Monday, June 28, 2010

The Realities on the Ground in China

USA Today has this interesting article about tomb robbing in China. See The article belies the claim made by the archaeological community during hearings on the Chinese MOU that most artifacts from looted tombs leave the country. Although the article takes a dim view of collecting, it does nonetheless also acknowledge that it is now a popular pastime in China. If anything, it will become more popular in the future. Mao forbid collecting and his student mobs destroyed many historical artifacts during the Cultural Revolution, but China's present rulers seem to want to encourage the links collecting engenders between the Chinese people and their glorious past.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Are the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center Above the Law?

Ann Stock was confirmed this week as Assistant Secretary for the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. One would hope that she takes President Obama's promises of government transparency and accountability seriously, particularly after being queried about it during her confirmation hearings. If so, I do also hope she reviews the long awaited (127 days) response to the ACCG's complaint in the Customs test case. That case was only filed after Customs sat on the coins of Cypriot and Chinese type it seized from the ACCG for almost a year.

In its response, the government argues that the complaint should be dismissed because the State Department's controversial decisions to impose import restrictions on Cypriot and Chinese coins are unreviewable as a foreign policy matter [even though a trade restriction is being litigated].

The brief is silent as to why Customs and State failed instead to make good use of the additional time allowed to respond to the Complaint to file a forfeiture action as mandated by the CPIA.

ACCG will respond to Customs' and State's motion to dismiss within the time allotted. Then, the issue will be one for the Court to decide.

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Kuwait Museum's Missing Treasures

The Guardian Newspaper recently carried this interesting article about artifacts missing from Kuwait's national museum. See The looting of the Iraq Museum in the aftermath of the 2003 American invasion became a cause celebre for the archaeological community. In contrast, the looting of Kuwait's museum in the aftermath of Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of that country has been largely ignored, even though valuable pieces remain missing two decades later.

Ironically, some of the artifacts ended up on display in the Iraq Museum, before they were ultimately returned under pressure before the Second Gulf War. As far as I know, there has been nothing published about whether Saddam's regime involved Iraq Museum personnel in transferring artifacts there for "safekeeping."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Ann Stock Confirmed to Head ECA

The Washington Post reports that Ann Stock has been confirmed as Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Hopefully, one of her first orders of business will be to restore transparency and accountability at the Bureau's Cultural Heritage Center and ensure the bureaucracy's fidelity to both the words and the spirit of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. See and Stock will presumably be the decision maker for the pending renewal of the State Department's MOU with Italy. See Hopefully, she will heed the views of the 2000 or so coin collectors who expressed concern that the renewal might be used to extend new restrictions to coins.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

ABA Panel Discussion on Protecting Cultural Property in Wartime

On November 3, 2010, the ABA's Art and Cultural Heritage law section will sponsor a panel discussion on protecting cultural property in the event of armed conflict at the ABA's International Law Section Fall Meeting in Paris.

Panel members include Irina Bokova (invited) , UNESCO's chief, Karl von Hapsburg of the Blue Shield, Hays Parks of the US Department of Defense (invited) and Jiri Toman from Santa Clara University.

Patty Gerstenblith of DePaul University will serve as panel chair.

Interestingly, Karl von Hapsburg is also the grandson of his namesake Karl, the last Austro-Hungarian Emperor, who is on track to become a Saint of the Roman Catholic Church. Karl, like his father, Otto, has been very prominent in EU affairs. Otto gave up his claims to the crown in 1961 so that he could return to his native Austria. See and

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

German Court Returns Collection

Coins Weekly has this interesting story about a German administrative court ordering the return of low value collectors' coins despite government claims the collection was "stolen." See The collector was also awarded costs,. but these likely did not compensate him for the heartache he suffered. At least, the German court put the breaks on apparent government overreaching. One wonders what happened to the other collectors who were also being investigated due to their eBay purchases, though.

Revised ACCG Code of Ethics

The ACCG has revised its code of ethics. For more, see

CPAC Hearings on Nicaragua and Bolivia

Today's Federal Register indicates CPAC will hold a public meeting to consider whether the current MOU with Nicaragua will be extended. See and CPAC will also conduct a closed interim review of the MOU with Bolivia during the same meeting.

The notice also indicates that "possible additional restrictions on certain ethnological material" will be considered in the context of the Nicaraguan renewal, but provides no further detail.

