Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Jonathan Jones on the Parthenon Marbles

"The British Museum must hold its ground. And I think people should shut up and look at the art, instead of turning it into a trite talking point." So says Jonathan Jones in his Art Blog. See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/jonathanjonesblog/2007/oct/18/theparthenonmarblesshouldnotbereturnedtogreece

Saturday, June 27, 2009

David Gill and Unresolved Questions

British Archaeologist and SAFE Blogger David Gill has taken his campaign defending the U.S. State Department's lack of transparency and bias in favor of archaeologists and foreign cultural affairs bureaucracies to PR Newswire. See:
Looting Matters: Why are Ancient Coins From Cyprus Featured in a Suit Against the US Department of State?

If anything, the costs associated with Gill's PR Newswire release raise their own unresolved questions about Gill's funding and what interests are actually behind this publicity effort. See: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/05/looting-matters-takes-to-pr-newswire.html

Thankfully, efforts to test the legality of the State Department's actions made on behalf of collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade will be judged by the Courts and not Bloggers like Gill. There is, after all, another side to the story. See, e.g., http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/04/whats-wrong-with-eca-transparency.html

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Las Vegas Review Journal Editorial on Federal Raids in Four Corners Areas

The Las Vegas Review Journal has an interesting editorial about the Federal raids in the Four Corners area. See: http://www.lvrj.com/opinion/48721977.html

In addition to a kind reference to Kate Fitz Gibbon and "Who Owns the Past?" as well as this blog, the editorial states,

Federal indictments accuse the suspects of stealing, receiving or trying to sell artifacts belonging to Indian tribes that vanished from the area centuries ago. But the artifacts -- bowls, stone pipes, sandals, arrowheads and pendants -- were "stolen" only in the sense that they were dug up from the desert sites where the Anasazi abandoned them, perhaps more than a thousand years ago.

Such "pot hunting" has been a common hobby around the Four Corners area -- and other sparsely inhabited parts of the Southwest -- for generations.

The objection from archaeologists is that such artifacts lose much of their informational value if they're removed from their original sites without being carefully mapped and documented. The amateur pot hunters reply that museums and archaeologists have more of this stuff than they know what to do with.

Were the areas where these artifacts were found scheduled to be mapped and professionally excavated next summer? The summer after that? In 15 years? Never? If left untouched after being "eroded out," what would have been the most likely fate of these artifacts -- to be trampled by animals, washed away in the next rains?

"Pot hunting" is legal on private land; it is considered a crime on lands controlled by the government.

But the tiny ratio of private to "government-controlled" land in the West would be considered outrageous anywhere else.

No one is endorsing wanton vandalism of such sites or artifacts. But it would be useful and realistic if a cooperative, rather than an adversarial, approach allowed quick surveys of such sites, with the most archaeologically promising being set aside for near-future professional digs, with residents told "Harvest the rest if you can."

Perhaps, federal authorities should consult with Roger Bland and the PAS to see if that program might provide some ideas for what can be done in the American Southwest. See: http://www.accg.us/issues/news/bland?searchterm=Bland There should be some way to balance the interests of Native Americans, archaeologists, pot hunters interested in local history and the Federal Government outside the purely punitive approach exemplified by the raids in the Four Corners area.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Judith McHale Confirmed to DOS Public Diplomacy Post: Has She Been Briefed?

The Senate has confirmed Judith McHale (former President and CEO of Discovery Communications) to be Under Secretary for the Bureau of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. See: http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/biog/124007.htm

Under Secretary McHale will have supervisory oversight over the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA), the State Department body that oversees the imposition of import restrictions on cultural artifacts. The subordinate post of Assistant Secretary for the ECA remains vacant and in the interim is being filled by Acting Assistant Secretary Miller Crouch. See: .http://exchanges.state.gov/about/senior-leadership.html

As part of assuming her duties, one would think Ms. McHale would be briefed about the ongoing FOIA litigation brought against the State Department by ACCG, IAPN and PNG concerning the controversial decisions to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot and Chinese type. See: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/06/court-filings-in-accg-png-and-iapn-foia.html

If so, I wonder if anyone has told her that the ECA has steadfastly refused to comply with President Obama's call for disclosure and transparency from government agencies. Compare DOJ email to FOIA Professionals (see http://thefoiablog.typepad.com/the_foia_blog/2009/01/department-of-justice-email-to-foia-professionals.html ) and Holder memorandum ( see: http://www.usdoj.gov/opa/pr/2009/March/09-ag-253.html) with Defendant's Reply in Further Support of Its Motion for Summary Judgement and in Opposition to Plaintiff's Cross-Motion for Summary Judgment (available at: http://www.accg.us/issues/news/doc23.pdf ) at 13 ("[T]his guidance, though instructive to agencies, is irrelevant to the Court's consideration of the matter under the law of FOIA.").

In any event, all this raises a deeper question. Is the ECA responsive to direction from political appointees of the President or is it a law unto itself?

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Archaeological Tail Wags Numismatic Dog?

Nathan Elkins is publicizing a new book entitled, "Coins in Context I" on his blog. See: http://coinarchaeology.blogspot.com/ He is also a contributor to the work.

The book does sound interesting. Still, I don't know if I will purchase it or, if I do, whether I will actually have the time necessary to read it in the depth that it deserves. Thus, I am happy that Nathan Elkins is also taking the time to summarize the book on his blog.

While I welcome the book and his efforts and those of the other contributors to take archaeology away from merely treating coins as dating devices for archaeological stratum, I hope the work will not be used to dismiss the efforts of others who focus on different aspects of numismatics, or, for that matter, justify the imposition of import restrictions on coins.

For a look at other recent numismatic research, see the contents of the ANS 150 th Anniversary Edition of the American Journal of Numismatics: http://numismatics.org/wikiuploads/Store/AJN20TOC.pdf The reader should note that while topics related to coins and archaeology appear, there are also titles that focus on other aspects of coins.

Archaeology and coins is certainly an important topic. But, numismatic research is broader than just archaeology and however useful the study of coins and their context may be, there are simply far too many coins out there to be studied, preserved and displayed solely by archaeologists or museums in source countries. In other words, the archaeological tail should not be allowed to wag the numismatic dog.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Chinese Import Restrictions Have Desired Effect-- For Chinese Auction Houses!

China Guardian Auction House (http://www.cguardian.com/english/index.php) has announced a Chinese Fine Art Appraisal visit to Los Angeles next month. This visit is part of an expanding campaign by mainland Chinese auctioneers seeking to increase their dominance of the international market for Chinese art by sourcing property for sale from all around the world, including the United States.

Last year (2008) was the highest sales volume ever recorded by China Guardian in Beijing—1.8 billion Yuan (approx. US$270 million). That sales total for Chinese art sold by a single Chinese auction house in Beijing alone is three times more than all the Chinese art sales by US auctioneers in America last year.

Import restrictions on Chinese art do not preclude exports of Chinese art from the United States. Indeed, if anything, they encourage collectors to send their art to be auctioned abroad where auction houses have a free rein to put together the best auctions possible. The US embargo on Chinese art entering the US will have a chilling effect on the US market. The opposite is true in China, where the market continues to expand rapidly.

Here is the press release:

China Guardian Fine Art Appraisal in LA

Event Arrangement
Date: July 4-5, 2009
Time: 9:30am-12:00am, 1:30-5:00pm
Location: Hilton Hotel, 55 Universal Hollywood Drive, Universal City, Los Angeles, CA
Appraisal Items: Chinese paintings and calligraphy, Ming and Qing dynasty porcelain and works of art, Chinese paintings and sculptures, stamps, coins, and bronze mirrors
For reservations call: 1-626-281-7700,

After its first Chinese Fine Art appraisal in Feb. 2009, the leading art auction house in mainland China, China Guardian Auctions will be holding the second Chinese Fine Art Appraisal in the USA at the Hilton Hotel, Universal City, Los Angeles on July 4 &5, 2009.

All the Chinese art collectors are welcome to bring their treasures, including classical to contemporary Chinese paintings and calligraphy, oil paintings and sculptures, porcelain and works of art, stamps and coins, etc. China Guardian will offer free consultation and appraisal for the treasures.

Significant Achievements
In 2008, China Guardian’s total amount of auction items exceeded 24,000 items this year, with a total transaction volume of 1.8 billion yuan, which is the highest annual volume in the past fifteen years. China Guardian continued to maintain the position as Mainland China’s largest auction house. Among all the proudest achievements, the sections of Chinese calligraphy and painting had a total turnover of 990 million yuan this year, making China Guardian the world's top auction house in this category, the volume in this category had already achieved half of the total from the world’s top-five auction houses in this category.

In 2008, China Guardian acted as the exclusive auction partner for major Beijing institutions, including becoming the first to hold a dedicated special auction for the Olympic Games, in cooperation with the Beijing Olympic Expo. At the same time, China Guardian was also granted exclusive rights to hold an auction for the 2009 World Stamp Exhibition. This is the second time such an event has taken place, and in 1999, China Guardian also held a similar event. In 2008, Guardian also held two charitable events, first for children with leukemia and the second for disaster relief to help the earthquake-stricken area in Sichuan, which together raised nearly 64million yuan, funds which were all donated to charity.

Additionally, this year China Guardian also hosted a grand-scale exhibition of classical Chinese furniture and international symposium, and co-hosted the event, "Through Six Generations: The Weng Collection of Chinese Paintings and Calligraphic Works” with the Beijing World Art Museum. Together, this has been an abundant year of activity and academic interest for all interested in Chinese art.

American archaeologists pressed for the US State Department to impose import restrictions on Chinese archaeological artifacts for "moral reasons" and to provide a "good example" to the Chinese. See: http://www.accg.us/issues/news/american-bar-association-international-cultural-property-committee-examines-collecting-chinese-art-and-antiquities/?searchterm=ABA

At a minimum, this now looks extremely naive.

Displays for Dollars

"Culturegrrl" has blogged about cut-backs at the Met that coincide with the expansion of for-profit blockbuster exhibits. See: http://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/2009/06/recession_obsession_metropolit.html and http://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/2009/06/bypassing_museums_new_blockbus.html

Archaeologists have long claimed that the US should restrict imports of cultural goods in favor of promoting long term loans of artifacts to museums, but it seems source countries like Egypt have something different in mind.

Trading displays for dollars may bring much needed funding to the coffers of source countries, but doesn't all the crass commercialism that comes with it seriously undercut claims made by archaeologists that archaeological artifacts are not "mere commodities to be sold to the highest bidder?'"

More Backlash on Four Corners Raids

Senators Hatch and Bennett, both Republicans of Utah, have called for an investigation of the Fed's arrests of pot hunters in the Four Corners area: http://www.newsobserver.com/2188/story/1568991.html

While they are at it, I hope they also look into last year's federal dragnet for "hot pots" allegedly stolen from Thailand: http://www.accg.us/issues/news/old-pots-cops-paint-as-201chot201d-sold-openly-in-thailand/?searchterm=Thailand

In my view, that investigation [which has disappeared from the news after a flurry of initial stories about the raids and subsequent death in custody of one of the targets] raises more fundamental questions than the raids out West.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Heavy-Handed Feds?

While various archaeological blogs applaud the government's prosecutions of pot hunters, public opinion amongst the locals out West may not be so approving. See: http://www.kutv.com/content/news/local/story/Artifacts-Raid-Families-Allege-Intimidation-Rough/J2bxpx07SEaiPShQB97FZQ.cspx

The Feds obviously want to send a message aimed at discouraging pot hunting on federal and tribal land, but is this the best way to do it? Local officials don't think so:

City officials in Blanding, where most of the defendants live, have expressed "outrage." A prepared statement from the Blanding City Council called some of the tactics used in the roundup, "beyond belief." City leaders said the federal government has resisted helping fight illegal drugs and illegal immigration in their community, but has now focused on "minor infractions" over the artifacts.

