Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Win Some, Lose Some

I suspect the timing of this announcement may not be coincidental, but Odessey Marine has revealed that it has entered into a partnership with the UK Government to salvage two hundred tons of silver from the Gairsoppa, a ship that was sunk by a U-Boat during WW II. See

The WW II era treasure appears to be even larger than one that the 11th Circuit recently ordered to be returned to the Spanish Government because it apparently came from a 19th c. Spanish man of war that Odessey had dubbed the "Black Swan" wreck. See http://shipwreck.net/pr231.php

The WWII wreck is some 3 miles under the sea, which presumably justifies the 80%-20% split Odessey has worked out with the UK Government.

I suspect that archaeologists will find something to criticize about this partnership as well. But, doesn't the age of the wreck, its depth, and money the venture will bring to the UK taxpayer distinguish it from the "Black Swan" wreck and the controversies that surrounded its exploitation?

Bankrupt Greek Government Seeks More Money From Germany as Greek Cultural Bureaucrats Work With State Department Against German Interests

Go figure. On one hand, the bankrupt Greek Government is begging the German Government for yet another bailout promising "reforms" in return. See

On the other hand, now that the US has agreed to an MOU with Greece, the Greek cultural bureaucracy is likely working with our own State Department bureaucracy to harm the interests of German small buisnesses that export ancient Greek coins to the United States. Of course, the clamp down won't impact the ability of Greek collectors to import such coins, but it will certainly impact the ability of German businesses to ship ancient coins to the US market.

And it's not as if German officials have not raised concerns about this. Indeed, the Bavarian Minister of Economic Affairs, Martin Zeil, has raised concerns about this in a letter to Judith McHale, Undersecretary of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. In his letter, Minister Zeil states,

The proposed restrictions (along for similar ones being considered for Italy) would negatively impact the legitimate numismatic trade between Germany and the United States of America and also people to people contacts between US and German citizens.

Apart from very few exceptions, no licence or permit is needed in Germany, neither for import to Germany nor for export from Germany of coins.

If the import of certain coins into the United States required an export licence granted by authorities of the export country in future, this requirement could not be fulfilled by German retailers. Legal trade would then hardly be possible between Germany and the United States.

In Germany there are around 100 auction houses, more than 500 retailers and estimated more than a half million collectors of old coins. Moreover, a considerable number of them are located in Munich, and are engaged in trade with customers in the United States.

See http://www.accg.us/news/item/Europeans_Oppose_Potential_U_S_State_Department_Import_Restrictions.aspx

Will the Greeks and our own State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs heed these concerns? Or, will they just ignore them along with those of the 70% of the public who expressed opposition to extending import restrictions to Greek coins?

Monday, September 26, 2011

ACCG Files Appeal

My law firm will be handling ACCG's appeal of Judge Blake's decision to dismiss a case meant to test recent regulations imposing import restrictions on ancient Cypriot and Chinese coins. See http://dockets.justia.com/docket/circuit-courts/ca4/11-2012/
and http://www.accg.us/News/Item/ACCG_files_appeal_of_Baltimore_decision.aspx and http://www.marketwatch.com/story/ancient-coin-collectors-appeal-dismissal-of-baltimore-test-case-2011-09-26

We've identified the following four legal issues for appellate review:

1.) Did the District Court improperly preclude ultra vires review of a Presidential designee at the Department of State’s decision making under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”) where the District Court acknowledged that the President lacked unbridled discretion under that statute?

2.) Did the District Court improperly conclude under ultra vires review that the Defendants could restrict the import of coins from China where there is no evidence in the record that China formally asked for import restrictions on coins?

3.) Did the District Court improperly preclude review under the Administrative Procedure Act (“APA”) of regulations imposing import restrictions on certain categories of Chinese and Cypriot coins where the District Court acknowledged that the final agency action was that of U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) and not the President’s designee at the State Department?

4.) Did the District Court improperly conclude after an ultra vires and Constitutional review that CBP could seize and forfeit the Guild’s property based solely on their coin types without a showing that the coins were “first discovered” in either Cyprus or China as required by the CPIA?

