Friday, December 28, 2012

ACCG to Petition the Supreme Court

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild has decided to petition the U.S. Supreme Court and request reversal of the Fourth Circuit's decision to affirm the dismissal of its test case. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Soft Sell on Cambodian Repatriation

It's interesting to contrast the hardball tactics of elements within the US Government and the US archaeological lobby with the softer line on Cambodian antiquities taken by Prince Ravivaddhana Sisowath of Cambodia.  Is this a case of Good Cop/Bad Cop or is the archaeological lobby cart pushing the repatriation horse once again? 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

SAFE No More?

A reliable source indicates that Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) is effectively dead.  While SAFE's website remains online, it has not really been updated for some time.

Certainly, SAFE has not been very active in the past year or so. And despite rumors that SAFE was planning a major conference on Turkish antiquities that was to be funded by Turkey’s U.S. lawyers, nothing ever came of it.

It does appear that a related group called "Antiquity Now" is forming on Facebook. It will be interesting to see if it becomes more active as time goes by.

I for one will not mourn the demise of SAFE.   From the start, it was highly confrontational, and brought far more heat than light to cultural property issues.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Nanny State Empowered to Regulate Hemingway's Cats

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a decision allowing the Department of Agriculture to regulate how the Hemingway Museum treats the descendants of Hemingway's cats that live on the property.  In so doing, the Court concluded that the Museum met the definition of an an animal exhibitor and that agency regulations and advertisements featuring the cats were enough to provide the necessary nexus to interstate commerce.  Now, the DOA can force the Hemingway Museum to cage the cats individually at night, to construct a higher electrified fence or to hire a night watchman, and to build additional cat resting areas.  As with coin collecting, even if the Government has the right to regulate something, one can still question its stupidity in doing so. Perhaps the Supreme Court might consider taking both the Hemingway cat case and ACCG coin case.  Each would present a good opportunity for the Court to consider Government overreach at its most ridiculous. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Belize Lays Claim to Crystal Skull Movie's "Illegal Profits"

It must take awhile for movies to get down to Belize.  It's been out for years, but now an archaeologist, purportedly acting on behalf of that nation's government, is suing the owners of the Indiana Jones franchise for their alleged unauthorized use of a facsimile of an artifact from that country.

According to press reports, "Scientist Jaime Awe claims Hollywood hot shots used a model of the swiped Belizean relic in the 2008 flick, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” to rake in 'illegal profits.'”

Of course, he now wants a piece of the action, i.e., a portion of the Crystal Skull Movie's $378 million profit, for the Central American country.

In so doing, Awe and Belize seem to be taking a page from Zahi Hawass and Egypt who hoped to copyright  the pyramids and rake in even larger sums.  

Leaving aside the dubious merits of this lawsuit, I have to assume this news is a bit embarrassing for Harrison Ford, a.k.a "Indiana Jones," who is a past AIA Trustee.

And which side will the AIA take in this dispute?  The downtrodden and exploited country of Belize or the Hollywood hot shots who have helped promote archaeology?

And will SAFE and other hard liners be telling the AIA "we told you so" for its efforts to promote the movie and make its leading man an AIA Trustee?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Archaeobloggers Seek "Union Shop?"

The UK's PAS and Treasure Act are popular programs because they encourage the public to report coins and other ancient artifacts they find so they can be properly recorded.  That which the government does not need for its collections is disclaimed, and returned to the finder to do with what he or she will.   Moreover, the State pays fair market value for what it keeps, which incentivizes the State to only retain what it will properly care for, study and display.

What is the result of this win-win situation? The UK's Minister of Culture recently observed surprise, surprise, that incentivizing the public to report what they find has led to more finds being reported in England and Wales than anywhere else:

A little known fact I discovered this week – Britain tops the league table for hoards. I am told, we have more archaeological finds every year than any other country. Whether this is per square foot or per head of the population, I am not sure, but it is a good statistic so I’m going to use it.

However, the archaeological blogosphere does not celebrate, but rather condemns this news, claiming that the U.K.'s system encourages metal detecting rather than the recording of finds.  Yet, take the case of Bulgaria.  It has been estimated that 100,000-250,000 Bulgarians conduct illicit excavations, and little is  actually recorded because all the incentives in that corrupt system discourage people to report what they might find.  So, which system is better?

