Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Cyprus and Some Stubborn Facts

It has been one year since the State Department imposed its controversial import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type. The proponents of the decision claim that it will help preserve archaeological sites and the study of coins. However, the following "stubborn facts"suggest otherwise:

1. Greek Cypriot archaeological authorities have long maintained that most looting takes place in the occupied North outside the control of Greek Cypriot archaeological authorities, but Greek Cypriot intransigence has certainly helped prolong the division of the Island. See generally and;

2. Cyprus may play the role of host for CAARI and other international groups, but Cyprus' handling of its own archaeological heritage has been described as a "mess." See:;

3. Coins have not always been treated well at archaeological sites, and the excavations within Cyprus are no exception. See: Frank L. Holt, Thundering Zeus: The Making of Hellenistic Bactria 109 (University of California Press 1999) (“Even some advocates of the ‘New Archaeology,’ which treats every shred of evidence (even stray seeds and splinters) with utmost care, seem all too willing to sacrifice bronze coins. At Kourion, for example, the excavation director speaks of a ‘power struggle’ over the handling of stray coins: ‘I needed the coins cleaned as soon as possible for purposes of dating and identification; but the conservators, as is their wont, lobbied for the safest and slowest methods. The reader will perhaps not be surprised to learn that the dig director won out, particularly since the coins were hardly art treasures, and were in very bad shape.’ Bronze coins have long been valued as chronological indicators and little more; old habits die hard.”);

4. Cypriot archaeological authorities do not appear to have detailed knowledge about Cypriot coinage. If they did, one would have thought they could have put together more accurate illustrations of the "designated list" of coins subject to restriction. See: That suggests nationalistic concerns rather than a sincere interest in studying and preserving early Cypriot coinage has been a primary motivating factor for the Cypriot request for import restrictions.

Import restrictions have made it much more difficult for American collectors to import coins of Cypriot type legally. They certainly have helped satisfy jingoistic impulses within the Cypriot archaeological establishment. But have they really helped Cypriot archaeology? I really doubt it.

If anything, the publicity surrounding restrictions will only provide a diversion from addressing the real problems facing Cypriot archaeology.

No comments: