Friday, December 30, 2011

Is It About Conservation or Control?

The PAS is a popular program in England and Wales. As I understand it, the Welsh Government is now expected to pay the modest amount necessary to maintain it as part of a general devolvement of central authority. However, Welsh authorities have been slow to address the issue.

This delay has apparently raised the hopes of PAS' few remaining critics in archaeological circles that any effort to continue to record finds in Wales will be killed off as an austerity measure. See

Of course, that won't stop metal detecting, only efforts to record finds not required to be reported under the Treasure Act.

I've already observed that archaeological fanatics are far more interested in control than in conservation. See

Isn't this more proof of that observation? So, if this is not a make work program exclusively for archaeologists, PAS is not worth keeping?

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

ACCG Comments to CPAC

ACCG Comments on Cyprus MOU Renewal Request
ACCG comment has been submitted to CPAC
By Wayne G. Sayles
December 26, 2011
The ACCG has submitted formal written comment to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee regarding the consideration of extension to the Memorandum of Understanding with Cyprus. The present MOU added ancient coins to the list of restricted items in 2007. The guild will be represented at this hearing by Wayne G. Sayles, ACCG Executive Director.
The deadline for public comment is January 3, 2012 and all members and interested parties are encouraged to comment online at:
For a PDF download of the ACCG submission Click Here

For a direct link, to the above see

Monday, December 26, 2011

Library Tragedy to be Used to Justify New Import Restrictions and Return of Hawass?

Will the tragic burning of a historic library in Egypt during continuing unrest be used to justify "emergency restrictions" on Egyptian cultural artifacts and the return of Zahi Hawass to power?

Read this and

What do you think?

Meanwhile, a generous Gulf sheik has promised financial help to rebuild the collection. See

My Own Comments to CPAC

Dear Prof. Gerstenblith and CPAC:

I am writing on my own behalf, and will be submitting comments on behalf of IAPN and PNG shortly. CPAC recommended against import restrictions on Cypriot coins twice. There is no reason for this to change, and if anything, there is every reason to recommend that the current MOU with Cyprus be terminated.

As to coins, scholarly evidence proves that one cannot assume that coins of Cypriot type only circulated within the Island as has been claimed to justify restrictions. If one cannot assume that Cypriot coins only circulated on the Island, one cannot legally impose import restrictions which by law must apply only to artifacts first discovered in and be subject to the export control of Cyprus.

Moreover, there is no reason to renew the MOU for another 5 years. Cyprus has already had the benefit of restrictions since 1999 on ethnological artifacts and 2002 on archaeological artifacts. Cyprus claims that restrictions are needed because of looting on the occupied side of the Island, but a Swiss scholar who has studied the issue indicates most looted material from both the Turkish and Greek sides of the Island goes to wealthy Greek Cypriot collectors, and not as has been maintained to collectors abroad. In addition, all this appears to be done with the full knowledge and acquiescence of Greek Cypriot authorities. Under the circumstances, why should the US burden its own citizens and small businesses with such restrictions? To do so will only reward Cypriot authorities for their own considerable hypocrisy and thus make a mockery of the supposed purpose of such MOU’s to protect archaeological context.

Thank you for your consideration of my views.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to readers of this blog.

Cultural Property? Bah humbug, at least for tomorrow.

Rather, if you celebrate Christmas as I do, may you spend tomorrow with family and friends, and pay no attention to anything other than celebrating the day in a most suitable way.

CPAC and CPIA Issues Recap

Archaeo-Blogger Paul Barford has this rather uncharitable advice for a small businessman looking for information about the the CPIA, CPAC and import restrictions. See

I've covered this area before, and here are some of the posts that hopefully will be of some help to those looking for some basic information:

For a short recap of the governing law, see:

For a discussion of the impact of import restrictions, see

For discussion about how the governing law operates in practice, see

Thursday, December 22, 2011

No Christmas Truce

Evidently, there is an element within the archaeological community that thinks it is entirely appropriate to ridicule American citizens and others who have responded to the US State Department's invitation to comment on the proposed renewal of the Cypriot MOU. See

Shame on them and their efforts to suppress any public opinion against the "archaeology over all" perspective. And shame on the other archaeological blogs that link to them and hence promote their views.

Monday, December 19, 2011

AIA Lobby Shop Springs into Action

The AIA styles itself as not for profit educational organization, but is acting more and more like a lobby shop in support of foreign cultural bureaucracies all the time. Indeed, the AIA's website now has an "advocacy page" (See that links to an effort to gin up comments for the upcoming CPAC meetings on Cyprus and Peru. See

And here is the AIA's party line:

"The looting of sites damages archaeological contexts, hampering archaeologists' study of ancient remains and distorting our reconstruction of the past. Because our understanding of the past is dependent on our ability to recover, study, and interpret ancient sites and artifacts in their original context, the preservation of sites is critical to the creation of archaeological knowledge, as well as to the maintenance of cultural heritage. A commitment to stopping the import of looted cultural material will help to prevent the destruction of the archaeological record."

While its hard to disagree with most of this statement, the last sentence is misleading in the extreme. If the advocates at the AIA were being honest, they would acknowledge that import restrictions as formulated and applied are grossly overbroad. Instead of focusing on artifacts reasonably suspected to be looted, they in fact embargo the import of all undocumented material on a "designated list"-- including many artifacts openly and legally available abroad-- on the assumption it "must be stolen." Of course, the "undocumented" equals "looted" equation only makes some sense for narrow ranges of "culturally significant" material that has not regularly appeared on international markets for generations. Yet, the ideologues at the AIA and the obdurate bureaucrats at State and US Customs have stretched the reach of import restrictions to even the most common artifacts, like ancient coins, that have been widely collected without provenance information for hundreds of years.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

State Department, Spain, Navy (and Archaeologists?) Torpeodo Effort to Change Law to Allow Commercial Salvage of More Warships

The State Department, joined by the US Navy, Spain and presumably archaeologists, have torpedoed an effort to to change the law to allow more commerical exploitation of old warships. See

The State Department and US Navy claimed their opposition was meant to protect against commercial exploitation of US warships, but the reality is that the change in the law would likely have only impacted exploitation of Spanish warships that were also used to transport treasure from the New World.

More evidence that the State Department will always take the side of foreign governments over US commercial interests, particularly where those interests are also opposed by the US archaeological lobby. (This gives the bureaucrats at least some cover in that they can say there are US academic interests on their side.)

One wonders whether the next move of Spain and their archaeological allies will be to claim that Spanish treasure already in the hands of US collectors and museums should be repatriated to Spain (or should that be Mexico, Bolivia or Peru)?

Saturday, December 17, 2011

AIA View of CPAC Meeting on Bulgarian and Peruvian MOU

Here is the AIA's view of the Bulgarian and Peruvian MOU hearings:

The discussion underscores the ideological nature of the AIA's opposition to collecting. Practical concerns and fairness to small business don't rate for these out of touch academics. They also willfully ignore the fact that the unprovenanced coins they want to restrict are freely available within Bulgaria itself. If collecting unprovenanced coins is such a problem as Bulgaria is concerned, why doesn't the Bulgarian government clamp down on Bulgarian collectors? It won't as that would cause an uproar, but that won't stop the obdurate State Department bureaucrats from clamping down on US collectors.