ACCG's initial brief is due on October 31, 2011. Additional briefing should be completed by year's end.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Common Sense

Archaeologists of earlier generations are sometimes criticised for their lack of "scientific method," but perhaps they benefited from more common sense than their modern, but far more ideological, counterparts.

Here, for example, is a quote from Sir John Evans (1823-1908), a noted archaeologist of the 19th Century (and father of the even more notable Arthur), who campaigned to ensure that finders under the Treasure Trove system would receive the fair market value for their finds:

"... His main complaint, however, was against the system of reward for finders, which was for the Treasury to pay bullion value only. Citing the example of a half-angel of Henry VI restored (1470-1) from Park Street, a small coin of modest intrinsic value but great market value. Evans managed to persuade the authorities to change to a reward based on archaeological or numismatic value, although subject to a 20% discount. While this was an improvement Evans felt it was still not good enough --finders should get the full value or return of the coins, otherwise they might still melt them down."

Lord Stewartby, "Evans and the English Coinage", in _Sir John Evans 1823-1908, Antiquity, Commerce and Natural Science in the Age of Darwin_, Ed. Arthur MacGregor, The Ashmolean, Oxford, 2008, p. 196.

Thanks to John Hooker for bringing this quote to my attention.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Future of Recording the Past

On October 12, 2011, the American Bar Association International Law Section and its Art and Cultural Heritage Law Committee will sponsor a panel about the law of finds in England and Wales, Ireland, Scotland and the United States for ABA members attending a fall meeting in Dublin:

The Future of Recording the Past in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and the United States.

Program Chair and Speaker: Patty Gerstenblith, DePaul University College of Law.

Program Chair and Moderator: Peter K. Tompa, Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC.


Roger Bland , British Museum.

Stuart Campbell, Treasure Trove Unit, Scottish National Heritage.

Eamonn Kelly, Irish National Heritage.

The panel will bring together these experts to consider the benefits and disadvantages of the systems in each of these countries, the policy goals fostered by each, and the effect the current economic crisis on the implementation of these different systems.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Afghan Neglect

For more evidence that the national governments and archaeological groups like the AIA should refocus their priorities away from harassing collectors and museums and get back to the basics. See

Afghanistan is a poor country, but there is no lack of money going to the national and regional governments. And rather than spending all that money and effort on tracking down every last minor artifact that may have left the country in the last twenty years, why not instead direct that energy and money towards USAID to help the Afghans to shore up what remains of major archaeological sites in that country?

It makes little sense to repatriate minor artifacts to a country when so little has been done to preserve the major sites that should really matter to the culture.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Bureaucratic Mess Engulfs Pompeii

In 79 AD a volcanic eruption engulfed Pompeii. Now, it is bureucratic infighting and finger pointing that have engulfed the site, crippleing any coherent response to the problems of preserving the site for future generations.

The Art Newspaper has another report about the inept bureaucratic response to the collapse of the House of the Gladiators at Pompeii. See

The State Department Cultural Heritage Center, the AIA and the Italian cultural bureaucracy may be still celebrating yet another extension of the MOU with Italy and its expansion to include coins, but the realities on the ground suggest that Italy's real problem is its own cultural bureaucrats and politicians.

One really needs to ask whether the moral support our State Department provides through such MOU's does anything other than to help prop up an utterly rotten system at the expense of American collectors, dealers and museums.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Leptis Magna Safe

This video proves that Leptis Magna is safe despite claims to the contrary publicised by scare mongers from the archaeological community with a vested interest in seeking "emergency import restrictions" on cultural goods. See

Will the archaeological blogs now report on this good news in an effort to help correct the record? I doubt it.

Still, this does not change the fact that there have been no credible reports about widespread looting or destruction of Libyan archaeological sites. Under the circumstances, it is a disservice to the new Libyan government and the Libyan people to continue to claim otherwise.

