Sunday, February 7, 2021

Please Comment on a Proposed Renewal of the MOU with Egypt and a Proposed New MOU with Albania

The State Department has announced a proposed renewal and amendment of a cultural property agreement or memorandum of understanding with the Arab Republic of Egypt.  The State Department has also announced a proposed new MOU with the Republic of Albania.  Import restrictions under the current Egyptian MOU cover all ancient coins up to Diocletian's reforms.  Roman and Byzantine coins of Imperial types struck in Egypt after that date are not currently subject to import restrictions.  

Further information about the March 17, 2021 Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) meeting, how to comment, and a link to comment may be found here:  Regulations .gov is transitioning to a new website, so at various times, you may need to comment here instead:

 Alternatively, go to the website and type in DOS-2021-0003 in the search box to be taken to the notice and link to comment.  Comments must be uploaded no later than March 3, 2021.

A.  Background for Coin Collectors

There are large numbers of coin collectors and numismatic firms in the US.  Very few collectors do so to “invest.”  Most collect out of love of history, as an expression of their own cultural identity, or out of interest in other cultures.  All firms that specialize in ancient coins in the US are small businesses. Private collectors and dealers support much academic research into coins.  For example, an American collector collaborated with academics to produce an extensive study of Seleucid coins. A further clamp down on collecting will inevitably lead to less scholarship.

While what became the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) was being negotiated, one of the State Department’s top lawyers assured Congress that “it would be hard to imagine a case” where coins would be restricted.   In 2007, however, the State Department imposed import restrictions on Cypriot coins, against CPAC’s recommendations, and then misled the public and Congress about it in official government reports.  What also should be troubling is that the decision maker, Assistant Secretary Dina Powell, did so AFTER she had accepted a job with Goldman Sachs where she was recruited by and worked for the spouse of the founder of the Antiquities Coalition, an archaeological advocacy group that has lobbied extensively for import restrictions.  Since that time, additional import restrictions have been imposed on coins from Algeria, Bulgaria, China, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Syria, and Yemen.  Import restrictions remain pending for Tunisia and Turkey. 

1.        Current Egyptian import restrictions

The current Egyptian designated list restricts the following ancient coin types down to 294 AD:

H. Coins

In copper or bronze, silver, and gold.

1. General—There are a number of references that list Egyptian coin types. Below are some examples. Most Hellenistic and Ptolemaic coin types are listed in R.S. Poole, A Catalogue of Greek Coins in the British Museum: Alexandria and the Nomes (London, 1893); J.N. Svoronos, Τα Nομισματα του Κρατουσ των Πτολe μαιων (Münzen der Ptolemäer) (Athens 1904); and R.A. Hazzard, Ptolemaic Coins: An Introduction for Collectors (Toronto, 1985). Examples of catalogues listing the Roman coinage in Egypt are J.G. Milne, Catalogue of Alexandrian Coins (Oxford, 1933); J.W. Curtis, The Tetradrachms of Roman Egypt (Chicago, 1969); A. Burnett, M. Amandry, and P.P Ripollès, Roman Provincial Coinage I: From the Death of Caesar to the Death of Vitellius (44 BC-AD 69) (London, 1998—revised edition); and A. Burnett, M. Amandry, and I. Carradice, Roman Provincial Coinage II: From Vespasian to Domitian (AD 69-96) (London, 1999). There are also so-called nwb-nfr coins, which may date to Dynasty 30. See T. Faucher, W. Fischer-Bossert, and S. Dhennin, “Les Monnaies en or aux types hiéroglyphiques nwb nfr,” Bulletin de l'institut français d'archéologie orientale 112 (2012), pp. 147-169.


2. Dynasty 30 —Nwb nfr coins have the hieroglyphs nwb nfr on one side and a horse on the other.


3. Hellenistic and Ptolemaic coins—Struck in gold, silver, and bronze at Alexandria and any other mints that operated within the borders of the modern Egyptian state. Gold coins of and in honor of Alexander the Great, struck at Alexandria and Memphis, depict a helmeted bust of Athena on the obverse and a winged Victory on the reverse. Silver coins of Alexander the Great, struck at Alexandria and Memphis, depict a bust of Herakles wearing the lion skin on the obverse, or “heads” side, and a seated statue of Olympian Zeus on the reverse, or “tails” side. Gold coins of the Ptolemies from Egypt will have jugate portraits on both obverse and reverse, a portrait of the king on the obverse and a cornucopia on the reverse, or a jugate portrait of the king and queen on the obverse and cornucopiae on the reverse. Silver coins of the Ptolemies coins from Egypt tend to depict a portrait of Alexander wearing an elephant skin on the obverse and Athena on the reverse or a portrait Start Printed Page 87808of the reigning king with an eagle on the reverse. Some silver coins have jugate portraits of the king and queen on the obverse. Bronze coins of the Ptolemies commonly depict a head of Zeus (bearded) on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. These iconographical descriptions are non-exclusive and describe only some of the more common examples. There are other types and variants. Approximate date: ca. 332 B.C. through ca. 31 B.C.