Instead of clamping down on collectors, how about regulating metal detectors at the source?

The preferred method of regulation, of course, is a system akin to that in Britain, Wales and Scotland, but the CPIA itself requires that the source country try effective regulation of metal detectors before US authorities restrict American's ability to import cultural goods like coins.

For my view of the public meeting, see

Archaeological Lobby Sinks Sackler Exhibit

The archaeological lobby has succeeded in sinking an exhibit at the Sackler Gallery that would have given the American public an opportunity to learn something about early international trade routes in the Orient. See

The exhibit was supposedly sunk because the excavation work was not up to professional standards-- though one suspects that the real reason was to appease archaeologists who have little use for commercial salvers, whether contracted by a foreign government or not.

I've previously covered this dispute here: and

For a thoughtful critique of the archaeological establishment's views on this topic, See

Supposedly, the plan now is to "re-excavate the wreck" using AIA approved archaeologists no doubt. But money has to be raised first. Hopefully, taxpayer dollars won't be tapped for such project, but it will not surprise me if the US Government is ultimately expected to foot the bill for what probably is little more at this point than a vanity project.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Hispanic Society Coins Put on the Auction Block

The Hispanic Society has put its collection of 38,000 historic Spanish coins up on the auction block in one lot with an estimated value of between $25-$38 million. See

Archer Huntington endowed both the Hispanic Society and the American Numismatic Society, where the coins were previously kept. See The fate of the group was the subject of litigation between the ANS and the Hispanic Society, which ended up with the Hispanic Society being awarded the coins they now want to sell.

If the collection could not stay intact, I'd rather it was broken up to allow American collectors and perhaps the ANS or ANA a chance at purchasing at least some of the coins. Given the estimated price, who will buy the group? The Smithsonian? Laughable. Cash strapped Spain? Doubtful. More likely the coins will go further East to the Persian Gulf or perhaps China.

Will the ANS be conducting a similar fire sale directed at foreign buyers sometime in the not too distant future? Let's hope not, but recognize such a possibility is becoming more likely given today's realities.

I've observed that both a prosperous numismatic trade and collector interest are essential to fund the ANS and the serious study of ancient numismatics in this country. See The fanatics at the AIA and the obdurate bureaucrats at the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs might want to consider how their efforts to suppress ancient coin collecting will impact numismatic study in this country before its too late.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Another Triumph for the Treasure Act

A British Metal Detectorist has discovered and reported an immensely important hoard of Viking era coins and silver artifacts. See and

The hoard contains a coin of a previously unknown ruler as well as coins from from far off Germany and the Middle East. More proof that even in the "Dark Ages" coins travelled long distances from their place of manufacture.

Although archaeological cranks may still find reason to criticize the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme and the cooperation if fosters among members of the public, archaeologists, and museum professionals, how many such hoards are voluntarily reported in their preferred models of cultural heritage management such as Greece, Egypt, Turkey, Italy and Cyprus?

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dirty Dishes

The New York Times is reporting that some dishes that were evidently taken from one of Saddam's palaces are being repatriated to Iraq after being seized by US Marshalls. See

The plates had evidently attracted the notice of Iraqi officials after being used for performance art by an Iraqi-Jewish American whose parents had been driven from the country in 1946.

This seems to be yet another case of cultural property overkill. And I wonder whether the Iraqi diplomats would have been as keen to demand repatriation of the dinner plates if the artist had not been from an Iraqi-Jewish family.

Shouldn't the artist and his family be the ones who deserve reparations?

Monday, December 12, 2011

Anglo-Saxons at NATGEO

The National Geographic Society is hosting a fantastic exhibit about the Staffordshire Hoard. See and

Archaeological fanatics will no doubt dislike the exhibit's heroic photograph of the metal detectorist who found the hoard, but without him, the Treasure Act and the Portable Antiquities Scheme, it is highly unlikely the hoard would ever have come to light.

This is not a conventional hoard of buried treasure. Rather, it appears to be a collection of battlefield spoils. The hoard was found spread about a farmers field near the site of an old Roman road. There were absolutely no other features to attract the interest of archaeologists, and it is highly doubtful the site would ever have been explored if the find was not reported.

The exhibit itself is by far the best ever I have seen at the National Geographic Society. Great care was taken not only to conserve the objects, but to place them in historical context with the use of reconstructions, videos and computer graphics. Kudos to National Geographic and the many groups that made this exhibit possible.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Coin World on Greek Import Restrictions

Coin World has published this straightforward article about the new import restrictions on Greek coins.


The author might have also added that import restrictions are not only difficult to enforce, but to comply with as well. Under the circumstances, one must again ask why the Obama Administration-- which has promised to curb stupid regulations-- has instead imposed these broad restrictions, particularly when public support is so slim.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Will the Obama State Department Uphold Import Restrictions Allegedly Founded on Cronyism?

How did the controverisal decision to impose import restriction on Cypriot coins come about? This is a significant issue because this "precedent" has formed the basis for far more extensive restrictions on Chinese, Italian and now Greek coins.

Well, here are some unrebutted allegations from ACCG's Amended Complaint in the Baltimore Test Case. They are largely based on information from FOIA releases:

48. In or about November 2005, Dr. Pavlos Florentzos, Director of the Cyprus Department of Antiquities, visited the United States at the invitation of CAARI and with the support of the U.S. Embassy in Cyprus. During this time, CAARI facilitated a meeting between Florentzos and employees of ECA’s Cultural Heritage Center, including its Executive Director, Maria Kourpoupas, and a staff archaeologist. See J. Green, Cyprus Director of Antiquities, Dr. Pavolos Flourtzos, Visits the U.S., 31 CAARI News 3 (Winter 2006).

49. Upon information and belief, CAARI has benefited from direct and/or indirect financial and/or material support from State, the Government of Cyprus and Cypriot entities, including the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation.

50. Upon information and belief, the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation was established to rescue the Island’s cultural heritage, which the Foundation maintains was pillaged and destroyed by Turkish forces when they occupied the Northern part of the Island. Upon further information and belief, the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation maintains one of the largest collections of ancient coins of Cypriot type within Cyprus. Upon further information and belief, the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation purchases unprovenanced coins on the open market for its collection of the sort now subject to U.S. import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type.

51. On January 19, 2006, State announced a five (5) year renewal of its Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Italy relating to cultural artifacts. Once again, Defendants exempted ancient coins struck in Italy from import restrictions.

52. On December 7, 2006, the Federal Register carried a notice indicating that CPAC would conduct a review of the MOU with Cyprus. That notice invited public comment to be submitted no later than January 11, 2007. The Federal Register notice contained no mention of an effort to extend new restrictions to coins. See 71 Fed. Reg. 71015-71016 (Dec. 7, 2006).

53. On December 8, 2006, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, ECA Miller Crouch indicated in a response to an e-mail inquiry that he “d[id] not anticipate” that new restrictions on coins would be addressed at CPAC’s hearing to consider the renewal of the MOU with Cyprus.

54. On December 14, 2006, two numismatic trade associations filed a request with State to recuse CPAC member Joan Connelly from voting on any last minute effort to impose import restrictions on ancient Cypriot coins. That recusal request noted that Dr. Connelly excavated in Cyprus and had publicly thanked “the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, its Director, Dr. Demos Christou and the Ministry of Communication and Works, Republic of Cyprus, for granting us the license to excavate on Yeronisos Island.”