"There are so many people devastated here," said one. "It's unreal what this has done to this community." Some contend artifacts are not hard to find, as easy as looking down on the ground. Investigators said the artifacts, which were being sold, were taken from public or tribal land, in violation of federal law.

Monday, June 15, 2009

More on Odyssey

David Ganz (lawyer-collector) has written an interesting article on the Odyssey case. See: http://www.numismaster.com/ta/numis/Article.jsp?ad=article&ArticleId=6782

He makes the point that even if the District Court Judge upholds the Magistrate's ruling returning the treasure to Spain, Odyssey still might be entitled to a substantial payment to compensate it for it efforts in salvaging the coins off the ocean floor.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Court Filings in ACCG, PNG, and IAPN FOIA lawsuit

The ACCG has placed online web links to the legal papers filed in the FOIA lawsuit brought by IAPN, PNG and ACCG against the US State Department: http://www.accg.us/issues/news/accg-releases-files-in-foia-lawsuit

I've read some foolish things on some of the archaeological blogs about this lawsuit. Now, the reader can judge for him or herself the merits of the arguments in the case, though, of course, Judge Leon will have the last word.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Aden Museum Chief Arrested for Selling Coins

This Month's "World Coin News" references The Yemen Observer Newspaper, dated April 30, 2009, and its report that the chief of the Aden-based National Museum was arrested for selling coins in the Museum's collection:

Aden police have detained director of the Aden-based National Museum after he sold 895 gold currency coins. The coins that were in the museum safe were of those issued in the Imamate era in the North and during the British colonization in the South, and even used in the beginning years after the separation of the Yemen republics, the police said. The director, 53, is accused of selling the rare coins to a trader in the province for YER 4.5 million. The police said they had found the transaction documents showing that the official had already abused his position. The director and the trader are now in custody and expected to be turned over to the competent authorities soon so legal action can be taken against them.

See: http://www.yobserver.com/local-news/10016279.html

Unfortunately, corruption is endemic in places like Yemen and items can even be stolen from museum safes. This time the authorities stopped the theft, but one wonders about other unreported thefts in such countries, and whether the perpetrators have powerful protectors who can ensure any crime is never investigated.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Paul Barford: Voice of the Archaeological Community on Portable Antiquities?

I see Paul Barford has ignored my demand that he remove an obnoxious post about me on his blog and instead has chosen to highlight it further. See: http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2009/06/more-strange-suggestions-from.html and http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2009/06/washington-collectors-rights-lawyer.html?showComment=1244725966543#c4154617013529580873

I guess I should feel I am in good company. Barford regularly insults many other commentators on cultural property issues who hold contrary views to his own.

I have to assume his obnoxious posts will only continue. As a result, and given the importance of credentials in academia in general and in archaeology in particular, I got to wonder exactly what credentials Barford might have that suggests others should take him seriously. I'm afraid I have not found much information, other than this Wikipedia entry (which in itself may not be entirely accurate or even meet Wikipedia's "notability guidelines for biographies"): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paul_M_Barford

In any case, a few things jump out. The entry has no reference to Mr. Barford's educational background. I have to assume he has never received a PhD. Otherwise, there would likely be some reference to it either in the Wikipedia entry or on his own blog. I do see that Barford once had a University position in Poland, but now he is said to work as a "translator." One wonders, what happened? Certainly, as a "translator," Barford must have much free time on his hands. That would explain how he can pump out one lengthy post after another.

Oddly, Wikipedia states Barford came to Poland in 1986. That period, of course, was a time when the nasty Communist regime that tried to crush the Solidarity Trade Union was still in power. Barford is also said to have had a post with Poland's Ministry of Culture, but when? Was it during Poland's Communist period or later? If it was during the Communist period, one wonders whether he was sympathetic to the Communist cause. If so, this might help explain his obvious aversion to "commercial interests," as well as the US Military and US foreign policy.

