Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Obama Administration Appoints More CPAC Members

President Obama has appointed two more members of CPAC, Nina M. Archabal and Barbara Bluhm-Kaul. See

According to the White House Press Release,

Dr. Nina M. Archabal, Appointee for Member, Cultural Property Advisory Committee

Dr. Nina M. Archabal is the Director Emerita of the Minnesota Historical Society, having recently retired after 23 years of service as its Director and State Historic Preservation Officer. She has served as Chair of the boards of the American Association of Museums and of the United States Committee of the International Council of Museums, and is on the board of the International Committee for Museums and Collections of Archaeology and History. Dr. Archabal received the President’s Award from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Humanities Medal. She has been an overseer of Harvard College, a member of the National Council on the Humanities, and received the Harvard Medal for Extraordinary Service to the Harvard Community and the Outstanding Alumni Achievement Award from the University of Minnesota. Dr. Archabal received an A.B. and M.A.T. from Harvard University and a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota.

Barbara Bluhm-Kaul, Appointee for Member, Cultural Property Advisory Committee

Barbara Bluhm-Kaul is a trustee of The Art Institute in Chicago and the Aspen Art Museum. She is a benefactor of the Bluhm Family Terrace at the Modern Wing of The Art Institute as well as of the Bluhm Seminar Room. Ms. Bluhm-Kaul has sponsored art exhibitions at The Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, and the Aspen Art Museum. She has loaned works from her collection to many major museums throughout the world including the National Gallery of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Whitney Museum, the Kunstmuseum in Basel, and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris. Ms. Bluhm-Kaul received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

It is unclear whether the new members will be assigned to museum or public slots. It should be noted however that Ms. Bluhm-Kaul does not appear to have direct experience with the types of artifacts that are subject to CPAC's deliberations, and that Ms. Archabal's background suggests sympathy for the archaeological position in the cultural property debate.

CPAC is supposed to provide the President's designee at the State Department with useful advice that reflects the interests of collectors, dealers, museums and archaeologists. So far, however, President Obama's picks seem more geared to ensuring that CPAC "doesn't make waves" when asked to impose the broadest import restrictions possible than anything else.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Crying Wolf

UNESCO has issued an alarm that Libya's cultural heritage has become the target of looters and a Russian journalist is claiming that the Museum in Tripoli has been sacked and that NATO warplanes have bombed important cultural sites. See and

Not so fast. In fact, the museum in Tripoli appears to be under rebel guard. See And there have been no credible reports about either extensive looting of archaeological sites or attacks by NATO aircraft.

Indeed, to the extent Libya's cultural heritage has gone missing, isn't it more likely to have happened due to the sticky fingers of Libya's former ruler and his family?

Under the circumstances, perhaps we should not jump to conclusions.

Addendum: Andrew Lawler has also written an article, entitled "Claims of Mass Libyan Looting Rejected by Archaeologists," Science Magazine (Sept. 1, 2011). See

Sunday, August 28, 2011

ACCG Board Authorizes Appeal

The ACCG Board has authorized an appeal of Judge Blake's dismissal of the ACCG test case. See

And appeal or not, concerns about how the State Department and US Customs treats collectors, the small businesses of the numismatic trade, and institutions that collect coins won't go away, and indeed will likely only increase as more and more collecting areas become largely off limits to all but the wealthy who can afford to purchase the few coins with established collecting histories.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Facebook Campaign to Repatriate de Valette's Sword-- But to Where?

A Maltese history buff has started a Facebook campaign to seek the return of de Valette's ceremonial sword from France to Malta. See

The sword has an interesting history. As the article explains,

"The sword and a matching dagger had been given to the Grand Master by the Holy Roman Emperor Philippe II of Spain in 1565 [better known here for his effort to invade England], to mark the Order’s victory in the Great Siege in the same year, which had led to the retreat of the Ottoman forces.

In 1798, while on his way to Egypt, Napoleon landed in Malta. He captured the islands with the loss of only three Frenchmen. The knights had lost their fighting spirit and although the Maltese forces offered to resist the occupation, Grand Master Ferdinand Von Hompesch surrendered.

