Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Jack Josephson on a CPAC Historical Perspective

At the IFAR Panel (see below at http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/07/ifar-event-who-what-why-and-how-of.html ), Jack A. Josephson provided a historical perspective about the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) and its role at the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). Mr. Josephson is an Egyptologist. He served as CPAC's Chairman from 1990-1995. He currently serves as IFAR's Chairman.

Josephson provided a brief historical overview about looting and the UNESCO Convention before turning his attention to the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). He noted, "The debate on how the U.S. should enforce embargoes of cultural property lasted 10 years. The opposing sides were principally archaeologists versus museums, collectors and dealers. Clearly, Senators Moynihan and Dole, the bill's sponsors, tried to make regulation even-handed for the two factions, or perhaps a little tilted to the latter group."

It did not turn out that way....

Jospehson continued,

"There can be little doubt about the sympathies of the framers of this law [the CPIA], who did not wish for unfair or blanket embargoes. Unfortunately, rarely has Committee membership been in conformity with the Act. During my experience on the Committee, this was not the only part of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) that was disregarded. The law is very specific on the requirement that public diplomacy by the State Department must be invoked in order to prevent the dispersal of embargoed cultural property to markets in other countries, thereby simply transferring sales overseas. I never saw this happen or it was not reported to the Committee. The Act also required proof that the U.S. was a principal market for the material in question. This important and necessary question was only cursorily touched on during the deliberations I was a part of."

Josephson then noted that an exhaustive 10 year report to Congress about the program was evidently ignored. He also indicated that Senators Moynihan and Schumer proposed some amendments to bring the law back to what was originally intended, but they failed to pass Congress.

In closing his prepared remarks, Josephson proposed greater efforts to help source countries "to make a greater commitment to conserve and protect monuments from an increasingly hostile ecology and escalating population and to put in place more effective policing to control and eliminate looting." He also suggested that "archaeologists should become more restrictive in excavating sites," noting that "[m]odern non-invasive methods of determining what lies under the ground are readily available and do not expose fragile remains to disasters of all kinds."

Mr. Josephson only participated in the question and answer period to a limited extent. There, he indicated that the vetting process for CPAC nominees was far less extensive during his time on the Committee. He also indicated that an initial request from the Greek Cypriot government dealing with religious artifacts was denied because Turkey was in control of the territory Cyprus was bitter about. [This has certainly changed.]

Monday, July 27, 2009

PAS Identifies Oldest Roman Coin Find Ever Reported In Britain

A British Metal Detectorist has reported the earliest Roman coin find reported under the the PAS. See http://www.culture24.org.uk/history/archaeology/art70536 According to the report,

West Berkshire metal detectorist Malcolm Langford brought the 207 BC silver Roman coin, along with a rare Iron Age silver coin of Eppillus, to Oxfordshire and West Berkshire Finds Liaison Officer Anni Byard for recording under the Portable Antiquities Scheme. Byard quickly indentified the coin, which is in remarkably good condition, as the earliest known Roman coin yet found in Britain.

"I was speechless," said Langford, who had already researched the Iron Age coin he had brought in. "When Anni told me the date of the Roman coin I was absolutely amazed, I couldn't believe it.”

Depicting the helmeted head of Roma and the galloping Dioscuri, the silver denarius is earlier than any of the 600 similar coins recorded by the Scheme, and may have even arrived on our shores before the Roman invasion of Britain.

"What makes the coin even more interesting is that it is in almost mint condition," said Sam Moorhead, the Scheme's National Finds Adviser for Ancient Coins. "Most Republican denarii found in Britain are very worn, as they could be in circulation for up to 300 years. This new coin suggests that some of these Republican coins were arriving in Britain before Claudius invaded with his legions in AD 43."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Nancy Wilkie on the Composition and Operation of CPAC

At the IFAR Panel (see below at http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/07/ifar-event-who-what-why-and-how-of.html), Nancy Wilkie spoke about the composition and operation of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC). Prof. Wilkie is the William H. Laird Professor of Classics, Anthropology and the Liberal Arts, Carlton College. She is a past president of the AIA and has served on CPAC since 2003.

