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 http://www.philly.com/inquirer/health_science/daily/20101126_Troops_headed_to_Iraq_get_lessons_in_ancient_artifacts_Iraq-bound_troops_get_lesson_in_ancient_artifacts.html?viewAll=y&c=y

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 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Khyber_Pass_Copy

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 http://sciencereligionnews.blogspot.com/2010/08/ancient-monastery-in-afghanistan-under.html and http://phdiva.blogspot.com/2010/11/buddhist-monastery-in-afghanistan.html 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 http://art-crime.blogspot.com/2010/11/arca-student-kim-alderman-presents.html (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
http://www.nytimes.com/2010/12/03/world/asia/03wikileaks-corruption.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=cables%20afghanistan&st=cse 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: http://www.helm.org.uk/upload/pdf/Nighthawking-survey3.pdf?1284920695), 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: http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/search?q=PAS+Conference). 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: http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2010/09/is-for-apathy-and-archaeology.html). 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 http://culturalpropertylaw.wordpress.com/2010/11/08/peru-mounts-campaign-against-yale-to-reclaim-artifacts/

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.
http://www.laparoledivine.net/ Their last auction sparked some controversy. Questions arose concerning the provenance of the sole Cypriot icon in the sale. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2010/06/organizers-of-cypriot-icon-auction.html 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 http://www.savingantiquities.org/feature_page.php?featureID=6

Addendum: Mr. Barford has responded claiming his blog is not interested in icons: http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2010/11/are-gill-and-barford-interested-in-icon.html
But see http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/search?q=icons 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 http://phdiva.blogspot.com/2010/11/buddhist-monastery-in-afghanistan.html

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 http://www.artfund.org/news/1060/double-your-donation-to-frome-hoard-appeal

Donations to clean and study the hoard may be made to the British Museum which has its American Friends organisation - http://www.afbm.org/ 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: http://finds.org.uk/blogs/fromehoard/

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 http://paul-barford.blogspot.com/2010/11/cng-bulgarian-police-bust-illegal.html

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. http://bloggingpompeii.blogspot.com/2010/11/new-director-general-for-antiquities.html

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 http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2009/01/prominent-numismatist-passes-away.html

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.

See: http://www.japansociety.org/resources/content/1/6/5/2/documents/gallery%20transcript.pdf

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
See http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2010/11/07/world/europe/international-us-italy-pompeii.html?_r=1&scp=1&sq=pompeii&st=cse

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