55. On January 12, 2007, State summarily denied the recusal request.

56. On January 17, 2007, according to a heavily redacted document released in response to a FOIA request, a State ECA Cultural Heritage Center staff archaeologist conferred with the late Dr. Danielle Parks, an archaeologist associated with the CAARI, about the inclusion of coins in the Cypriot request.

57. On January 19, 2007, according to a document released in response to a FOIA request, Cyprus requested State to amend the designated list of artifacts subject to import restriction to include coins of Cypriot type.

58. On January 25, 2007, CPAC conducted a public hearing on the renewal of the MOU with Cyprus. At that hearing, CPAC Chairman Jay Kislak announced that he had learned that Cyprus had requested that State amend the designated list of Cypriot artifacts subject to import restrictions to include coins of Cypriot type.

59. Upon information and belief, at that same hearing, neither Cypriot authorities nor members of the archaeological community could point to any material change of fact justifying a change in the exemption from import restrictions on Cypriot coins.

60. On January 26, 2007, in response to complaints about the lack of public notice for the inclusion of coins in the Cypriot request, State announced an additional ten (10) day comment period. State made this announcement on the Cultural Heritage Center website and not in the Federal Register. Nevertheless, during this extremely short time frame, numismatic groups generated over 1100 letters opposing the extension of import restrictions to coins.

61. Upon information and belief, comments provided by ACCG and others established: (a) that Cypriot coins were common, with many known examples of coin types struck on the Island; (b) that Cypriot coins travelled widely so that one could not assume that a coin struck in Cyprus was “first discovered” there; (c) that less drastic remedies like the imposition of a treasure trove law and/or the regulation of metal detectors should be tried before import restrictions were considered; (d) and that the CPIA’s “concerted international response” requirement could not be met.

62. Upon information and belief CAARI, the AIA, the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation, and the late Dr. Danielle Parks submitted comments supporting import restrictions at the behest of Cyprus.

63. In a letter dated February 5, 2007, the AIA’s president claimed that it was proper to assume that coins of Cypriot type can be assumed to have Cypriot find spots, because “Coins minted on Cyprus were very rarely taken from the island in antiquity.”

64. On May 2, 2007, Assistant Secretary of State, ECA Dina Powell, the decision maker for the extension of the MOU with Cyprus announced her departure to become the Director for Global Corporate Engagement at Goldman Sachs. See (last checked, 7/2/10).

65. Upon information and belief, Goldman Sachs is a bank holding company with worldwide business interests, likely including relationships with Cyprus or Cypriot entities like the Bank of Cyprus.

66. On or about May 7, 2007, according to a document released in response to a FOIA request, CPAC issued its report making its recommendations concerning the extension of the MOU with Cyprus.

67. On or about May 14, 2007, according to a document released in response to a FOIA request, Pavolos Flouretzos, Director, Cypriot Department of Antiquities, admitted in a private communication to State, “It is true that Cypriot coins shared the same destiny as all other coins of the ancient world. As a standard media of exchange they circulated all over the ancient world due to their small size, which facilitated their easy transport… The continuous circulation of coins for many centuries amongst collectors and between collectors and museums make any attempt to locate their exact find spot extremely difficult.”

68. On or about May 16, 2007, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, upon information and belief the third ranking official at State, accepted an award from Greek and Greek Cypriot advocacy groups as these groups lobbied the State policy makers. According to a press release, "Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns was the first Philhellene to receive the Livanos Award. This award is given each year to, as its states on the award, 'that individual who, like George P. Livanos, has utilized ancient Hellenic values to realize extraordinary achievement in modern society while contributing to the improvement of our civilization.'" See (last checked, 7/2/10).

69. On or about May 16, 2007, State’s news service quoted Burns as stating on receipt of the Livanos award, "I wear this title of Philhellene rather proudly. You don’t spend four years in Greece, as my wife and three daughters and I did, and not come back feeling committed to Greek thought, to the Greek way of life, to Greece itself in my case....We’re personally committed to the country, to the relationship."

70. On May 17, 2007, according to a document released in response to a FOIA request, Kurt Volker, Acting Assistant Secretary of State, Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs, wrote the Assistant Secretary, ECA Dina Powell, stating “[G]iven our general support for protection of antiquities and the importance of this MOU to our bilateral relations with Cyprus, EUR strongly recommends that ECA approve the renewal of the MOU and include the protection of coins.”

71. On May 29, 2007, according to a document released in redacted form in response to a FOIA request, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary, ECA Miller Crouch wrote an “Action Memo” to the decision maker Assistant Secretary, ECA Dina Powell regarding the extension of the MOU with Cyprus. That Action Memo only provides the decision maker with the false choice of approving the import restrictions including coins in their entirety or disapproving them in their entirety. The Action Memo does not provide the decision maker the option of continuing the then current import restrictions without extending them to coins.

72. On May 30, 2007, according to that same document, Assistant Secretary of State Dina Powell signed off on that action memo that authorized import restrictions on ancient coins of Cypriot type.

73. On July 13, 2007, Defendants formally extended import restrictions to coins of Cypriot Types. See Extension of Import Restrictions Imposed on Pre-Classical and Classical Archaeological Objects and Byzantine Period Ecclesiastical and Ritual Ethnological Material from Cyprus, 19 CFR Part 12, reported at 72 Fed. Reg. 38470-74 (July 13, 2007).

74. On July 16, 2007, the MOU renewal with Cyprus was signed. That MOU fails to suggest that restrictions under the agreement satisfy the CPIA’s requirements, including the requirement “concerted international response” requirement or the requirement that less drastic remedies than import restrictions on coins are not available.

75. On July 19, 2007, Undersecretary Nicholas Burns conducted a signing ceremony for the MOU to coincide with Greek and Greek Cypriot lobbying efforts on Capitol Hill and at the State Department itself. Upon information and belief, representatives of CAARI were invited to this signing ceremony.

76. The official transcript of the Cyprus MOU signing ceremony omits several significant words. In the transcript, Ambassador Kakouris of Cyprus is reported as saying, "In fact, I was reminded just before we came in about something that I had said in January when we were before the Committee and responding to someone very much on the side of the coin collectors who -- talked about the hobby of collecting coins. And I said to him: ‘It may be your hobby, but it's our heritage!" and that is the way that we look at this issue.’"

77. In fact, what Kakouris actually said can be heard (at 10:09 of the audio). There, he states, "In fact, I was reminded by [Cultural Heritage Center ED] Maria Kouroupas just before we came in about something that I had said in January when we were before the Committee and dealing with the coin collectors and somebody who was very much on their side, when he talked about the hobby of collecting coins. And I said to him: ‘It may be your hobby, but it's our heritage!" and that is the way that we look at this issue.’" (Emphasis added.)

78. On July 20, 2007, State issued a press release about the MOU. That press release stated, “With the extension of this MOU, DHS amended the designated list of restricted categories to include ancient coins of Cypriot types produced from the end of the 6th century B.C. to 235 A.D. Coins, a significant and inseparable part of the archaeological record of the island, are especially valuable to understanding the history of Cyprus. This extension of the MOU is consistent with the recommendation of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, which is administered by the Bureau for Educational and Cultural Affairs.” (Emphasis added.)