Professor Wilkie first described CPAC's composition as being made up of two members representing the interests of museums, three members expert in archaeology, ethnology or related fields, three members expert in the international sale of cultural property, and three members representing the interests of the general public. Professor Wilkie noted that if any ambiguity exists, it is in the diverse viewpoints of those representing the interests of the public over time.

How does one get appointed? Political contacts certainly help. Once appointed, prospective members must pass security checks and are prohibited from taking part in partisan political activities.

Members of the Committee must recuse themselves from any matters under consideration by the Committee that would have a "direct and predictable effect" on their financial interests "unless [they] first obtain a written waiver." Professor Wilkie reports that dealers have been able to secure such waivers when CPAC was considering import restrictions on categories of artifacts within their areas of expertise. [This evidently is a new development. Chinese Art Expert James Lally resigned from the Committee after he was told he could not participate in discussions related to Chinese art. In contrast, the State Department refused to recuse an archaeologist from voting on a request by the Republic of Cyprus even though that archaeologist needed to secure excavation permits from the very same Cypriot Department of Antiquities that was responsible for the Cypriot request.]

CPAC convenes in response to requests made through diplomatic channels from any of the State Parties to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. CPAC meets to discuss requests for Memorandums of Understanding (MOU's) with State Parties and also makes recommendations with respect to "emergency actions." The Committee also reviews MOU's about halfway through the five- year period the MOU is in effect.

Professor Wilkie also noted that "Information about the foreign government's request is transmitted to the Committee by the State Department. The Committee may review additional documentation not contained in the request and it may hold public hearings." The Committee reviews written comments and hears oral presentations from interested parties. The State Department has limited the oral presentations to five-minutes, but the time may be extended by questions. After the Committee reviews this information, it recommends a course of action to the State Department, which as been delegated decision-making responsibilities by the President.

In the question and answer period, Prof. Wilkie made the following point about appointments,

"The White House personnel office decides how CPAC appointments are made. In my case, there was no doubt that I would be appointed to the archaeological slot [presumably because of Prof. Wilkie's position as past AIA president]. But it is up to the personnel office of the White House to make the recommendation to the President, who in theory, makes the appointments. When people complain to me that the composition is unbalanced or that someone who is a representative of the public should be in a different slot, I say, 'Don't complain to me, nor can you complain to the State Department. You need to complain to the White House because they make the appointments.'" [While this is technically true, collectors suspect that the White House lets the State Department vet candidates, ensuring that candidates deemed "unacceptable" to archaeological interests are unlikely to ever be selected.]

Professor Wilkie also discussed Committee secrecy. Citing legislative history, she maintained that if information became public, it might compromise the ability of the President to negotiate agreements. [In response, then Chair Kislak stated, "I doubt that Nancy. I can't imagine that. The countries are coming to us and asking for a favor. How on earth can transparency affect that?"]

Finally, Professor Wilkie acknowledged the difficulty the Committee faces in accessing the efficacy of agreements. She stated,

"This is part of our review of the request for the MOU or interim review of agreements. Is the country taking actions to try to stem the looting of antiquities? A lot of this is very difficult to document, even in this country. It's very hard to know where the looted sites are. If you think about Central America, the looting takes place in the jungle, which people can only get to once or twice a year because of the weather or political situations. But it is a question we always ask."

Some Backsliding to the Bad Old Days in the New Iraq

The Iraq Crisis and Museum Security Lists note the following:

First, there is a move to reimpose censorship within Iraq:

Jenan Hussein, writing in Inside Iraq, reports "that the Iraqi Ministry of Culture, in cooperation with the Ministry of Interior, has decided to censor the importation of books from outside thecountry and restrict printing them inside the country". http://blogs.mcclatchydc.com/iraq/2009/07/a-return-to-1984.html

Second, the Iraqi Government has signalled an interest in aggressively seeking its "stolen" documents. By this, I assume Torah scrolls that have left the country.

