Thursday, September 30, 2010

Late SAFE Petition Drive Highlights Weak Public Response for Proposed Greek MOU

The State Department ran another all too quick comment period for the proposed Greek MOU. Coin collectors and dealers followed the State Department's directions for public comments. It was the all too usual scramble but it looks like some 70% of the public comments on the website were from coin collectors worried about the impact of an MOU on their hobby or coin dealers worried about the impact of the MOU on their small businesses. See

The folks at Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) must be displeased with this result, and what it says about the nature of the support for the proposed MOU. See

What to do then? Well, if you don't like the result, change the rules! And it appears SAFE plans to try to do just that with an on-line petition, which SAFE will no doubt seek to submit to CPAC as "proof" of the actual wide-ranging support for the Greek MOU that SAFE members are certain exits, though it may be hard to find. For more about the petition, see

There are, of course, a few problems with this approach. First, the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs was quite clear about how and when public comments would be accepted. Everyone was working under the same time constraints as well as those imposed by the somewhat cumbersome website. If anything, the fact that the comments are available for all to see probably scared off some critics of the MOU and encouraged others who excavate in Greece to comment, even if they were actually lukewarm about the proposal. Second, there is no way to verify if the signatories to this petition are real people. Typical petitions used for official purposes require one to include an address or at least a town of residence. I'm not suggesting that SAFE is manufacturing names, but it is also true that there is no verifiable personal information on the face of their on-line petition. Finally, I note some petition signatories have also commented via the website, raising the issue of multiple "votes" for the MOU.

All in all, I would suggest this petition just highlights the proponents' weak response during the sanctioned comment period. SAFE would be well advised not to try to introduce this petition as "evidence" during the upcoming CPAC meeting, but if it does, I'm sure there will be objections, and for good reason.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Briefing on Test Case Available

The ACCG has posted the legal briefing on the Government's Motion to Dismiss in the ACCG Customs Test case here:

It's worth noting that during the seventeen (17) months or so that the Government has tarried in filing a mandated forfeiture action against Plaintiff's coins, the Defendant U.S. Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has nonetheless found the time to fast track two important MOU's -- a renewal of a current MOU with Italy and an entirely new one with Greece.

If anything, all this makes judicial review of Defendants' decision making all the more important.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Interesting Analysis of Public Comments on the Proposed Greek MOU

John Hooker has written an interesting analysis of the public comments on the proposed Greek MOU:

I also wonder how many of those who supported the MOU would think differently if they knew that US Customs and the State Department have taken the position that the Cypriot and Chinese MOU's cover anything "from Cyprus" or "from China" apparently on the theory they could also be "first discovered" there (even though they could also have been discovered elsewhere).

I suppose that depends on whether the individual is solely interested in protecting Greek contexts or they instead believe import restrictions are a good way to take unprovenanced artifacts off the market.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Your Tax Dollars at Work

It was the diplomatic version of the gift you politely receive, but since you already have more than one, you just end up throwing it into the closet until someone asks about it: Some 600 artifacts repatriated by the US to Iraq have been found with kitchen supplies in the offices of Iraq's Prime Minister after questions arose concerning their whereabouts. See

In other news, it was reported that cuneiform tablets that had been seized from a shipment from Syria, but which had been attributed to Iraq before being damaged in the 9/11 Terrorist attack, have been restored at the cost of $100,000 before also being repatriated. See

All this is part of a larger effort to fix Iraqi archaeology that has cost the State Department and its Cultural Heritage Center at least $13 million to date. See

But has all this taxpayer money been well spent? And isn't it finally time to let the Iraqis themselves take responsibility for funding their own archaeological establishment?

Perhaps, some might fear the treatment the Iraqi Prime Minister's office afforded the repatriated artifacts suggests the Iraqi political establishment cares less about them than does our own State Department and academics, but if so, shouldn't these concerns be taken directly to the Iraqis themselves rather than just throwing more U.S. taxpayer money at the problem?

Saturday, September 25, 2010

FOIA Briefing Focuses on Presumptions

The ACCG, IAPN and PNG have filed their initial brief in the FOIA matter pending before the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Significantly, certain former CPAC members filed their own friend of the court brief in support of the appeal. Hopefully, all this will prompt the leadership of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA) to reexamine its policy of treating even CPAC reports (which are supposed to be produced to Congress) as secret, no matter what the Court ultimately decides.