4. Roman coins—Struck in silver or bronze at Alexandria and any other mints that operated within the borders of the modern Egyptian state in the territory of the modern state of Egypt until the monetary reforms of Diocletian. The iconography of the coinage in the Roman period varied widely, although a portrait of the reigning emperor is almost always present on the obverse of the coin. Approximate date: ca. 31 B.C. through ca. A.D. 294.

With respect to the wording of the restrictions themselves, Customs has issued restrictions based on place of manufacture rather than find spot.

This is significant because such restrictions ignore evidence that demonstrates that Egyptian mint coins are regularly discovered outside of Egypt.  Egypt's so-called "closed monetary system” was meant to keep foreign coins "out" and not Egyptian coins “in.” Hoard evidence confirms Ptolemaic coins from Egyptian mints circulated throughout the Ptolemaic Empire which stretched well beyond the confines of modern-day Egypt.  (And, indeed, some hoards are found outside the Empire's territory.)  They also ignored finds reported under the UK's PAS that show Roman Egyptian Tetradrachms circulated as far away as Roman Britain. 

Under current Customs procedures, the above types can only be imported into the United States with: (a) an export certificate issued by Egypt (which have not been issued since the 1980’s and which when issued did not include pictures or detailed descriptions);   (b) “satisfactory evidence” demonstrating that the coins were exported from or were outside of Egypt at least 10 years prior to importation into the U.S.; or (c) “satisfactory evidence” demonstrating that the coins were exported from or were outside of Egypt before restrictions were announced on December 5, 2016.  What constitutes “satisfactory evidence” is ultimately left to the discretion of Customs, but usually takes the form of a declaration by the importer and a statement by the consigner.

The current restrictions do not extend to Roman or Byzantine coins of widely circulating Imperial types struck at Alexandria that are extremely popular with collectors. However, we cannot afford to take this for granted; we simply cannot assume that the archaeological lobby—which actively opposes private collecting—will not press for “more” this time around.  Accordingly, if one feels strongly about their continued ability to collect such coins, they should comment on the website.  Why?  Because silence will only be spun as acquiesce.  So, serious collectors should oppose restrictions on coins or their expansion to widely circulating trade coins as unnecessary and detrimental to the appreciation of ancient culture and the people-to-people contacts collecting brings. 

2.       Proposed Albanian MOU

The proposed MOU with Albania could also impact popular Greek coins from the cities of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium (Durres).  The early coins from these cities copied cow/calf designs of Corcyra (Corfu), their mother city.  Later, copies of Corinthian staters were struck, before massive issues of the cow/calf design were issued on the same weight standards as Roman Republican coins.  These coins are found in great numbers in former Yugoslavia, Romania, and Bulgaria.

3.       The Negative Impact of Import Restrictions on People-to-People Contacts Collecting Brings

The cumulative impact of import restrictions has been very problematical for collectors since outside of some valuable Greek coins, most coins simply lack the document trail necessary for legal import under the “safe harbor” provisions of 19 U.S.C. § 2606.  The CPIA only authorizes the government to impose import restrictions on coins and other artifacts first discovered within and subject to the export control of Italy. (19 U.S.C. § 2601). Furthermore, seizure is only appropriate for items on the designated list exported from the State Party after the effective date of regulations.  (19 U.S.C. § 2606).  Unfortunately, the State Department and Customs view this authority far more broadly.  Designated lists have been prepared based on where coins are made and sometimes found, not where they are actually found and hence are subject to export control.  Furthermore, restrictions are not applied prospectively solely to illegal exports made after the effective date of regulations, but rather are enforced against any import into the U.S. made after the effective date of regulations, i.e., an embargo, not targeted, prospective import restrictions.  While it is true enforcement has been spotty, we know of situations where coins have been detained, seized, and repatriated where the importer cannot produce information to prove his or her coins were outside of a country for which import restrictions were granted before the date of restrictions.

