Sunday, August 30, 2009

Lean Budgets Lead to More Reliance on Amateurs to Record the Past

As noted in Derek Fincham's "Illicit Cultural Property" blog, the Guardian reports on how lean times in the U.K. make it virtually inevitable that more reliance will be placed on interested members of the public to record the past. See:

Unlike many U.S. archaeologists, Fincham thinks the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities scheme may have something to offer to other countries. See generally

I really don't understand the hostility of many U.S. archaeologists towards the Treasure Act and PAS, particularly when they don't even have personal experience with how the U.K.'s system works. Even Lord Renfrew, a well-known critic of the antiquities trade, has had kind things to say about the Treasure Act and PAS. See:

The typical claim of critics is that the Treasure Act and PAS merely "pays people to loot."

But the fact remains that even in boom times, there is never enough money or enough archaeologists to excavate and properly record all the minor artifacts (particularly coins) out there. There certainly is not enough money to ensure they are all properly conserved.

Why not encourage the public to work with archaeologists rather than against them?

What's wrong with letting the public keep minor artifacts after they are recorded, particularly when they will otherwise just be forgotten in the stores of underfunded state museums?

Shouldn't it all be about recording and preserving artifacts rather than "keeping control?"

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Better Late than Never: Iraq Museum Told to Register Possessions Anew

Archaeologists and Iraqi officials have been quick to vilify collectors and to assume any Mesopotamian antiquity "must be stolen," but they have evidently been all too slow to track exactly what the Iraq Museum's collection actually holds.

"Azzam" (via the Iraq Crisis List) reports that the Iraq Museum has finally been ordered to complete a proper inventory of its collections.

The article can be found here:

It states in full:

Iraq Museum told to register possessions anew

By Zainab al-Rubai

Azzaman, August 28, 2009

The government has set up a commission to recount Iraq Museum possessions in the light of the standards applied in international museums, an Antiquities Department official said.

Abdulzahra Talaqani, the department’s information officer, said the registering of the possessions is part of measures by the government to check smuggling and trace items stolen from the museum.

Not only relics on display will be recounted, but also items kept in the museum’s stores and warehouses, Talaqani said.

Prior to the 2003-U.S. invasion, in the early days of which the museum was looted, Iraq boasted of having about 200,000 relics worthy of display.

The number of items kept in the museum cellars such as cuneiform tablets was much higher.

These items were only displayed for scholars investigating and studying Mesopotamia.

The commission will include specialists and auditors who will oversee the inventories and registers.

“There will be constant supervision and the new count will be done in accordance to international standards,” Talaqani said.

He said each category will have its own inventory with information on the antiquity, significance, digging and excavation."

As is well documented, the archaeological community used the looting of the Iraq Museum as a cause celebre to convince the world's governments to not only enforce an international embargo on Iraqi cultural artifacts, but also to lavish millions in aid to fund the Iraq Museum and Iraqi archaeology.

Under the circmumstances, that such an inventory is only being considered now should be viewed as a scandal in its own right. It has been over six (6) years since the Iraq Museum was looted in the aftermath of the 2003 American invasion.

Where did all that money to fund Iraqi archaeology go, if not to fund a proper inventory?

Shouldn't preparing such an inventory been "job one"?

Thursday, August 27, 2009


Recently, the archaeological blogosphere has been full of appeals to "save" Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria in Bulgaria from the ravages of treasure hunters. It has now been reported that donations from that appeal have been used to fund archaeological investigations at the site. See

Interestingly, the appeal itself suggests that the situation at the site contrasts with that in the rest of the country:

Ratiaria lies close to the village of Archar in the Vidin region of Bulgaria and was first excavated from 1958 - 1962 and then later from 1976 - 1991. However, since then no archaeological work has taken place at the site. This is at a time when all other significant ancient cities in Bulgaria are being studied, conserved and opened to the public as part of a commitment to the nation's cultural heritage.


In any event, it is a scandal that Bulgarian authorities have failed to sponsor digs at Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria since 1991 and have similarly failed to protect the site from looters. After all, Bulgaria is certainly wealthy enough to be part of the EU. Under the circumstances, why hasn't the site been protected?

After reading the appeal further, one suspects it is really more an issue of governmental priorities than anything else.

