Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Gill Inspired Papers Provide More Heat than Light on Benefits of PAS

Archaeo-blogger David Gill has evidently helped organize a forum on the PAS. See

Gill obviously drove the agenda: some faint praise for the system combined with much rehashing of various (mostly old) complaints about it.

The papers speak for themselves. Overall, this all would have been more useful if there were an effort to compare the number of finds reported in England and Wales with those in Greece, a country whose cultural policy Gill apparently holds in high esteem. Does Greek law-- as it is actually administered by its bureaucracy-- encourage the reporting of finds? From what I heard at the recent CPAC hearing on Greece's proposed MOU with the US, I think not.

As an aside, I wonder about Mr. Barford's stated affiliation with the Institute of Archaeology, Warsaw, Poland. Other information suggests that this affiliation is quite dated. If so, it certainly should not be used to somehow elevate Barford's status. [This affiliation was subsequently deleted in favor of just identifying Mr. Barford as an "archaeoblogger".]

I also question Gill's obsession with "lobbyists" promoting PAS before CPAC. In point of fact, this idea also has also been heavily promoted by numismatic groups who employ no registered lobbyists, and, indeed, its greatest proponent is a private collector who has spent his own time and money to travel to Washington, D.C. to speak on the issue. See

To his credit, Gill and UCL did invite some speakers with opposing views, but I still must agree with Gabriel Moshenska of the UCL Institute of Archaeology, who stated, "It is a measure of this [the archaeological] community’s widespread elitism and class snobbery that the most feckless professor of prehistory with a string of unpublished excavations is likely to be afforded a thousand times more respect than the most diligent member of a metal detecting club."

Addendum: In some end of the year foolishness, Prof. Gill has suggested he had nothing at all to do with organizing the above submissions of academic papers. See
I suspect he is being far too modest and have asked him to clarify in the comments section of his blog. He has yet to do so and instead is harping on the fact that UCL "initiated" the conference, but this certainly does not foreclose Gill's help in "organizing" it. Of course, all this is just another diversion from the major issues at hand. The papers were purportedly designed to help assess the PAS, but they failed to do so because there was no effort to compare PAS to other systems like that in Greece. Ultimately, PAS needs to be judged not by any perceived shortcomings, but by how it compares with other systems in fostering the recording of artifacts from the past. In this, I'm quite confident the record speaks quite well of the PAS.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Cypriot Corruption Not Like PAS

Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford has put up a story on his blog about wealthy Cypriot collectors getting their collections of antiquities looted from Northern Cyprus "legalized" by the Cypriot antiquities authority. Subsequently, these same collectors purchased materials looted from a cemetary in the Greek controlled area of Cyprus and nothing was done. Inexplicably, Barford claims this is just like the PAS. See and

No, Mr. Barford, the Treasure Act and PAS is predicated on the rule of law. Everyone is treated equally and society as a whole benefits. This, in contrast, exemplifies the corrupt nature of the Greek-Cypriot state where how the law is applied depends on who you are, and the connected few are allowed to collect as much looted material as they want.

It is also worth noting that the archaeological community's unqualified support for import restrictions on behalf of the Republic of Cyprus only helps prop up such a corrupt system. Hopefully, the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and CPAC will take notice when the current Cypriot MOU comes up for renewal.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

State Department Meddles in Court Case to Help Foreign Power Against American Treasure Hunters

Discovery News has more information about Wikileaks cables detailing the assistance the US State Department secretly provided to the Spanish Government in litigation with Odyssey Marine, a US based treasure hunting concern. See

As PhDiva notes on her blog, this story provides more information than previously reported.

Hopefully, Congress or the courts will investigate whether the State Department violated any laws. The archaeological allies of the State Department in the cultural property debate have made no bones about their opposition to Odyssey's treasure hunting. One wonders to what extent they helped influence the State Department to assist Spain in the case secretly.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

"Priceless" Has a Price After All

Law enforcement and the archaeological community are fond of claiming that repatriated artifacts are "priceless." Indeed, this term has such a nice ring to it that retired FBI Agent and SAFE honoree Robert Wittman named the book about his 20 year career as an art sleuth, "Priceless."

Well, it turns out at least the movie rights to Wittman's book do indeed have a price, at least according to a lawsuit Wittman filed against a would-be filmmaker of the story. See

More importantly, one also wonders if it is appropriate for a federal law enforcement official to be allowed to make money off his career in such a fashion. I'm sure Mr. Wittman is personally above reproach, but one can easily imagine the scenario where the prospect of fame and a movie deal might impact enforcement priorities in some fashion.

No Christmas Truce

Pompeii is falling down through gross mismanagement and neglect. The Greek cultural establishment is as bankrupt as the Hellenic Republic. Yet,archaeological busybodies Gill and Barford (along with a sympathetic journalist) would rather rehash an old story about a pot in the collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Art. See

Why? Apparently, the only reason this is being brought up-- yet again-- is the fact that the MIA's Director wrote a letter to the New York Times in her capacity of President of the AAMD about repatriation issues.

Such foolishness does little but divert attention away from the poor stewardship of archaeological treasures in countries like Greece and Italy. If Gill, Barford and friends really care about protecting the archaeological record, perhaps they should devote at least some of their considerable talents to publicizing these larger issues in 2011.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

More on Pompeii Neglect

The New York Times has published another article about the longstanding neglect of Pompeii that has received attention due to recent building collapses at the site. See

Meanwhile, cynical efforts to use the tragedy as a political club against the Berlusconi government have evidently failed; the Prime Minister has just narrowly prevailed in a no confidence vote. See

If anything, mixing up Pompeii's problems with politics does no good for the site. Neither does Italy's efforts to control anything and everything old badly rather than seeking achievable results to protect national treasures like Pompeii.

Addendum: Dorothy King (PhDiva) has also drawn attention to this insightful article about the problems plaguing Pompeii:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

AIA Building Up Lobbying War Chest?

The Archaeological Institute of America ("AIA") has emailed this end of year solicitation to its supporters:

Dear Friend,

The AIA Site Preservation Program works to safeguard the world's archaeological heritage for future generations through direct preservation, raising awareness of threats to sites, education, outreach, and by facilitating the spread of best practices.

Currently, we support eight site preservation projects around the world. Over the past year we have greatly increased our advocacy efforts, organizing campaigns that sent hundreds of letters to Washington in support of renewing import restrictions on archaeological materials from Italy and Greece. These initiatives are critical to the mission of the AIA Site Preservation Program—but we cannot continue these important efforts without the support of friends like you who understand the value of our threatened cultural heritage.

In 2010 we have raised $100,000 for Site Preservation and need an additional $50,000 to reach our goal for the year. Please consider a tax-deductible donation before the end of the calendar year, so that you can become a part of our mission to secure archaeological sites for tomorrow. Please click here to signify your support for the preservation of our ancient heritage.
With much thanks and warm wishes,

Peter Herdrich

Comment: The highlighted material suggests that the AIA is commingling funds for advocacy purposes with funds specifically donated to help preserve archaeological sites. It is unclear what amount is devoted to the former and what amount is devoted to the latter purpose. It is clear that despite claims to the contrary, archaeologists do lobby, and potentially spend significant monies on that effort. How much money is involved, and where is that money going? The AIA has, after all, been granted tax exempt status as being operated solely for educational and scientific purposes. Under the circumstances, shouldn't details of its lobbying efforts be made public?

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Sour Grapes

Archaeologists rightly view themselves as custodians of the past, but their institutional arrogance, their disdain for collectors [who historically were welcome allies in their pursuits] or other "amateurs" [such as metal detectorists in the U.K.] and their tendency to create and disseminate knowledge largely to and for only their own peers will not serve them or their discipline well in lean economic times.