Asharq Alawsat (Leading Arabic International Daily): From a Q&A with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari: Q) The issue of Iraqi documents taken to the United States after 2003 was raised. Are you going to demand them during the prime minister's visit to Washington? A) The issue was raised by Iraqi judicial parties. The Iraqi documents are owned by the Iraqi state, like the stolen antiquities. It is our duty and task to retrieve all our documents, antiquities, and possessions in the world. Therefore the issue is being pursued through the legal channels.

Link to full text of Q&A: http://aawsat.com/english/news.asp?section=3&id=17494

The New Iraq is certainly a far better country than the Old Iraq of Saddam Hussein. However, it is troubling when the New Iraq acts like the Old Iraq in censoring books and demanding repatriation of artifacts like Torahs. For a critique of Iraq's claims to Torahs see: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/07/joffee-critiques-justifications-for.html

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Archaeologists Demand Investigation as 72-Year Old Italian PM Cavorts with Young Women Over Old Punic Tombs

Archaeologists and Italy's left-wing opposition hope that tape-recorded revelations that right-wing Italian PM Berlusconi failed to report Punic tombs under his Sardinian estate will gain more political traction than lurid reports about the PM's sex life, derived from the same surreptitious tape recordings. See http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/worldnews/article-1201885/Italians-finally-talking-Berlusconis-sex-tapes-sex-bit-talks-30-ancient-tombs-estate.htm

Apparently, stories about the 72 year-old Berlusconi cavorting with much younger escorts have only buttressed the Italian PM's standing amongst his supporters given Italy's machismo culture. My guess is that ordinary Italians will care even less that Berlusconi neglected to inform the authorities that his pleasure palace is built over the remains of a dead civilization. After all, in Italy, who doesn't live over something "old?" And, what Italian bothers to volunteer information about such things to cultural bureaucrats anyway?

This story, however, will certainly gain traction in the archaeological community. See http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2009/07/silvio-sex-and-archaeological-scandal.html Archaeologists tend to hate Italian PM Silvio Berlusconi with the same passion they once reserved for former U.S. President George W. Bush. In their eyes, President Bush's crime was the Iraq war, and the damage it did to both to Iraqi archaeology and its status within Iraq. [Never mind that Iraqi archaeology was largely used as an instrument of state propaganda for Saddam Hussein's regime.] Berlusconi, in contrast, has taken on Italy's leftist cultural heritage bureaucracy directly, if not always successfully. See: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/01/mario-resca-to-rescue.html Culture Minister Bondi has also taken a more conciliatory approach to repatriations, than his left-wing predecessor, Francesco Rutelli, "the Great Repatriator." See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/06/italy-considers-additional.html and http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/04/arrivederci-rutelli-time-for-rational.html

Presumably, Italian archaeologists and their foreign colleagues would much prefer that former Cultural Minister Rutelli, and his left-wing party return to power. They will be quite satisfied in the unlikely event that these latest revelations help make that happen.

Friday, July 24, 2009

SAFE Statement of Concern on Kashgar

Saving Antiquities for Eveyone (SAFE) has sent a letter of concern to UNESCO about China's plans to demolish Kashgar. See: http://safecorner.savingantiquities.org/2009/07/statement-of-concern-and-appeal-for.html The letter is also notable because many "heavy hitters" within the archaeological establishment signed it (though others who supported China MOU before CPAC did not).

I suspect the Chinese may be particularly unhappy that a representative of the World Uyghur Congress also signed the letter. Chinese authorities have blamed the World Uyghur Congress for stirring up recent riots in Western China.