As the appeal further notes,

This is not a new problem though, it has in fact been going on for at least ten years and just occasionally the Bulgarian government are shamed into taking action. In 2001 in response to public pressure the government set out a series of recommendations requiring Dimovo Municipality and the Regional Heritage Museum of Vidin to take action regarding Ratiaria:

Construct a guard hut for 24 hour protection

Implement all local land use laws

Create a database of local landowners

Define the monument's boundary

Repair the fences and signage

Carry out archaeological salvage work

Back fill the looter trenches

Obtain protected status for Ratiaria

Carry out regular archaeological excavations

These of course are only recommendations and the various bodies involved do not need to act upon them. Indeed promises to build a guard hut on the site never materialised and funding for a monument warden was cut. Of those actually caught in the act of illegal excavation and put on trial before the regional court in 2000 and 2001 every single person has had their charges dropped. Eight years later despite extensive coverage by the Bulgarian newspapers to highlight the problem not one of the 2001 directives has been implemented.


While I sympathize with those who want to "save" Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria, one must ask why have the funds that have been raised for the site appear only to have been used to carry out archaeological investigations and not to address any of the other recommendations?

Is the appeal designed to "save" Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria or to "save" the jobs of Bulgarian archaeologists?

One hopes monies will in fact at some point also go to the former, particularly because the "appeal" to save the site certainly suggested they would.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

CPAC Chair Kislak's Views of the ECA and the Process for Imposing Import Restrictions on Cultural Goods

Then CPAC Chair Jay Kislak also provided his thoughts about the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' handling of the imposition of import restrictions on cultural goods at the April 17, 2008, IFAR panel discussed further below at .

Mr. Kislak is probably best known for his service as a naval aviator in WWII, his successful career in real estate and his extremely generous contributions to the Library of Congress. See: Still, anyone interested in CPAC and how it operates can't but also appreciate Mr. Kislak's efforts to bring a level of transparency and fairness of process to that body's proceedings.

Mr. Kislak's comments at the IFAR panel related to those issues, though ironically as Mr. Kislak himself explained, "I did not prepare a speech because if I had, I would have had to present it first for review to the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and I was not about to do that."

Jay I. Kislak, "The Chairman's View," in “The Who, What, Why and How of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC),” 10 IFAR Journal Nos. 3 &4 2008/2009 at 37. (hereinafter IFAR Panel).

Mr. Kiskak first discussed the differing interests of art museums and archaeological museums. He observed, "The archaeological museums are deeply committed to the same doctrine that the archaeologists are. That is, they will not touch anything that they did not take out of the ground themselves or that somebody did not take out in the way they wanted them to." Id.

He continued, "There are extremists on both sides. Some are extreme in the direction of dealers and collectors... To the other extreme, there are archaeologists that won't even look at an item, however how long it has been out, if they do not know where it came from and how and why, and if it was not excavated by a certified archaeologist. They will not even study it and put it in context." Id. at 37-38.

Mr. Kislak then discussed the composition of the Committee, lamenting that trade representatives did not have the breadth of international sales experience the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) contemplates. Id. at 38.

He also noted that because the CPIA contemplates that the CPAC will be made up of a "diverse group," "it is not always easy to keep things going." Id. For example, Mr. Kislak suggested that before joining the Committee he was "criticized vehemently by the archaeologists... because [he] collected... some Pre-Columbian artifacts." Id. Indeed, as a collector, he believes that he was "royally hated in some quarters." Id.

Mr. Kislak then expressed concerns about the process and ECA staff. He stated,

CPAC has public hearings, but they are too short. the public does not get enough chance-- five minutes really-- to be heard. To bring people down to Washington, let them make the trip from wherever they are coming [from], and [let them] speak only for five minutes, is not enough. But we do not have much choice based on the time allotted.

To what extent can we talk about the staff? First, let me tell you the definition of a bad bureaucrat that I heard last week at the Library of Congress. A bad bureaucrat is one who does something. The staff, by nature, has to be involved and also knowledgeable about the archaeological and ethnographic materials that are the subject of our discussions. Although the staff that I have seen are capable, extremely bright people who know quite a bit about what they are doing and do a fairly good job of attempting to be evenhanded, sometimes when somebody has a background in archaeology (as is the case), it becomes a bit difficult not to be slanted. However, the staff are government employees-- bureaucrats -- who run what we are doing.


Mr. Kislak continued,

To some extent I question CPAC’s necessary importance. First of all, the Committee has no power. Patty Gerstenblith stated this clearly. The Committee is purely advisory, and it is advisory to the U.S. President. He has delegated power down through the State Department. Has that power been abused? I can think of at least one occasion where the Committee’s decisions-clear-cut and unequivocal- were not adhered to. Practically every other decision has been adhered to, but on at least one occasion, that was not the case.