Everyone who reads his blog will quickly learn of Barford's distaste for the PAS and its efforts to bring archaeologists and members of the general public together in a cooperative effort to record and preserve Britain's and Wales' ancient past. However, if Barford has resided in Poland since 1986, he cannot have had much of an opportunity to see PAS in action first hand. His "Heritage Action Counter" has certainly been criticized as lacking a sound methodology. One also must wonder whether this unsound methodology will form the basis for his upcoming book on the subject.

Barford also claims an interest in numismatics, but he is not known to have actually contributed anything at all to the study of coins. Indeed, as he admitted in an earlier question I posed, Barford only appears to respect numismatics to the extent coins are treated as archaeological artifacts. See: https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=8174756573570334952&postID=7289046935030650271&isPopup=true In so doing, he effectively discounts much of numismatics, including die studies, the study of iconography, and the study of the metallurgical content of various issues. Coins carry a meaning outside their archaeological context, even if Barford does not think so.

In any event, given the continuing nature of his posts, it is indeed unfortunate that other archaeological blogs like those of SAFE, David Gill ("Looting Matters") and Nathan Elkins ("Numismatics and Archaeology") continue not only to link Barford's blog to their own, but to cite him as an "authority" in the area. This not only promotes Barford's views (with which they no doubt share at least to some degree) but in effect legitimizes his utterly obnoxious behavior as well. In so doing, they may elevate Barford and his blogging, but they also diminish themselves.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

BLM Press Release and NAGPRA Indictments

I have not had an opportunity to study this material yet, but I pass it along for other interested "cultural property observers:" http://www.blm.gov/wo/st/en/info/newsroom/2009/june/NR_0510_2009.html

Sample indictments are appended to this press release.

Some Other Thoughts About the Materials from the Sisto Collection Repatriated to Italy

A scholar and expert in the international trade in cultural artifacts provided me with the following thoughts on reviewing the list of materials repatriated from Italy:

As with all reports about the repatriation of apparently stolen items to their country of origin, those on the Sisto collection emphasize its great value and cultural importance. In most cases, however, we never really know what the collection includes. We read about rare coins or precious artefacts, but we seldom get to see photographs of them or have accurate descriptions. With the Sisto material anyone who wishes can get a copy of a list (with what appears to be well over 2000 items on it, not 1600 as given in the reports) with vague details on all the things returned. Looking through this list the observer is going to be rather shocked: some of the material is certainly interesting but as a whole, everything I see here is virtually useless junk. I can not conceive that any Italian governmental functionary would have any use for the vast, vast majority of what the crates that are being delivered to Italy actually contain.

Let's look at some, shall we?

There are (1-30 passim), loads of 'suspected Etruscan or early Roman' items. Suspected?

33 is "partial, suspected metal, cylinder (2"x2.5"), possible part of ax, possibly iron age"

285 Book preface written by Mussolini (3 pages

)286 Territorial map of Cassano 1858

317 Archeological artifacts - four metal pieces, suspected tools

323 Archeological artifacts - six possible iron age pieces (possible spear heads or handles)

345 Archeological artifacts - Four heads from female statues

375 Book Elementi de Geometria di Euclide 1845

382 Book Vocabolario Italiano - Latino 1791

417 Book Studi su Dante 1905

490 Boarded document King Umberto I January 6, 1898

498 Boarded document Victor Emmanuele III June 10 , 1909

585 Box of documents (?)

601 Private correspondences, business receipts (approx. 3000 pieces)

671 Book Ortografia Moderna Italiana

893-921 (some intervening numbers missing) Book, Nouvelle Bibliotheque des Autheurs Ecclesiastiques -Tome Premier - XIII (missing 4)

1573-1578 Book Repertorio Generale Annuale della Giurisprudenza Italiana Anno XV, XVI, XXVII-XXIXand one undated (but obviously all post 1870)