Unfortunately, instead of the recognition of the benefits of greater outreach and working with collectors and metal detectorists rather than demonizing them, we probably can expect little but more sour grapes, at least from the purists in the archaeological field. See and

The truth is programs like the Treasure Act and PAS get public money and support even in lean economic times because they are popular with large segments of the public at large. In contrast, it will become increasingly difficult to justify funding for conservation projects that only seem to benefit small groups of archaeological professionals.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Greek Neglect of Major Sites Argues for Less State Control Over Minor Artifacts

The Guardian has reported on further neglect of major archaeological sites in Greece. See

Based upon the article, the Greek cultural establishment appears to be hoping that another EU bailout will fund needed repairs, but that seems unlikely. The EU's banker, Germany, is already fed up after helping to bail out Greece's bankrupt economy, and the EU is facing other serious financial meltdowns in countries like Ireland and Spain.

All this once again seriously undercuts the proposition behind the proposed MOU with Greece that state control means protection for ancient artifacts.

Perhaps, countries like Greece should focus on proper funding for major artifacts and forget about "control" over redundant minor artifacts that frankly are likely to be better cared for by collectors.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Morgantina Treasure Goes on Display in Sicily

The Morgantina treasure has gone on display in a small provincial museum in Sicily. See

It remains to be seen whether a promised spike in local tourism develops or how Italy's cash strapped cultural establishment will care for the treasure and other artifacts that have been or will be "recontextualized" at the site.

In any event, after years of finger pointing at American collectors and museums, it is refreshing to read Italians acknowledging that "looting was a tolerated sport" and that their own country's "negligence and silence" also had a part to play in the sale of these significant artifacts abroad.

For more about the treasure, see

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Theft in Germany

Forty-four valuable ancient coins were stolen from a museum exhibition in Turbingen, Germany. For more details, including pictures of the missing coins, see

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Message to the Troops: Buy Old Guns, Not Old Coins?

The Philadelphia Inquirer has published an article on the AIA's efforts to preach to the troops not to purchase artifacts that are offered to them for sale by the local populace in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. See

The article commends a National Guard soldier for the "good move" of purchasing a copy Enfield Rifle from the locals rather than "old coins" or "bronze daggers" while on tour in Afghanistan. For more on "Khyber Pass Copy" weapons, see

I'm all for teaching respect for ancient cultures, but I doubt a "zero tolerance" policy on the purchase of minor artifacts does much to either win the "hearts and minds" of the locals or to protect cultural patrimony. If anything, old coins that do not find a purchaser will likely be melted as scrap in poor countries like Afghanistan. That would be a greater tragedy in my opinion than some farmer digging them up in the first place. To consider the destruction of context to be worse as the AIA preaches depends on the false premise that Afghanistan or Iraq will host extensive archaeological excavations again sometime in the future, which at this point seems ludicrous. [More likely, the areas where these artifacts are found will never be professionally excavated for lack of funds or interest.] Meanwhile, the AIA and groups like SAFE are strangely silent about the prospect of a Chinese mining company blowing up a significant cultural site in Afghanistan in order to tap a copper vein. See and That to me seems like a much greater potential cultural property tragedy than a soldier purchasing old coins or other "bric-a-brac" as the Philadelphia Inquirer describes it.

I also find it disturbing that the AIA continues to claim there is a link between subsistence digging and terrorism, when that inflammatory claim is not based on much hard evidence. See (interview with attorney associated with preservation community).

If anything, it's far more likely that the soldier's purchase of an Enfield rifle will help pay for the seller's upgrade to an AK-47. Remember folks out there, old coins don't kill; guns do.

Addendum: Recent disclosures about the scale of Afghan corruption gleaned from diplomatic cables released by Wikileaks adds an additional gloss on this issue. See It seems quite odd to promote efforts to preclude poor farmers from selling what artifacts they find on their own land at the same time that millions of aid dollars are leaving the country under suspicious circumstances.

Monday, November 29, 2010

State Department Largess to Iraqi Archaeology Continues Despite Budget Pressures

Today, President Obama told federal workers they can't expect pay raises for the next two years because of pressure on the federal budget. See

Such financial pressures apparently have yet to impact the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Cultural Heritage Center and the archaeological lobby that supports it, however. Just last week, the State Department announced that it was doling out another $2 million to support Iraqi archaeology. See

Predictably, such largess has won the Cultural Heritage Center kudos from preservation groups like the award that was recently given at the posh Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. See

On the other hand, for others all this money should just be viewed as "reparations" for past wrongs. See

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Additional Research for Criminologists

It seems that there are further efforts to analyze cultural property issues as criminal law issues. See

But there needs to be more analysis of the foreign laws that form the basis of defining action in the United States as "criminal."

The governments of the most aggressive "source countries" have been rightly criticised to one degree or another for their authoritarian ways, their endemic corruption, or their excessive regulation. Under the circumstances, should law enforcement and the courts use our criminal law to effectuate broad declarations of foreign ownership made by such countries so uncritically? Congress thought it was retaining our nation's "independent judgment" in such matters when it passed the CPIA, but aggressive law enforcement agencies with the help of the archaeological community have broadened the scope of potential criminal liability for violation of foreign law markedly since the CPIA was passed. No one would advocate effectuating foreign laws on press freedom here by prosecuting Americans for insulting foreign leaders. So why put Americans in jail for violations of foreign cultural patrimony laws?

There also is the issue of how foreign patrimony laws are enforced at home. In countries like China and Greece, there is one law for "the ordinary joe" or the foreigner and quite another for those connected to the powerful. Should this also be taken into account before potential criminal liability is considered?

Finally, there is the issue of the effectiveness of foreign cultural patrimony law. For example, I've read that a large percentage of the Bulgarian population is allegedly involved in illicit metal detecting. If so, potential criminal liability has obviously not changed behavior and other approaches, like that embodied in the PAS and Treasure Act should be considered.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A Rational Proposal for the Hellenic Republic

Cultural Property Observer is pleased to repost in full the comments of one knowledgeable collector submitted for the recent CPAC hearing on the proposed MOU with Greece. The 1970 UNESCO Convention is not self-executing. The US has retained its "independent judgment" as to whether and to what extent to give effect to Greece's export restrictions. The US can condition any assistance it gives to Greece. The following comments suggest that CPAC recommend Greece adopt a system akin to the British Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in order to further the protection of its own cultural patrimony.

Comments for CPAC hearing on Hellenic Republic request for import restrictions, 10/12/10, by Richard Witschonke

September 19, 2010

Prof. Katherine L. Reid
Cultural Property Advisory Committee
United States Department of State
Washington, DC 20522-0505

Dear Prof. Reid and CPAC Members:

I understand that your role is to assess the compliance of the Hellenic Republic’s request for US import restrictions with the four CCPIA criteria, and to report your findings to the Department of State. I would like to ask your indulgence in stepping back for a moment from the polarized debate, and considering some fundamental questions, before returning to my specific comments on the request. (For information on my background and affiliation, see number 8, below).

1. What is the problem we are trying to solve?

Clearly, the looting of antiquities, and the attendant loss of precious and irreplaceable contextual information, is a major, well-documented problem in Greece, as well as in many artifact-rich countries throughout the world. I would hope that all parties to the debate could agree that reducing the incidence of such looting ought to be the primary goal of any regulation.

2. Will the imposition of US import restrictions result in a significant reduction in looting?

The answer here is unclear. The US has had import restrictions in place on antiquities from Italy for ten years, and yet the recent Italian request for a renewal indicates that the problem persists. In fact, an objective, scholarly analysis of the US market for Italian antiquities indicates that there has actually been a 39% increase since the restrictions were imposed (Gordon Lorbay, Criminology and Archeology, 2009). And while, at the margin, restrictions would make it more difficult to bring looted objects into the U.S., it is not clear that this would translate into reduced incentives for the actual looters, given the depth of both the global and internal Greek markets for Greek antiquities. And surely we can agree that, until the incentive to loot is reduced, the looting will continue.