      B.  What You Can Do

Admittedly, CPAC seems to be little more than a rubber stamp.  Still, to remain silent is to give the cultural bureaucrats and archaeologists with an ax to grind against collectors exactly what they want-- the claim that any restrictions will not be controversial. 

As discussed above, further information about the March 17, 2021 Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) meeting, how to comment, and a link to comment may be found here:  Regulations .gov is transitioning to a new website, so at various times, you may need to comment here instead:  Alternatively, go to the website and type in DOS-2021-0003 in the search box to be taken to the notice and link to comment or comment from the Federal Register Notice here:

Please also note comments submitted in electronic form are not private. They will be posted on Because the comments cannot be edited to remove any identifying or contact information, the Department of State cautions against including any information in an electronic submission that one does not want publicly disclosed (including trade secrets and commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential pursuant to 19 U.S.C. 2605(i)(1)).

C.  What Should You Say?

 What should you say?  Provide a brief, polite explanation about how import restrictions impact you or your business and/or the cultural understanding and people to people contacts collecting provides.   Coin collectors should add it makes no sense to expand current restrictions when the State Department already determined which coins were typically “first discovered within” and “subject to the export control” of Greece.  Finally, collectors can point out that Albania, which is soon to become an EU member, must respect the rights of other EU members to export coins of types on the designated Greek designated list, and so should the U.S.  Comments from Egyptian or Albanian American collectors are particularly welcome! 

 Personalized comments are best, but feel free to use this submission as a model: 

 Dear CPAC:

Please either end the current restrictions on coins, or, at least, do not expand them.  It makes no sense to expand current restrictions when the State Department already determined Roman Imperial and Byzantine coins of Egypt did not primarily circulate within Egypt.  Nor does it make sense to impose import restrictions on Albanian coins struck on the weight standard of late Roman Republican coins that are not restricted nor widely circulating Corinthian types which are also not subject to import restrictions.  Finally, Albania, which is soon to become an EU member, must respect the rights of other EU members to export coins of types on any Albanian designated list, and so should the U.S.  This can easily be done by making any MOU with Albania recognize that a legal export of any item on the Albanian designated list from a sister EU country will be treated as a legal export from Albania itself.



Thursday, February 4, 2021

Eleventh Hour Trump Administration MOU with Turkey's Authoritarian Government Roils Representatives of Displaced Minorities, Collectors

On Jan. 19, 2021, the U.S. Department of State entered into a cultural property agreement or memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Erdogan's authoritarian Turkish government potentially covering everything and anything made as as recently as 1923.  Associated import restrictions have yet to be announced, but representatives of the Greek diaspora worry the MOU will empower Erdogan to “claw back” ancient and modern Greek cultural property and provide de facto recognition to Erdogan’s rights to convert Hagia Sophia and other Greek Orthodox churches into mosques.  Meanwhile, coin collectors are concerned overbroad restrictions will result in an embargo of most, if not all, ancient Greek coins of "Turkish type" circulating in legitimate markets in Europe.  The real question is whether the Biden Administration, which is so keen to overturn everything associated with Trump, will consider these concerns seriously before issuing any  implementing regulations. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

State Department Excludes Jewish Religious or Ceremonial Objects from Moroccan Designated List, but More Coins, Even Rope Embargoed.

 On January 22, 2021, U.S. Customs announced new State Department import restrictions on Moroccan cultural goods.  The extensive designated list may be found here.

For the first time, the regulations include a statement that the designated list of ethnological objects does not include Jewish ceremonial or religious objects.  While this is good news, it does raise a few issues.  First, it contradicts prior State Department claims to Jewish groups and coin collectors that it is impossible to grant such “exemptions.”  Second, none of the other MENA import restrictions have such language and in fact several (the MOU with Egypt comes to mind) explicitly include Jewish items.  Finally, it is unclear whether this exemption will be applied elsewhere. Unlike most MENA  countries, Morocco has good relations with the Jewish community.  As much as they would like to hope this is a trend, Jewish groups probably cannot assume the same exemption will be applied to all new MOU's or renewals of current MENA MOU's, particularly where Jewish populations have been forcibly displaced.

There are exceptionally broard restrictions placed on everything else again including “rope.”  (Sort of an inside joke at this point).  The restrictions on coins appear exceptionally broad too:

10. Coins—This category includes

coins of Numidian, Mauretanian, Greek/

Punic, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, and

Medieval Spanish types that circulated

primarily in Morocco, ranging in date

from the fifth century B.C. to A.D. 1750.