The appellants and the amici argue that more transparency is necessary so the public will have access to information that will allow them to comment more intelligently about State Party requests for import restrictions. There also is the issue of a level playing field. Information ECA treats as secret appears to be readily shared with proponents of restrictions from the archaeological community, either through their contacts with cultural authorities abroad or with ECA personnel.

Ironies abound in all this. ECA argues its decisions treating Cypriot and Chinese artifacts as presumptive Cypriot and Chinese state property should be treated as presumptively secret themselves. At the same time, ECA has set up a new public comment process that ensures that private individuals views are available for all to see.

For more as well as copies of the appellants' and the amici's briefs, see:

Friday, September 24, 2010

"Coiney" Win in Comment Quest Exposes Greek MOU as Limited Special Interest Program

The website has recorded 1347 public comments on the Greek MOU. Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford reckons that coin collectors and dealers (or "coineys" as he prefers to call them) were responsible for the clear majority of this number.

Based on Barford's estimates and a quick look at the submissions on the last day for comments, it looks like coin collectors and dealers achieved numbers close to the 1100 who commented on the Cyprus MOU back in 2007. See

Though this number falls short of the 1900 or so who commented back in May on the Italian MOU, I suppose "comment fatigue" and the somewhat cumbersome nature of the website (at least compared to the ACCG Fax Wizard) might have something to do with it. In addition, it is quite possible that the fact that one's comments are posted on-line for all to see might have discouraged some.

Perhaps more significant is the fact that so few individuals commented in favor of the MOU. The AIA claims 200,000 members (from subscriptions to their Magazine). Yet, only 400 or so wrote in support of the AIA's appeal. Of those, many excavate in Greece. And it appears many of these individual only decided to comment after a direct appeal from the Greek Embassy. See

Given these small numbers and the fact that some of the proponents might have felt compelled on some level to comment, one can only question the claim that "the proposed MoU will benefit the Greek nation, the American public, as well as citizens of all countries who value knowledge about the past." See

Rather, the broad proposal as made in the Federal Register Notice for import restrictions on everything and anything "Greek" from Neolithic times to the 18th Century should now be seen for what it is: a State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs special interest program for archaeologists that excavate in Greece and the Greek cultural bureaucracy that offers them excavation permits.

That is not to say US law enforcement should not help Greece. Customs and Border Protection ("CBP") already has ample authority to seize smuggled or improperly declared artifacts, including coins. CBP can also seize artifacts stolen from museums or other collections. Finally, Courts have already blessed efforts to repatriate artifacts traced to illicit excavations in another country where that country has unequivocally declared such material to be state property. In the appropriate case, CBP can, therefore, already seize coins or other artifacts taken from archaeological excavations in Greece and repatriate them to Greek authorities.

Simply put, import restrictions, and their effect of treating artifacts as "presumptively Greek" are not only controversial for their impact on legitimate collecting, they are also largely unnecessary if one is ONLY interested in preserving Greece's archaeological sites. And given the exceptionally low level of discernable public support for the MOU, are such controversial new import restrictions and all the problems they visit on CBP, collectors, dealers and museums really worth it or is it time to negotiate a MOU collectors, dealers, museums and archaeologists can all live with?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Restriction of coins will impede the acknowledgement of the great gifts of Greece to the West.

Today is the last day for public comments on the Greek MOU. I hope to comment on the process itself later, but in the meantime I thought I would share these words to CPAC from a Greek-American. I certainly agree with the message that it would be a mistake for the Greek government to damage ancient Greek coin collecting in the United States by pressing for import restrictions on coins in this MOU:

Dear Sirs: I am a United States citizen-and I am a Greek citizen. I was born in Greece and I am very proud of my Greek heritage, as well as that of being an American citizen. I endeavor to keep the Greek language spoken in my family as well as to my children - and I am proud that the classical heritage of Greece is one of the foundations of western civilization as well as that of this great country- the United States of America. This was recognized by our founding fathers, and I think may have been lost in our society today. I do not believe, HOWEVER, that the restrictions of so called cultural property, promotes such appreciation of heritage of the classical world. The restriction of coins will impede this acknowledgement of great gifts of Greece to the West. I have traveled to more museums and classical sights in Greece that most Americans or Greeks. I know that when a citizen of the United States is able to obtain a small object of such a culture it PROMOTES THE VALUE OF THAT GREEK HERITAGE to all the peoples of the world. My nephew, who wanted to learn more about his heritage, was enthralled by the purchase of a simple coin of ancient Greece. One of greatest Presidents, Theodore Roosevelt, was overwhelmed by the beauty of several ancient Greek coins in this country, and the result were his directing our US Mint and the great American sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to create the most beautiful of US Coins. Such requests from the Greek government, are requests that come from a financial bankrupt fiscal environment, seeking to divert attention from its internal problems. The cultural patrimony of classical Greece and Rome, belong to the all the peoples of the world, rather than to be hoarded in understaffed, poorly managed, constantly closed (from labour problems ) so called museums in a confused Greece. Personally, I was ashamed in visiting Greece last year, to hear in passing conversation from fellow Americans, that the museums were constantly closed.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Greek Embassy Urges U.S. Archaeologists to Join AIA in Writing CPAC in Support of MOU