This is actually an improvement over prior practice. Just in May, coin collectors and representatives of the numismatic trade appeared in force at a CPAC meeting on Italy because they were unsure whether new restrictions on coins would be considered in the context of that renewal hearing. Whether Italy has actually formally requested new import restrictions on coins remains a mystery.

In 2007, the first public notice of Cyprus' request to extend import restrictions to coins in the context of a renewal came at the public session of CPAC itself.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Connecticut Senator Sides with Peru Against Yale

Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut has issued a statement that appears to support Peru's claims against Yale regarding disputed artifacts from Machu Picchu. See

Oddly though, the story also quotes Dodd as saying, "The Machu Picchu artifacts do not belong to any government, to any institution, or to any university.... They belong to the people of Peru. I plan to work with both parties to resolve this dispute quickly, amicably, and return the artifacts to their rightful owners." (emphasis added.)

One thus wonders who Dodd thinks should hold the artifacts on behalf of the people of Peru, if not its government.

Dodd's statements also need to be put in some context. Artdaily fails to mention it, but Dodd has been a consistent supporter of left-wing causes in Latin America throughout his career. See Under the circumstances, he is likely not approaching this particular issue as some neutral mediator.

One also must wonder whether Yale really cares all that much what Dodd thinks at this point. Dodd decided to retire from the Senate earlier this year rather than face the wrath of irate voters angry that he had received special treatment from a mortgage company that fell within the oversight of the Senate Banking Committee, which he chairs. See It certainly has not helped Dodd's political legacy that the company in question-- Countrywide-- helped spark the nation's sub-prime mortgage crisis. And, then, Dodd got into further political trouble when he was accused of helping to preserve the bonuses of executives of insurance giant AIG, which had just received a huge federal bailout.

Ironically, Hiram Bingham, who brought the artifacts to Yale in the first place, also once represented Connecticut as a U.S. Senator. See And, as his biography notes, like Dodd, Bingham also left the Senate under somewhat of a cloud.

D.C. Circuit Allows Appeal to Go Forward and Welcomes Participation of Former CPAC Members

The DC Circuit has denied the government's motion for summary affirmance of Judge Leon's ruling in the Freedom of Information Act case brought against the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs ("ECA") by numismatic groups.

The Court also granted a motion by certain former members of the President's Cultural Property Advisory Committee to participate in the appeal in support of more transparency in the State Department's handling of import restrictions requests.

The State Department had claimed that the views of former CPAC members were "irrelevant" to the issues.

One wonders why President Obama's promises of government transparency and accountability have yet to sink into the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center.

Will Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy Judith McHale, President Obama's political appointee, take notice? Will Ann Stock, nominee to head ECA, take stock of the situation at the Cultural Heritage Center once she is confirmed to her post? One hopes so.

The DC Circuit is expected to issue a briefing schedule for the appeal shortly.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Organizers of Cypriot Icon Auction Donate Cypriot Icon to Orthodox Church

The organizers of the first-ever auction in Cyprus of icons have donated the sole Cypriot icon in the auction to the Orthodox Church of Cyprus. See

The icon in question depicted Saint Mamas. Saint Mamas is the patron saint of Turkish-occupied Morphou. I assume that at least suggests the possibility that the icon originated from this town. The article does not state whether there is any suspicion it may have been looted when Turkish troops invaded the Island, but one wonders whether that possibility factored into the auction house's decision to donate the icon to the Orthodox Church.

As I indicated in my original blog post about this auction, I am happy Cyprus is allowing sales of antique icons on the Island, but I do question whether the auction organizers were afforded some special treatment.

For another Cyprus Mail article on the auction and some of the controversy surrounding it, see

Oddly, the usual Internet critics of the trade in cultural property have stayed strangely quiet, and, indeed, one of the harshest wrote an as usual off-point critique of my original post rather than a critique of the auction itself. See

One wonders if this may have to do with the fact that the auction's organizer seems to have good relations with Saving Antiquities for Everyone.
See (post attributed to auction organizer who was instrumental in the return of other icons associated with Morphou to the Orthodox Church).

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Repatriation Agreements Fail to Buy Peace

The New York Times has reported that an Italian prosecutor is considering charges against the curator of Princeton University's antiquities collection. See

In the article, Hugh Eakin states,

As the museums have relinquished dozens of artworks that Italy claims were looted, receiving loans of other objects in exchange, officials on both sides have talked about a new era of collaboration.