Coins were made in copper, bronze,

silver, and gold. Examples may be

square or round, have writing, and show

imagery of animals, buildings, symbols,

or royal figures.

Yet, they are also essentially meaningless; with a few possible exceptions, coins that circulated within Morocco "primarily circulated" not there, but elsewhere.  

Oddly, Spanish coins are also mentioned, though Spain occupies two ports, Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan coast.  Portugal first captured Ceuta in 1415. Spanish rule began in 1581 when the Portuguese kingdom merged with the Spanish Kingdom. Melilla has been Spanish since 1497. Perhaps, the Moroccans wish the Spanish were not there, but to recognize Moroccan rights to claim Spanish coins can only be viewed as the State Department Cultural Heritage Center and U.S. Customs treading in areas that should be reserved for other parts of the U.S. State Department.  

Sunday, January 3, 2021

A Triumph of Fear Mongering Over Facts

On Jan. 1, 2021, the Senate joined the House in an override of President Trump’s veto of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA).  The NDAA contained amendments introduced by Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) directed at a number of Anti-Money Laundering (AML) initiatives.  As a result of that amendment to the House version of the NDAA incorporated into the legislation that passed both Houses after a conference with the Senate, "person[s] engaged in the sale of antiquities" (however "antiquities" might be defined) now find themselves subject to the provisions of the Bank Secrecy Act (BSA) and its regulatory requirements to create and maintain an anti-money laundering program, prepare an annual independent audit, and file where appropriate “suspicious activity reports.”  Such AML programs typically cost thousands of dollars per year to implement  as well as the time and effort required to comply with such regulations.  The costs to small and micro business are substantial.  Furthermore, it is impossible to “fly under the radar screen” of such requirements; such regulations are enforced by the banks which will close accounts which do not comply. 

The exact scope of these obligations for antiquities dealers will be determined in  yet to be promulgated regulations to be prepared by FINCEN (the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network), a Treasury entity.  Those proposed regulations will be subject to “notice and comment” rule making.  Notice and comment rule making should require FINCEN  to respond to concerns raised in public comments before the regulations are finalized.  That process, which will probably not happen until later in the year, will be an opportunity to ask FINCEN to define “antiquities” narrowly as possible and to adopt high monetary thresholds before bureaucratic requirements kick in. 

 In that regard, Congress supplied the Treasury Department with the following specific guidelines for the regulations: 

• having the regulations vary by the size of the business, the size of the transaction being conducted, and whether the transaction takes place in the United States or elsewhere;
• whether the regulations should focus on the high-value trade in antiquities in a different way than lower-value objects;
• whether the antiquities dealer must identify the actual purchaser of an antiquity when the seller or buyer is working through an agent or intermediary;
• the need, if any, to identify trade seller or buyers, such as other dealers, advisors, consultants, or other persons trading in antiquities as a business;
• whether volume or financial thresholds should apply in determining whether an antiquities dealer or a specific transaction should be regulated; and,
• whether certain transactions should be exempted from the regulations.

These guidelines were added to the Maloney Amendment during the Conference with the Senate.  Presumably, they are the result of  Global Heritage Alliance and other advocacy groups for collectors and the businesses of the antiquities and art trade raising these issues with Senate Finance. 

The law also requires a further study to be conducted by Treasury solely with input from law enforcement agencies as to whether the larger art market should also be regulated.

Despite some effort to require FINCEN to focus its efforts on more problematic actors and transactions, this law represents a triumph of fear mongering over fact and intensive lobbying, chiefly by archaeological advocacy groups with an axe to grind against private collecting and the trade, along with AML compliance contractors looking for a new line of business.  This effort was led by the Antiquities Coalition, a well-funded and politically connected archaeological advocacy organization, and AML Right Source, an AML compliance contractor.  Their advocacy is also reflected in the New York Times Coverage of the issue:  It is indeed unfortunate that neither Congress nor the Times paid much attention to serious questions raised about the claims behind this advocacy:

 It will be absolutely essential for collectors and the small businesses of the antiquities trade to comment on these regulations if we are to have any impact on how hard they will be on collecting and the industry.  There also is at least the possibility that  FINCEN will propose very broad regulations by treating “antiquities” the same way as “antiques.”  (There is some precedent for this in other U.S. statutes.)  Obviously, if “antiquities” are treated as “antiques” much of the art and collectibles business will be subject to these regulations.  Certainly, we can expect the archaeological lobby and AML contractors to push to have these regulations to cover as many dealers as is possible.  However, while the Antiquities Coalition and AML Right Source may be well funded and have both political influence and the ability to place favorable coverage in the NY Times, what they lack is the ability to generate large numbers of comments.  Of course, we will see if collectors and the trade turn out in force to protect their hobby and their businesses.  The numbers are certainly there if these groups can be motivated. 