Monday, September 19, 2011

DePaul on Gerstenblith Appointment to Chair CPAC

DePaul University has publicised Prof. Patty Gerstenblith's appointment to Chair CPAC with this video. See

While I don't agree with many of Prof. Gerstenblith's views, one has to acknowledge her considerable expertise in the area from an archaological perspective and the big impact she has made in what actually is a rather small field of study.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

You Throw the Party, ICE Will Bring the Old Pottery

ICE is publicizing the repatriation of a common pre-Columbian bowl to Belize. See

The repatriation took place at an embassy event celebrating the 30th anniversary of the country's independence from Great Britain. We are told that it was recovered after a search warrant was executed in New Mexico, but we have few other details about the basis of the seizure.

Was there any evidence linking this bowl to an archaeological site or was the fact that it was a bowl identified as coming from Belize enough for ICE to seize it, presumably without any effort by the owner to contest the seizure?

How much did orchestrating this publicity stunt at the Embassy cost the American taxpayer? What will the authorities do with such a common bowl? Put it on display somewhere? Probably not except perhaps as some sort of trophy.

You Need Us, You Really Do

That, at least, seems to be the message behind a seminar organized by Italian cultural officials to address the future of archaeological sites in Libya. See

As the report states,

Before the conflict started there were over twenty archaelogical missions operating in Libya. By far the largest number, thirteen, were Italian missions, but there were also French, British, American and Polish missions amongst others. Most of those missions were represented at the meeting that was held in Caserta.

The meeting was entitled ‘For the Preservation of the Cultural Heritage in Libya, a Dialogue among Institutions’. Malta’s Ambassador and Permanent Delegate to UNESCO, Dr Ray Bondin, was the only Ambassador invited to the meeting both because of Malta’s importance to Libya and also because of his extensive contacts with the heritage authorities in Libya. Malta’s agreements with Libya cover also substantially collaboration on the heritage field. He had in fact last year made two missions to strengthen the collaboration with Malta. Because of his extensive experience in World Heritage he was giving his assistance on the site of Cyrenea, one of the major archaelogical sites in Libya. Representatives of the new transitory authories based in Benghazi were also present at the Caserta meeting. The meeting discussed the theft of heritage from Libya, the sites needing major attention, and in particular listened to the Libyans as to their immediate needs. Though the humane situation is the obvious priority at the moment the new Libya will most certainly invest more in tourism and therefore their archaeological sites are of the utmost importance.

Although much of this is all well and good, one really has to wonder whether the participants are even more interested in ensuring that they get in the good graces of Libya's new government. After all, Italy and Malta had especially cozy relations with the deposed Colonel's regime, and presumably many of the archaeological delegations that excavated in the country did so as well.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Libya: What Emergency?

There they go again. Only months after apparently receiving assurances from their buddies at the State Department about "emergency import restrictions" on Egyptian cultural artifacts, archaeological trade groups are again taking advantage of another supposed emergency to call for yet another round of emergency import restrictions, which of course, are just the first step towards a permanent ban. See http://www.archaeological.org/news/aianews/6415

Yet, the facts seem to conspire against them. See http://www.guardian.co.uk/culture/2011/sep/11/tripoli-museum-antiquity-shattered-gaddafi-image (noting that there was no looting of archaeological artifacts at the Libyan national museum).

If I were a member of the Libyan provisional government, I might be a bit peeved that foreign academics are implying that the Libyans themselves are incapable of caring for their own cultural patrimony (despite considerable evidence to the contrary) and view this call for import restrictions as nothing more than a paternalistic violation of Libyan sovereignty.

One also has to wonder what, if any contacts, members of these groups had with the deposed regime. If past history in places like Egypt and Iraq are any guide, these relations could have been considerable. And certainly, this should be considered by Libyan officials as well in determining whether the help of these groups is necessary or desirable.

But do the facts on the ground and the desires of the Libyans really matter when the cronies of these groups run the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center? Or, will Libyan cultural officials be convinced to go along whatever the true facts and what the need for emergency restrictions says about Libya's own competence to care for its own cultural patrimony?

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Journalistic Detachment?