3. What has Greece done to reduce domestic looting?

Greece has passed comprehensive antiquities legislation, most recently in 2002 (law 3028, which supersedes all previous legislation) and 2008 (law 3658, which establishes a new Directorate within the Ministry of Culture to focus on the protection of antiquities). Greece claims ownership of all antiquities found in its soil (or waters), and provides substantial penalties for those who illicitly dig, fail to report, or trade in such antiquities (Articles 53 to 72). And these laws are vigorously enforced, as witnessed by the numerous published accounts of the arrest of antiquities traffickers by Greek authorities. But have these legal sanctions been effective in changing the incentives of the looters? According to Major Yiorgos Gligoris, head of the Antiquities Police: “Half of Greece is involved in these (illegal) digs. The rewards are great.” (Kathimerini, 2/24/06). He continues: “It’s a complete free-for-all, the situation is very hard to control. And, in some parts of the country, the spread of illegal digs is simply explosive. The first thing Greeks think of when they find an ancient object in their field is how to sell it abroad.” (Khaleej Times, 3/25/06). So legal sanctions, by themselves, are not proving adequate to change incentives on the ground.

4. Is there another way to change looters’ incentives?

The use of a carrot, in addition to the stick, perhaps deserves consideration here. And, ironically, many of the elements of such an approach are already present in the Greek 2002 law. Article 24 provides that persons who promptly report finds of moveable antiquities will receive a reward “commensurate to the importance of the antiquity and the contribution of the person”, and that this reward will be paid promptly if the value of the antiquity does not exceed 1,500 euros. And Article 23, paragraph 5, provides that if the reported antiquity “is considered to be of very small scientific and commercial value, it shall be recorded by the Service, and left in the free use of the applicant”. Article 25, paragraph 2 further provides that non-significant antiquities may be exchanged with foreign museums. Also, the export of non-significant antiquities is specifically permitted under Article 34, paragraph 2, and the export permit application must be acted upon within six months (Article 34, paragraph 7).

So why are these legal provisions not inducing innocent finders of antiquities to report and surrender them? Because they are not being effectively implemented. Rewards for surrendered objects are only occasionally granted, and then only after long delays, and at levels which are substantially below the prices which could be obtained on the thriving illicit market. So, since the people do not believe that the government will appropriately reward them, they do not surrender the objects which they find. And, to my knowledge, no reported objects are declared “non-significant” and returned to the finder, or licensed for export. So, the “carrot” approach to dealing with the problem of antiquities looting in Greece is not really in effect, despite the provisions of Greek law.

5. What can CPAC do to influence this situation?

Under CCPIA Section 303.a.1.B, the President is required to find that “that the State Party has taken measures consistent with the Convention to protect its cultural patrimony”. I would submit that, until Greece effectively implements the above provisions of its own law, it has not met this requirement. Further, under CCPIA Section 306.f.4.A, CPAC is required to recommend “such terms and conditions which it considers necessary and appropriate to include within such agreement”. So there is a clear legal basis (and much precedent) for CPAC to include “terms and conditions” along with its findings. Accordingly, I would strongly urge CPAC to recommend to the Department of State that, as a condition of the granting of U.S. import restrictions on Greek antiquities, Greece enforce its own laws calling for reliable, prompt, and fair rewards to citizens who report the finding of antiquities; the return to the finder of non-significant antiquities; and the prompt issuance of export certificates for non-significant antiquities.

6. Would such a change actually reduce looting in Greece?

This is a difficult question, but we do have one case study in the effectiveness of such an approach. Fifteen years ago, the UK faced a similar problem: sites were being illicitly excavated, primarily by metal-detectorists, and many of the objects found were sold into the trade without any proper record being made. In response, the Government decided to revise its antiquities law, and passed the Treasure Act of 1996, which provided that finders of ancient objects who had the permission of the landowner to search would receive a full market value reward for any finds determined to be Treasure, and retained by the Government. Non-treasure finds, and Treasure not retained by the Government are returned to the landowner and finder, who are then free to sell them on the licit market. In addition, the UK also passed legislation establishing a Portable Antiquities Scheme, under which finders are encouraged to formally report non-Treasure finds so that they could be properly recorded. PAS also established a network of Finds Liaison Officers who work with metal-detectorists, museums, schools, and other groups in each area of the country; it is their relationship with the local communities which makes the Scheme work. The UK TA/PAS approach has, by almost any measure, been enormously successful. The number of reported Treasure finds has increased from an average of 25 per year in the decade before implementation to over 800 in 2008. And the voluntary reporting of non-Treasure finds has allowed the establishment of the PAS database, which now records over 400,000 objects, and is proving extremely valuable as a scholarly resource. Reported finds have even uncovered a number of major sites which were subsequently excavated by archeologists. Critics argue that “nighthawking” (illicit, unreported excavation without the permission of the landowner) persists, but a recent report by Oxford Archeology and English Heritage finds that nighthawking has actually diminished (see:, so clearly the trend is in the right direction.

On September 7, 2009, I attended a conference at the British Museum where representatives of seven European nations reported on their approach to antiquities preservation (see: Several of the countries participating have implemented programs similar to the UK TA/PAS, while others have not. From the reports and discussion, it was clear that programs involving market-based rewards and outreach tended to be successful in encouraging the reporting of found objects, while programs lacking those elements were largely failures.

This leads me to conclude that such an approach may well work in Greece if effectively implemented. In fact, Lord Colin Renfrew (certainly one of the most outspoken crusaders against antiquities looting), when asked whether he thought the implementation of a scheme similar to the UK TA/PAS in other source countries would result in a decrease in looting, responded that he thought it would.

7. Why do archeologists oppose the UK approach?

Many in the Archeological community characterize the UK approach of paying market rewards for retained reported antiquities as “subsidized looting”, and claim that looting is increased, not decreased. Many archeologists would like to see all antiquities remain in the ground until they can be scientifically excavated, studied, and published, and then stored indefinitely so they can be easily accessed for future study. But is this realistic? History shows us that looting will continue unless something is done to stop it (or until everything is lost), so perhaps it is worth considering a compromise, where most antiquities are at least recorded upon discovery, and the most important are retained for study and permanent display. This is precisely what the UK approach does, and many UK archeologists are now accepting (if not embracing) the approach as a pragmatic compromise which preserves much more of the historical record than the previous approach, which largely engendered rampant looting. In fact, even Paul Barford, one of the most rabid critics of the UK TA/PAS, admits that “the vast majority of British archeologists are ‘quite comfortable, thanks’ that they have PAS to ‘deal with’ the collecting problem” (see: Perhaps this is because they view it as a reasonable compromise, and the best way to maximize the preservation of archeological context.

However, in spite of the fact that many UK archeologists seem to be adapting to TA/PAS, many North American classical archeologists still strenuously oppose it. Why is this? In my view, there are three reasons. First, many archeologists may feel that it is morally wrong to “pay for artifacts”, and have not taken the time to think through the alternatives and their consequences. Second, these archeologists may see such an approach as eroding the supply of sites available for them to excavate. And third, many of these archeologists regularly apply to source country governments for excavation permits, and therefore do not want to contravene the policies of their hosts. These are all perfectly reasonable motivations, but the result is that, in the US, any suggestion that source countries be encouraged to implement market-value rewards for government-retained antiquities is dismissed out of hand as wrong-headed, intrusive, and neo-Colonial. This further polarizes the debate, and perpetuates the status quo wherein the looting continues unabated, and all parties are the losers.

8. Why am I addressing CPAC?

I am a retired businessman currently working as a Curatorial Associate at the American Numismatic Society in New York, and as Co-Director of the ANS Graduate Seminar in Numismatics. I am a lifelong student and collector of the coinage of the Roman Republic, and have written several peer-reviewed articles on the subject. I have many close friends who deal in antiquities, and I regularly engage with them in order to understand how the antiquities market works. I am also a member of the AIA, and have many friends among the archeological community. Over the past decade, I have become increasingly concerned about the problem of looted antiquities, and have read widely on the subject, attended numerous conferences, and discussed the issues intensively with my friends in the archeological, scholarly, museum, and antiquities trade communities.

I spoke before the Committee in May regarding the Italian MOU renewal request, and made much the same proposals. However, I have no idea whether my suggestions influenced CPAC’s recommendations regarding that request.