79. On August 29, 2007, State sent a report mandated under the CPIA to Congress. Under 19 U.S.C. § 2602 (g)(2), that report is required to: (a) describe the actions taken; (b) whether there were any differences between those actions and CPAC’s recommendations; and, (c) if so, the reasons for those differences. That report, however, contains no indication whether State rejected CPAC recommendation against import restrictions on coins, and, if so, why?

80. In addition, that report also indicates that Customs acted as the lead agency for imposing import restrictions on coins. In pertinent part, the report states, “The Federal Register notice for Cyprus was amended by the Department for Homeland Security, in consultation with the Department of State, to include coins of Cypriot types which are also vulnerable to archaeological looting.”

81. In or about July 17, 2007, ECA publicized the new restrictions on coins of Cypriot types on its website as follows: “The Government of the Republic of Cyprus requested and amendment to the designated list to include coins…. Q. What was the response? A. The Cultural Property Implementation Act places the authority for the Designated List with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) in consultation with the Department of State. On July 13, 2007, DHS published a Federal Register notice concerning the extension of the agreement and amending the Designated List to include certain coins from Cyprus, effective July 16, 2007.”

82. In or about May-June 2008, the Cyprus News Service quoted CAARI’s president as stating, “CAARI has been in the forefront of the successful effort to renew the Memorandum of Understanding between Cyprus and the USA restricting the import of Cypriot antiquities into the United States…..” See (last checked, 7/2/10).

83. On January 16, 2009, the Federal Register announced import restrictions on Chinese cultural artifacts, including those on early media of exchange to Tang era cash coins. See 19 CFR Part 12, reported at 74 Fed. Reg. 2838-2844 (Jan. 16, 2009).

84. On April 20, 2009, past CPAC Chairman Jay Kislak signed a declaration in FOIA litigation that stated in pertinent part:

o I am told that Section 303 (g) of the CPIA requires the State Department to report to Congress any differences between CPAC’s recommendations and the State Department’s ultimate decision to impose import restrictions. In this regard, the release of the most recent CPAC report related to Cyprus and its discussion about coins could clarify misleading information contained in official State Department documents.

o I specifically recall the Cypriot request that then current import restrictions on other cultural artifacts be extended to coins was a matter of great public controversy. CPAC considered the question specifically and I recall a special vote being taken on this particular issue.

o With that in mind, I have reviewed both an official State Department Press Release and a State Department report made pursuant to CPIA Section 303 (g) about the MOU with Cyprus…I believe it is absolutely false to suggest in those materials that the State Department’s decision to extend import restrictions to ancient coins was consistent with CPAC’s recommendations. The full release of CPAC’s recommendations with regard to coins could be in the public interest because it should clarify misleading information contained in official State Department documents.

Will the Obama Administration and CPAC investigate these allegations before deciding to renew the Cypriot MOU? If true, don't they suggest that the MOU be terminated instead because it is founded on cronyism? If not, why not?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Comment Fatigue or Not Collector Voices Need to Be Heard Once Again!

Only one month after seeking comments for a proposed MOU with Bulgaria, the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center have announced another short comment period (this time right in the middle of the Holiday season) for a proposed extension of current import restrictions on coins from Cyprus. See

Those restrictions currently bar entry into the United States of the following coin types unless they are accompanied with documentation establishing that they were out of Cyprus as of the date of the restrictions, July 16, 2007:

1. Issues of the ancient kingdoms of Amathus, Kition, Kourion, Idalion, Lapethos, Marion, Paphos, Soli, and Salamis dating from the end of the 6th century B.C. to 332 B.C.

2. Issues of the Hellenistic period, such as those of Paphos, Salamis, and Kition from 332 B.C. to c. 30 B.C. (including coins of Alexander the Great, Ptolemy, and his Dynasty)

3. Provincial and local issues of the Roman period from c. 30 B.C. to 235 A.D.

Why bother to comment when the State Department rejected CPAC’s recommendations against import restrictions on Cypriot coins back in 2007 and then misled both Congress and the public about its actions? And isn’t it also true that although the vast majority of public comments recorded have been squarely against import restrictions, the State Department and U.S. Customs have imposed import restrictions on coins anyway, most recently on ancient coins from Greece?

Simply, silence just allows the State Department bureaucrats and their allies in the archaeological establishment to claim that collectors have acquiesced to broad restrictions on their ability to import common ancient coins that are widely available worldwide. And, of course, acquiescence is all that may be needed to justify going back and imposing import restrictions on the Roman Imperial coins that are still exempt from these regulations.

Under the circumstances, please take 5 minutes and tell CPAC, the State Department bureaucrats and the archaeologists what you think.

How do I comment? To submit comments three pages in length or less electronically, go here:!submitComment;D=DOS-2011-0135-0002
If you are having trouble, go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal (, enter the Docket No. DOS-2011-0135 for Cyprus, and follow the prompts to submit a comment. To send comments via US Mail or FEDEX see the directions contained in the Federal Register Notice above. For further information, also see

What should I say? The State Department bureaucracy has dictated that any public comments should relate solely to the following statutory criteria:

1. Whether the cultural patrimony of Cyprus is in jeopardy from looting of its archaeological materials;

2. Whether Cyprus has taken measures consistent with the 1970 UNESCO Convention to protect its cultural patrimony;

3. Whether application of U.S. import restrictions, if applied in concert with similar restrictions by other art importing countries, would be of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage and that less drastic remedies are not available; and,

4. Whether the application of import restrictions is consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.

(See 19 U.S.C. § 2602 (a).)

Yet, collectors can really only speak to what they know. So, tell them what you think within this broad framework. For instance, over time, import restrictions will certainly impact the American public’s ability to study and preserve historical coins and maintain people to people contacts with collectors abroad. Yet, foreign collectors—including collectors in Cyprus—will be able to import coins as before. And, one can also remind CPAC that less drastic remedies, like regulating metal detectors or instituting reporting programs akin to the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme, must be tried first.

Be forceful, but polite. We can and should disagree with what the State Department bureaucrats and their allies in the archaeological establishment are doing to our hobby, but we should endeavor to do so in an upstanding manner.

Please submit comments just once, before the deadline on Jan. 3, 2012.

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Immediate Past President of the AIA to American Museums: Stop Collecting!

Brian Rose, the AIA's immediate past president, has been quoted as telling America's museums to stop collecting antiquities. According to the report,

Rose said he felt the era in which American museums can collect antiquities is coming to a close.

Source countries are becoming more aggressive in pursuing traffickers and enforcing laws against looting, he said.


Buying antiquities could alienate foreign governments and prevent the cooperation necessary for international loans of individual objects or traveling exhibitions, Rose said.

“You’ll end up in litigation, and you won’t be able to enter into collaborative projects,” he said. “It’s all about collaboration now.”

Rather than collect, museums ought to forge agreements with source countries to share cultural riches, Rose said.


Despite such quotes, archaeo-blogger Paul Barford continues to claim that the AIA is really not against collecting. But if so, where are quotes from the AIA's leadership indicating that they support the rights of ordinary Americans to collect minor portable antiquities, such as coins, let alone more significant items?

