Monday, May 30, 2011

PAS and Treasure Act Numbers Up; Not Everyone Happy

One would think everyone should be happy that the PAS has reported a 36% increase and the Treasure Act has reported a 10% increase in records of finds in 2010. See

Not so. Paul Barford, a standard-bearer of sorts for archaeological snobs everywhere, is not happy. In fact, he claims that the these statistics are misleading because they allegedly incorporate figures from two other projects to record Roman and Celtic coins. See

But is this really so?

Looking at the actual figures, it's quite correct that in 2010 PAS took on 52,813 records from the project to record Roman coin finds from Wales and 37,931 from the Celtic coin index, but these were then excluded from the total of 90,416 finds recorded in 2010.

Indeed, if anything, there was an under count. PAS authorities also have a database entry in 2010 for the Frome hoard of 52,503 coins but that was not included in the figure of 90,146 objects recorded that year.

Yes, we should all be happy that PAS and the Treasure Act have encouraged the general public to help the archaeological community record the past in England and Wales.

Friday, May 27, 2011

AIA Recognizes Backroom Deals Make for Poor Optics?

As mentioned below, the AIA reported on its website that a coalition of archaeological groups was drafting a MOU for the Egyptian and U.S. Governments. see

Now, however, that bit of information has been deleted from the AIA's website. Perhaps someone realized that word of such backroom deals that commit taxpayer money and infringe on collectors' rights makes for poor optics.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Your tax dollars at work: Fraud, Waste and Abuse at the Iraq Museum

Crusading Western archaeologists successfully lobbied for millions of dollars in US taxpayer money to be spent on Iraqi Archaeology. They further successfully lobbied for emergency import restrictions on Iraqi cultural artifacts based partly on the theory that the Iraq State was the best custodian for everything-- including common artifacts such as coins.

Was this money well spent? Should anything that looks remotely "Iraqi" be repatriated, including common artifacts like coins? Judge for yourself based upon this troubling report:

This is an interesting but distressing note about the coin [collection] in the Iraq Museum, from From Lamia al-Gailani Werr.

In the Museum they are slowly plodding through the inventory, which according to the current pace will take years. Only twenty thousands out of over two hundred thousands objects have been inventoried so far. The staff are facing many challenges, including a number of objects have lost their numbers, or metal objects that have crumbled as a the result of decades of negligence, and in particular the coins collection. Another difficulty is the lack of expertise amongst the staff to enable them to distinguish the fake from the genuine coinage.

In the Iraq Museum Library many of the old and rare archaeological books are crumbling. The Library have no expert staff to conserve the books. This can also be said for the photographic archive were conservation of the earlier photographs is lacking, and the scanning and digitising the photographic archive is not all that perfect. The staff are scanning with a resolution of 75 pixels only, because they have antiquated computers with very little memory and have no resources to purchase CDs / DVDs or USB sticks. The photographic archive rooms had a lucky escape when I was there, they got flooded one morning, the result of a test by the engineering section to check if repairs carried out to the roof had been done properly. They poured a whole tankard’s hold of water on to the roof for this purpose. The water cascaded down like a waterfall through the imperfect repairs and onto the metal cabinets in the stores and archive rooms. The staff rushed and covered everything with nylon sheets. Clearly the contracted builder’s repair was very poorly to say the least, despite a grant of three million US Dollars.

Of course, archaeological groups are again lobbying for additional millions in US taxpayer dollars being spent on Egyptian archaeology. And they have apparently already told the Egyptians that new emergency restrictions on Egyptian cultural artifacts will be imposed.

If anything, with our own budget deficits, now should be the time to scrutinze such requests far more closely.

McHale Leaving State Department

Judith McHale, the political appointee who along with ECA chief Ann Stock oversees the process for imposing import restrictions on cultural goods, has announced that she is leaving her post. See

No reason has been given for her departure. During her tenure, the State Department and U.S. Customs imposed new import restrictions on "coins of Italian type" over the objections of a bipartisan group of U.S. Congressmen, the State Department's own Cultural Property Advisory Committee, and thousands of coin collectors. The new regulations have also been criticised as inconsistent with President Obama's promises to limit over burdensome regulations on U.S. small businesses.

McHale is said to be returning to work in the private sector in New York.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Conflict of Interest Watch: AIA Confirms that State Department Delegates Agreement Authority to Private Archaeological Groups

The Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) has further publicised negotiations between private U.S. archaeological groups and the Egyptian Government. See

This report confirms Egyptian antiquities minister Hawass' blog suggesting that the U.S. government had ceded agreement authority to a coalition of private archaeological groups.