Thursday, November 19, 2020

At the VMFA, Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities

The Virginia Museum of Fine Arts presents Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Sunken Cities. The exhibition showcases treasures recovered from two powerful ancient Egyptian cities that sank into the Mediterranean more than a thousand years ago. Destroyed by natural catastrophes in the 8th century AD, Thonis-Heracleion and Canopus were once mighty centers of trade, where Egyptian and Greek cultures merged in art, worship, and everyday life.  In addition to objects recovered through underwater archaeology, the exhibit also includes some show stoppers from the Egyptian museum.  It is well worth a visit!  Social distancing is relatively easy because the pandemic has unfortunately kept many visitors away.  The exhibit continues through January 18th.  For more, visit  the VMFA's website.  

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Summary of Oct. 27, 2020 CPAC Meeting to Accept Public Comments on Proposed MOU with Nigeria and Proposed Renewals with Bolivia and Greece

 On October 27, 2020, the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (“CPAC”) met to consider a proposed MOU with Nigeria and proposed renewals with Bolivia and Greece. The following members were present:  (1) Stefan Passantino (Chairman- Public); (2) Steven Bledsoe (Public); (3) Karol Wight (Museums); (4) J.D. Demming (Public); (5) Ricardo St. Hilaire (Archaeology); (6) Joan Connelly (Archaeology) and (7) Anthony Wisniewski (Collector-Sale of International Cultural Property).  Allison Davis, CPAC’s State Department Executive Director, and Catherine Foster, a Cultural Heritage Center staffer, were also present.

In advance of this meeting, there was a major shake-up on CPAC.  The following Obama appointees were removed or resigned:  (1) Adele Chatfield-Taylor (Public); (2) James Reep (Public); and (3) Lothar Von Falkenhausen (Archaeology).  At the last CPAC public session to discuss a renewal the MOU with Italy, von Falkenhausen told ancient coin collectors (who were represented at the meeting) that he believed that they should take up another hobby.  It is unclear if this comment had anything to do with his departure.  President Trump appointed Messrs. Bledsoe and Demming to replace Ms. Chatfield-Taylor and Mr. Reep.  One archaeological slot remains unfilled.

Chairman Passantino welcomed the speakers.  He indicated that the Committee had read all the comments, and that given the large number of speakers, each would only be allowed 3 minutes to focus on points most important to them.  Chairman Passantino called on speakers who had put in papers on Nigeria first, then speakers who had written about Bolivia, and finally Greece.  There was some overlap because some speakers put in papers on more than one topic.  He deferred questions to the end to be assured everyone who registered to speak would be heard.

The following individuals provided public comments:  (1) Tess Davis (Antiquities Coalition); (2) Brian Daniels (Archaeological Institute of America); (3) Kathleen Bickford (Northwestern University); (4) Leslye Amede Obiora (Institute for Research on African Women, Children and Culture); (5) Kate FitzGibbon (Committee for Cultural Policy); (6) Donna Yates (Maastricht University); (7) Maria Bruno (Dickinson College); (8) Kris Lane (Tulane University); (9) Daniel Sedwick (International Association of Professional Numismatists); (10) Peter Tompa (Global Heritage Alliance); (11)  Christos Tsirogiannis (University of Aarhus, Denmark); (12) Kim Shelton (Berkley); (13) Nathan Elkins (Baylor University); (14) Ute Wartenberg-Kagan (Columbia University); (15) Morag Kersel (DePaul University); (16) Dmitry Narkesis (Columbia University); (17) Rocco Dibenedetto (Hahn Loeser- Association of Art Museum Directors); (18) Douglas Mudd (American Numismatic Association); and (19) Randolph Myers (Ancient Coin Collectors Guild).

Tess Davis (TD) indicates that the Antiquities Coalition works with partners in the art market, the U.S. Government and Foreign Governments.  She believes import restrictions help protect the legitimate market.  She denies that import restrictions act as embargoes because they allow listed material into the country that has been documented as being outside the country for which restrictions were provided before those restrictions went into place.  She also believes that U.S. customs should not accept export certificates from other EU governments where objects have been listed for specific EU countries like Greece.  She notes certain EU countries do require export permits within the EU despite the general free circulation of goods within the EU.