I've blogged about Kashgar before, here: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/05/old-kashgar-on-silk-road-to-disappear.html

Archaeological interests shy away from criticizing host governments so SAFE's letter is both unusual and brave.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Patty Gerstenblith on the Legal Basis for the CPIA

At the IFAR Panel on CPAC (see below at http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/07/ifar-event-who-what-why-and-how-of.html), Patty Gerstenblith of DePaul University spoke about the legal basis for import restrictions under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). Prof. Gerstenblith served on CPAC as a member representing archaeological interests from 2000-2003. She illustrated her talk with pictures of looting at sites in Turkey and Iraq, contrasting those with an early illustration of excavations in present day Israel prepared by Sir Flinders Petrie. [Professor Gerstenblith neglected to mention that Petrie was a very serious collector of Egyptian antiquities. The University College. London, now houses his collection. See http://www.petrie.ucl.ac.uk/william_flanders_petrie.php]

Prof. Gerstenblith indicated that Art. 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention was concerned with "undocumented artifacts," which are "not known and not recorded, because they were stolen or illegally removed, including by the looting of archaeological sites before they are recorded." She further indicated that the CPIA was meant to address that concern, and that the Senate report makes clear that our foreign relations interests extend beyond our import markets.

Prof. Gerstenblith then explained that CPAC is comprised of eleven members, including individuals representing the public, archaeologists, experts in the international sale of cultural property and museums. She further indicated that CPAC's advises a decision maker in the State Department about the imposition of import restrictions. She also described the process as well as the necessary findings before import restrictions can be legally imposed. (For my own summary, see http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/07/short-recap-of-cultural-property.html).

At the end of her prepared comments, Professor Gerstenblith emphasized that import restrictions are not a ban. Rather, items can still be imported if they are accompanied either by an export certificate or proof the item left the country of origin before import restrictions were imposed. She did acknowledge, however, that many countries [like Cyprus] will not give export licenses for permanent export though they may allow for temporary loans of archaeological material for study or exhibition purposes.

During the question and answer period, Professor Gerstenblith [joined by fellow archaeologist Nancy Wilkie] defended Committee secrecy as both necessary for our foreign relations and to ensure that information does not become public that might be helpful to looters. [The other speakers strongly disagreed.] Professor Gerstenblith also acknowledged that it is difficult to verify the effect of import restrictions on looting in other countries, but that other self-help measures source countries take can be verified. She also maintained that the "concerted international response" requirement under the CPIA may be met through different means by different countries.

Professor Gerstenblith also indicated that MOU's are part of public diplomacy and that they encourage signatories to provide museums with benefits like long term loans. In particular, she stated, "[I]mport restriction is just the beginning of the process, not the end. It actually establishes a bilateral relationship with the other country."

Finally, in response to a question by Gerald Steibel, another former CPAC member who had represented the interests of dealers, Professor Gerstenblith acknowledged that no initial request had ever been denied, though an agreement with Canada had not been renewed and other agreements had been scaled back as compared to the original requests.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Barbs Against Collectors Don't Explain How Big Bucks Were Spent

David Gill's latest PR Newsire barbs aimed at collectors, Western Museums and antiquities dealers entitled, Looting Matters: Why Do Antiquities From Iraq Continue to Surface on the Market? comes out just as this suggestion was made on the Iraq Crisis List in response to an Arabic language interview of Mr Mufid al-Jazairi, the chairman of the parliamentary Cultural Committee and former Minister of Culture for Iraq.

The writer, who evidently is knowledgeable about the actual situation at the Iraq Museum, states,

The other point is the inventory of the collection of the Iraq Museum. A simple check of every object in the storerooms with the main register, would help in knowing specifically the missing objects and it will also help in finding objects that have not been registered or they have lost their numbers.This is extremely urgent and essential, it has been over six years since the disastrous looting, without the inventory objects could disappear and can easily be blamed to the original looting.

Is it true that no complete inventory has yet been made of the Iraq Museum collections?