But now an Italian investigation of a second American museum curator, in a case involving similar allegations of criminal conspiracy, seems likely to upend assumptions about any rapprochement. According to a 14-page legal notice from the public prosecutor’s office in Rome, J. Michael Padgett, 56, antiquities curator at the Princeton University Museum of Art, is a focus of a criminal investigation of “the illegal export and laundering” of Italian archaeological objects. Once again an American may be facing a drawn-out legal ordeal, and at least the hypothetical threat of incarceration in a foreign country, for acquiring art for a museum — something that was unheard of before the Getty case, and that many museum professionals believed was not going to happen again.

One wonders if the Italian Cultural Ministry was consulted about this issue, particularly because news of the investigation coincides with efforts to negotiate a renewal of the current MOU on antiquities with Italy. Museums had generally supported the renewal with some modifications to ensure that long-term loans would be available to all, but one suspects this news may prompt at least some of them to have second thoughts.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Judea and Rome in Coins: International Conference Demonstrates Cooperation Between Numismatic Trade and Scholars

Archaeological purists will no doubt be horrified, but its nice to see this example of collaboration between a well-known numismatic firm and scholars to further the study of numismatics.

An International Conference
13 & 14 September 2010

A two-day conference with the theme Judaea and Rome in Coins, 65 BCE to 135 AD, will be held at the premises of Spink and Son Ltd. in London on Monday 13th and Tuesday 14th September 2010.

This event, co-ordinated by David Jacobson, Nikos Kokkinos and Philip Skingley and co-sponsored by the Institute of Jewish Studies at University College London (UCL), follows two previous London conferences (The World of the Herods and Nabataeans in 2001 and Herod and Augustus in 2005), which were successful events and have become reference points.

The period covered spans the Roman conquest of Judaea by Pompey through to the last major Jewish uprising against Roman rule under Simon Bar-Kokhba, and encompasses the birth of Christianity. The past few decades have seen considerable advances in numismatic scholarship dealing with this period, partly stimulated by archaeological exploration and numerous coin finds, which have shed new light on the historical events and associated political, social and economic issues. We should like to use this conference to exchange views and analyse the fresh developments from new perspectives.

Well-known experts in the fields of Roman and Jewish numismatics will be delivering lectures in four sessions over two days, these are: Michel Amandry, Rachel Barkay, Andrew Burnett, Kevin Butcher, Ted Buttrey, Kenneth Lonnqvist, Sam Moorehead, Danny Syon and Boaz Hospitality in the form of buffet lunches and refreshments will be provided. The Conference Proceedings will be published.

A small related exhibition will be on display in the Spink showrooms for the duration of the Conference and a visit to the British Museum is scheduled where a further related exhibition is planned.

The cost of participation for the four sessions is £80 or £50 for full-time students.

To register your interest in this event please contact Philip Skingley at Spink and Son Ltd., 69 Southampton Row, Bloomsbury, London WC1B 4ET. Tel. +44 207 563 4045 / Fax. +44 207 563 4068 or email:

Due to limitations of capacity it is important to register your intention to attend early. A 25% deposit payable now will secure a place on a first-come first-served basis.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Italian-Greek MOU in the Offing

The website of the Hellenic Society for Law and Archaeology reports that Italy and Greece plan to sign a bilateral cultural agreement soon. See

As the website states,

Greece and Italy plan to sign a bilateral cultural agreement in the near future. This was announced after the visit of the Greek Minster of Culture Mr. Pavlos Geroulanos to Italy last week. The agreement will cover issues such as the promotion of the historic cultural heritage as well as the contemporary art. A further issue under discussion was the closer cooperation among the mediatrenian [sic] countries and the application of new technologies in the field of culture. Relevant article by Greek Newspaper “Kathimerini” (in Greek):

One wonders if the agreement will include any provisions relating to the enforcement of export controls or whether current EU regulations are considered sufficient.

One also wonders about the impact of the Greek financial meltdown and Italy's own budget woes. Presumably, anything other than an aspirational agreement will be difficult to finance given economic realities.

It would be interesting if the private sector could be tapped to participate in such cultural exchanges, but that may mean collectors might also have to be allowed into the mix!