1673 Book Enciclopedia Tascabile Repertorio di cognizione utili per tutti (i.e., a pocket encyclopedia)

1724 Book Gran dizionario Italiano-francese

2066 Book Enologia Teorico-Practica

2206 Routledge's New Pocket Dictionaries...

2952 Book (Greek lettering)

3015 Il Rosario e la nuova pompei Periodico mensuale

3122 Book Il Conte di Monet Cristo

Yes there are tons of manuscripts but they all sound like the kind of decrees that are in every archive and no one looks at. There are massive numbers of ecclesiastical books, lives of saints and the like, many in Latin, which presumably date from the 17th through the 19th centuries. Could all this stuff be stolen from libraries? Yes. Could it also equally have all be thrown out from libraries? Yes. Could it be from a private library the heir of which wanted to clear out? Yes. Could all the manuscripts have come from archives that were being cleared out (people still dump this kind of stuff and sell it to old paper merchants) because no one wanted any of it and it was all duplicate anyway (papal decrees were invariably sent it in multiples to everyone concerned by them)? Yes.

It is truly inconceivable that all but the smallest fraction of this material is of any importance at all. If it is really stolen they really should say from whom. I think the Sisto family is probably lucky to have gotten rid of all this, but the son who did this is going to have to have a lot to answer for. If we ever know more it will be interesting ( and I bet that the Italians will never show more than a tiny number of things that actually look good - if any do - because they will otherwise will be lose face showing totally unimportant stuff like this). If no real expert in America was asked to go through this material, a reputable book or manuscript dealer, and the FBI relied only on the Italians on the question of importance of possible theft; this is a major scandal.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

NAGPRA Prosecution

The Legal Times has reported an indictment of 23 individuals for violations of NAGPRA in the 'Four Corners," the area where the states of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado meet. See: http://legaltimes.typepad.com/blt/2009/06/doj-charges-looters-in-massive-ancient-artifact-theft.html

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Strange Case of the Sisto Collection

The FBI has repatriated to Italy a large collection of antiques and antiquities found in the home of John Sisto, a deceased Italian immigrant from Bari. Mr. Sisto's heirs apparently did not know what to do with the trove. They called the police, who were only too happy to turn it over to Italian cultural authorities. See: http://chicago.fbi.gov/pressrel/2009/cg060809.htm

It's unclear from the press release exactly why the FBI concluded that 1,600 items of some 3,500 found in the home were "stolen." The Chicago Tribune reports that Mr. Sisto received the artifacts from his own father-- a University Professor-- who is said to have purchased the items at estate sales in Italy. See:

Italy evidently requires export licenses for artifacts over 50 years old. However, US authorities only enforce Italy's export controls on ancient artifacts (excluding coins) and then have only done so since 1999. Those restrictions cannot relate to any of these artifacts. The FBI Press Release suggests that Mr. Sisto stopped receiving shipments from Italy after his own father died in 1982.

Is this really a case of "stolen property" or more of one of Italian authorities "cherry picking" artifacts of cultural interest for repatriation? Without more information, we will never know whether the FBI acceded to Italy's "guilty until proven innocent" mentality or whether some real evidence was provided that the material was actually "stolen." See: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/07/weekinreview/07donadio.html?_r=2&ref=weekinreview ("In Italy, the general assumption is that someone is guilty until proven innocent. Trials — in the press and in the courts — are more often about defending personal honor than establishing facts, which are easily manipulated. ").

Hopefully, at a minimum, Mr. Sisto's son will keep tabs on what Italian authorities actually do with his deceased father's beloved collection. Wouldn't it be a shame if the trove just ended up in storage somewhere or, even worse, if it was displayed as a "trophy" in Italy's ongoing campaign to repatriate artifacts?

Addendum: At my request, the FBI Press office kindly provided me with some additional information. This is my understanding from our discussion.