Clearly, the U.K.'s system, no?  Yet, the archaeological blogosphere begs to differ.  Instead, they claim that even the most common artifacts like coins should be left in the ground for some future archaeologist to find.  But the reality is that archaeologists will always be few in number and it is highly unlikely any will ever actually tread where many of the artifacts reported by the PAS and Treasure Act are found.

Thus, one really must wonder whether the archaeological blogosphere is more concerned about preserving and recording the past or ensuring that cultural heritage is a union shop for card carrying archaeologists.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Corruption and the Archaeological Lobby's Models

It's interesting to see where the archaeological lobby's models stack up on Transparency International's 2012 Corruption Perception Index:  Bulgaria-75; China-80; Cyprus-29; Egypt-118, Greece-94; Italy-72 and Turkey-54. 

The higher the number, the higher the perception of corruption.  Denmark is No. 1 as the least corrupt country while No.174, Somalia, is perceived as most corrupt.

While Cyprus' rank of 29 would seem at first blush to be fairly good, at least some commentators suggest that Cypriots themselves think their government is more corrupt than Transparency International's experts believe.  

It's interesting that these countries also have very restrictive export controls for cultural property.  One might suspect that such controls merely provide an opportunity for corrupt officials to profit from the system.

Why does the archaeological lobby continue to see such corrupt systems as models for cultural heritage protection?  Or are they somehow suggesting the cultural bureaucracies in these countries are far cleaner than government in general?  And, if so, what is their basis for any such claim?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

More Success from Treasure Act and PAS

The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme have reported another good year, which again begs the question why the US archaeological lobby is so hostile to any suggestion that a similar program should be tried elsewhere and barely tolerant of the program even for England and Wales.

Indeed, it's a bit of a puzzle why the archaeological lobby (and by default their allies in the State Department Cultural Heritage Center) seem more influenced by the views of the corrupt and/or bankrupt and/or authoritarian governments of places like Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece and Italy than by the fair play of our longstanding ally, the United Kingdom. 

Perhaps, some of the millions of dollars of US taxpayer money committed to archaeological projects in places  like Iraq and Egypt should instead be invested in a pilot Portable Antiquities Scheme program in a place like Bulgaria.  That would help Bulgaria record many of the coins that now are not recorded, and show our support not only for Bulgaria, but for our ally, the United Kingdom.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Roads of Arabia at the Sackler

Today, Saudi Arabia is known as the religious center for the world's Muslims and the World's major supplier of petroleum products.  In past times, however, the Arabian Peninsula was known for the trade in incense and copper.   The Sackler has organized  an excellent exhibit that focuses on Arabia's early cultures, but also touches on Saudi Arabia's more recent Islamic past.  Some of the more interesting objects include anthropomorphic steles and altars from the 4th C. B.C. as well as some classical Greek and Roman objects that were imported in trade.

Kudos to the Sackler, the Saudi Government, Exxon Mobile and Saudi Aramco for arranging this excellent exhibit of unusual artifacts from the Arabian Peninsula.  I'm only sorry that there were no early coins on display from the pre-Islamic period. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

PAS Harnesses the Power of the Public

The Art Newspaper has written favorably about the PAS and its efforts to record evidence of the past in Britain and Wales.  Of course, the PAS records coins and other artifacts, but this effort has fostered academic research as well.  As the article explains:

The information provided by members of the public over the last 15 years is available for all to see on the PAS database. This now contains around 810,000 items and spans objects dating from the Stone Age to Anglo-Saxon, Roman, medieval, and post-medieval times. Every entry includes archaeological information on the object in question, details of where it was discovered and often incorporates notes of scholarly interest. The database provides a historical snapshot of human settlement in England and Wales and is an awesome example of what can be achieved by harnessing the power of the public.

“It’s now a major academic resource,” says Bland. “There are 66 people using it for their PhDs and 140 other post-graduate students or undergraduates using it for their dissertations as well as around 12 major funded research projects [working on it], one of them with £150,000 from the Leverhulme Trust to allow us to analyse the factors underlying the data.”

