Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Virtual CPAC Meeting on Libyan MOU Request

On July 19, 2017, the U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee held its first “virtual” meeting where some CPAC members and all speakers were linked via an internet based video platform.  According to my notes, at least the following CPAC members were in attendance:  (1) John Frank (Trade); (2) Karol Wight (Museum); (3) Lothar von Falkenhausen (Archeology); (4) Nancy Wilkie (Archaeology); (5) Rosemary Joyce (Archaeology); (6) Dorit Straus (Trade); (7) Adele Chatfield-Taylor (Public); and (8) Jeremy Sabloff (Public-Chair).

There were six (6) speakers:  (1) Peter Tompa (International Association of Professional Numismatists/Professional Numismatist’s Guild; (2) Sue McGovern (Association of Dealers and Collectors of Ancient and Ethnographic Art); (3) William Wright (coin collector); (5) Kate FitzGibbon (Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association) and (6) Nathan Elkins (Baylor).  Due to a technical problem, Gary Vikan (Global Heritage Alliance) did not speak.

Peter Tompa- The request is a troubling one.  Libya has no government to speak of and anything repatriated cannot be protected from the militias running the country.  To the extent any restrictions are granted, they should be limited to site specific restrictions for material identifiable as from Libya’s 5 UNESCO World Heritage Sites as well as for coins identifiable as being stolen from public and private collections.   Restrictions cannot lawfully be placed on coins because they are not of cultural significance.  Moreover, hoard evidence proves that one cannot assume coins struck in Libya in ancient times were also found there.  (For more, see here.)

Sue McGovern- Libya’s chaotic governance means that it cannot undertake self-help measures or protect what cultural patrimony it has, let alone that which may be repatriated under a MOU.  Libya has no open museums.  It should be taken to task for opposing UNESCO’s efforts to list its World Heritage sites as endangered.  In a troubling episode, one powerful militia (supported by General Sisi’s Egyptian military government) burned 6,000 books.  Under the circumstances, any MOU is a bad idea.

William Wright- Wright is a teacher at a community college in Virginia.  He became interested in the coins from Kyrene because they depict Silphium, a now extinct medicinal plant.  He uses coins in his history classes.  His students benefit from the tactile experience of handling coins.  He only buys from established dealers, but worries about the chilling effect restrictions are having on the hobby.

Kate FitzGibbon- The short comment period has disenfranchised Jewish groups which are incensed that Libya is seeking U.S. Government approval for its efforts to claim the property of expelled Jews as its own.  The request should also be denied as to Tuareg material  as most Tuaregs live outside Libya and one cannot tell recent tribal arts from early tribal arts that are the target of this MOU.

Nathan Elkins- Looting is well documented in Libya.  Restrictions should also extend to coins as for other objects.  Coins are special targets for looters.  CPAC should be wary of the misrepresentations of the lobbyists for the coin trade.  Nancy Wilkie (Archaeology) asked Elkins if metal detectors were used in Libya.  Elkins does not know for sure, but assumes so.   Dorit Straus (Trade) asked Elkins about documenting coins.  Elkins does not understand why collectors don’t document coins as he did as a collector before stopping for ethical reasons.  

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