9. Why are other groups and individuals not advocating such an approach?

I fully understand that I appear to be a lone voice advocating an approach to the looting problem that is not supported by any of the major participants in this debate. However, upon examination, this is not surprising, since the approach which I propose is not in the short-term self interest of any of the participants. The reasons why the North American archeological community does not support the UK approach are outlined in section 7, above. US antiquities dealers naturally prefer the status quo, where they can pursue a lucrative trade in possibly illicit antiquities. Antiquities collectors, although they may regret the loss of context implicit in the current system, tend to support it, since it maximizes the range of material available to them. US museums have, for the most part, accepted the UNESCO 1970 cutoff date for acquisitions and loans, so their only relevant concern is that source countries provide reciprocal loans of antiquities. Organizations such as SAFE ostensibly represent the interests of the general public, but their positions tend to follow the lead of the archeological community. And the majority of the US public is only peripherally aware of these issues, and is unsurprisingly uninformed as to the complexities of the debate, and therefore susceptible to simplistic arguments like: “we must stop looting”, or “we must defend our right to collect antiquities”.

Alexander Bauer, writing in the Fordham International Law Journal (2008), has characterized the debate thusly: “On one side, archaeologists are considered aligned with U.S. policymakers and foreign governments against the antiquities trade, and on the other, museum professionals—some of whom are archaeologists themselves—are aligned with collectors and dealers in support of it. The overall classification of the various groups into these two basic types, however, has resulted in a distillation of a complex web of both convergent and divergent interests into little more than a set of talking points and assumptions that are uncritically grouped together. As a result, arguments are repeated wholesale as sets of memes or interrelated talking points that do little to advance productive policy. And while some may argue that the debate has not so much stagnated as been “won” by critics of the antiquities trade, we must ask whether stopping the trade actually remedies what many perceive to be the heart of the problem.” He goes on to assert that: “the two polarized positions are often repeated without critical reflection on whether they actually serve the stated interests of their constituent groups. It is my belief that if we unpack the individual positions and arguments of the different stakeholders in the antiquities debates, we might be able to move the discussion forward from its current stalemate and develop more nuanced policies that not only may represent a pragmatic way forward, but one which might better satisfy their interests.”

10. Summary.

For the reasons outlined above, I strongly urge CPAC to recommend to the Department of State that, as a condition of the granting of U.S. import restrictions on Greek antiquities, Greece be required to effectively enforce its own laws calling for reliable, prompt, and fair rewards to citizens who report the finding of antiquities; the return to the finder of non-significant antiquities; and the prompt issuance of export certificates for non-significant antiquities. Reasonable proof that these policies have been implemented should be a condition for any renewal of a Greek/US MOU restricting the import of Greek antiquities into the US.

Respectfully Yours,

Richard Witschonke

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

American Museums Bamboozled?

Yale's recent decision to repatriate its Machu Picchu collection and what transpired at the recent Italian and Greek MOU hearings got me thinking that the American museum community has only been bamboozled after its good faith efforts to bend over backwards to the demands of the archaeological community and source countries.

Some years back, the AAMD put in place what seemed to me at the time to be reasonable acquisition guidelines that used a "rolling 10 year provenance period" as a standard. In so doing, the AAMD hoped to balance concerns about the accession of recently looted material with the museum community's continuing obligations to study, preserve and display artifacts from the past. Elements within the archaeological community, however, vehemently attacked these guidelines, suggesting they were just a cover to allow museums to continue to purchase looted material after it was no longer "hot." They instead insisted that the museums only accession artifacts with a documentary history dating back to at least 1970, the date of the UNESCO Convention. They maintained this date would act as a "safe harbor" for future acquisitions. They also suggested that source countries would respond to such a showing of "good faith" by then allowing for "long term loans" of high quality artifacts that the museums could display.

Well, the AAMD and another museum association, the AAM, responded by accepting a 1970 provenance date, but what did the museums get in return? Little, but more grief. Both the Met and now Yale have recently repatriated artifacts that were placed in their collections well before 1970. This will just encourage more such claims for artifacts accessioned well before 1970, as will U.S. Customs' evident acceptance at the behest of the archaeological community of virtually any vague foreign cultural patrimony law as a legal basis for such returns.

And what of long term loans? Again, instead of such loans, museums have received little more than excuses from countries like Italy and Greece, efforts to redefine "long term loans" into what are effectively "short term" ones, cirticism for "not being proactive enough," and even claims that language in MOU's mandating such loans is meaningless.

Of course, by accepting a 1970 provenance date, museums have also made orphans out of thousands upon thousands of perfectly legitimate artifacts that simply do not have the paper "bonafides" to allow them to be studied, conserved and displayed for the benefit of the American public. In the meantime, new museums in places like China and Dubai face no such self-imposed constraints. Yet, we hear no protests from the archaeological community about their collecting practices.

BM to Manage PAS; Austerity Measures Could Have Been Worse

The PAS has announced that the British Museum will take over management of the PAS from the Museums, Archives and Library Council. In addition, the PAS will need to absorb a 15% funding cut over the next four years as part of the U.K.'s stringent austerity measures. See

It is hoped centralizing PAS management within the BM will cut out the bureaucratic "middleman" so to speak, and thereby help to further the PAS mission.

In addition, although the cuts are significant, they are much less severe than what other cultural entities are facing in these days of government austerity.

This is a tribute to the popularity of the PAS with the public, and the fact that it gives great "bang for the buck" or Pound as the case may be.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Yale Capitulates on Machu Picchu Archaeological Materials

Yale has capitulated to Peru's demands that artifacts from Machu Picchu be repatriated. See

The nastiness of Peru's concerted campaign against the University, which recently included staged demonstrations and even threats of criminal prosecution, belies the conciliatory language in Yale's press release. See

Presumably, this decision will just encourage other repatriation demands. It certainly underscores the fact that a pre-1970 provenance is not the "safe harbor" archaeologists have claimed in order to induce museums to change their acquisition policies.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Cypriot Icon Auction II

La Parole Divine is holding another icon auction in Cyprus. Their last auction sparked some controversy. Questions arose concerning the provenance of the sole Cypriot icon in the sale. See As a result, it was ultimately donated to the Orthodox Church.

Apparently, no Cypriot icons will be auctioned in the current sale. However, questions about double standards remain given the Cypriot government's public stance [before the U.S. State Department at least] against the sale of cultural property without longstanding provenances.

Do the icons in this auction have longstanding published provenances? [The Internet version of the catalogue does not describe provenances.] Will cultural property watchdogs Gill and Barford get on the case? Or, will they let the matter go because the auctioneer apparently has good relations with Saving Antiquities for Everyone? See

Addendum: Mr. Barford has responded claiming his blog is not interested in icons:
But see Professor Gill has also touched upon the subject:

Blame the Foreigner

Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford reiterates Chinese propaganda in his latest post. See

Of course, in his anti-American world view, not just any foreigners, but specifically Americans are ultimately to blame for the looting of Chinese tombs, not the Chinese themselves or their corrupt government that parcels out "legitimate" sales of high-end antiquities to the connected few at the same time it imposes death sentences on poor farmers who turn to tomb raiding to feed their families.

I'm all for China encouraging its citizens to both respect ancient tombs and to collect redundant artifacts. But blaming foreigners for the problem of looting simply does not wash, particularly given China's own red hot internal market for antiquities.

Instead of blaming foreigners for the looting of Chinese tombs, Barford, his buddies at Saving Antiquities for Everyone and the Chinese press should instead focus their energies on the scandalous plans of a Chinese mining company to blow up an important early Buddhist site in Afghanistan. See

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Frome Hoard Funding Appeal

The Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) seeks donations to conserve the Frome Hoard and to keep this important treasure on public display in the county in which it was discovered. The find, made up of 52,503 Roman coins dating from the 3rd century AD, was unearthed tightly packed in a pot and is notable as the largest coin hoard to have been found in a single container. The hoard is also unusual because it includes 766 coins of Carausius, a British usurper, including several rare silver denarii.

David Crisp, a metal detectorist, promptly reported the hoard, which allowed archaeologists to properly excavate the pot and its contents. Because the coins were excavated by layer, experts were able to detect that most of the latest coins (those of Carausius) had lain over half-way down the pot. This led to the conclusion that the hoard was almost certainly buried in one event. The pot could not have held 160kg of metal without breaking. It therefore must have been buried in the ground before the coins were tipped in from smaller containers.