Given these successes, it's hard to understand the hostility still shown it in parts of the archaeological blogosphere and the unwillingness to consider whether it can be adapted in some fashion in countries like Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, and Italy. 

The amounts spent on PAS would seem to give far more "bang for the buck" (or perhaps pound in this case) than many archaeological programs.  Perhaps the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and USAID should consider funding a pilot program in a source country like Bulgaria. The costs could be minimal compared to the amounts spent on archaeology in places like Iraq and Egypt.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Cultural Heritage Center Website Updated

The Cultural Heritage Center's website has been spiffed up with pictures, including one of Hillary Clinton gazing at a Greek statute.  Unfortunately, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs' tag line "promoting mutual understanding" rings hollow for ancient coin collectors at least.  Indeed, ECA's controversial import restrictions on millions of ancient Greek, Roman and Chinese coins of the sort avidly collected world-wide has, if anything, greatly harmed people to people contacts between collectors in the US and foreign countries.  Why not promote ancient coin collecting, and the cultural understanding it fosters (at no cost to the U.S. taxpayer), rather than seek to suppress it to the benefit of no one but a small number of academic archaeologists and their patrons in foreign cultural bureaucracies?

Monday, November 26, 2012

No Sense of Humor or Balance, Just Useful Cover?

I guess on reflection it's not all that surprising that the archaeological blogosphere, what with its archaeology over all fanaticism, lacks a sense of humor.  Or that somehow an advertisement for the sale of a collection of Islamic coins becomes a springboard for a diatribe against the seller (the ACCG's founder), the collector (a man of the cloth), the Arab Spring (dislocation dethrones some of archaeology's friends in the region?), American Culture (grasping rather than free?), and U.S. Foreign Policy (US made tear gas and "political assasination drones" rather than support for democracy and vast amounts of foreign aid?). But if so, how can the State Department bureaucracy really take the rants of such archaeologists whether in the blogosphere or in comments to CPAC seriously?   Or do they just provide a useful cover for State's proclivity to trade the interests of US small businesses, collectors and museums for the fleeting good will of some foreign potentate? 


Germany has agreed to repatriate  a winged seahorse brooch back to Turkey.  The brooch is the most significant piece from the so-called Lyidan Hoard that was first repatriated to Turkey by the MET back in the 1993, but then illegally sold off by a Turkish Museum director to help pay off gambling debts.  Given the embarassing situation, Turkish officials have not been exactly seeking extensive publicity for the return.  It remains unclear how the brooch got to Germany, and what, if any, plans the Turkish government has to secure it in the future.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving: Khouli Sentenced to Home Detention

The U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of New York has sentenced Mousa ("Morris") Khouli to six months of home detention and one year probation for smuggling Egyptian antiquities by way of false declarations on customs forms.  The prosecutor had asked for 46-57 months of incarceration, but the Court evidently was swayed by a sentencing memorandum prepared by Khouli's lawyer that outlined the relatively modest sentences given for other "cultural property" crimes.

The blood-thirsty archaeological blogosphere will likely be aghast at the length of the sentence. But then again, as set forth in the declaration of Jay Kislak appended to ACCG's recently filed petition for rehearing there is credible evidence to suggest that certain individual(s) at the US Department of State misled Congress and the public in official reports about import restrictions on Cypriot coins and have yet to be called into account in any fashion whatsoever.   

Is it really more serious to mislead on a customs form than in an official government report sent to Congress?  And let's not forget that the very same State Department bureaucrats involved in the Cypriot coin controversy are also intimately involved in coordinating repatriations like that at issue in the Khouli case through the State Department's "Cultural Antiquities Task Force."  Why should they be above the law?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Repatriation as a Diplomatic Tool?