Addendum: For more on the AIA's anti-collecting stance, see

Q: Isn’t this disagreement between collectors and archaeologists really the work of a bunch of radical archaeologists who have lost touch with the public?
A: No, in fact, the stand taken by the AIA, the oldest and largest archaeological organization in North America, is representative of the point of view of all the mainstream archaeological organizations in the U.S. including the Society for American Archaeology, the Society for Historic Archaeology, the American Schools of Oriental Research and others. It’s also the stance of other major international archaeological groups. In fact, in January, an unprecedented agreement will be signed among the AIA, the German Archaeological Institute and the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences to battle the scourge of looting. A Harris interactive survey published in 2000 also showed that public opinion agrees with the position of the AIA—the main value of archaeological sites is scientific and educational and U.S. museums should not acquire illegally exported artifacts.

Q: What about the orphaned object that is out of the ground and circulating in the market with its context already destroyed and it provenance uncertain? Shouldn’t this object be acquired and given a good home?
A: The acquisition of these objects encourages looting. Objects like this are likely stolen. When confronted with an object like this, the best thing to do is to contact the authorities. You would not buy a hot car or a diamond watch from a disreputable source -- why buy an antiquity from a disreputable salesperson?

Q: In many cases there are multiple copies of certain antiquities, some with so many duplicates that they cannot all be displayed. What is wrong with the trade in multiples?
A: Some countries do allow trade in duplicates, including Israel. But it is difficult to identify a duplicate from a country that allows trade, and it’s difficult to prevent the sale of new objects as duplicates. Furthermore, most museums and private collectors are interested in high-end, unique objects, not “duplicates.” It’s primarily the trade in expensive, unique artifacts that drives the illegal market.

I would note the AIA also describes what constitutes a "licit artifact" according to its view of the law, but that is hardly an endoresment of collecting.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Greek Import Restrictions: Winners and Losers


1. The Greek Cultural Bureaucracy-- The Greek Government has mismanaged its economy so badly that it is relying on Germany and the rest of the EU to bail it out. Greece's cultural bureaucracy is as poorly managed and as corrupt as the rest of the Greek government. Yet, the MOU will no doubt be cited as some sort of U.S. "seal of approval" for the status quo.

2. The Obdurate State Department Cultural Bureaucracy- You've got to hand it to the entrenched bureaucrats at the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center. Important members of Congress have expressed severe misgivings about the implementation of their statutory authority. They have been sued in Court, and even though their decisions have been upheld to date as a matter of judicial deference, this is not the same as a ringing endorsement. Yet, culture creep has turned into a roll with these expansive regulations, by far the most wide ranging since the Chinese MOU in 2009.

3. The AIA and its Archaeological Fanatics- These fanatics hold that the only legitimate exchange of archaeological artifacts is a museum loan. They view import restrictions as a way to clamp down on a trade they do not believe should exist. So far their anti-collecting agenda has meshed well with the nationalism of countries like Greece and the predilection of the State Department to trade favors to the detriment of American collectors, dealers and museums.

4. Wealthy Greek Collectors- The fanatics criticise American collectors and museums, but don't seem to care that wealthy Greek collectors buy from the same sources as American collectors do. Now, Greek collectors will gain a competitive advantage over their American counterparts who can no longer import undocumented cultural goods. No wonder a representative from the Alpha Bank, which maintains Greece's best coin collection in private hands, was part of the Greek delegation that attended the public meeting of CPAC that discussed the MOU.


1. Greece's Cultural Patrimony-Even before Greece's recent financial meltdown, the country was highly dependent on EU funds to care for its major sites. Now, with money so tight, how can the country take care of its major sites, let alone the millions of minor objects in its stores? Yet, Greek cultural officials will no doubt hope that news about the MOU will will divert attention away from these hard financial realities and help stave off much needed reforms.

2. The CPIA and the Process Congress Contemplated- Import restrictions under the CPIA are supposed to be limited to culturally significant artifacts. Less onerous measures are supposed to be considered first. The restrictions are supposed to be part of a concerted international response. Here, these broad restrictions simply ignore these requirements. Moreover, the failure to give heed to the vast majority of public comments that opposed restrictions on coins again suggests that the whole process is little more than a farce.

3. The Small Businesses of the Antiquities and Numismatic trade- Import restrictions bar entry of cultural goods legitimately for sale abroad where documentation requirements for legal import cannot be met. This is particularly a problem for the small businesses of the numismatic trade. The documentation necessary for legal import is either typically unavailable for artifacts of limited value like most ancient coins or cost prohibitive to produce for such inexpensive items.

4. US Collectors- US collectors of cultural goods, including the thousands upon thousands of Greek coin collectors will face considerable problems securing material, particularly as time goes on.

5. US Museums- Loans are a poor substitute for purchases or donations for collecting museums. The archaeological fanatics may promote loans as a substitute, but they don't have to arrange such loans with the Greek bureaucracy or pay the considerable expense associated with such loans, which typically include expensive conservation costs.

6. US Customs- US Customs officers now have another broad set of import restrictions to administer. While they may make the "big bust" on occasion, I doubt that will make up for the frustration factor of trying to ascertain whether every ancient coin or minor antiquity that "looks Greek" is on the designated list or not.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Obdurate Obama Bureaucracy Imposes Broad Import Restrictions on Greek Coins and Cultural Goods

The Obama State Department and US Customs have imposed broad import restrictions on most Greek coins and other cultural goods. See

The restrictions on coins are exceptionally broad, but seem to exclude large denomination trade coins:

Coins—Many of the mints of the
listed coins can be found in B.V. Head,
Historia Numorum: A Manual of Greek
Numismatics (London, 1911) and C.M.
Kraay, Archaic and Classical Greek
Coins (London, 1976). Many of the
Roman provincial mints in Greece are
listed in A. Burnett et al., Roman
Provincial Coinage I: From the Death of
Caesar to the Death of Vitellius (44 BC–
AD 69) (London, 1992) and id., Roman
Provincial Coinage II: From Vespasian
to Domitian (AD 69–96) (London, 1999).
a. Greek Bronze Coins—Struck by
city-states, leagues, and kingdoms that
operated in territory of the modern
Greek state (including the ancient
territories of the Peloponnese, Central
Greece, Thessaly, Epirus, Crete and
those parts of the territories of ancient
Macedonia, Thrace and the Aegean
islands that lay within the boundaries of
the modern Greek state). Approximate
date: 5th century B.C. to late 1st century
b. Greek Silver Coins—This category
includes the small denomination coins
of the city-states of Aegina, Athens, and
Corinth, and the Kingdom of Macedonia
under Philip II and Alexander the Great.
Such coins weigh less than
approximately 10 grams and are known
as obols, diobols, triobols,
hemidrachms, and drachms. Also
included are all denominations of coins
struck by the other city-states, leagues,
and kingdoms that operated in the
territory of the modern Greek state
(including the ancient territories of the
Peloponnese, Central Greece, Thessaly,
Epirus, Crete, and those parts of the
territories of ancient Macedonia, Thrace
and the Aegean islands that lie within
the boundaries of the modern Greek
state). Approximate date: 6th century
B.C. to late 1st century B.C.
c. Roman Coins Struck in Greece—In
silver and bronze, struck at Roman and
Roman provincial mints that operated in
the territory of the modern Greek state
(including the ancient territories of the
Peloponnese, Central Greece, Thessaly,
Epirus, Crete, and those parts of the
territories of ancient Macedonia, Thrace
and the Aegean islands that lie within
the boundaries of the modern Greek
state). Approximate date: late 2nd
century B.C. to 3rd century A.D.