Id. at 38-39. (Mr. Kislak subsequently made a declaration in the ACCG, IAPN, PNG FOIA action that confirmed that ECA rejected CPAC’s recommendations with regard to coins. Declaration of Jay I. Kislak (April 20, 2009). filed in Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, et al. v. United States Department of State, C.A. No. 07-2074 (D.D.C). See That Declaration also suggested that ECA failed to report to Congress about CPAC’s recommendations as well as the decision to reject them. Id. )

Mr. Kislak also participated in the question and answer period at the end of the IFAR panel.

There, Mr. Kislak first commented on questions of conflict of interest issues that have been raised with respect to various members. He noted,

[N]o longer is anyone requested to recuse himself, at least since I have been chairman.... Complaints on this subject from both ends of the spectrum have been made to the Committee. They have also been made to the State Department, that the Department did not even want it discussed. I insisted that if a letter came in addressed to me as chairman, the Committee would hear about it. I fought tooth and nail not to keep it secret because I don't believe in secrecy. There's no reason in the world for it to be secret. The conclusion was made that whether somebody should recuse him or herself was between that person and his conscious.

IFAR Panel at 40.

Mr. Kislak then commented on issues of secrecy and transparency. He stated,

The question of secrecy has been one of my pet peeves.... Occasionally, people have said, "Well, we do not want to disclose where the sites are." The sites were indicated in their requests, and the looters have already been there. I think this is a rather weak argument. This is the only advisory committee that I have ever been able to find that conducts everything in secret and will not disclose anything. Several members of our committee would like it more open, even some who are dedicated archaeologists.

Id. at 41-42.

Mr. Kislak related Committee transparency to larger issues. He stated,

In every other branch of government, there is disclosure, information is made public. We have a democracy, and it is government of the people, for the people, by the people, not by the bureaucrats over them. A major question with this Committee is: Are we, as members of the Committee, there to receive the information staff chooses to give us, and then, because we are appointed by the U.S. President, sign off and recommend something to the decision maker? Or, are we the Committee for whom the staff works? Even Patty [Gerstenblith] will tell you, the latter is what the law says-- that staff will be provided by the USIA [ECA's predecessor agency] or by another agency of the executive branch. But that's not the way it actually works. It should be that the staff will work for us and do what we want them to do, and look for the information that we want them to look for, where we want them to look for it. But we can look long enough, and we're out of office, and they are still there. Unfortunately, that's the way government works.

Id. at 48.

In response to a question from the audience about how change can be effected, Mr. Kislak concluded,

You cannot do anything by writing the Committee; you cannot do it by writing the State Department. Write your Congressman if you want something done, because this Committee is going to continue in secrecy so long as the people controlling it can control it that way. And I want to make it clear that I am not necessarily against any actions that were taken on any of the MOU's which were recommended by the Committee and put into action. I am, however, opposed to the way it is done because I think it is absolutely, completely, un-American, and I don't mind saying that. Not anywhere in our government do we do things this way, except with this group. Patty seems to disagree, and I know she's wrong.

Id. at 48-49.

This is the last of series of posts related to the IFAR Panel. Critics within the archaeological blogosphere of the ACCG, IAPN and PNG FOIA case and the ACCG's prospective customs action should take particular note. None of the IFAR panelists represent the interests of the numismatic trade or coin collectors. Yet, the statements of at least three former CPAC members (Kislak, Josephson and Fitz Gibbon) raise identical questions to those raised in this litigation.

Monday, August 24, 2009

PNG Renews Commitment to Combat Import Restrictions on Coins

PNG has issued a press release indicating that it has renewed its commitment to fight against the imposition of import restrictions on coins. See:

PNG mainly represents U.S. coin dealers that sell U.S. coins. PNG also has concerns with issues such as Chinese counterfeits of U.S. coins. See

Given these other concerns, PNG's decision underscores the severe practical problems that import restrictions raise for the small businesses of the numismatic trade. Producing invoices is one thing. Documenting a coin's whereabouts potentially back 5 or more years is something entirely different, particularly when you are seeking that information about large numbers of low value artifacts like coins, from foreign sellers who can more easily sell to some other foreign buyer without such "red tape." Indeed, such information may not even be available at all.

This problem is exacerbated because U.S. customs has relied upon archaeologists with an axe to grind against collectors to help them detect and identify illicit "cultural property." This, of course, is a recipe for unfair enforcement.

To date, import restrictions have been imposed on ancient coins of Cypriot and Chinese type. The State Department has previously rejected calls for similar restrictions on ancient coins of Italian type.