The Antiquities Coalition’s written comments can be found here: (Bolivia) (Greece) (Nigeria)

Brian Daniels (BD) focuses on the Fourth Determination under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”), regarding the international exchange of cultural patrimony.  He notes that Nigeria has sent several exhibits to the United States.  Most recently, the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University (Greater Chicago) hosted the 2019 exhibition, Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa, which displayed the scope of Saharan trade and the shared history of West Africa, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe from the eighth to sixteenth centuries. This exhibition involved significant loans from Nigeria. It was slated to travel to the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.) in 2020, but its opening has been postponed due to COVID-19.  He indicates that both Bolivia and Greece have been similarly generous in sending exhibitions to the United States.

The Archaeological Institute of America’s written comments can be found here:

Kathleen Bickford (KB) discusses her role as curator for the Caravans of Gold exhibit for the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University.  She states Nigeria's request meets all criteria for determinations in favor of cultural property protections. Important cultural patrimony, ranging from fragments to complete objects, continue to emerge from archaeological sites within the country, while objects of more recent date remain within communities and at royal courts, as well as in homes, shrines, and storehouses. These objects are under severe threat from pillage and theft. Despite efforts to curtail the international market for archaeological and traditional objects from Nigeria, including tighter requirements on provenance among North American museums and accelerating debates about the restitution of African objects from the colonial period, there continues to be a high demand in the international art market for cultural heritage objects from Nigeria.  She also indicates there are many fakes on the market.  Finally, she notes that there is much violence in Nigeria and that cultural heritage is a unifying force.

KB’s written comments can be found here:

 Leslye Amede Obiora (LAO) has been a Professor of Law in the United States since 1992.  She previously served as the Minister of Mines and Steel Development for the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  She states cultural heritage issues are human rights issues. LAO indicates there is a cabal of powerful people involved in looting in Nigeria. She believes a MOU will help bolster civil society, and she wonders why it has taken so long for the United States to offer one to Nigeria.

Kate FitzGibbon (KFG) indicates that the Committee for Cultural Policy and Global Heritage Alliance applaud efforts to help Nigeria address looting, but question whether sufficient evidence has been submitted to support entering into a MOU.  There are many Nigerian materials on the market and in private and museum collections, but the vast majority of these materials left Nigeria decades ago.  Most of this material was removed during the colonial era.  Material produced after 1945 is considered touristic in nature.  There is little in the record about Nigerian self-help measures.  KG is concerned that this request is about closing the barn door after the horses have already left.

The CCP’s and GHA’s written comments on the Nigerian MOU may be found here:

The CCP’s written comments about the Greek MOU can be found here:

Donna Yates (DY) indicates that she has tracked illicit Colonial and Republican era Bolivian artifacts. She indicates that while there appears to be less thefts from churches now, it takes years for this material to surface on the market. DY also indicates there is absolutely no social, educational, or scientific benefit to allowing a market for illegally obtained Bolivian cultural objects to exist in the United States. The destruction of the original contexts of these objects in the looting process annihilates our ability to conduct any meaningful archaeological analysis on them. The violent removal of sacred art from churches tears the very fabric that has held small and indigenous communities together for centuries, reducing cultural diversity and survival.

DY’s written comments can be found here:

Maria Bruno (MB) states that Bolivian patrimony remains in jeopardy from pillage through the illicit excavation of archaeological sites with the purpose of selling desired objects. Bolivian governmental and volunteer organizations work tirelessly to protect archaeological sites from destruction and to educate the public on the value of preserving their ancient past.  Local communities also work together to protect their local patrimony from destruction as the revenue generated from tourism to the site provides jobs and contributes to the local pride.

MB’s written comments can be found here:

Kris Lane (KL) shares the archaeologists’ concerns about looting, but thinks coins should be treated differently than other objects, like historic records.  While archives should not be removed from their place of origin, items like coins were not state property and were intended to circulate far from where they were made.  This is certainly the case for coins struck in Bolivia.  The Bolivian gold escudo and silver peso were international currencies.  They were even legal tender in the United States before the Civil War. 

Dan Sedwick (DS) indicates that IAPN supports Bolivian efforts to restore the Potosi mint.  DS provides some history.  Bolivian coins are very common.  DS has always had some in inventory.  Minting in Bolivia begins with hand-struck silver coins in 1573-4 under Spanish dominion and continues through early Republic times starting in 1825 to present day. Throughout these four-and-a-half centuries of minting, most of the coins were the property of rich men back in Spain, not the people of Bolivia, and these coins traveled far from the current boundaries of Bolivia, in fact to all the continents of the earth except Antarctica. DS also notes that IAPN’s submission shows that current Bolivian laws do not explicitly treat coins as cultural heritage.  As for Greece, DS states this renewal should not be an excuse to expand current import restrictions to trade coins that circulated around the ancient world.