The Somerset County Council Heritage Service is seeking to raise 320,250 GBP to acquire the hoard. In addition, the British Museum is looking to raise another 100,000 GBP to properly conserve and research this important find.

The appeal to acquire the hoard is being co-ordinated by the Art Fund. See

Donations to clean and study the hoard may be made to the British Museum which has its American Friends organisation - Donors should indicate the preference that the funds be used for this purpose (though IRS regulations do not allow for formal earmarks).

For more about the hoard, see the PAS Blog:

Oral Argument Set in ACCG-IAPN-PNG FOIA Appeal

The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit will hear oral argument on the ACCG-IAPN-PNG FOIA appeal on January 24, 2011. The Appeals Court will determine the extent to which the Department of State may withhold information about the controversial decisions to impose import restrictions on Cypriot and Chinese coins from the public. For more, see

Monday, November 15, 2010

AIA Lobbies Congress on Omnibus Lands Bill

Archaeo-bloggers David Gill and Paul Barford have implied that the efforts of the small businesses of the numismatic trade, the American Numismatic Association and collectors to get a fair shake from the U.S. State Department with the help of our elected representatives is somehow wrong. How ironic then that the Archaeological Institute of America is now also touting its own lobbying efforts and that of related groups on a pending Omnibus Lands Bill. See

Is it wrong for the AIA to lobby? Who has subsidized the time and effort behind this campaign? Public and private Universities? Someone else? And what of the AIA's recent campaigns in support of MOU's with Italy and Greece? The AIA does not register with the authorities so there is no way for the public to know.

Numismatic Firm Cooperates with Bulgarian Investigation

Anti-collector, archaeo-bloggers Paul Barford and David Gill are hyping a story about an auction of medieval Bulgarian coins being stopped by the authorities. See

To help set the record straight, Eric McFadden, a director at the firm, has provided this information:

CNG's Electronic Auction No. 244, which closed on 10 November 2010, offered over 600 lots of coins, among which were 10 lots of medieval Bulgarian coins which had been consigned to CNG by a private collector. This auction was one of CNG's normal electronic auctions which CNG holds every two weeks with approximately 500-700 coins per auction.

On 5 November, CNG's London office received a faxed letter from the Bulgarian Embassy in London notifying CNG that "The Bulgarian authorities have reasons to believe" that one of the lots in the CNG auction was part of a collection reportedly stolen in Bulgaria in 2007, and requesting CNG to withdraw the Bulgarian coins from the auction in order to allow the Bulgarian authorities to further investigate the matter.

CNG replied the same day, informing the Bulgarian Embassy that CNG would withdraw all 10 lots of Bulgarian coins in the auction, would hold those coins in CNG's US office, and would turn the coins over to the rightful owner or the proper authorities if the coins are shown to have been stolen.

CNG takes very seriously any indication that coins in CNG's possession may be stolen and thanks the Bulgarian Embassy for bringing this information to CNG's attention. CNG now awaits further information from the Bulgarian authorities to establish the proper ownership of the coins.

Since 5 November, CNG has received no further communication from the Bulgarian authorities.

CNG should actually be commended for its cooperation with the Bulgarian investigation.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Funding Woes Prompt Strikes; Italy's Chief Archaeologist Retires

The BBC is reporting that Italian museum workers have gone on strike to protest austerity measures. See

It has also been reported that Stefano de Caro has retired as Director General of Antiquities.

Prof. de Caro acted as Italy's point man for discussions about a renewal of the US MOU with Italy.

It is unclear whether these budget woes impacted Prof. De Caro's decision to retire.

Farewell to LHS Numismatik AG

Coins Weekly is reporting that LHS Numismatik AG, one of the great Swiss numismatic firms, is facing liquidation. See

Just last year, Sylvia Hurter, one of the world's most prominent numismatists and a long time employee of the firm, passed away. See

Thankfully, LHS and its predecessor firm Leu, has left us with a long run of magnificent catalogues as a testament to the history of this fine firm.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Is this Due Diligence?

Self-appointed cultural property moralist Paul Barford and his friends at Saving Antiquities for Everyone are fond of flogging collectors for purchasing cultural property on eBay, for buying artifacts whose sole provenance is to "an old collection," and for not investigating the export laws of the source country for the artifacts one collects BEFORE buying. Yet, it now appears that Mr. Barford himself is guilty of all these same "sins" in forming his collection of antique Japanese woodblock prints. See

Mr. Barford has purchased his antique prints off eBay. He tells us at least one comes from an "old Cracow collection." And he is apparently so unclear about Japanese law that after being called on it, he has written the Japanese Embassy for clarification of its export rules. It will be interesting to find out precisely what Mr. Barford asked and whether he receives a definitive answer to his query.

Hopefully, Mr. Barford and his friends as SAFE will now think twice before again hurling similar accusations against collectors. As they say, people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Paul Barford, the Collector?

Paul Barford, a harsh critic of both collectors and outreach efforts like the PAS, is apparently a collector himself!

Another blog by someone named "Candice" recently revealed that information. There has been speculation whether "Candice" really exists, and whether it is appropriate for her to have a blog devoted entirely to Mr. Barford and his views. I personally think it's a bit over the top, but so too obviously is Mr. Barford's approach to the issues.

In any event, Barford has dismissed the claim his collecting of antique Japanese prints is hypocritical. He states his collecting is okay, because they are not typically archaeological artifacts, but is it as simple as that?

As I observed as a comment to Barford's collecting blog (which was posted immediately, presumably because he has not enabled a moderation feature):

Mr. Barford- This is an interesting area to collect in and I commend you for your efforts in that regard, but aren't any of these prints over 100 years old subject to the 1970 UNESCO Convention? If so, do you believe they should only be purchased if accompanied by an export permit from Japan or proof they left Japan as of 1970? I recognize you distinguish archaeological artifacts from other collectibles, but that distinction has not stopped groups like SAFE from demanding the repatriation of ethnological objects along with archaeological ones. Under the circumstances, isn’t Candice’s critique a reasonable one?

For more, see

It will be interesting to see if there is a response.

Addendum: Mr. Barford did respond with insults, but without addressing whether his collectible antique prints may be subject to export controls.

Here is how Washizuka Hiromitsu, a Japanese expert, characterized Japan’s laws at a Japan Society event:

WH: Thank you. Let me talk about protection of cultural property in Japan. In Japan, registration is undertaken under the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties. There are two categories under the law: one is “National Treasure” and the other is “Important Cultural Property.” Once the items are registered under one of these categories, exporting them is strictly prohibited. This is how we protect traditional Japanese cultural properties. However, this does not mean to preclude exceptions. For a significant international cultural exhibition such as this one, many National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties were brought here for the exhibition. In this case we are certain that these items will be returned to Japan. For these cases, where we are certain that the objects will be returned to Japan, the director of the Agency of Cultural Affairs will issue permits to export these items.

Dealers will handle other non-registered items. In that case, the certificate of audit for export is necessary. The certificate requires a photo to accompany each item so that customs officers can identify it. The application for the certificate with a photo must be submitted to the Agency of Cultural Affairs. The Agency then verifies whether or not the item in question is registered as an Important Cultural Property or National Treasure, or neither. If it is not registered under either of the two categories, the item is available for export. In the case that an application comes under consideration and the Agency for Cultural Affairs has not been aware of the existence of the object, and that object happens to be extremely important, the Agency is allowed three months to decide if it should be registered as an Important Cultural Property. It also can decide to purchase the item so that the item cannot be exported. This is the current situation.


Sorry, Mr. Barford, it seems to me that antique prints may potentially be subject to Japanese export controls. At best, the issue is unclear, and if so, isn’t the burden on Mr. Barford to prove the negative, under the same guilty until proven innocent standard he foists on others?