In his Facebook page, Bring Back The Sword of La Valette to Malta, Mr Bugeja says: 'This sword was unfortunately taken from us by Napoleon’s soldiers when they invaded Malta and is now on display in the Louvre Museum in Paris. This sword rightfully belongs to the Maltese people and should be in a Maltese museum and not in Paris.'"

But, even if the French would accede to such a request, should the de Valette sword really be sent back to Malta? Or, is its proper place at the headquarters of de Valette's "Order of Malta" in Rome, particularly when his knights continue to maintain many of the trappings of a sovereignty, including diplomatic relations, coins, stamps and even an "air force." See

Yet another conundrum the comes with the repatriationist territory.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Another View of ATADA Meeting

Here is another view of what actually happened at a panel sponsored by the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association. Kate Fitz Gibbon, a participant, believes that an archaeological blog and article mischaraterized the event, and provided this for publication on the CPO Blog:

Your email noted an article on a Santa Fe event during last week’s annual Indian Market – and the subsequent press, blog and Twitter response. I was a panelist at the August 15th public program sponsored by the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association Foundation, New Mexico Lawyers for the Arts, and the Cultural Policy Research Institute. The panel included four ATADA board members and three representatives from the FBI, Dr. Bonnie Magness-Gardiner, Program Manager, FBI Art Theft Program, David Hall, Esq., a prosecutor with the Art Crime Program, and David Kice, F.B.I. Special Agent. The program was free, public, very well attended and civil throughout. The next day, ATADA members hosted the FBI guests at a tour of the Santa Fe Antique Indian Art Show. There was agreement to continue to work cooperatively, including, tentatively, by having ATADA members speak at a training program the FBI operates in Santa Fe.

The Santa Fe New Mexican article following the program said that the crowd had “jeered” the FBI, a complete mischaracterization of the event. An Associated Press reporter present gave an accurate description. See

Panelists asked at several points what art dealers could do to help the FBI stop looting. Mr. Hall said that they should just tip the FBI off to criminal activity. Mr. Kice said that art dealers always complained that the FBI had gone after the wrong guys but would not tell the FBI where to find the major looters. That remark elicited spontaneous laughter from virtually the entire public audience, and a number of people replied at the same time, “We don’t know any!”

Afterwards, audience members expressed disappointment that the FBI panelists would not respond to questions on the Blanding and Santa Fe cases or any Indian artifacts-related matters. The FBI panelists stated only that these were ongoing investigations and they could not comment on policy because the FBI didn’t make policy.

There are a few remaining defendants in the Blanding, Utah cases (the rest have reached plea agreements for probation) and a wrongful death suit was recently filed in a Bivens action by the widow of Dr. James Redd of Blanding, who committed suicide the day after agents held him shackled for four hours of questioning. The charge against him was that he had picked up a shell pendant, ¼ in by ½ inch long from the surface of the ground during a hike. The pendant was never offered for sale. One other defendant committed suicide after turning himself in, and the FBI informant in the cases committed suicide just a few weeks before the first trial was scheduled to begin.

Interestingly, Ms. Magness-Gardiner was asked if there were any completed cases she could speak about; her reply was that in her tenure at the FBI (six years, if I recall correctly) the Blanding cases were the only cases related to Indian artifacts that the FBI has pursued.

Earlier the same day, in another ATADA presentation, Dace Hyatt, who was the only appraiser qualified as an expert by the courts in the Blanding cases, showed examples of artifacts from completed cases. All material had been released in discovery. The values ascribed by the informant and utilized by the FBI averaged 752% of the appraised Fair Market valuation. This difference in valuation pushed the charge related to most artifacts from a misdemeanor to a felony.

A third ATADA program was led by US Fish and Game agent Dan Brooks, and a fourth featured a discussion on laws related to endangered species by attorneys Roger Fry, William Fry and Len Weakley. All the programs were videotaped and will be available through the ATADA Foundation. Contact for information on how to order them.

Kate Fitz Gibbon

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Slim Public Support for Italian Import Restrictions Raises Questions About State Department Special Interest Program for Archaeologists

Politcos within the Obama State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and Diplomats from the Italian Embassy take note: a recent FOIA request reveals that CPAC only received thirteen (13) public comments in support of controversial import restrictions on "coins of Italian type."