Reporters Jason Felch and Ralph Frammolino have received accolades for their LA Times coverage of the Getty and their new book, Chasing Aphrodite. Anyone under the illusion that they may be detached journalists, however, should read about their SAFE Beacon award and review their Chasing Aphrodite Blog. See http://www.savingantiquities.org/event.php?eventID=257 and http://chasingaphrodite.com/

Messrs. Felch and Frammolino are certainly entitled to their moralistic views, but one can also wonder where their journalism ends and their advocacy begins.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

More Comments on de Valette's Sword

Here are some interesting comments about de Valette's sword from numismatist and scholar Alan Walker. He has graciously allowed me to post them on the CPO blog.

I just read your blog on the campaign to get back Grand Master Jean de la Valette's ceremonial sword and dagger, which are apparently now in the Louvre. He was given these ornamental weapons by Philip II of Spain in 1565 to celebrate the defeat of the Turkish invasion force. It would be interesting to see what they look like but I can't find them in any simple way. In any event, after his death in 1568, it would seem that they were carefully kept (perhaps as a dedication in a church - someone must know but we are not told) until they were looted by the French in 1798. Now the French of the Revolution, like the Nazis, were stupendous looters of works of art, books, coins, everything imaginable, which they brought back to adorn a great museum in Paris. This is just like Hitler's planned museum in Linz. After Napoleon was finally defeated vast amounts of looted art was returned to museums, churches and wherever all over Europe. This was thought to be correct and was a demand that the French government basically fulfilled. However, by that time Malta had become a British possession and stayed that way until 1964. So what happened with this sword at this point? In fact, what happened with whatever other art works that the French went off with from Malta in 1798? Were some or any returned to Malta, or did they just stay wherever they went? This is something we need to know.

The reason why I say this is that de la Valette was, because of his actions as Grand Master, one of Malta's great heros. Thus, something that belonged to him would be of great resonance for Malta (what else do they have that belongs to him - I don't know). So a demand that France give something back that was clearly looted in a obviously stolen sense (i.e., it was not dug out of the ground or found in ruins or in some way you could say was ownershipless - it was in fact appropriated from some kind of institution) is not at all far fetched. These items were, if they were in a church let's say (we don't know do we ) that would mean that they had been seeable by the public and were known to them over several hundred years. This also means they were really part of the nation's culture (or cultural heritage). This is very much in opposition to all those ancient objects that people scream about since they - let's say the Eupronios Krater for example - are not in any real sense part of a nation's heritage since they had no influence whatsoever on later generations of the people involved. If, for example, people could see the sword of the great hero (perhaps only on special days - we don't know) they could be inspired by it, and this could continue over some 230 years (like religious statues or paintings that stood in churches since the 14th century and were revered by generations of people for generations), we can really talk about heritage. And so, this is the kind of thing that ought, for very good reasons, be considered for repatriation from France to Malta: And not necessarily to SMOM, Valette may have been the Order's Grandmaster,but his connection to the Island is much more important.

We really aren't talking about something that is the same as a coin or an antiquity - it is a specific item that was given by a known person in a known event to a known person, and which stayed where it belonged until it was 'officially stolen'

Utter Foolishness

Now I really have seen everything. PAS critic Paul Barford is so upset with another blog that he has asked the PAS to step in on his behalf. See

He accuses the other blog of spreading misinformation, but, of course, I know more than a few individuals who believe Mr. Baford's blog is full of misinformation (as well as utter rudeness to anyone with whom he disagrees).

The good people at the PAS obviously have more to do than to mediate disputes amongst bloggers or to take issue with everything that might be said in the blogosphere.

On a related note, I understand that Mr. Barford's critical book about the PAS has evidently been delayed by the publisher once again. One can only imagine the reason why.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Can't Egypt Come Up With Its Own List?

Archaeologists have criticised the idea of suggesting programs akin to PAS to foreign states.

Yet, they seem supportive of the State Department's paternalistic effort to announce to Egypt and the rest of the world what Egyptian antiquities are supposedly "at risk." See

The Federal Budget is facing large cuts that will impact health care, defense and foreign aid. Under the circumstances, is money for the sole source contract to create this "red list" really money well spent?