I have been forwarded an email from Zoe Kosmidou, Minister Counselor, Embassy of Greece, urging U.S. Archaeologists to join the AIA in supporting the proposed MOU with Greece. This email seems to confirm suspicions that foreign powers and the AIA do indeed coordinate behind the scenes to press forward what many consider an anti-collecting agenda. And it appears to be working-- at least to a certain extent. As of Thursday, there were some 290 comments on the website about the Greek MOU. Perhaps 40 or so were from archaeologists who supported it. The rest were largely from coin collectors concerned about the impact of any MOU on their ability to continue to collect, study, and preserve ancient Greek coins. The day after Kosmidou's email, that number had jumped to some 440 comments. Many of the new comments seem to have been posted by U.S. archaeologists who excavate in Greece.

Some might find this troubling. Leaving aside the issue of whether a foreign power ginning up grassroots support for its position is meddling in our administrative processes for securing public comments, there also is the real issue of possible intimidation. It's no secret that U.S. archaeologists depend on the Greek government to issue excavation permits for their work. It's also true that the Greek government can easily monitor the website to determine who has written to support the MOU and who has not done so.

This is not necessarily to say that there has been or will be any concerted effort to intimidate American archaeologists who do not "toe the line." However, the possibility is there and if one's career depends on it, one might reasonably view any request from the Greek Embassy to support the MOU as a suggestion not to be ignored.

Greek cultural officials should be questioned closely about their lobbying efforts before CPAC takes up consideration of any MOU.

Is the Cyrus Cylinder Being Used by Iran's President to Buttress his Legitimacy?

The history of despotic regimes is replete with a history of using artifacts from the past to buttress their legitimacy. Saddam Hussein sought to link his government to the glories of ancient Babylon. Mussolini saw himself as a new Caesar who could restore Rome's Empire in North Africa and the Balkans. Recently, Venezuela's president exhumed the body of Simon Bolivar in an apparent effort to prove that imperialists schemed against him too.

Now, Iran's president is apparently using a loan of the Cyrus Cylinder from the BM to buttress his own authority. See According to a recent Economist report, Iran's President has been trying to sideline the clergy that has long supported him with the help of a nationalistic appeal reminding the people of Iran's great imperial past . See

Ironically, the Shah also associated his government with that of the Persian Empire. But, it all backfired for him. Indeed, the Shah's lavish celebration of the 2500 anniversary of the Persian Empire is often cited as the swan song of the Iranian Monarchy. See,500_year_celebration_of_the_Persian_Empire

And the symbol of that celebration? Why the Cyrus Cylinder, of course, which was also loaned for the event.

Will the loan also backfire for Iran's President because it will stoke the fear that he also has imperial ambitions? Will he give back the Cyrus Cylinder to the BM? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

PAS Reports Find of Exceptional Roman Cavalry Helmet

The PAS has reported the find of an exceptional Roman Cavalry Helmet by a metal detectorist. See

There has been some controversy because Christie's Auction House evidently restored the helmet before the artifact was reported. The time lag has even led at least one bitter opponent of PAS to suggest that the artifact was actually found on the Continent and given a fake British provenance. As preposterous as this sounds, PAS officials have had to spend valuable time and effort countering this charge.

I think it's better to celebrate this find and hope the money can be raised so that it can be displayed at a local museum. The opponents of PAS within the archaeological community (mostly outside of the U.K. itself) are missing the larger point. If the artifact had been found outside of Britain, it is unlikely we would now know much of anything about it at all. Though I'd rather that the finder had immediately reported it to the authorities, we also shouldn't lose sight of the fact that due to the PAS details of this important discovery have come to light.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Looting Matters: Protecting the Archaeological Heritage of Greece--For the Benefit of All Who Value Knowledge About the Past?