Not that there really was any groundswell of public support for renewing the Italian MOU in the first place. Indeed, CPAC received only about one hundred (100) comments in favor of renewing the MOU at all.

Who supported the renewal of the MOU? The American public? Well, maybe only one or two individuals identified themselves as such. No, as one might expect, virtually all the support came from archaeologists who excavate in Italy, their students or their "trade associations."

And who supported restrictions on coins? Well, the AIA, Lawyer's Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation, a few professors and students from NYU (Home of Pro-Restriction CPAC member Joan Connelly) and foreign archaeo-bloggers like David Gill and Paul Barford.

Contrast this with the one thousand nine hundred (1,900) plus public comments opposed to the extension of import restrictions on ancient coins.

Given this disparity, one can only ask: What gives? Why has the State Department disadvantaged the interests of American collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade by imposing hard to meet documentation requirements when the support for such restrictions is so limited?

And more to the point, has State Department Cultural Heritage Center staff told the political appointees at State and the diplomats at the Italian Embassy how thin the support actually is for restrictions?

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

The Nanny State Strikes Again

A Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute has analogized the import restrictions at issue in the ACCG case to other recent examples of bureaucratic over reach, such as clampdowns on lemonade stands and the saving of baby woodpeckers by well meaning children. See

He then goes on to state,

Much of this new body of law rests on the dubious premise that cultural artifacts of great antiquity, even those that have been in the hands of Western museums or collectors for hundreds of years, should by right be subject to the dictates of whichever national government or sovereign entity happens to lay claim to the territory where the objects were originally crafted.

Such national governments, however, are often culturally quite distinct from the civilizations that inhabited those places over millennia, and often lack either the will or the means to conserve fragile artifacts as well as collectors would. The fate of more than a few "returned" artifacts has been to be stolen or crumble in the hands of inexpert new custodians.

Is some sort of property right at issue? Well, one might conceivably argue that certain artifacts, such as funerary urns and temple friezes, must by their nature be regarded as stolen property since at some point they must have been looted from sites originally contemplated as permanent.

(Presumably -- but not necessarily -- temples may choose to sell their friezes, dynasties go out of business with no receiver in bankruptcy, and so forth.)

But coins are just the opposite: They were meant to circulate, and, if of good value, they might soon be found in intended and legitimate use far from their country of origin.

Much of the success of coins as an institution in economic history (as with precious metals more generally) arose from their very anonymity, the fact that when they changed hands they left no paper trail for a jealous sovereign to trace.

Yet modern antiquities law falls over itself to cater to the wishes of the jealous sovereign, at a cost to both fairness and the interests of conservation. Why?

Good question.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Wall Street Journal Legal Blog on ACCG Case

As the Wall Street Journal Legal Blog observes,

"The next time you try to bring antiques into the U.S., think again: if they look old enough and don’t have any documentation, customs officials might just seize them as potentially looted cultural artifacts."

Scare tactics? Hardly. It's not too hard to imagine someone purchasing an old Roman Republican coin at a shop in Italy or one of the millions of Chinese cash coins extant at a stall in Indonesia, only to have it seized by those ever so friendly US Customs officers after a long flight at the end of what had beforehand been a pleasant vacation.

Perhaps the bureaucracy is out of control after all....even if at least one US District Court Judge would rather not hold it accountable as a legal matter.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Aleppo Codex

The archaeological blogosphere has been full of comments about the pros and cons of repatriating the Iraqi Jewish archive. Yet, there has been no discussion of the far more culturally significant Aleppo Codex that left another country hostile to Jewish culture years ago. See

The Codex left Syria well before academic archaeologists began to press for repatriation even where such returns raise serious questions about preservation of the objects in question.

The Codex is clearly better off in Israel than in Syria. The strong likelihood is that the Iraqi Jewish archive would be more likely to be preserved and studied as well if it remains outside of a hostile Iraq. Yet, our State Department as well as its supporters in the archaeological community apparently do not see it that way. They plan to accede to Iraqi demands for repatriation, although there are no guarantees the archive will be available for academic study or even preserved.