Why can't Egyptian authorities prepare their own list if one is truly necessary?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

State Department Commissions Egyptian "Red List:" More Evidence of A Done Deal?

The US State Department has given a sole source contract to pro-import restrictions ICOM to create a "red list of Egyptian antiquities at risk." See https://www.fbo.gov/index?s=opportunity&mode=form&id=fa0c2fe21fd3cf5028a500f1fc4b97e4&tab=core&tabmode=list

Even as any "cultural property emergency" (if there ever really was one) fades, it again appears that the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Cultural Heritage Center may be busily at work stage managing a shadow process for imposing import restrictions on cultural goods.

What should happen under the CPIA is clear. A request from Egypt itself is contemplated. And the request should be processed through CPAC.

Here, however, former Egyptian antiquities head, Zahi Hawass, has himself been assured by American archaeologists that import restrictions are a done deal, making any request from Egypt or CPAC hearings to consider it a mere formality. See http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2011/05/hawass-says-emergency-import.html

And now it would seem that CPAC will have no real input on the content of any designated list either-- that presumably will be derived from whatever "red list" ICOM creates.

The CPRI has already made a FOIA request related to whether there is any done deal on and MOU with Egypt. See
http://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2011/06/cpri-files-foia-request-on-purported.html However, to date that FOIA request has not been acted upon by the State Department.

In running for election, President Obama promised transparent government and attention to procedure. Yet, the Obama State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs appears committed to neither.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Ancient Coins and Cultural Property Debate at ANS

My own article is the second in a series being published in the ANS Magazine about ancient coins and the cultural property debate. Not surprisingly, while Sebastian Heath's article came from an archaeological perspective, my own article comes from that of a collector. An extended version can be found here:

After explaining that bureaucrats in the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Cultural Heritage Center and their allies in the archaeological establishment have perverted the statutory process for imposing import restrictions on cultural goods to ensure that undocumented coins are treated as "stolen," and that such regulatory overkill can only damage numismatics in this country, I urge the following:

  • Collectors should be encouraged to only purchase coins from reputable sources and ensure that they retain the history of their coins with the coins themselves so it does not get lost.

  • Dealers should be encouraged to do the same, and to make sure they comply with the laws of each country in which they do business.

  • The U.S. Government should be advised to drop the idea of imposing import restrictions based on a coin’s type. The U.K. authorities have the right idea. Restrictions should only be imposed on coins reasonably suspected to be “straight from the ground” in violation of national laws or coins of the highest rarity. Restrictions based on coin type, such as ” all coins struck in Cyprus belong to Cyprus”, suggests that assuaging nationalistic impulses rather than the furthering archaeology is really the motivating force. Under no circumstances should restrictions be allowed to discriminate against American collectors and institutions. The U.S. Government should not entertain any request for broad restrictions from a country that allows its own citizens to collect unprovenanced coins or other artifacts. It is plainly unfair to place burdens on Americans that source countries will not place on their own citizens.

  • Foreign countries should be encouraged to allow the free sale and export of common coins. They should also investigate the U.K.’s Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS). These programs help preserve context, provide museums with a right of first refusal over material and give collectors access to coins, complete with information about the coin’s find spot.

  • The archaeological community should avoid ideological approaches to the question of how best to preserve provenance and foster the recording and publication of coins from any source (including those that do not come from official excavations). The AIA should, in particular, end its aggressive campaign for import restrictions on ancient coins. Such restrictions are by their nature controversial: they bar import into the U.S. of artifacts legitimately sold abroad merely because the importer cannot produce detailed provenance information. Preserving archaeological context may be a worthy societal goal, but the AIA’s support for import restrictions confuses “conservation” with “control,” to the detriment not only of collectors, but of numismatics itself.

    I'm grateful for the ANS to allow me to express my views, and hope others will also make workable suggestions on how to preserve both collecting that is essential to numismatics and context that is so important to archaeologists.