PNG has also joined another trade group, IAPN, and the ACCG in seeking more information about such import restrictions in an ongoing Freedom of Information Act case.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

New SAFE "Resource" on Numismatics

The archaeological advocacy group Saving Antiquities for Everyone ("SAFE") has announced a new "resource" devoted to numismatics. See

I've read many of the offerings listed before either elsewhere on the SAFE web site or on blogs of SAFE associates. Overall, the new "Coin matters" site appears merely to centralize in one location more of the usual SAFE fare, i.e., tales of looting of archaeological sites, speculation about the quantity of information that is lost, and allegations of criminal conduct in source countries, supposedly encouraged by U.S. dealers and collectors buying "unprovenanced coins."

From the looks of it, I suppose "Coin matters" is really designed as a "resource" to aid SAFE's and the AIA's ongoing campaign to convince the public and government decision makers that "unprovenanced" or "undocumented" coins must be "stolen." See

In any event, in my opinion, "Coin matters" would be more more complete and hence more useful if it also covered:
  • Successful efforts under the U.K.'s Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) to encourage the public to report finds of coins and other antiquities;
  • The existence of large, open and legal markets for "unprovenanced" ancient coins in such "source" countries as Bulgaria, China and Italy;
  • The hypocrisy of source countries with strict laws like Cyprus that demand the U.S. to impose import restrictions on unprovenanced coins, but which allow their own wealthy and/or "connected" registered collectors to import unprovenanced coins at will;
  • The failures of archaeologists and source countries to adequately preserve, publish and display hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of coins already in their care.

There are far too many historical coins out there for an "archaeology over all" approach to have any realistic prospect of ensuring historical coins are protected. If SAFE intends this resource to be more than just another advocacy piece in the "culture wars" between archaeologists and collectors, "Coin matters" will need to cover far more ground and, in particular, place more emphasis on cooperative approaches between archaeologists and collectors like that embodied in the U.K.'s Treasure Act and PAS.

Monday, August 10, 2009

IAA Launches a Campaign to Register Antiquities Collectors

The Israeli Antiquities Authority has launched a campaign to force an estimated 100,000 antiquities collectors to register. See:

Penalties for not registering are steep. Those who fail to register face a possible six months in jail and a fine.

The article states,

According to a law passed in 2002, an "antiquities collector" is anyone with 15 or more artifacts, and all antiquities collectors must register with the IAA. However, only several hundred collectors are currently known to the state.

"Maybe some of them have a specific item that is very important to archeology and nobody knows about it, so we need to know what they have,"Amir Ganor, director of the IAA's Prevention of Antiquities Theft and Supervision of Antiquities Sales Division, told The Jerusalem Post.

The article continues,

Those who report their antiquities will receive a certificate designating them as a collector and, if they choose, an appraisal of the historical significance of their artifacts. Ganor made it clear that collectors would not be asked to give up any of their artifacts. "The items belong to the collector, and we are not trying to take anything from the collector," he said.

Other countries -- like Cyprus and Greece-- also require collectors to register. Hopefully, the Israeli registration system will not be too onerous and thus over time devolve into a system where only wealthy, "connected," people become "registered collectors." That would be a particular shame given the Israeli public's deep interest in preserving, displaying and studying artifacts from the past.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Kate Fitz Gibbon and a Critique of CPAC

Kate Fitz Gibbon critiqued the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' administration of CPAC at the IFAR panel held in New York on April 17, 2008. See below at .

President Clinton appointed Ms. Fitz Gibbon, a specialist in Central Asian art, to CPAC. She served as a trade representative from 2000-2003. Today, Ms. Fitz Gibbon is in private practice in Santa Fe, New Mexico. See: She also serves as the Vice-President of the newly formed Cultural Policy Research Institute. See:

On the panel, Ms. Fitz Gibbon first focused upon the disagreements in the Committee about the meaning of statutory language she deemed clear. She stated,

Often the question is, what is cultural patrimony? Some members think it is a subset of special objects with special meaning to a country’s history or religion; or something that is the highpoint of art or simply touches a nation’s heart. Others think it is everything from coins to potsherds. Ancient coins from Cyprus have recently become the subject of embargo through the efforts of the Committee. One of the difficulties of placing an embargo based on the origin of materials, however, is that ancient coins were circulated in many millions throughout the ancient world and are often unidentifiable as to the place of origin. The committee is not much interested in the difficulties of ascribing place of origin to widely circulated objects….

The Cultural Property Implementation Act is a very good, very sensible law as far as it goes, and we ought to be capable of a reasonable interpretation. The problem is that different factions on the Committee have read the words very differently. In many instances, from my ‘plain reading,” the Committee has substantially altered Congressional intent…Too many times, when Congress intended the Committee to use a scalpel, it has used a club instead.