According to the report, "Zahi Hawass, Egypt's Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities, said, 'The Coalition will be drafting a formal agreement between the US and Egyptian governments, and, as soon as it is signed, all of these important projects will be implemented.'"

I find this troubling. Coalition members certainly have a sincere interest in helping Egypt to preserve its cultural heritage, but they also have direct professional and financial interests with Egypt's corrupt cultural establishment, i.e., excavation permits, TV deals and the like. This thus raises conflict of interest concerns.

It should also be noted that the AIA press release does not repeat Hawass' statement that the negotiations included so-called emergency import restrictions on Egyptian cultural artifacts. One suspects that the omission is intentional. As stated previously, news that such restrictions are a "done deal" suggests that the State Department is simply ignoring the legal provisions of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Hawass Says Emergency Import Restrictions Coming; Confirms CPAC Process is a Farce

Egyptian Antiquities Pharaoh Zahi Hawass has put up a revealing post on his blog. See

Some hitherto little known archaeological group (the Capitol Archaeological Institute) as well as the usual suspects (AIA, ASOR, National Geographic) have apparently formed a coalition to conjure up new emergency restrictions on Egyptian cultural goods.

Hawass' report of his discussions with coalition representatives strongly suggests that the statutory requirements of the Cultural Property Implementation Act-- including the requirement of review by CPAC-- are utterly meaningless. In particular, Hawass has been told that the restrictions are a "done deal" and that the archaeological groups will be preparing a MOU on behalf of the U.S. and Egyptian governments that will also throw more US taxpayer money at Egypt's corrupt archaeological establishment.

According to Hawass, "The coalition reported that the US Government is willing to impose emergency restrictions on Egyptian antiquities....The coalition will be drafting a formal agreement between the US and Egyptian governments...."

All this is quite interesting. Doesn't this just confirm what those representing the interests of collectors, the small businesses of the coin and antiquities trades, and museums have long suspected-- that the archaeological lobby really runs the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Cultural Heritage Center and that the CPAC process is a farce?

It’s also worth noting that Hawass long claimed that there was no such "emergency" in Egypt, but he is now apparently changing his tune to accommodate the coalition's efforts to clamp down on US collectors of Egyptian antiquities.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

James Cuno to Getty

The LA Times reports that James Cuno has been named as the President and CEO of the Getty Trust. See,0,973976.story

Cuno, a seasoned museum professional, has criticised the cultural nationalism of source countries and their allies in the archaeological community in a series of lectures, articles and books. In return, archaeologists have criticised Cuno, alleging his views are neo-imperialist in nature.

When queried about the issue by the LA Times, Cuno was philosophical:

In terms of my criticism of cultural property laws, I think reasonable people can disagree on these matters, and I very much look forward to engaging in conversations with colleagues around the world. I think we are all seeking the same thing: to preserve the objects of antiquity and broaden public and scholarly access to them.

Though no change is expected in the Getty's stringent acquisition policies, Cuno's appointment may suggest a new determination to get tough with Italy, whose demands for repatriation have seemingly escalated despite the Getty's efforts to seek accomodation.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Ai WeiWei's Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads: Only Silence by Those Supporting the Repatriation of the Originals

Jailed Chinese dissident artist Ai WeiWei's exhibition of animal heads has finally opened in New York. See

One would think that archaeological advocacy groups like Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) would publicise the exhibit, which is inspired by sculptures that were taken from the famous Yuanming Yuan (Summer Palace) in the aftermath of the Opium Wars. After all, SAFE and others have loudly supported the repatriation of the originals and other artifacts from the Summer Palace back to China. See

But nothing but silence.....

One wonders if there is a concern that publicising this exhibit by a dissident artist would be bad for archaeological business in China.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Posters No Substitute for Publication Efforts

Coins Weekly is advertising a call for posters to publicise the theme of “Numismatics and Archaeology: coins, stratigraphies and contexts” at a conference being held in Italy. See

But posters are no substitute for actual publication efforts. During consideration of the renewal of the Italian MOU, the numismatic trade presented to CPAC a report cataloguing in detail Italy's poor stewardship of the coins already in State collections. For instance, a very cursory survey of Italian museums reveals at least 27 institutions with respectable numismatic holdings, but which have failed to publish full catalogues of even part of them.

It's even my understanding that no one has ever gotten around to publishing the coins excavated in Rome even before Italy became a unified nation-- some 150 years ago!

In my opinion, it is cynical in the extreme to claim as archaeologists have that import restrictions on "coins of Italian type" are necessary to further numismatic research when Italy's record in that regard is so poor and will certainly not improve anytime soon given the extreme budgetary pressures facing Italy's cultural establishment.