Pity poor old U.S News and World Report. It used to be one of the three major news weekly magazines. Now, it's reduced to a web-only publication that in the search for free content has uncritically promoted the views of those ideologically opposed to collecting that repatriation has a real value as a “diplomatic tool.”   But, as I have pointed out in comments to the article,
·         While antiquities should be repatriated in clear cases, the problem is that all too often they are repatriated in unclear situations where the same types of artifacts are openly available for sale in a particular country. How does this happen? Academics with axes to grind against collectors gin up publicity, that gets foreign governments and then our government involved. And given the modest values of many objects and the costs of mounting a legal defense, it’s the rare case where it makes financial sense to contest the seizure-- so the Government wins by default, and hard questions are never asked about the real situation in the source country.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Fund an Inclusive Approach to Archaeology

With limited funding available in challenging financial times, should the Government continue to fund a program that promotes recording finds and an inclusive view of archaeology that is popular with members of the general public?   I would say yes and view claims that funding should be reprogrammed to fund "crumbling castles" as promoting a false choice.  If there needs to be cuts, why not defund programs that only benefit a tiny group of insular archaeologists?  Professor Gill,  are you a good value for the UK taxpayer? 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Big Brother Will Be Watching You

Or so ICOM hopes in its effort to gain funding from the cash poor EU to help promote its continuing propaganda effort against the antiquities trade and at the same time perhaps provide some additional gainful employment for academics with an axe to grind against collectors.

I'm afraid this proposal looks to be little more than a state sponsored version of Wikiloot.  Any funding would be better spent on promoting more effective enforcement in source countries, and better yet more liberal laws in such countries that actually promote the public to get involved in preserving heritage.

Ruling in T-Rex Bataar Case

The Hon. P. Kevin Castel, has denied Eric Prokopi's Motion to Dismiss in the ongoing T-Rex Bataar forfeiture action in the initial pleading stage of the case, but in doing so has reserved the issues Prokopi raised with regard to the Government's case for possible further consideration later on.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Petition to Save Significant Buddhist Archaeological Site from Destruction

CPO has been following this story for some time.   When the Taliban dynamited ancient Buddhas in Afghanistan, the world was aghast.   Now, the current Afghan Government has authorized the destruction of another important Buddhist site by a Chinese Mining Company, but the outrage has been minimal.

Why has the archaeological establishment been silent?  Good question.

In any event, you can make your concerns known through this petition on, though I question whether it really will matter as it seems that the Chinese will start mining operations shortly.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

ACCG Files Petition for Rehearing

The ACCG has requested the entire Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals to rehear the dismissal of its case testing regulations imposing import restrictions on historical coins of the sort widely traded worldwide.  The ACCG has argued that the panel’s decision ignores Supreme Court precedent, case law in sister circuits, and the “plain meaning” rule.  Specifically, the ACCG states that the panel: (1) failed to consider the U.S. Supreme Court’s test for determining if “foreign policy” concerns trump the judiciary’s obligation “to say what the law is;” (2) adopted a version of judicial review far narrower than that afforded in sister federal appellate courts; and (3) wrongly assumed that CPAC approved of the Government’s decision imposing restrictions on coins based on their place of production rather than their find spot despite the sworn statement of Jay Kislak, CPAC former Chairman, that was previously brought to the trial court’s attention. 

What Ever Happened to Wikiloot?

I’ve been critical of Wikiloot, what with its confusion of journalism with activism, the prospects for abuse, and the fact that in the end it is really just another diversion from much needed scrutiny of the poor cultural heritage policies of many source countries. There has been some continuing discussion of the project in the blogosphere, but no indication that Wikiloot remains anything other than a proposal. What has become of Wikiloot?

Friday, November 9, 2012

Neo-Colonialism Alive and Well in Archaeological World?

One academic has raised the provocative question whether neo-colonialism pervades the world of archaeology. Come to think of it, perhaps some of the elements are there.  Digs as "campaigns." Exploitation of locals for menial labor.  Condemning them for digging artifacts for money, but conveniently looking the other way when the perpetrators are national elites.  Supporting the removal of artifacts to national as opposed to local museums.  And all in the name of continued access to archaeological sites for careerist gain. 

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Rome's Bio-Cultural Patrimony Deserves Protection Against Italy's Archaeologists

Italy's state funded archaeologists have their hands full, what with the ruins of Pompeii, the Colosseum, and Nero's Golden House falling down due to underfunding, incompetence and neglect.  Yet, instead of facing these big issues, they have declared war on Rome's stray cats and the dedicated volunteers that care for them.   