IFAR Journal Vol. 10 Nos. 3 & 4 2008/2009 at 34-36. Later on in a question and answer period, Ms. Fitz Gibbon elaborated,

I’m a plain reader, and, to me, a threshold is a threshold and not a bump in the rug. I see the Committee’s work as largely aspirational…. [A]lthough I can’t talk about what went on in the Committee and don’t want to-I’m speaking from my perspective and reading of the law-it seemed to me that there were a lot of contortionist moves on CPAC that were made necessary because the requests were inadequate in some way or another. I was shocked when I first came on the Committee that we were handed a list of the four determinations and the second half of Part C was missing. I went to the Committee as a layperson, but I have since been inspired to go to law school as a result.

Id. at 46-47.

Ms Fitz Gibbon also expressed serious concerns about lack of transparency and related issues. She stated,

The secrecy under which the Committee operates harms it, as does the lack of transparency, the absence of Congressional oversight and any kind of a corporate memory among the Committee members. At my first meeting, which was a renewal meeting, we were not supplied with either the country's request or the Committee's recommendations from the previous granting of import restrictions. I asked for it, and we were given it, but it astounded me that the information was not part of the process. I am also shocked that repeated Freedom of Information ... requests for information have gone unanswered in recent years. How can the public give testimony if they don't know what's at issue? .... [I]t ill serves the Committee when the source of a country's request is obscured or hidden.

at 35.

She also elaborated in the question and answer session:

We're not just talking about diplomacy and the ability of the State Department to refrain from stepping on other people's toes. We're talking about important decisions that are going to be made about what type of art will be accessible to the American public.... To permit a situation in which the actual request by the country in terms of the detailed information regarding the items that will no longer be allowed to enter the country .... to have that information not available, as was the case when there was a last minute addition of coins to a certain request [Cyprus], that does a real disservice to the American public interest. It is also a disservice to the principle that the People can come to Washington to have their five minutes "in the sunshine" and to argue for or against an element of the request.....

Id. at 43.

Finally, Ms. Fitz Gibbon also touched upon philosophical concerns about the Committee's mandate. She stated,

Congress gave the Committee only one tool: embargo. Embargo by itself is the equivalent of "zero tolerance" or "just say no" or "choose abstinence," and it is about as effective. When the only tool that you have is a blanket one like embargo, it can be used in ways that do more harm than good.

Most requesting countries are desperately poor-- they need help in building local museums and educational programs. They need assistance in documenting what they own so that if it is stolen they know what they are missing. The Cultural Property Implementation Act was not set up to establish such programs. However, we are enjoined to make recommendations for actions that will further the preservation of cultural heritage. Such recommendations would be more likely to be acted upon if they did not disappear into some filing cabinet at the end of the meeting, never to be seen again. There is terrible archaeological loss when sites are looted. The loss is the same when a massive hydroelectric project inundates twelve thousand sites, as recently happened in China. It seems silly for the U.S. to address one situation and ignore the other.

Government is all about sovereignty; it is about control: about controlling your own people, your own art, your own history. All nations share that impulse for control. But society should be wary of delegating the control of history to government. When ethnic strife and hatred of your nearest neighbor result in the destruction of hundreds of mosques and monuments in the former Yugoslavia, the loss of art is a symptom of much greater social harm.... I will end with just one thought: that we might be placing art in bad company when we grant exclusive control to governments. It makes me really nervous.

Id. at 35-36.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"Stolen" Should Mean "Stolen"

While I disagree with archaeological blogger, David Gill, on many points, I do agree with his limitation of the term "stolen" to:

objects stolen from a museum;

objects stolen from archaeological stores or similar holding areas;

objects stolen from a private collection;

objects stolen from a monument at a recorded archaeological site.


Unfortunately, others [including some U.S. Courts] have also used the term "stolen" to refer to artifacts removed from the ground outside recorded archaeological sites, under circumstances that may violate a source country's patrimony laws. See:

In addition, one suspects that some even consider artifacts to be "stolen," if they leave a source country without an export permit. See:

I suspect most collectors would also agree with Gill's definition, and share my concern about the expansion of the meaning of the term "stolen" in the cultural property debate.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

David Gill and Insinuation, Assertions and Factoids

Archaeological Blogger David Gill expresses a newfound concern about assumptions being turned into "facts" here:

But isn't the "Mother of All" such "factoids" in the cultural property debate the insinuation by members of the archaeological community like Prof. Gill that undocumented artifacts "must be stolen?"