Gill argues in his PR Newwire release that,

The international community needs to monitor the sale of antiquities that could have been pillaged from archaeological museums or sites in Iraq. There are likely to be stashes of material waiting to be released on the market once the initial concerns have calmed.The international community needs to monitor the sale of antiquities that could have been pillaged from archaeological museums or sites in Iraq. There are likely to be stashes of material waiting to be released on the market once the initial concerns have calmed.

But if there has been no serious effort to inventory the holdings of the Iraq Museum, how can this be done fairly? Is this just an egregious example of negligence or are archaeologists afraid that a database of objects would make it more difficult to claim that anything that "looks Iraqi" must be stolen?

One thing is for certain. The squeaky wheel has certainly gotten the grease. Western governments have lavished millions of dollars on archaeologists in response to their well- publicized outrage over the looting of the Iraq Museum. If even now that Museum has yet to be fully inventoried, perhaps what really should be investigated is how all that money was spent.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Disappointing Smithsonian Numismatic Sequel

I had a chance to visit the Smithsonian today, but despite some rarities, the coins failed to impress. The new "Night at the Museum: Battle for the Smithsonian" sequel was a bit of a disappointment compared to the "original." So too is the "sequel" of the late, great numismatic display at the Smithsonian. The old display took up several rooms and featured coins from all eras, and many cultures. It inspired generations of youngsters (me included) to get interested in numismatics. Unfortunately, this old display closed before the museum was recently renovated.

Now, a new display has taken its place, but it has shrunk to a few panels, featuring mostly American coins. There are several quite historically important ones, including patterns for the Saint-Gaudens $20 gold piece and the never released $50 "Half Union." There are also some neat computer graphics, including a virtual "Ms. Liberty" who morphs into the Standing Liberty on the Saint-Gaudens gold piece. Still, this is pale reflection of the collection as a whole which holds over 1.6 million objects. See: http://americanhistory.si.edu/collections/numismatics/

This, of course, is a blog about cultural property issues. From that perspective, I could not help but think how all this just underscores the utter fallacy of one of the claims of the archaeological community. There are many, many million historical coins around. Only a relative few can be publicly displayed in museums at any one time. Private collectors are thus essential to preserving and displaying historical coins, whatever one might hear otherwise that museum loans from source countries should somehow substitute for private collecting.

Friday, July 17, 2009

IFAR Event: The Who, What, Why and How of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC)

The International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) has published an edited version of the panel discussion of former and current CPAC members I first blogged about back in April 2008. See: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/04/who-what-why-and-how-of-cultural.html

I hope to summarize the presentations by Jay Kislak, Patty Gerstenblith, Nancy Wilkie, Kate Fitz Gibbon and Jack Josephson in upcoming blog entries. Overall, the speakers representing the archaeological community (Patty Gerstenblith and Nancy Wilkie) had few qualms about the State Department's processing of import restriction requests. On the other hand, the other speakers, including former Chairs Josephson and Kislak, expressed some grave reservations about the State Department's fidelity to the governing statute as well as deep concerns about transparency of process, particularly given the controversial decision to extend import restrictions to coins of Cypriot type.

IFAR's journal is available for purchase here: http://www.ifar.org/publication_detail.php?docid=1244751010 I recommend this issue to anyone interested in how CPAC "really works." Hopefully, someone will bring it to the attention of President Obama's new Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, Judith McHale.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Better Late Than Never II

I've had a chance to review the long delayed posthumous publication of Newell's "Coins from the Excavations at Beisan (Nysa-Scythopolis, Tel Beth Shean): 1929-1935" found in the the ANS 150th Anniversary edition of the American Journal of Numismatics. I've blogged about the plan to publish this article before here: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/02/better-late-than-never.html

A couple items of interest jump out aside from what the exceptionally long delay in publication says about the realities of archaeology one does not often hear about, particularly from those who argue that archaeologists alone should monopolize the study of coins.