Monday, November 8, 2010

More on Pompeii Collapse

Here is an interesting blog about the Schola Armaturarum, the building that recently collapsed in Pompeii:

The blog provides more detail about the building and its history.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Members of Congress Weigh-In Against Import Restrictions on Ancient Coins

Twelve members of Congress have expressed concerns to Secretary of State Clinton regarding the imposition of import restrictions on ancient coins. See

Incoming Chair of the House Budget Committee, the Hon. Paul Ryan, took the lead on the bipartisan correspondence. The letter asks the Secretary to review recent decisions to extend import restrictions to ancient coins, which are inconsistent with Congressional intent that efforts to protect foreign archaeological sites do not impinge on the long-established trade of common place items, like ancient coins.

Voters have also sent a strong message against overregulation during the recent mid-term elections. The Obama State Department will hopefully heed the concerns of Congress and the voters as it processes the Italian and Greek MOUs and other requests for import restrictions on cultural goods.

Pompeii Collapse Brings Political Recriminations

The New York Times reports that the collapse of an ancient building in Pompeii has brought political recriminations against the Berlusconi Government. See

The fact is though that Italy's cultural establishment has been grossly underfunded for years and that cultural protection efforts have been hampered by an unresponsive bureaucracy, despite recent efforts at reform.

Hopefully, this event will help encourage more funding to shore up Pompeii and a redoubling of efforts to make the Italian cultural establishment more responsive to its primary mission of protecting Italy's unsurpassed cultural patrimony.

Friday, November 5, 2010

US Customs Official Seeks Increased Funding Based on Disputed Claims

I wrote the following story for Coins Weekly about a US Customs Official seeking increased funding based on disputed claims about the size of the illicit antiquities market and a supposed link with terrorism:

The Customs official made his claims before a friendly audience at a SAFE fundraiser. As noted previously, his participation in that event raises additional questions. See

Monday, November 1, 2010

Questions Finally Being Raised About Repatriating Jewish Archive to Iraq

This blog and that of PhDiva have previously raised questions about the wisdom of repatriating Jewish books to Iraq. It's good to know Jewish groups have also made such concerns known to the U.S. State Department. See,0,1866157.story

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Palestinian President Brokers Peace Deal Aimed at Shoring Up Christian Shrine

President Abbas has brokered a peace deal amongst Christian sects with rights to occupy the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. The truce will allow much needed repairs to take place at the 1500 year Christian shrine.
See Tense relations between and among the Catholic, Orthodox and Armenian guardians of the Church have hampered much needed repairs for years. The divisions of responsibility for the shrine date back at least to Ottoman times.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Interesting Treasure Find in London

The PAS has announced a find of U.S. Double Eagle Gold coins from Hackney, Greater London:

The composition of the find (U.S. Gold coins) and its late date (the last coin was minted in 1913) makes it quite unusual.

It does again also demonstrate that coins "travel."

AIA View of Proposed Greek MOU Hearing

The AIA has put its version of what happened at the CPAC hearing on the proposed Greek MOU on its website:

Not surprisingly, Prof. La Follette has emphasized different things. More disappointingly, La Follette has also glossed over some items that are significant. For example, nothing is said about the 70% of the public comments opposed to the MOU or its extension to coins or the fact that Greece allows its own coin collectors to import any unprovenanced ancient coins they want.

I've posted a link to my own summary on the AIA blog, but it has yet to appear.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Should Law Enforcement Accept Awards at a Fundraiser for an Archaeological Advocacy Group?

Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE), an archaeological advocacy group, is using awards to current and former federal law enforcement officials as a draw for its annual fundraiser. See DHS, FBI and DOJ employees can attend at a discounted rate only available to SAFE members.

SAFE's "Beacon Awards" honorees have or had enforcement authority relating to the import of cultural antiquities. Some might find this troubling. SAFE has in the past taken what many consider to be an extreme view as to what is "stolen" or illegally imported under U.S. law. SAFE also regularly conflates its version of morality and legality in its advocacy. Law enforcement should never do so when it enforces the law. In addition, government officials should avoid any appearance of bias or conflict of interest.

Would it be appropriate for a meat inspector to accept an award from PETA or an EPA official to accept an award from Greenpeace?

Wikileaks, Tariq Aziz, and Archaeological Amnesia

Archaeological bloggers are claiming that Wikileaks confirms that there was a link between illicit antiquities and the insurgency that US forces faced in Iraq. See

If so, the link remains tenuous. The search term "antiquities" comes up with only 16 hits in a universe of 391,000 documents. See And many of these have nothing at all to do with antiquities smuggling.

Meanwhile, in other news that will certainly be ignored by such blogs, Tariq Aziz, Saddam Hussein's point man in efforts to break international sanctions, has been sentenced to death. See

Part of this effort included enlisting Western archaeologists to violate such sanctions. See

There has yet to be a full investigation of this relationship between Saddam's regime and Western archaeologists. However, one wonders how much it colored reports of looting at the time.

Ironically, documents from the Baath Party archieve that are being repatriated to Iraq might have shed light on this issue, but it remains to be seen if those documents will actually be preserved and studied. See Perhaps someone needs to release their contents to Wikileaks too.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Europeans Oppose U.S. Import Restrictions on Ancient Coins

It's worth noting that not all opposition to import restrictions on ancient coins comes from U.S. coin collectors and small businesses that deal in historical coins. This ACCG prnewswire release reprinted as a CNBC news item explains:

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Open Up Our Treasure Chests

This editorial calling on India to liberalize its antiquated cultural patrimony laws is well worth reading:

Open up our treasure chests
Suresh Neotia, Hindustan Times
October 19, 2010
First Published: 21:53 IST(19/10/2010)
Last Updated: 21:56 IST(19/10/2010)

It is heartening to see that the Ministry of Culture, presided over by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and administered by Secretary Jawahar Sircar, is actively considering amending the 1972 Act on Antiquities. Few laws have borne such bitter fruit as the Indian Antiquities and Art Treasures Act of 1972, ushering in a Dark Age for the heritage it sought to protect. What prompted the then Government to enact this legislation was to prevent smuggling and help develop public interest in our heritage. The time has come honestly to appraise its effects.

The Act has destroyed legitimate domestic trade in antiquities, thereby making smuggling an attractive option. Its onerous provisions for registration (requires registering of objects more than 100 years old, 75 years in the case of textiles, with details of the purchaser, seller, price, origin of the piece along with photo documentation) and licensing have made antiquities a no-go area, to the extent that even scholarship and research into our heritage has gone into sharp decline. The chickens are now coming home to roost. The Government cannot find scholars of repute to head its museums and their specialised departments. More than 50 per cent of all our public museums (including the National Museum), home to the bulk of the nation’s artistic patrimony, are headless.

Art and art scholarship depend on patronage and a lively market place. It requires a network of collectors, dealers and scholars to authenticate individual pieces, guide collectors and educate the public. The Act destroyed this network, the complexities of registration and possibility of prosecution deterring collectors. No collection of any significance has been formed since 1972, in sharp contrast to the numerous collections between 1947 and 1972. The licensing of dealers and the requirement of a detailed inventory for each object drove the trade underground. I am told there are only two dealers who ever took a licence.

The study of antiquities also withered. The story of the two auction houses which attempted to revive domestic trade in Indian antiques is well-known. Sotheby’s in 1992 and Bowring’s in 2004 were auctioning registered pieces. The CBI and Archaeological Survey of India hounded them, forcing them to close shop. Bowring’s case is still under adjudication after it won in the High Court but the ASI chose to file an appeal in the Supreme Court.

The Antiquities Act was flawed in its scope and ambition. No distinction is made between humble art objects and works of art of high value. In the event, only a small proportion of the total was actually registered. The registration papers are scattered all over the country, often misplaced, requiring owners to re-register their collections.

The Indian contemporary art scene is fuelled by the new rich. Galleries, curators and auctions have mushroomed while prices have been benchmarked. The trading value of contemporary art runs into thousands of crores. There is, however, no means of evaluating the price of an Indian antique.

China, which destroyed its own priceless heritage during Mao’s Cultural Revolution, has realised the importance of its inheritance. We, who are envious of its economic track record, should be equally so of what it is doing to protect its heritage. Its museums are now world-class. Though it has a ban on antique exports, China has opened up its domestic market. Chinese antiques are being sold to China’s new rich at prices higher than in Western salerooms. Foreigners owning valuable Chinese artworks are increasingly selling these through Chinese auction houses. India’s new rich, like their Chinese counterparts, have the appetite and resources to buy heritage art. My estimate is that benchmark valuations will grow exponentially once the competitive urge to acquire takes hold of rich Indians.