Will there also be calls for the return of the Aleppo Codex? Or, is the analysis different because it left Syria well before the 1970 UNESCO Convention was promulgated?

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Putin, the Looter?

I'll leave it to others to complain to the Russian Embassy that Russia's former and likely future President did not excavate the amphora in question scientifically.

Addendum: PM Putin's office put up this interesting transcript about his discovery, where he indicates his excavations were done with the help of archaeologists and that the he hopes the area will be preserved and exploited for touristic purposes. See

Meanwhile, the NY Times suggests that he dive is but one of many events staged to help ensure PM Putin's standing with Russian voters. See

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Legal Times Blog About ACCG Decision

Not for Me to Decide....

That's the message that comes across loud and clear from Judge Blake's admittedly well written opinion dismissing the ACCG test case. See

But if it's not a matter for the courts, who then will address legitimate concerns about how the State Department and US Customs impose and apply import restrictions on widely collected cultural goods like ancient coins?

The State Department or US Customs? Fat chance.

The Obama White House, under its transparency and regulatory reform initiatives? Doubtful.

Congress? Well, members of the House and Senate from both political parties have indeed made their concerns known about how import restrictions are imposed to the State Department, only to be stonewalled in return. But wrestling with the State Department's entrenched bureaucracy is not a high priority, particularly given the other problems facing our country.

All this, of course, helps explain why regular citizens increasingly hold our government in such low regard. Indeed, this issue in many ways encapsulates what is wrong with Washington: Faceless bureaucrats making decisions in secret at the behest of connected, narrow special interest groups with little more than lip service being given to the protections built into the law for small businesses and individuals.

All shameful, but legal, at least according to one US District Court.

Friday, August 5, 2011

CPAC Hearing on Bolivian MOU: State Department Responds to Narrow Special Interests

The AIA has posted a summary of CPAC's hearing on a proposed renewal of an MOU with Bolivia on its website. See

US relations with the anti-American leftist government of Evo Morales are so poor that each country has recalled its ambassador. See
However, does anyone believe this will impact yet another renewal of import restrictions on Bolivian artifacts? See

What is stiking though is really how small is the group that benefits most from such restrictions. Indeed, according to one speaker, no more than 40-50 archaeologists are currently at work in the entire country!

And, of course, the tangible public support for such restrictions is even more limited. Only 25 members of the public commented at all on the restrictions. And while most of these comments were in support, many of these appear to be from members of the AIA's leadership. See;dct=FR+PR+N+O+SR+PS;rpp=10;po=0;D=DOS-2011-0092 (Docket No. DOS-2011-0092) Hardly a ringing endorsement by the American public in favor of giving away something for nothing once again to an unfriendly nation in the name of archaeology!

Also of interest is the fact that the Bolivian government apparently at least tolerates indigenous collectors (wonder how connected they are to the local power elite?). According to another speaker, a local collector was convinced to put his collection into a museum rather than put it up for international sale. This is all fine and good, but if so, why should Americans be put in legal jeopardy for buying such material when Bolivians are allowed to collect it?

The Bolivian Government is no friend to our Government. Our Government is awash in red ink. President Obama has claimed he is against over regulation. Yet, if history is any guide, the State Department will renew this MOU yet again to assuage the demands of archaeologists, and likely do so without any conditions whatsoever that require Bolivia to do something in return for our trouble.

Why? Are such agreements worth the costs involved to the US taxpayer, to museums and to those interested in collecting such material, particularly given the very narrow special interests such agreements actually serve?

Find of Ancient Coins in Devon Leads to Reassessment of Rome's Reach

Here is yet another example of how a hoard reported by amateurs has given a lead to archaeologists that has resulted in a reassessment of local history. See

Archaeological cranks complain that the UK does not give them exclusive rights over the past, but what are the odds archaeologists would have ever found the remains of Roman settlement had they not been alerted by metal detectorists?

The pragmatic genius of the UK's Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme is that it directs public interest in finding ancient coins and other artifacts in a way that benefits everyone.