Archaeo-Blogger David Gill quotes AIA VP Sebastian Heath as stating a MOU with Greece is in the interests of all Americans and, indeed, anyone who values knowledge about the past: Looting Matters: Protecting the Archaeological Heritage of Greece

If so, what about the views of coin collectors who have expressed concerns in their comments to CPAC about the impact of any MOU on their continued ability to preserve, study and display historic Greek coinage? Don't they also value knowledge about the past? Indeed, if anything, I would submit because collectors come from all walks of life, their views best reflect the interests of the general public in such matters.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Unresolved Questions: Looting Matters: Protecting the Archaeological Heritage of Greece

Archaeo-blogger David Gill has issued another one of his "PR Newswire" press releases: Looting Matters: Protecting the Archaeological Heritage of Greece.

Gill's release raises several questions. First, Gill should disclose any funding sources for his releases and any contacts he might have with the Greek government that may have influenced his decision to issue this press release.

Second, Sebastian Heath and the AIA seem to have confirmed that they will press for restrictions on any artifact of Greek manufacture because such artifacts may be found in Greek contexts. Heath suggests that such restrictions are necessary to ensure artifacts are imported legally, but how does this square with the fact that import restrictions authorize Customs to detain and seize artifacts purchased openly in legitimate markets in countries like the U.K. and Germany merely because importers cannot document the item did not come from Greece?

Will all this further archaeology or merely the nationalistic view that anything Greek, wherever in the world, belongs to Greece?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Repatriated Iraqi Artifacts Go Missing

The New York Times reports that substantial numbers of artifacts repatriated to Iraq have gone missing. See

A witch hunt ensued after the looting of the Iraqi National Museum that led to the repatriation of many artifacts, some of which at least probably never came from Iraq in the first place.

In Saddam's Iraq, Baathist leaders sometimes traded in stolen antiquities without interference. It is unclear whether the artifacts that are now missing have shared a similar fate or have just been temporarily misplaced.

Last year, one of the Iraqi Prime Minister's relatives was detained in Dubai with Sumerian artifacts he was allegedly trying to smuggle to the United States. See That story quickly disappeared from view, but perhaps this news item will prompt some additional investigation.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

"Whatever is Greek, wherever in the world, we want back."

Greece's former Minister of Culture is quoted as saying, "Whatever is Greek, wherever in the world, we want back." See

Obviously, this request for an MOU is part of this push, but how does Greece and the State Department really define "whatever is Greek?"

Is it:

Artifacts proven to be illicitly excavated in Greece?

And/or is it:

Artifacts for which there is undisputed scholarly evidence they could only have come from Greek contexts?

And/or is it:

Anything that could have been manufactured in Greece?

It will be important for Greece (and the AIA) to clearly and publicly define "What is Greek" for purposes of CPAC's upcoming review of the Greek MOU.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Unconfirmed Report on Italian MOU Underscores Need For Greater State Department Transparency

Archaeo Blogger Paul Barford has revealed that coins have again received an exemption from import restrictions in the US-Italian MOU. See

If true, this demonstrates that Italy and the State Department seriously considered the concerns of coin collectors that any benefit from import restrictions would be far outweighed by the serious damage they could do to the preservation and study of ancient Greek and Roman coins, the appreciation of Italian culture and people to people contacts between American and European collectors.

On the other hand, it would also once again demonstrate that State Department secrecy may keep information from the public at large, but that such information is indeed often shared with members of the archaeological community either through personal contacts with Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs staff or members of foreign cultural establishments.

Coincidentally, the United States Court of Appeals will soon address such issues as initial briefs in the ACCG-IAPN-PNG FOIA case are due next week.

Addendum: I've asked Mr. Barford to provide some specifics as to the sourcing of his report. We'll see if he responds.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

A Question of Presumptions

There were several responses to my last post that suggest that the AIA and archaeologists do not support treating Roman Denarii struck in Italy as presumptively Italian, but at the same time it was also suggested that it is okay to presume that an unprovenanced Roman denarius is indeed presumptively Italian because, not surprisingly, such coins can be found in Italy.

To me, this is a fine distinction without much of a difference. And, for that matter, not a very helpful one. Certainly, using such an analysis one could also presume that Roman denarii are the cultural property of any number of modern nation states in Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and even the Far East where they are found, including places where it is okay to collect them.

If, on the other hand, the AIA and other responsible archaeological bodies would abandon supporting such presumptions and instead limit their support for the repatriation of artifacts proven to be taken from illicit investigations, that would be a major step forward to bridging the gap between collectors and archaeologists.