First, the coins date from Greek to Islamic times. The vast majority of the coins are examples of single finds of ancient bronze "small change," though one gold and one silver Islamic coin were also found. (This is typical for coins found at archaeological sites. Coins of precious metal are typically found in hoards, not as single finds.)

Second, "their average condition is exceedingly poor." See page 14. (This again is typical for coins found at archaeological sites. Coins in better condition, which are of most interest to collectors, also typically come from hoards, not single finds.)

Third, though bronze coins circulated closer to home than precious metal coins, a surprising number of the coins found at the site were from distant mints, including Palmyra, Antioch, Rome, Ticinum, Constantinople, Alexandria, Carthage, Tripolis, and Siscia.

Fourth, the University of Pennsylvania has managed to lose some 13 of the coins described in the article in the years since the excavation. I guess it could be worse. Still, the loss of these materials should raise doubts as to any assumption that archaeologists are necessarily the best custodians of ancient artifacts.

Secret Interim Review of Italian and Columbian MOU's

Today's Federal Register indicates that CPAC will hold a closed session to undertake interim reviews of the Italian and Colombian MOU's. See: http://edocket.access.gpo.gov/2009/E9-16058.htm CPAC's review will focus on Article II of each MOU. See: http://culturalheritage.state.gov/it06agr.html and http://culturalheritage.state.gov/co06agr.pdf

The Bush Administration was criticized for its secrecy. Yet, the Bush Administration held a public session on CPAC's interim review of the 2001 Italian MOU. See: 69 Fed. Reg. 21176-21177 (April 20, 2004) (available at: http://www.gpoaccess.gov/fr/search.html).

The Obama Administration has promised transparency and open government. Moreover, the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' secrecy in processing import restrictions on cultural artifacts is under Court scrutiny in an ongoing FOIA case brought by numismatic groups. Yet, CPAC is conducting this interim review in complete secrecy. Given this secrecy, it is unclear whether any member of the archaeological community will be invited to speak or to provide information. It is clear that no opponent of the Italian MOU has received any such invitation.

Has the Administration's new Undersecretary for Public Diplomacy, Judith McHale, been briefed about the secret meeting? Is she aware that former CPAC Chair Jay Kislak has criticized State Department secrecy in a declaration filed in the FOIA litigation? See: http://www.accg.us/issues/news/accg-presses-claims-to-hidden-information/ Are the Obama Administration's promises of transparency and open government hollow when it comes to the secretive operations of ECA and CPAC?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Alan Stahl's Suggestions to Cyprus

SAFE associated blogger Paul Barford believes he may have found a kindred spirit based on some quotations from Alan Stahl's review of "Studies in Early Medieval Coinage." See: http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2009/07/studies-in-early-medieval-coinage.html

Before Mr. Barford gets too excited, however, I suggest that he also review Prof. Stahl's letter to CPAC on the Cypriot MOU's renewal. See: Feb. 1, 2007, communication from Alan Stahl to CPAC available on the ACCG website at: http://www.accg.us/issues/news/AlanStahl.pdf

In it, Stahl recommends that Cyprus adopt a modified version of Britain's and Wales' Treasure Act and PAS. In so doing, Stahl states,

Incentives are needed for finders to take their coins to the local authorities, resources are needed so that the antiquities authorities in Cyprus can adequately record and study the coin finds, and a mechanism is needed so that American collectors who esteem the cultural heritage of Cyprus can buy coins minted or found there with the knowledge that they are not
contributing to the destruction of archaeological sites or the dispersal of national treasures.

A system of licensing of coin finds and exports could be devised to meet these needs, whereby the finders of coins in Cyprus either in archaeological excavations or by chance discovery would identify all coins to government authorities, expert numismatists working for the Cypriote government would document all finds and decide which coins were important to keep for the national patrimony, and those coins not selected for retention would be issued an export license tied to an online digital database. Purchasers of such coins could pay a licensing fee for each such coin, and the proceeds from this process could be used to fund the numismatic agency of the Cyprus Antiquities Authority.