Obviously, the obdurate bureaucracy could care less that over 70% of the public comments received by CPAC opposed these restrictions and that the actual support for them is limited to archaeological fanatics who hold that the only legitimate cultural exchange is a museum loan.

It is also ironic that these restrictions provide for the repatriation of any coins seized by US Customs to the bankrupt Greek state, which has no money to care for major cultural sites, let alone for the thousands upon thousands of ancient Greek coins already within State collections.

Again, more proof that the Obama administration is anti-small business and pro-government regulation, despite all the claims to the contrary.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Germany Told to Save Europe

Europeans (and Americans) are looking to Germany to "save Europe" by doing more to prop up the bankrupt Greek economy and the ever more shaky Italian one. See

However, throwing more money at the Greeks and the Italians will only delay the inevitable. What is really needed is to break down the internal barriers in each country that have led to special interests strangling any chance for much needed economic reforms.

But this is a blog about cultural property issues. On that score, isn't it funny that self-righteous archaeologists hold up Italy and Greece as models for all to emulate? Meanwhile, rational systems like those in Germany and the United Kingdom that recognize the importance of collectors and the trade in cultural goods to the appreciation of ancient culture and its ultimate preservation, get little but scorn heaped on them, largely because they don't allow archaeologists to monopolize policy toward cultural property issues.

Archaeologists assume that government control over all cultural artifacts is the answer-- but how can this be, particularly in the current environment where these governments and their economic and cultural systems that favor the connected few are facing default?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Do Import Restrictions Only Apply to "Illicitly Exported" Items?

Do MOU's only apply to "illicitly exported" artifacts as archaeo-blogger Paul Barford has claimed?

No. In fact, import restrictions as applied by US Customs bar entry of coins openly and legitimately sold in markets abroad merely because they are of a type on a designated list.

There are limited exceptions to this embargo, but they provide little solace for coin collectors.

First, for coins coming directly from the country for which import restrictions are granted, there is an exception if they are accompanied with an export permit. However, this is easier said than done. There are currently import restrictions on certain coins of Cypriot, Chinese and Italian types. Cyprus offers no export permits. Italy does, though the process is evidently time consuming. When the issue was being discussed before CPAC, it was said that the Chinese regularly issued export certificates for certain items. However, since there have been reports that they are no longer so easy to obtain. Even if export certificates are provided, the costs of obtaining them may very well exceed the value of the coin itself, particularly if the coin in question is only worth a few dollars.

The second means of legal import is applied in the much more common situation where a coin is coming from one of the open markets in a third country. That anticipates procuring certifications documenting that the coin in question was out of either Cyprus, China or Italy as of the date of the restrictions. Again, even if this information is available and the foreign consigner is willing to provide it, the costs of compliance may very well exceed the value of the coin itself.

Import restrictions do indeed apply to all undocumented coins on the designated list, not just "illegally exported" ones as Barford misleadingly claims.

Such restrictions are therefore grossly overinclusive-- and do indeed suggest that the Obama State Department has taken an anti-small business position in imposing them, particularly on such popular and widely collected issues as the Greek coins of S. Italy, Sicily and certain Roman Republican and Imperial city coins.

Such coins can and are freely traded worldwide, but no longer can easily be imported into the US. Thus, these restrictions are not only place onerous burdens on small businesses, they also discriminate against American collectors.

How then are such restrictions consistent with President Obama's stated goals of eliminating onerous government regulations and protecting the interests of American small business?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Small Business Saturday Promotion Needs to Be Extended to Obama CPAC

American Express is running advertisements in the United States promoting "Small Business Saturday." The campaign underscores the importance of small business to the American economy, something that one also often hears from politicians of both political parties as well.

Such a promotion also needs to be run for the Obama CPAC, the State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center. President Obama may claim that he sympathizes with small business, but no such sympathy was on display at CPAC's recent meeting on a proposed MOU with Bulgaria.

Instead, Jane Levine, a former prosecutor for the FBI's Art Crime team who now runs Sotheby's compliance department and who is an Obama CPAC pick for a trade slot on CPAC, seemed to suggest that it should be "easy" for the small businesses of the numismatic trade to comply with the certification requirements for legal import of items on the designated list under the CPIA.

Really? As I explained to Ms. Levine, the small businesses of the numismatic trade (most of which are sole proprietorships) really don't have the resources of a Sotheby's to cope with all the red tape involved (even assuming that European sources would be willing to provide the required certifications for EACH restricted coin that is imported). And as I also noted, Customs has been known to go well beyond the documentation requirements of the CPIA and only allow restricted items entry if they are pictured in a catalogue predating any import restrictions. This of course forecloses the import of virtually every ancient coin type on the designated list, as perhaps only one in every 10,000 or so coins actually is significant enough to be catalogued in this manner.

Although one hopes there is enough common sense left somewhere in the State Department or Customs to realize that the CPIA's restrictions were never meant to apply to such numerous and inexpensive artifacts like most ancient coins, one suspects that this really won't matter to a group of AIA members or supporters that hold that that the only legitimate exchange of cultural artifacts is a long term loan from a source country museum to a like institution in the United States.

Hopefully, someone in the Obama White House political operation will realize there is a problem at CPAC and the State Department that is threatening to turn ancient coin collectors (most of whom are likely Democrats) against President Obama's reelection bid. Can the President's appointees really afford to alienate at least 50,000 serious ancient coin collectors and the hundreds of small businesses of the numismatic trade, particularly when the number of public comments recorded in support of MOU's is so infinitesimal?

Friday, November 25, 2011

Chinese Auction Houses to US State Department and AIA: Suckers!

The Art Newspaper has reported that China Guardian, a well respected Chinese auction house that sells Chinese antiquities and ancient coins, is to open a New York Office.

For now, China Guardian plans to use its office to drum up consignments for its auctions in China, but it is not foreclosing the possibility that its longer term plans may include establishing a presence in the US Market.

Of course, China Guardian will no doubt be able to use its excellent contacts with the Chinese Government to ensure that it secures export permits for any artifacts it might choose to sell abroad.

While China Guardian will no doubt execute its plans quite successfully, one must consider that any success it may achieve will likely be largely based on the competitive advantage it will have over Sotheby's and other US Auction Houses, all courtesy of the US State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its moronic import restrictions on Chinese archaeological artifacts.

One must also wonder whether the AIA and all those self-righteous archaeologists that strongly supported a MOU with China now realize all they have done is to help allow the Chinese themselves to corner the market in Chinese artifacts.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

More Thoughts on Stuart Campbell's Ruler

During CPAC's recent public meeting about the proposed Bulgarian MOU, I borrowed a page from Stuart Campbell, a Scottish archaeologist and government official, to suggest most people consider illicit excavations to be no worse than a traffic violation.