One legend has it that the cats descend from the lions of ancient times.  Once eating Christians was disallowed, they adapted by making do with handouts and the occasional mouse and evolved over time to their current dimunitive size. 

Whether this legend is true or not, Italian authorities have certainly declared the cats officially part Rome's "bio-cultural patrimony."

So its high time to protect the cats against Italy's archaeologists and cultural bureacrats.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Is the State Department Cultural Heritage Center Worth Funding with Money Borrowed From China?

During one of the presidential debates, Republican Presidential Candidate Mitt Romney said his test for whether a federal program should be continued is whether it was worth funding with money borrowed from China.   Whether Romney wins the presidency or President Obama is reelected, the next Administration will face some hard choices about what programs are really worth funding. 

If the State Department is forced to start watching its pennies, I'm not sure its Cultural Heritage Center could really justify its worth compared to other worthy State Department programs.

The Center caters exclusively to a small group of academics and foreign cultural heritage bureaucrats.   The money it hands out to foreign countries to fund archaeological projects could probably be better spent on things like supplies of clean water or fighting aids.

Moreover, the actual public support for its program to restrict the import of cultural goods is quite slim.  And the net result of its activities has simply been to give foreign collectors and cultural goods dealers a competitive advantage.  While Americans face stifling red tape requirements that preclude entry of  thousands upon thousands of cultural artifacts, foreign collectors and dealers face no such hurdles and go about their business as usual.

Perhaps, the best thing to do would be to eliminate the Cultural Heritage Center and transfer CPAC and the decision making regarding import restrictions to the Department of Commerce.  Commerce is well suited for handling trade issues and would likely not take the anti-business stance that seems ingrained in the State Department bureaucracy.   

Will this happen anytime soon?  No, but hopefully federal budget makers will start asking some hard questions about exactly what the Cultural Heritage Center does for the American taxpayer.  Certainly, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals recently suggested that it might be time for Congress and the Executive Branch to pay more attention to what the Cultural Heritage Center is doing.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The Obama Record for Collectors: Not a Good One

President Obama's reelection efforts will not rise or fall on his Administration's position on ancient coin collecting, but his record on cultural patrimony issues is worth recounting because of the stark contrast between the Administration's rhetoric and the dismal reality of its actions.

Transparency-  The rhetoric:  President Obama promised that his Administration would be the most transparent in history.   The reality:  The Obama State Department has refused to release the most basic information about its decision making on import restrictions on cultural goods.  Moreover, the Administration has started closing interim reviews of MOUs.  This contrasts with the practice of the Bush Administration, which allowed the public to comment at CPAC meetings whether Italy and Cyprus had met their own obligations under MOU's.  For now at least, the public can still comment before MOU's are renewed.

Overregulation of Small Business:  The rhetoric:  The President claims to be against overregulating small business.  The reality:   The Obama Administration has extended difficult to comply with import restrictions to Greek and Roman coins from Italy and Greece (the heart of the ancient coin market), and will likely add Bulgarian coins to the list soon as well.   In so doing, the Administration has ignored multiple requests for meetings to discuss compliance issues from different coin groups, has offered only condescending responses to bipartisan Congressional inquiries (including one coordinated from the office of Republican VP Candidate Congressman Ryan), and has packed CPAC with academics with little sympathy for such concerns.

China:  The rhetoric:  The President claims he will be tough on Chinese "cheating."  The reality:  The Obama State Department has closed a CPAC meeting to discuss the interim review of the Chinese MOU.  CPAC should be discussing how import restrictions have done little but empower Chinese auction houses linked to the country's ruling elite, but the State Department will instead likely take advantage of this secrecy to spoon feed CPAC a wildly different version of whether import restrictions have been successful.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Fourth Circuit Affirms Dismissal of Test Case

The Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit has affirmed Judge Blake’s decision dismissing ACCG’s test case on Cypriot and Chinese import restrictions on coins. Although the Court conceded that the Guild’s arguments, “are not without a point,” the Court concluded any changes to how the State Department and US Customs administers the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act must emanate from Congress and the Executive Branch and not the Courts. Nonetheless, the Court of Appeals indicated that ACCG could still pursue various forfeiture defenses related to the seizure of the specific coins it imported. The ACCG is considering further appellate options afforded under the Court’s rules.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Renewed Motion to Dismiss in Dinosaur Forfeiture Case

In response to the Government's Amended Complaint, my firm, Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC along with Michael McCullough LLC, have filed a renewed motion to dismiss.  The legal basis for the motion is addressed in this supporting memorandum.    Pursuant to the Court's September 7, 2012 order, the Government's response is due on or before October 19, 2012 and any reply is due on or before October 30, 2012.