The above statement represents my personal professional opinion and is not necessarily that of the Trustees of Princeton University.

February 1, 2007.

It is indeed unfortunate that Cypriot authorities have declined to consider Professor Stahl's suggestions and instead have continued on with their inherently hypocritical and corrupt practices of clamping down on everyone but "connected" "registered collectors,' like the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation. See: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2008/08/cyprus-caari-and-boccf-there-is-as.html

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Met Critic Takes Recession Driven Retirement

Culture Grrl reports that long time Met critic Oscar White Muscarella has taken a recession driven voluntary retirement along with 95 other staffers. See: http://www.artsjournal.com/culturegrrl/2009/06/whos_leaving_the_metropolitan.html

Muscarella's pointed critiques of his own institution's collecting practices have won him fans in the archaeological community and disdain in the museum community and amongst collectors. If Muscarella had been in private industry, he would have been sacked long ago. However, in the not-for-profit world of the Met, he managed to hang on for 44 years until budget woes forced him and many of his less outspoken colleagues into retirement.

One can only speculate whether Muscarella's brand of "in your face" activism helped harm the Met's bottom line and hence its ability to retain staff. Though the Met is well funded by not-for-profit standards, donations are never easy to come by and one wonders if collectors who no longer can freely donate artifacts to the museum due to its adoption of a 1970 provenance date will still want to donate cash for the upkeep of its collections.

In the meantime, as the Met and many other museums suffer, source countries like Egypt have turned to for-profit venues for "blockbuster" shows that have been criticised as being high on rank commercialism and short on scholarship. See: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/06/displays-for-dollars.html

Is this another case of the law of unintended consequences at work? See also: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/06/chinese-import-restrictions-have.html

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy July 4th

Today, July 4th, Americans celebrate their Independence Day and with it, their freedoms, particularly when still compared with many in the World. The continued freedom to collect ancient coins derives from our greater freedoms and certainly is not unlimited. Nevertheless, that freedom to collect has been essential to the study, preservation and display of untold numbers of ancient coins from the diverse cultures that have combined into the "American melting pot." It has also made possible funding for the few private institutions that support the academic study of numismatics in this country.

Coin collecting was once the "Hobby of Kings." It remains so in countries like Greece, Cyprus and Turkey, where one must be a favored "registered collector" in order to legally collect ancient coins. Hopefully, such a day will never come to these United States when ordinary Americans will be unable to study, preserve and display ancient coins just like Thomas Jefferson and John Quincy Adams did generations ago.

Unfortunately, given the considerable efforts of university-subsidized academics with an axe to grind against collectors and their allies in cultural bureaucracies both here and abroad such continued freedom will not be "free." Instead, it will take the vigilance of collectors and even litigation like the FOIA case against the State Department and a "test case" about import restrictions on coins of Cypriot and Chinese type to ensure that ordinary Americans retain their "freedom to collect."

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Recalcitrant Archaeologist Embarrasses German Police

Nathan Elkins writes about German archaeologist Michael Muller-Karpe's refusal to hand over a gold vessel that Muller-Karpe claims to be stolen from Ur in Iraq to German customs authorities. See: http://coinarchaeology.blogspot.com/2009/07/curious-case-of-gold-vessel-from-ur.html

Muller-Karpe is certainly well-known in Germany for his anti-collector and anti-trade views. Thus, it is a bit surprising German customs ever viewed him as someone who could be trusted to provide an independent opinion on the origin of the vessel in question. Now, Muller-Karpe has evidently taken the law into his own hands because he disagrees with the efforts of German authorities to take the vessel back into custody. Presumably, he fears it will be returned to the action house from which it was seized.

US law enforcement should also be wary of similar "free help" from US archaeologists with an axe to grind against collectors. Such archaeologists have their own agendas as Muller-Karpe's recalcitrance suggests.