AIA Gala-- Are the AIA's Donors Informed of the AIA's Postions on Collecting?

The AIA's annual gala has attracted the notice of the Wall Street Journal:

Such events underscore the elitist nature of the organization, something that carries over to the AIA's approach to ancient artifacts: small time collectors and the small businesses of the coin and antiquities trade are vilified. Meanwhile, collectors wealthy enough to afford high end antiquities with demonstrable provenances back to 1970 attract little criticism-- particularly if they give money to support archaeological research.

Still, one wonders to what extent the AIA's donors are informed of the AIA's position that unprovenanced antiquities should be deemed stolen.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

CQ Reports on CPRI Capitol Hill Forum

Congressional Quarterly, a periodical widely read on Capitol Hill, has reported on the recent CPRI forum that explored whether the Cultural Property Implementation Act is working as intended. Hopefully, someone in authority at the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs is aware of the serious problems that have been described and will take corrective action.

An Artifactual Dispute
By Shawn Zeller, CQ Staff

When Congress passed legislation nearly three decades ago to help prevent the looting of cultural «artifacts» around the world, it took pains to reach a compromise between archeologists fearful of the destruction of «artifacts» and collectors eager to buy them.

A key element in the deal was a Cultural Property Advisory Committee, which makes recommendations to the «State» Department on rules for the import and export of «artifacts» — rules that «State» can include in agreements with other countries.

Now the deal is in danger of breaking down. Late last month, some former members of the committee said they think the panel is siding too closely with archeologists and has cost museums and collectors the chance to acquire treasures. In fact, committee member Robert B. Korver, a Texas rare-«coin» dealer appointed by President George W. Bush, quit the panel to protest rules the Obama administration had adopted to restrict imports of ancient Roman «coins» from Italy.

Instead of a balance of interest on the committee, Korver wrote Obama, the wishes of members like him are routinely overruled “by the advocacy and directives of staff bureaucrats operating under a carefully defended veil of secrecy.”

Meanwhile, some former committee members spoke out at an event on Capitol Hill held by the Cultural Policy Research Institute, a Santa Fe, N.M.-based group representing people involved in the «artifacts» trade. Jay I. Kislak, another Bush appointee, said the committee was “useless.”

Kislak, who chaired the committee for five years, is an art collector who donated 4,000 books, maps, paintings and «artifacts» related to the history of the Americas to the Library of Congress in 2005.

James Fitzpatrick, a lawyer with the firm Arnold & Porter who has represented art dealers, says that although the rules are designed to conform with a 1970 U.N. convention on cultural «artifacts», U.S. implementation of the convention is stricter than other countries’ and allows the market for «artifacts» to shift overseas.

The State Department declined to comment, but it’s clear archeologists on the committee disagree with the criticism. Nancy Wilkie, an archeology professor at Carleton College in Minnesota who’s been on the panel since 2003, says it has done a commendable job of eliminating incentives for looters to raid archeological sites.

Monday, May 2, 2011

AIA Issues Preservation Report

The Archaeological Institute of America has uploaded its 2011 Site Preservation Report on its website. See

While I'm all for the AIA soliciting private funds for site preservation, I wonder if the AIA's donors have been informed that their money also goes to lobbying activities directed against antiquities and coin collectors and the small businesses that supply them with artifacts and coins.

SAFE Seeks Its Pound of Flesh

Saving Antiquities for Everyone has posted its plea for harsh justice to be meted out in the Four Corners case. See

It's not unexpected that the SAFE fanatics want their pound of flesh, but I find it interesting that SAFE President Cindy Ho first thought it necessary to ask the federal judge who is sentencing the defendants for his permission to publish their letter, but when that permission was not received, she published her letter anyway.

More importantly, its also worth noting that Ho's correspondence concludes,

We believe that the intentional violation of federal laws cannot be justified for certain communities or individuals. Even those who disagree with a particular aspect of the law must uphold it. If they do not, they should be held accountable for their actions.

That begs the question whether SAFE also feels that lawless behavior by the State Department Cultural Heritage Center as catalogued by Urice and Adler and at the recent CPRI Capitol Hill seminar should also subject State Department employees to discipline. Or, do the ends justify the means as far as SAFE is concerned?

Addendum: Derek Fincham has a thoughtful post on this issue contrasting the views on this sentencing. He notes that the Defendants in question include a mother and daughter whose husband and father committed suicide in the wake of the allegations. See It would seem they have suffered enough.