blogosphere purport to want me to respond to the topics raised in Peter Weiss' article, here again is a link to the article I wrote for the ANS Magazine.  I can also assure CPO readers that my own article was not written under duress.  Nor was it vetted by members of the archaeological lobby before publication.


Ute Wartenberg said...

As editor of Peter Weiss's article, I would like to comment on your blog. ANS staff and I edited the piece after it was submitted, but the people acknowledged in my editorial preface such as John Russell, who is a professor of Near Eastern Archaeology, kindly provided illustrations at my request. Their names can be found with the relevant photos. None of those acknowledged read Weiss' article or provided editorial comment.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Ute, thank you for the clarification of the following statement,

"Acknowledgements: I am indebted to many indivduals who commented on this piece and helped with illustrations. Special thanks to Dr. Margarete van Ess, Dr. Nathan Elkins, Dr. Wolfgang Fischer-Bossert, Dr. Michael Kershner, Dr. Sabine Landstatter, Dr. John Russell and Dr. Peter Van Alfen."

(I would place Nathan Elkins and John Russell squarely in the "archaeological lobby" category, given their advocacy for clamp downs on collectors.)

Cultural Property Observer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cultural Property Observer said...

From Arthur Houghton:

There are elements of my friend Peter Weiss' article that are clear and make sense, others not. As all of us know, however, it was a coerced product, ordered by the court and carefully vetted by selected individuals, some of whom have been acknowledged by Ute Wartenberg.

A more germane question, and one that goes to the point of coercion -- and thus a catastrophic loss of the article's credibility -- is who else may have intervened in the article's wording and who may have cleared it for publication. The Assistant District Attorney? My former associate in a certain New York criminal case, Cyrus Vance? And did those or any other person in authority then coerce, by subtle suggestion or by direct demand, the Society to publish?

Could we have a little transparency please? Would Mr. Bogdanos come out of the shadows and simply tell us all, "I did it?" To address him directly, could you man up and let us know exactly what your role was in creating, framing and clearing Peter Weiss' article? But could we have a little confession from you at an early moment?

Thank you,


Cultural Property Observer said...

I've talked more to Dr. Wartenberg about this article. She indicates that the articl had to be approved by Col. Bogdanos as part of the plea deal, but any changes to the article based on comments from the NY District Attorney's office or any sources the DA consulted, took place BEFORE the ANS accepted the article for publication and it was edited by ANS staff.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Arthur Houghton asked me to post this response:

"Peter, thank you and Ute for clarifying who did what to whom, and for permitting us all to know that Mr. Bogdanos in fact perpetrated Peter's fraudulent article. My Quixotic friend Jason Felch put it aptly: "The situation recalls a scolded student being forced to write a half-hearted apology on the chalkboard" -- although he might better have said " apology written at the demand of a grim-faced schoolmistress clutching a yardstick..."

The pitiful thing is that the district attorney's office put so much time and allocated so much of it's resources to so little purpose. Peter's "crime" is now seen for what it was, a peccadillo, while the assistant DA appears to be little more than a puffed-up Ahab in pursuit of a whale that has bitten off his leg, an obsessed individual whose harpoon-line catches him around the neck and takes him and his crew to their doom. On reflection, "pitiful" may be the wrong word. "Ludicrous" would be more apt.

Is this what New York's assistant DA should be doing? Pursuing a view of justice that in the end is no more than the obsessive pursuit of Americans who he believes may have contravened foreign property laws (in this case, those of a country whose citizens thumb their nose at their authorities and love to laugh at their own laws)?

As someone who knows something about public service, I have to ask, is this what New York believes best serves its public, even as predators roam the city's streets and terrorist plots are hatched against it every week? One hopes the man retains some of the sense of public duty that marked his exceptional and thoughtful work in Baghdad, and that he has not succumbed to the vanities of being a poster-boy for foreign interests. We have heard nothing of him openly, as expected. But one still hopes he will man up, give up his obsession, pay attention to the public interest, do his duty. Do the right thing.

Warm regards,


kyri said...

it wasnt bogdanos who was selling these fake/illicit coins and it wasnt bogdanos trying to legitimise the coins by bragging to fellow collectors that he knew they were "recent dugups".lets get some perspective hear before we condemn a guy like bogdanos who has been a great servant for his country and putting his life on the line,of not doing the "right thing".we know who didnt do "the right thing" even if others are blinkered by their freindship for weiss to see it.