The Indian Antiquities and Art Treasures Act was passed during the heyday of the licence raj, an era brought to its end by none other than Dr. Manmohan Singh. It would be in the fitness of things if he could now free antiquities from the clutches of the bureaucracy with similar beneficial effects. Antiquities must once again become objects to cherish, not shun.

Suresh Neotia is Chairman, Ambuja Cement Foundation and art collector. The views expressed by the author are personal

Nicaraguan MOU Extended

The United States MOU with Nicaragua has been extended for another five years. See

Despite an indication that the State Department was considering an expansion of import restrictions into other areas (possibly religious art), that does not appear to have happened.

During the CPAC hearing on this renewal, the AAMD's counsel argued against such an expansion of the designated list, particularly because the State Department had not provided the public with adequate notice of what was contemplated. See

We'll have to wait for the renewed MOU to be posted to see if any of the AAMD's other suggestions made it into the document.

Addendum: The revised MOU can now be found here:

The 2005 version of Art. II can be found here:

It does not appear to have tightened any requirements of Art. II, and, if anything, seems to have loosened them a bit.

The AAMD and others have noticed the following pattern emerge. Source countries make promises to secure a MOU. They don't get around to implementing them. Five years later, the MOU is renewed anyway. Five years more pass. They still haven't implemented their promises, but rather than scaling back the MOU or dropping it all together, State agrees to loosen the requirements of Art. II.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Unexplained Destruction of Cambodian Archaeological Site Raises Questions of Corruption

Cambodia is supposed to address questions of corruption as part of its MOU with the United States. See MOU Art. II F available at

One wonders how seriously Cambodia takes that obligation given the unexplained destruction of this archaeological site:

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Oversized Greek Cultural Delegation Attends DC CPAC Hearing as Rank and File Riots for Back Pay on Acropolis in Athens

At last week's CPAC meeting on the Greek MOU, I was struck by Greece's oversized delegation. If memory serves, there may have been as many as 11 officials present. I can only assume at least some flew in from Athens for the occassion. In contrast, most countries find a way to make do with far fewer officials. For example, Italy sent 3 officials to the recent CPAC meetings on the renewal of its MOU, one from the Culture Ministry and two from the Embassy. Smaller countries often typically manage just fine with one Embassy official.

Meanwhile, as the large Greek delegation was hobnobbing with CPAC and State Department officialdom, back in Athens, low ranking Greek culture ministry employees were rioting at the Acropolis because they had not been paid. See:

What gives? Doesn't such excess just confirm the worst about the bloated Greek cultural establishment? While no one said it openly last week (but they did in written submissions), it is common knowledge Greece's cultural establishment was a mess even before Greece's economic meltdown. See

Here is the ultimate question: Should the US help prop up the status quo in Greece, particularly when over 70% of the public comments to the proposed MOU are opposed? I think not. Greece needs to drastically reform its own cultural bureaucracy first, and get away from the over regulation that just ensures there is one rule for insiders and another for the common Joe. As was suggested during the hearing, at a minimum the Greek cultural bureaucracy should at least be held to actually following Greek law, which includes at least some protections for collectors and finders.

Friday, October 15, 2010

CPAC Hearing on the Proposed Greek MOU

On October 12, 2010, the United States Cultural Advisory Committee (“CPAC”) conducted a public hearing to discuss a proposed Memorandum of Understanding (“MOU”) with the Hellenic Republic.

Despite the importance of the hearing, only six (6) CPAC members attended: Reid (Chair, museum representative); Holladay (public representative); O’Brien (public representative); Korver (trade representative); Connelly (archaeological representative); and Wilkie (archaeological representative).

There was a large Greek delegation present, led by the Deputy Chief of Mission, Ioannis Vrailas. A representative of the Alpha Bank (which maintains a large coin collection) was also present.

Ten speakers spoke in favor of the proposed MOU. Eight speakers expressed reservations about the MOU or the extension of import restrictions to coins.

Chairwoman Reid allowed Mr. Vrailas to address the Committee first. He took the opportunity to read the “public summary” found on the State Department website into the record. Generally speaking, this recounted Greek history down to the 18th c., Greek cultural laws and looting in Greece. He did, however, indicate that Greece only seeks restrictions on artifacts that are “exclusively found on Greek territory.” He also claimed that 61% of seizures were of coins. (This makes sense since coins are so numerous.)

A representative of the Greek cultural establishment then spoke. In possible contradiction to Mr. Vralis, she indicated that Greece seeks restrictions on all unprovenanced artifacts. She justified this request on the basis that context once lost is lost to all future generations.

Proponents of the MOU then spoke. James Wright of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens indicated that there is current looting in Greece, particularly in remote areas. Wright passed around some pictures of looted tombs and then discussed grave robbing by well known locals. He indicated that tomb robbers typically destroy less valuable artifacts along with the context. In response to a question by CPAC member Joan Connelly (archaeology), Wright indicated that coins are subject to looting and that 3 Frankish coins that were found had an important story to tell about a settlement. Wright also maintained that coins struck in Greece did not circulate outside of Greece. CPAC Member Robert O’Brien (public) asked Wright about Greek police enforcement activities. Wright indicated that Greek police are vigilant in such matters. Robert Korver (trade) asked Wright about the use of metal detectors. Wright indicated that he had no personal experience with them, but that it is evident that they are used to look for coins.

Laetitia La Follette is an art history professor at the University of Massachusetts. She also spoke during the Italian MOU hearing. She indicated that looters steal from tombs and destroy what they do not want to sell. She also reiterated the Greek statistic that 61% of recovered artifacts are coins. She believes that museums should pursue long term loans.

Jessica Nitske teaches at Georgetown University. She believe that long term loans are a better solution than purchasing antiquities that lack a provenance and might be fake. She believes the art market fosters the destruction of both artifacts and context.

Elsie Friedland teaches classics at George Washington University. She reiterated her testimony from the Italian MOU hearing last May. She believes students are more interested in ancient art when they can also learn about its context.

Senta German teaches at Montclair State. She supports the MOU and its extension to coins. She is concerned about the loss of context and the fact that the US is a major market for Greek antiquities. She believes that our nation’s founding fathers appreciation for Greek culture argues for supporting this MOU.

Richard Leventhal teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and is a curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Prof. Leventhal reiterated many of the same comments he made during the Italian MOU hearing. He is opposed to licit markets in antiquities. He does not believe in the concept of duplicates because each object is unique. Catherine Reid (CPAC Chair, museum) asked Leventhal about the effect of Penn’s adoption of 1970 provenance rules. Leventhal believes such rules provided the groundwork for the AAMD’s recent adoption of similar rules. He did concede that few new artifacts have come to the museum since the adoption of these rules. What has been accessioned has been only accessioned after a rigorous review process.

Sebastian Heath is a VP for Ethics at the AIA. He is a strong supporter of the proposed MOU and its extension to coins. He discussed the recent seizure of two statues of youths in Greece. He also recounted the repatriation of a rare EID MAR denarius struck by Brutus, purportedly in Greece as a reason the MOU should be adopted. CPAC member Connelly (archaeology) asked Heath about bronze coins. He indicated these did not circulate. CPAC member Korver (trade) asked Heath about whether restrictions should apply to a Roman coin found in Greece. Heath answered in the affirmative. Heath believes that a common Roman coin found in context is equally valuable to a Brutus Denarius found in context.

Arthur Houghton, identied as representing the Cultural Policy Research Institute, indicated that the MOU as proposed is devoid of specifics. He advocates sending back the request to define what is Greek and to coordinate this with other countries.