Of course, not all illicit excavations are equal. Here is how I would rank them from the most troubling to the least:

  • Illicit excavations from world heritage sites;

  • Illicit excavations from active archaeological sites;

  • Illicit excavations from inactive archaeological sites;

  • Illicit excavations from archaeological sites that are obvious, but have not been excavated;

  • Illicit excavations from mounds of excavated dirt on inactive archaeological sites;

  • Illicit excavations from private land where there are no obvious archaeological features;

  • Illicit excavations from private land that already has been disturbed by ploughing.

  • And speaking of "wrongs," where would most people rank any failure of archaeologists to:

  • Properly record what they find;

  • Properly publish what they find;

  • Properly preserve what they find;

  • Properly display what they find.

    Where would archaeologists rank theses sins? Are they any worse than illicit excavations?
  • Saturday, November 19, 2011

    Bulgarian Deputy Minister of Culture Fired, Rehired

    Bulgarian Deputy Minister of Culture Todor Chobanov has been rehired as an advisor to assist in the development of cultural tourism soon after being fired as Deputy Minister of Culture of Bulgaria. See

    Chobanov was evidently instrumental in the passage of Bulgaria's much criticised cultural heritage law and likely also had something to do in asking the US to impose import restrictions on Bulgarian cultural artifacts.

    Thursday, November 17, 2011

    Public CPAC Meeting on Belizean and Bulgarian MOU's, Nov. 16, 2011

    CPAC Chair Prof. Patty Gerstenblith (PG, DePaul, Public Representative) began by thanking all speakers or those who had provided comments to CPAC. PG then asked all CPAC members to introduce themselves and mention their affiliations. They are: Katherine Reid (KR, Cleveland Museum (retired)-Museum); Nina Archabal (NA, Minn. Historical Society-Museum); Marta de la Torre (MT- Florida International University, Public); James Willis (JW, James Willis Tribal Art-Trade); Nancy Wilkie (NW-Carlton College, Archaeology); Barbara Bluhm Kaul (BK,Trustee, Art Institute of Chicago- Public); Jane Levine (JL, Sotheby’s Compliance Department (ex-prosecutor)- Trade); and Rosemary Joyce (RJ,U. Cal., Berkley-Anthropology). Two slots, one in archaeology and the other a trade representative, remain vacant. KR, NW and JW also served under the Bush Administration. The others are Obama Appointees though PG and MT also served the Clinton Administration. There was also staff present including CPAC Executive Director Maria Kouroupas, a Committee lawyer, and Committee archaeologists.


    Belize was discussed first. The following individuals spoke: Josh Knerly (JK-AAMD); Elizabeth Gilgan (EG-SAFE, but there personally); Brian Daniels (BD-U. Penn Cultural Center); Christina Luke (CL-AIA); Patricia Mcinerny (PM-UNC, Chapel Hill).

    JK stated the AAMD supports the conclusion of a MOU with Belize with the following provisos. First, CPAC must ensure that only material identifiable as being “first discovered in” Belize is restricted. Second, Belize needs to appoint one point of contact for museum loans and provide more material for loans. AAMD members had reported that Belize has only offered one piece for a loan that was made to the Peabody Museum.

    NW asked whether Belize was a transit point for looted artifacts from other Central American countries. JK indicated that was possible. PG asked if import restrictions impacted the AAMD now that it had accepted a 1970 provenance rule. JK indicated no, but this made museum loans more important than ever. KR asked about dealing with the bureaucracy of Belize. JK indicated that it was difficult, but expressed hopes this situation would improve. In so doing, he noted the Italian government has now provided a single contact point for such loans.

    EG assisted Belize to apply for a MOU. She apparently undertook this work as part of her course of study while employed at the AIA. She began by training police in Belize. She was happy when newly trained officers caught twelve American environmental students that had tried to take artifacts out of the country. The night they spent in jail taught them a lesson. It was all very exciting. She next studied Sotheby’s catalogues for unprovenanced Pre-Columbian artifacts. EG could not identify the artifacts in the catalogues as coming from Belize. EG did not review any sources other than Sotheby’s catalogues.

    BD disputed the AAMD’s statement that Belize had only loaned one object. He listed three travelling exhibits where Belize provided a total of 33 artifacts as evidence of Belize’s efforts. He also indicated that Belize offers long term loans of study artifacts to specific researchers like Richard Leventhal of the Penn Cultural Heritage Center. These loans are negotiated on an individual basis.

    CL indicated that MOU’s can also be used for cultural exchanges of students and archaeologists. Belize has been a great host for archaeologists. Any MOU should also include Colonial Material. NW wondered if more could be done to assure regional cooperation on looting.

    PM indicated there is current looting in Belize. She recently saw looting of rock shelters. Belize has a good history of cultural interchange with the British Commonwealth (Belize is a former Crown Colony), with the United States and with Canada. RJ asked PM if she could identify material as coming from Belize. She indicated that it was possible to identify such material on stylistic grounds, based on identifiable inscriptions or its composition. However, it often travelled outside of modern day Belize. PM cited as an example a ceremonial drinking cup which was evidently gifted to a minor lord in what is today Guatemala.


    The following individuals spoke: Josh Knerly (JK-AAMD); Peter Tompa (PT-IAPN, PNG); Kerry Wetterstrom (KW-ACCG); Nathan Elkins (NE-Baylor); Christina Luke (CL-AIA); Brian Daniels (BD-U. Penn Cultural Center); Kevin Clinton (KC-American Research Center in Sofia).

    JK indicated that AAMD supports an MOU with Bulgaria subject to certain provisos. First, it is again important to take care with any designated list given the cross-currents between Thracian and Greek culture. Second, there is a real question whether Bulgaria is taking any of the self-help measures required under the CPIA. A 2007 Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD) Report suggested that Bulgarian cultural officials were corrupt and their efforts to protect Bulgaria’s cultural patrimony were minimal. JK had no statistics about loans of Bulgarian material but indicated they would be desirable. PG wondered whether the 2007 report was up to date. JK suggested that CPAC should require the DOS to research whether the situation on the ground has improved since the 2007 CSD Report. BK asked about loans. JK indicated that that Bulgarian law apparently allowed for two year loans. KR asked about the optimum loan period. JK indicated that a long term loan should be 10 years to make it financially viable for the receiving museum. JK also noted that currently Italy is providing 4 year loans with the possibility of renewal, but the uncertainty makes such loans less palatable to AAMD members. KR also asked whether Bulgarian material can freely enter the EU. JK indicated that was the case as there are no local controls. JK agreed and also indicated that it is difficult to “fit” the Bulgarian situation into the framework of the CPIA.

    PT indicated that most people would agree that some crimes—like murder—were wrong. However, looting would be considered much less seriously by most people, perhaps no worse than a traffic violation. Such seems to be the case in Bulgaria. The CSD Report indicates that some 250,000 individuals are involved in treasure hunting and that the Bulgarian police and cultural authorities are heavily involved in looting, theft and smuggling of cultural goods. The 2009 Bulgarian cultural heritage law was rammed through by ex-communists only with input from archaeologists. Major parts of it have been struck down and it is not effective. The law is honored mostly in its breech. Only 150-200 coin collectors have registered their collections though some 50,000 Bulgarians are members of organized numismatic groups. Bulgarian issues no export licenses, except for temporary exhibitions, but smuggling has become easy given the EU’s open borders. Restrictions would only discriminate against American collectors. CPAC should give heed to the 71% of the public comments on the website opposed to import restrictions on coins. CPAC should follow prior Committee precedent, and recommend against import restrictions on coins, particularly any restrictions based on a coin’s type rather than its find spot. Alternatively, CPAC should table Bulgaria’s request to give the country time to get its own house in order and undertake the self-help measures the CPIA contemplates. Specifically, CPAC should recommend that Bulgaria clamp down on metal detectors rather than collectors, that Bulgaria freely issue export certificates for common artifacts like most ancient coins, and that Bulgaria pass a new antiquities law that takes into account the concerns of collectors and dealers as well as the views of the archaeological community.