The proof can be found on the PAS website. See

Can the countries archaeological hard liners look to as models like Italy, Greece and Cyprus report similar results? Of course not.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Capitoline Venus at NGA: The Pretty Face of Cultural Exchange Could Use a Better Perch

The State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has posted a video on its website about the loan of the Capitoline Venus to the National Gallery of Art. See,AAAAr4PECyE~,2SkcYDwPFGO281KN1MzLpKHKfKpAnM_B&bclid=0&bctid=1034206751001 and

The Cultural Heritage Center website suggests that Venus is visiting the NGA due to the renewed MOU with Italy, but the video itself and the literature for the exhibit make no such claim. Moreover, restrictions on the movements of Italian artifacts into the United States seem antithetical to the concept of cultural exchange. I'm all for sending American art to be displayed in Italy in return, but not for restrictions on American citizens importing ancient art, particularly when the Italian Government imposes no similar restrictions on its owns citizens.

Anyway, its wrong for me make the ageless goddess into a political pawn. Instead, let me say that I wish that the NGA, which is usually known for its beautiful displays, had given Venus a better perch upon which we could admire her. Instead of looking down at us from a nice marbled niche (as depicted in the NGA brochure), in reality she sits there in the middle of the common area staring at the dome of the West Building like an out of place tourist. Is that any way to treat such a lady? What a shame.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Egyptian Archaeological Objects Like Cocaine?

As hard as it might be to believe, the US Government has apparently claimed so in a court filing relating to the pending forfeiture action against the SLAM Mummy Mask.

According to a blog by an attorney who previously served as SAFE's Vice President,

Federal attorneys, in their July 27 pleading, contend that SLAM’s “claim of ownership is legally impossible, and as such the Mask is effectively contraband in the hands of the Museum.” The government argues that Egypt’s patrimony law, which gives ownership rights of cultural property to the Egyptians, makes it impossible for the SLAM to own the mummy mask. Therefore, SLAM has no legal standing to assert that it can own the mask.

The government’s brief analogizes SLAM’s claim to the mask as similar to asserting ownership over cocaine—one cannot legally claim ownership. Since the mask cannot be owned by the museum, the museum lacks standing to claim ownership, the government argues.

SLAM says that it has standing to be a legal party in the case because it bought the mask and it possesses it.

Hopefully, the Government is basing its contention on more than the fact that Egypt has had at some point (1983 was the date adopted by the Court in the Schultz case) a patrimony law that vests unequivocal state ownership of Egyptian artifacts found in the ground of that country and that the artifact is indeed "Egyptian."

But, if not, what exactly is the status of the hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of other Egyptian antiquities, significant or not, floating around the United States, according to the USDOJ?

And, if this is indeed what the Government attorneys are contending, why are US government officials seemingly advancing some of the wildest claims of Egyptian cultural property nationalists like the now disgraced former Antiquities Minister Zahi Hawass?

Have senior US Government officials cleared such arguments to be made? And, if so, do they truly understand the implications of such claims?

As far as I know, there is no US law on the books that bans the possession of Egyptian artifacts as is the case with cocaine.

CPRI Director to Speak at Conference

Western Museums Association 76th Annual Meeting
September 25, 2011
Hawai‘i Convention Center Honolulu
Safeguarding the Past: An Exploration in the Illicit Trafficking of
Cultural Artifacts. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Erika Lehman, Membership Coordinator, Iolani Palace
Kevin Shimoda, Private Investigator, Office of the Inspector General
Marcellin Abong, Director, Vanuatu Cultural Centre
Kate Fitz Gibbon, Attorney and Author, Cultural Policy Research Institute

This session will look at the national and international laws surrounding the illegal trafficking of ancient / antique artifacts, with particular emphasis on those from indigenous and tribal communities of the Asia – Pacific region. Speakers will explore the motives surrounding illegal trafficking and trade of cultural artifacts as well as the means in which these illicit measures continue to thrive despite the presence of well defined laws and strict associated penalties. Panelists will further the discussion by examining several means of countering illegal trafficking of cultural artifacts as well as the hurdles museums and governing bodies face when attempting to reclaim lost artifacts.