Brian Rose is the AIA’s president and is a professor and curator at the University of Pennsylvania Museum. Rose indicated that the AIA has had a long relationship with Greece. He believes the MOU will help preserve context in Greece. He also supports an extension of import restrictions on coins. CPAC Chair Reid (museum) asked if Rose regretted the Penn Museum’s past collecting practices. Rose responded that virtually all the artifacts in the Penn Museum are the products of partage. Penn is working to digitize artifacts from digs it participated in along with those still left in source countries. CPAC member O’Brien (public) asked Rose if he would consider repatriating partage objects given the fact that it is often alleged that they are part of colonial practices. Rose responded that the Kingdom of Iraq gave Penn its first excavation permit after independence from the Ottomans. He further indicated that no country has asked for its partage artifacts back as yet, but the matter will be considered on a case by case basis if raised. Rose then agreed with trade representative Korver’s comment that what we know about coins is the product of a close collaboration between numismatists and archaeologists. When asked by Korver about why a schism between numismatists and archaeologist now exists, Rose disagreed that there is such a schism.

Susan Alcock is an archaeologist associated with Brown University. Her major work has been in Greece and Armenia. Her specialty is the “systematic pedestrian survey,” that is “field walking” with an eye to trying to understand archaeology from an examination of surface finds. She indicated that the MOU would hopefully foster ecological tourism in Greece.

Thomas Kline is an attorney and professor at George Washington University. [He has also served as legal counsel for the Republic of Cyprus]. He hopes more MOU’s are entered into as that will regularize trade to encompass “best practices.” He thinks if an MOU with Greece is entered long term loans will follow. Nancy Wilkie (archaeology) asked Kline about the benefits of MOU’s. Kline believes that they will force collectors and dealers to follow best practices.

Patty Gerstenblith of DePaul University and the Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation focused her presentation on the concerted international response requirement. She indicated that a letter in the record from the Bavarian Economics Ministry is irrelevant because Bavaria is merely a transit point for artifacts, including coins. She also stated that the “first discovery” requirement is implicit in any designated list, in that an artifact must be found in a country for which restrictions are granted rather than produced there. She also indicated as more MOU’s are entered into, the first discovery issue will disappear. CPAC member Korver (trade) took issue with Prof. Gerstenblith’s contention that Germany is merely a transit point for coins. Korver also asked Gerstenblith about the “first discovery” requirement. She acknowledged that the place of modern discovery is the country of origin for purposes of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”). Under this scenario, the late Roman coin Sebastian Heath discussed found in Greece should have a country of origin of Greece.

Larry Feinberg of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art spoke next on behalf of the AAMD. He expressed doubt about the breadth of the request and Greece’s ability to care for its own cultural property given its current economic crisis. He suggested the burden should be on Greece to show artifacts were found in Greece before Customs seizes them. CPAC member Connelly (archaeology) referred to an editorial by former AAMD President Maxwell Anderson in which he stated that museums should move beyond issues of ownership to stewardship. Feinberg indicated he did not disagree with Anderson, but that he thought long term loans were preferable to short term ones for financial reasons. CPAC Chair Reid (museum) asked Feinberg about a contention in the AAMD’s papers that Greece ignored requests for loans of objects. Feinberg indicated he would poll the membership. Reid indicated a similar poll was promised for Italy, but never received.

Josh Knerly spoke next on behalf of the AAMD. He suggested that CPAC take a go slow approach on this MOU. The nature of the request needs much better definition. It is impossible for the public to comment intelligently on the request without it. He suggested that another hearing be held at a later date once more information is received. There is a great problem with identifying whether an artifact from the Greek world comes from Greece or not, which must be addressed. Mr. Knerly promised Chairman Reid that information would be provided with regard to loan requests made of Italy.

Anthony Milavic, a Greek coin collector, spoke next. He described how an open market for ancient coins is necessary for his research into depictions of Greek sporting events on coins. He also described his personal effort to spread the knowledge he has obtained from such coins, including the preparation of articles and the making of presentations at a wide variety of venues.

Dr. Scott Rottinghaus spoke on behalf of the American Numismatic Association and its 28,000 members. He indicated that the ANA is opposed to import restrictions on coins because they would negatively impact people to people contacts and the ANA’s educational mission. Further in this regard, he noted that import restrictions could have a devastating effect on foreign collectors and dealers attending the ANA’s conventions and that donations of coins to the ANA museum could also suffer over time. In response to a comment by CPAC member Wilkie (archaeology), that restrictions were only prospective, Dr. Rottinghaus indicated his agreement, but that over time restrictions would still impact the ANA ‘s and its members’ ability to procure coins.

Dr. Rottinghaus also read into the record a statement from the past president of the Hellenic Numismatic Society, Anastasios P. Tzamalis. Mr. Tzamalis stated,
“My opinion is that coins should certainly not be included in “cultural objects”. They were, in a way, mass-produced: many copies (often thousands) from the same dies, and cannot therefore be considered unique as another work of art would be. Apart from this, I feel they are wonderful ambassadors for Greece and should be allowed to continue doing their good work.“

Wayne Sayles spoke next on behalf of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild. Given the lateness of the hour, he departed from his prepared remarks to make a few points. First, he indicated that the ACCG supports the CPIA, but believes that its protections for collectors are not being applied. Second, he expressed surprise that Brian Rose did not understand that a schism has developed between archaeologists and numismatists. Mr. Sayles also acknowledged the opposition of the past president of the Hellenic Numismatic Society to import restrictions and complimented the representative of the Alpha Bank on the comprehensiveness of its own ancient coin collection.

Rick Witschonke spoke next on his own behalf. Like he did at the Italian MOU hearing, he suggested that Greece adopt a program similar to the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in Britain and Wales. He noted that Greek law already had provisions that provided for rewards and the returns of insignificant items to finders, but that the Greek cultural bureaucracy had failed to apply them. He suggested that consideration of the MOU be tabled until such time that Greece complied with its own laws on this point.

Peter Tompa spoke next on behalf of the International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild. Though he has done so for over ten years, he was not allowed to pass around examples of ancient Greek coinage and contemporary copies, “on advice of [State Department] counsel." See

He first mentioned the 70% of the public comment posted on the website either opposed the MOU or to its extension to coins. He then indicated that coin collecting remained the “hobby of kings” in Greece as it once was elsewhere. He noted that those few allowed to collect can collect pretty much any unprovenanced coin they want. He gave two rare unprovenanced Athenian Decadrachma in the Greek National Coin collection and the Alpha Bank as examples. He then asked rhetorically if any Greek request for import restrictions on coins should be considered hypocritical. He indicated that a letter from the Bavarian Minister of Economy in the record about extensive trade in Germany means the CPIA’s concerted international response requirement cannot be met. He also noted that a study of coin finds demonstrates that of the 350,000,000 or more ancient Greek coins extant, some 18% are coins struck in Greece, but which are found elsewhere. He asked CPAC not to help make coin collecting the “hobby of kings” once more by approving hard to comply with regulation. Tompa also indicated that the dealer that purchased the Brutus coin in the UK had its money returned, indicating its good faith. CPAC member Connelly (archaeology) asked about an artifact’s cultural significance. Tompa indicated that cultural significance was not the same thing as archaeological significance under the CPIA. He also indicated the legislative history strongly suggested that objects that exist in multiples cannot be culturally significant under the statute. There was also some discussion between Prof. Connelly and Tompa about the circulation of bronze coins. Connelly maintained they did not circulate. Tompa reminded Prof. Connelly about a Cypriot bronze coin that was introduced at the Cyprus hearing that was bought at a tourist stall in Petra, Jordan. There was some disagreement about its significance. Tompa's prepared statement can be found here:

Michael McCullough, an attorney who practices customs law, spoke last. He first questioned whether the art market is contributing to looting in Greece. He then explained that US Customs has difficulty understanding that the country of origin of an antiquity under the CPIA is the modern find spot, not the country of manufacture. He also indicated that Customs typically will only allow import of artifacts pictured in auction catalogues or for which bills of sale are provided that show the artifact was out of its country of manufacture before the date of restrictions. He noted this is also contrary to the CPIA, which allows this information to be conveyed by certification.

Under the governing law, CPAC is required to recommend whether to enter into a MOU with Greece, and, if so, what types of artifacts should be subject to import restrictions. At this juncture, Greece's request remains a proposal and not a "done deal" as some suggested in their comments.