The International Association of Professional Numismatists’ and the Professional Numismatists Guild’s written comments can be found here: (Bolivia) (Greece)

Peter Tompa (PT) discusses both the Greek and Bolivian MOUs.  First, as to the proposed renewal of the Greek MOU, he states that this renewal is no excuse to expand current import restrictions.  Those restrictions purport to only apply to coin types that circulated locally in Greece in order to comply with the statutory requirements found in 19 U.S.C. § 2601.  That provision requires that such coins were “first discovered within” and are therefore subject to Greek export controls.  Under no circumstances should CPAC recommend expanding those restrictions to widely circulating trade coins which can be found most anywhere.  Second, CPAC should recognize the obvious ramifications of Greece’s membership in the European Union (“E.U.”). Coins on the current designated list may be traded outside the E.U. with or without an export license according to the local law of Greece’s sister E.U. members. CPAC, the State Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) should honor these E.U. export controls, which, after all, are also binding on Greece as an E.U. member.  Finally, he urges that archaeologists be asked to do their own part too.  CPAC should ensure archaeological missions pay diggers a fair living wage and that they be required to file site security plans which take advantage of modern electronic surveillance technology.  

PT’s full oral statement can be found here:

GHA’s written comments on the Greek MOU can be found here:

GHA’s and CCP’s written comments on the Bolivian MOU can be found here:

Christos Tsirogiannis (CT) has worked with law enforcement, including the DA in New York City and U.S. Homeland Security, to repatriate artifacts to Greece and other countries.  He is also working on a way to detect looted antiquities using new technology.  Recently, Greek police broke up a antiquities smuggling operation in Patras, Greece, that had coins and other artifacts. 

CT’s written comments can be found here:

Kim Shelton (KS) excavates at Nemea.  She has spent sleepless nights in fear of looters.  Economic austerity has made the problem worse.  Coin evidence is important to her work.

Nathan Elkins (NE) supports restrictions on all ancient coins that circulated in quantity in Greece, including trade coins like Athenian Tetradrachms, which currently are not restricted. Looting results in the loss of important contextual information.  Coins can be important dating tools.  They helped date the ruins of an ancient Synagogue he helped excavate in Israel.

NE’s written comments can be found here:

Ute Wartenberg-Kagan (UWK) supports restrictions on all ancient coins that circulated in quantity in Greece.  Coins are among the most frequently looted items. Once taken out of their archaeological context, some of the historical and economic meaning is often lost. Sadly, numismatists are used to working with coins that have no archaeological context, and the fact that there is a finite number of coins in the ground makes their protection all the more important. Unfortunately, the trend is going very much in the wrong direction, and here modern technology enables looting on a scale that has not been seen before. Ever more sophisticated and cheaper metal detectors allow more people to dig up coins. Online sales via eBay, vcoins, Amazon, or in Facebook groups, allow the sale of staggering numbers of coins. On any given day, over 100,000 ancient coins and coin lots are for sale on eBay. MOUs should be considered friends of collectors because they help keep looted material off the market.

UWK’s written comments can be found here:

Morag Kersel (MK) says she was interviewing a collector who had a Cyclodelic figurine which the collector said was worth $1 million.  He indicated now that ancient art is an investment.  MK indicates that the high prices for ancient art helps stimulate looting.

Dmitry Narkesis (DN) has witnessed looting at archaeological digs.  Looting is real problem that impacts archaeology.  It takes a lot of time and effort to try to fight it.

Rocco Dibenedetto (RD) states that the AAMD does not oppose the Greek MOU, but Greece should be held to account for its obligations under Art. II of the current agreement.  One of those undertakings is to facilitate loans of materials to U.S. museums.  Despite Greece’s promises to do so, that has not happened.  The designated list should also be scrutinized to ensure that it only covers archaeological objects over 250 years old. 

The AAMD’s written comments can be found here:

Douglas Mudd (DM) states that current import restrictions have hurt the ANA’s educational mission because foreign scholars have been unwilling to bring their collections to the United States for fear of them being seized by U.S. customs.  Despite import restrictions being renewed over and again, looting remains a problem which suggests they are not working.  DM states that a new paradigm needs to be considered given their failure, one based on Britain’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, which encourages people to report finds with the prospect of a cash award for any coins kept by the government.  While expense is an issue, perhaps aid from wealthy countries can help get these programs going.