1. The investigation started because John Sisto's son contacted the police. Sisto's son indicated that his deceased father told him that his own father had sent him stolen material. [The FBI Press Release does not directly speak to this issue. The Chicago Tribune only states, "Around 2005 (this text as originally published has been corrected), Joseph Sisto learned that many of the items were likely illegal and confronted his father, telling them that the artifacts should be returned to Italy." There is of course a difference under U.S. law between an artifact being "illegal" because it was "illegally exported" and being "illegal" because it was "stolen." The former is irrelevant. The latter is actionable.]

2. The FBI relied on Italian cultural officials to examine the material and decide what was stolen and what was not. The FBI did not conduct an independent investigation (nor was it in a position to do so), but rather relied heavily on the Italians. The Italians indicated that the antiquities were state property under their 1909 law and that the many manuscripts and books repatriated were stolen in the traditional sense from libraries, etc. The Italians also indicated that the material should be returned because it was exported illegally, which, of course, is nonsense, at least under U.S. law during the relevant time period.

Overall, I remain a bit dubious that Italy's determinations that the material was "stolen" would really stand up in a court of law in a contested case. Antiquities remain widely collected in Italy itself and it could be demonstrated that Italy's antiquities laws were not really enforced in the period when the items came to America (the 1960's to 1982). As for the books and manuscripts, I suppose there could be good enough records of thefts in the 1960's to 1982 to trace the artifacts, but I would be a bit surprised if that were actually the case. In any event, the Sisto family asked for the FBI's help in sorting this out and they received the assistance they requested.

Addendum 2: The following NPR story was brought to my attention: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=105218287

Apparently, the collector's son was indoctrinated as an anthropology student about the UNESCO Convention. That presumably explains why he considered the items which -- at least according to the articles seem to have been bought from legitimate sources-- to be "stolen":

"Sisto [the son of the deceased collector] eventually realized many of the antiquities had been smuggled out of Italy. Later, when he was getting a degree in cultural anthropology, he says, he learned about the UNESCO treaty that says if something is considered a cultural artifact, it should be returned to its country of origin."

The article also notes the son's admiration for his father's self-taught knowledge of history:

"Amazing for a man who ... never went to college. He was completely self-taught," Sisto says. "He learned even how to translate ancient Latin, which was in script Latin, which almost nobody knows how to read, and he learned how to do that all by himself until he became an expert in the 1970s and '80s and ... universities started calling him asking him for help."

Sisto says that in the final years of his life, his father did not want to sell his collection.
"He wanted to document it and spent years and years translating over 1,100 ancient manuscripts," he says. "And the translations are included along with the material that the FBI has seized and is returning to Italy."

The son evidently believes his father's collection will be well cared for in Italy. Let's hope so, but as noted elsewhere on this blog, Italy has an embarrassment of cultural riches and its record in caring for all in its possession is not a very good one.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Spain 1, Treasure Salvors 0, Peru 0

A federal magistrate judge has concluded that Spain is the rightful owner of treasure removed from a shipwreck because the available evidence suggests that the lost vessel was a 19 th c. Spanish warship.

What archaeological blogs I have read on the subject seem to relish the decision as a victory against private treasure salvors, but, in so doing, they gloss over the rather narrow statutory basis for the ruling as well as the Court's outright rejection of Peru's claim to the treasure based upon "cultural nationalist principles," i.e., that the treasure belongs to Peru because the "property physically, culturally and historically originat[ed] in Peru." See Slip op. at 29.

Derek Fincham has kindly placed a link to the Court's decision on his own blog. See: http://illicit-cultural-property.blogspot.com/2009/06/spain-prevails-for-now.html

As he notes, there will surely be an appeal.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Jim Leach to Head NEH

The New York Times has reported that President Obama has appointed former Congressman Jim Leach to head the National Endowment for the Humanities: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/06/04/arts/04neh.html?_r=1&hpw

In the cultural property field, former Congressman Leach is best known for his efforts to get legislation passed authorizing import restrictions on cultural artifacts from Iraq. The alternate legislation that ultimately passed did not include the "coin exemption" he promised, but his efforts to take into account the concerns of the numismatic community remain much appreciated. Good luck to Congressman Leach in his new appointment.