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.

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Cultural Property Observer said...

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