The ANA’s written comments can be found here:

Randolph Myers (RM) states there can be no dispute ancient coins circulated in great numbers far from where they were found.  This is detailed in a report appended to the ACCG’s written comments.  This is significant because as recognized by a U.S. District Court import restrictions are only appropriate on archaeological objects both first discovered within and subject to the export control of a specific country. 

The ACCG’s written comments can be found here:

Question and Answer Period

Karol Wight asks LAO about the situation in Nigeria.  LAO states Nigeria is under siege, but that is no reason not to enter into a MOU on its behalf.  She again suggests a MOU is a human rights issue.

Anthony Wisniewski asks TD and DY if they receive foreign government money.  (The State Department recently issued a directive calling for the disclosure of such information.  See  TD states that the Antiquities Coalition does not receive such funding.  DY indicates she receives such funding from the European Union.  (She currently holds a €1.5 million European Research Council grant to study the illicit trafficking of cultural objects.)

Anthony Wisniewski asks UWK if it is unremarkable that Roman or Byzantine coins from the Thessalonica mint can be found in large numbers in today’s Turkey and Albania.  She agrees with this statement.  

Joan Connelly asks KS about what coins have been found at Nemea.  KS indicates that coins from many different Greek cities have been found there probably because it was the center for sacred games.  They also find many different coins at a Christian sanctuary on the site.

Karol Wight asks KB if she has had any other interaction with Nigerian scholars outside her work on exhibits.  KB says all her work has been on exhibits. 

J.D. Demming asks DM to elaborate on his ideas to disincentivize looting. DM states that the U.K.’s Portable Antiquities Scheme incentivizes people to report their finds.  Perhaps there can be a global antiquities scheme with funding from richer countries.

Ricardo St. Hilaire asks LAO about whether she saw any parallels between looting and illegal mining.  LAO says Nigeria recognized that it takes a thief to catch a thief so it invested resources to help illicit miners become clean.  She refers to DM’s statements about PAS and says there may be parallels.

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

This is no Time to Expand Restrictions; It is time to Facilitate Lawful Trade and Encourage Archaeologists to do Their Part

This is what I said more or less at today's CPAC hearing.  I hope to summarize the public session to discuss a proposed MOU with Nigeria and proposed renewals with Greece and Bolivia shortly.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you on behalf of the Global Heritage Alliance.  I also drafted comments on behalf of IAPN and PNG, so feel free to refer any detailed questions about those papers to me.

First, as to the proposed renewal of the Greek MOU, we would echo IAPN’s and PNG’s concerns that this renewal is no excuse to expand current import restrictions.  Those restrictions purport to only apply to coin types that circulated locally in Greece in order to comply with the statutory requirements found in 19 U.S.C. § 2601.  That provision requires that such coins were “first discovered within” and are therefore subject to Greek export controls.  Under no circumstances should CPAC recommend expanding those restrictions to widely circulating trade coins which can be found most anywhere.  Those coins can be found in many countries, including ones with no MOU with the U.S.

CPAC already considered the issue in 2010, and rejected the proponent’s request to expand current restrictions further when the MOU was renewed in 2016.  There is simply no reason to revisit this decision, particularly when much of the coin trade is already being badly hurt by Covid related shut downs of coin shows.  Indeed to do so would not only be contrary to the statutory requirements, but the words of Greece’s Ambassador who back in 2010 stated that Greece’s request only concerned “antiquities that have been found exclusively on Greek territory.”

 Second, CPAC should also promote the lawful exchange of cultural artifacts. In particular, CPAC should recognize the obvious ramifications of Greece’s membership in the European Union (“E.U.”). Coins on the current designated list may be traded outside the E.U. with or without an export license according to the local law of Greece’s sister E.U. members. CPAC, the State Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) should honor these E.U. export controls, which, after all, are also binding on Greece as an E.U. member.

 Finally, with regard to both Greece and Bolivia, we would urge that archaeologists be asked to do their own part too.  CPAC should amend MOU Art. II to ensure archaeological missions pay diggers a fair living wage and that they be required to file site security plans which take advantage of modern electronic surveillance technology.  Both steps can be seen as “self-help measures” or “less drastic remedies” than import restrictions under 19 U.S.C. § 2602 (1) (B) and (C) (ii).

 Thank you.