Sunday, May 18, 2008

CAARI- A Shadow CPAC for the Cyprus MOU?

Reading the "choices" as laid out to Assistant Secretary Dina Powell in the State Department's "action memo" I can only conclude that the "fix was in" on imposing import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type, perhaps even before the prospect of including coins was first disclosed during Cyprus MOU hearing in January 2007. See

Preordained decisions going against past precedent do not just happen. Rather, they are usually the product of some undue influence behind the scenes. Thinking about which group might have been best situated to have had such influence has led me to consider the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute ("CAARI") as a prime "suspect." See

CAARI's primary purpose is to promote cultural exchanges with Cyprus in the form of US sponsored archaeological investigations on the Island. In addition, however, CAARI has also emphasized its stand on collecting. In particular, CAARI's code of ethics states that "the illicit trade of antiquities [must] be actively discouraged." See While this sounds noble, in practice this means support for the dubious proposition that any artifact without a detailed ownership history should be deemed "stolen" as a matter of law. As such, groups like CAARI support imposing the "Devil's proof" on collectors of even common artifacts, like coins, to prove the negative. Not surprisingly, imposing the Devil's proof is just what import restrictions do -- like those now in place on coins of Cypriot type.

Certainly, CAARI publicly supported the renewal of the Cyprus MOU and the inclusion of coins. That, of course, is its perogative. However, what makes me queasy is the suspicion that CAARI likely traded on its contacts with the Department of State ECA over cultural exchanges to plead Cyprus' case for import restrictions behind the scenes. The board of CAARI certainly has more than its fair share of former diplomats. In addition, Ellen Herscher, a well known advocate of the proposition that unprovenanced artifacts should be deemed stolen, serves as the organization's VP. See

Did CAARI exercise undue influence to press for the inclusion of coins in the Cypriot MOU? Was that influence so great it's recommendations could even supplant those of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, the committee of experts which by statute has the role to advise the State Department on such matters? Hopefully, we will learn more as the FOIA litigation brought against the State Department by ACCG, IAPN and PNG unfolds.

1 comment:

Cultural Property Observer said...

I should also note that the SAFE website has provided the following information about Ms. Herscher's background:

Ellen Herscher has served as the Chair of the Committee on Cultural Property Legislation and Policy of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) since 1997, and has held numerous other AIA offices on the national level and in the local Washington DC chapter. She is past editor of "The Antiquities Market" section of The Journal of Field Archaeology, and has published widely on the topic of preservation and protection of archaeological resources. She serves on the ditorial Board of Archaeology magazine.

She holds a Ph.D. in Classical Archaeology from the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in the Bronze Age of Cyprus, where she has worked as a field archaeologist for over 30 years. She has taught at Cornell University and the University of Minnesota, and held the position Director of International Programs at the American Association of Museums.