    MT asked if Bulgarian coins were a glut on the market. PT indicated that there were certainly a lot of Roman issues available, but did not use the word, glut. He also indicated that you could not really generalize on this topic. Coins from the Greek city states located in Bulgaria would be collected as part of the Greek series and the coins of the Bulgarian czars were mainly collected by specialists and Bulgarian Americans. PG and JL suggested that it was not all that hard to import restricted coins. PT disagreed, noting that the compliance costs would exceed the value of many coins, and that in any case US Customs in NY will not allow any artifact on a designated list into the US unless it is pictured in a catalogue that predates the restrictions. This is significant because perhaps only 1 in 10,000 coins is significant enough to be published in an auction catalogue.

    KW indicated that Bulgaria should adopt a law akin to the UK’s Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme. He further indicated that it used to be that finders shared details about their finds with scholars and dealers but that is no longer the case due to concerns about legal liability. MT asked about Bulgarian coins being a glut on the market. KW indicated huge amounts of coins came out of Bulgaria in the 1990’s with the fall of Communism. Some issues—like the Roman provincial coins that were struck in Bulgaria—remain a glut on the market. In response to a question from PG, KW indicated that it is reasonable for a dealer to keep information about who he bought coins from and the price, but they typically will not know the earlier history of the coins they purchase.

    NE describes himself as an academic with a research focus on the numismatic trade. He has written extensively on the subject. It is clear there had been pillage of Bulgarian cultural patrimony of coins. In 1999, 20,000 coins were seized. Other incidents are set forth in the CSD Report. There have been recent seizures, including of a 63 year old pensioner who used a metal detector. Colonia Ulpia Trajana has been damaged by metal detectorists. Other material is found with coins, including Byzantine crosses and the like. This is often referred to junk in the trade. The best coins are auctioned off, the remainder end up on eBay. The flood of material began in the 1990’s and is still continuing.

    CL is representing the AIA. There is evidence of recent looting in Bulgaria. A Bulgarian colleague has indicated Thracian tombs are at particular risk. Bulgaria hosts archaeologists. They have made efforts to update their laws. They are making their best efforts.

    BD again represents the Penn Cultural Heritage Center. Despite the issues of corruption outlined in the CSD Report, the number of recent seizures shows Bulgaria is interested in protecting its cultural patrimony. Although there has been a problem with the Bulgarian Constitutional Court, courts strike down legislation in this country too.

    KC indicates there are four active US excavations in Bulgaria, an unprecedented number. There is active looting in Bulgaria. It is understandable because it is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Prior to 2008, the State Prosecutor was not interested in crimes against cultural patrimony. The current State Prosecutor is more active. Bulgaria’s Deputy Minister of Culture, Todor Chobanov, was instrumental in pressing for the 2009 law. Chobanov is an archaeologist by training. The successor to the Bulgarian Communist Party passed the law. Initially, old-school Bulgarian archaeologists did not want to cooperate with Americans, but younger archaeologists have been more willing to do so. MT asked KC to comment about the use of metal detectors. KC is aware they are used, but has not researched the subject. There is tourism at sites on the Black Sea. The situation has improved dramatically in recent years. Previously, even important sites were not marked. There is a domestic trade in cultural artifacts. There are quite a few private collections, many of which include looted material. Some private collections are displayed in local museums or even the National Museum.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    My CPAC Comments: Any Successful Cultural Policy Needs Public Buy-In

    Here the comments I presented at today's CPAC hearing on the Bulgarian MOU:

    I’m speaking on behalf of IAPN and PNG, which represent the small businesses of the numismatic trade. Over the past decade, I’ve exhibited common ancient coins similar to ones available to collectors worldwide so that you would know exactly what coins are subject to possible restrictions. However, some of you might recall that for some unfathomable reason I was not allowed to show you any Greek coins when you met last year. So, I’ve left my Bulgarian coins at home, and instead, I’ve brought you this ruler.

    Professor Gerstenblith will know I’ve borrowed this prop from Stuart Campbell, a Scottish archaeologist, but the point he made at a recent conference is just as apt here. We can all agree some things are wrong, like murder. That would be a “12” on this ruler. But what about illicit excavations? Campbell would submit—as would I—that most people would consider looting as a “1” on this scale —more like a traffic violation than anything else.

    Most Bulgarians would also consider looting to be no worse than speeding. A Center for the Study of Democracy report estimates that up to 250,000 Bulgarian citizens engage in treasure hunting. It also depicts both law enforcement and the cultural establishment as being heavily involved in looting, theft and smuggling of Bulgarian cultural goods. So, a Bulgarian citizen might be forgiven if he or she also fails to take such things very seriously.

    It is true that Bulgaria recently passed a cultural heritage law. You will no doubt hear it represents a sincere effort to reign in looting. But that law was apparently rammed through the Bulgarian legislature by ex-Communists solely based on input from archaeologists. It seeks to suppress looting through complicated registration procedures, but Bulgaria’s constitutional court has struck down some of its most important provisions.

    The law itself seems mainly to be honored in its breech. For example, Numismatic News reports that although 50,000 Bulgarians are members of organized numismatic groups, only 150-200 collections have been declared under this law. Moreover, though this law makes legal export of Bulgarian artifacts virtually impossible, such impediments will do nothing to stop anyone from just jumping into their car or onto an airplane and taking what they want out of the country now that border checks have been eliminated with Bulgaria’s entrance into the EU.

    Let’s get real. All that restrictions would accomplish would be to greatly limit the ability of Americans to import the exact same “coins of Bulgarian type” that are freely available worldwide and indeed within Bulgaria itself. Under the circumstances, IAPN and PNG would request that CPAC give heed to the 71% of the public comments opposed to import restrictions on coins. CPAC should follow prior Committee precedent, and recommend against import restrictions on coins, particularly any restrictions based on a coin’s type rather than its find spot.

    Alternatively, we would ask that CPAC table Bulgaria’s request to give the country time to get its own house in order and undertake the self-help measures the CPIA contemplates. Specifically, CPAC should recommend that Bulgaria clamp down on metal detectors rather than collectors, that Bulgaria freely issue export certificates for common artifacts like most ancient coins, and that Bulgaria pass a new antiquities law that takes into account the concerns of collectors and dealers as well as the views of the archaeological community.

    Please keep in mind my ruler as you deliberate. Any successful cultural policy --whether in Bulgaria or the US -- needs public buy- in to have any chance at success. CPAC has an important role to play in balancing all interests—including those of collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade -- to help ensure that fair and workable solutions to the complex problem of looting are found. Thank you.