Update (10/17/12):  Here is a balanced article on the Government's unfortunate effort to convert this civil action into a criminal one.

Update (10/23/12):  Here is our reply brief in support of Claimant's Motion to Dismiss.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

More Criticism for Turkey's Repatriation Claims

The the Guardian has now joined the chorus of criticism for Turkey's recent over broad repatriation claims.  As the article notes,

The Turkish economy has come down from the vertiginous heights of 2010 and 2011, when annual growth exceeded 8%, but the country remains one of the only economic winners of the past few years – Turkey is ready to play in the big time. It's already at the top table of geopolitics (the G20) and defense (Nato). Its failure to get into the EU now looks like a blessing in disguise. Its retaliation against Syria this past week marks not only its military might, but also US and EU dependence on Turkey in a region changing too fast for western diplomats to handle. And now, naturally, Turkey wants to make their mark in the cultural sphere as well.

"Artifacts have souls and historical memories," according to Ertugrul Gunay, Turkey's pugnacious culture minister. "When they are repatriated to their countries, the balance of nature will be restored."

That nationalistic statement puts Turkey in the vanguard of a troubling tendency, one seen everywhere from Israel to China: that the nation state has an infinite claim to a cultural heritage that may date back thousands of years before the state's foundation. Gunay's appeal to the "balance of nature" is telling. He conceives of the nation state as something organic, an unchanging territorial bond, rather than a relatively recent phenomenon in world history.

It's worth recalling that the Turks, or at least their historical ancestors, were involved in the hottest cultural property dispute of them all. The tussle over the Elgin Marbles, in the British Museum, is usually seen as an Anglo-Greek affair. But of course, it was the Ottoman Empire that took Elgin's money, and it's Ottoman documents that, so say the Brits, prove the legality of Elgin's "purchase" (more like bribe).

But that case only highlights that when it comes to cultural restitution, national boundaries are not very helpful guides. Cultures are not ahistorical and immutable. They change all the time. And they certainly don't line up easily with the borders on our maps, to say nothing of the governments that delimit them.

Despite these sentiments against the repatriation of artifacts that left Turkey before 1970, the article expresses support for the MET's decision to repatriate the so-called Lydian hoard, despite the fact that far fewer individuals have seen the artifacts in a small provincial museum in Turkey than could have seen them at the MET.   The article fails to mention that some of the major pieces from this collection were evidently stolen from the Turkish museum and replaced with fakes.  Perhaps, where the artifacts can be best be curated, preserved and displayed should also be considered.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Should the Shultz Conviction Be Vacated?

In order to convict Fred Shultz of theft of Egyptian cultural property, the Government put on testimony that Egyptian Law 117 of 1983 unequivocally asserted state ownership of all antiquities and that private ownership, possession and disposal of such antiquities was prohibited.  See United States v. Shultz, 178 F. Supp. 2d 445 (S.D.N.Y. 2002).

Now that the Mubarak regime has fallen, however, an Egyptian academic has asserted that  Mubarak, along with his predecessors, gave antiquities from the Egyptian museum away as gifts.  Arguably then, because Fred Shultz's conviction was based on incomplete-- if not false testimony-- from Egyptian officials, in the interests of justice it should be vacated.

Interestingly, while Egyptian cultural authorities deny artifacts were gifted by President Mubarak, they do admit that antiquities were gifted before that time.

If so, shouldn't this news also support the dismissal of the Government's case against SLAM because it indeed shows the possibility that artifacts owned by the Egyptian government were gifted in the past?

Monday, October 8, 2012

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston Opens New Ancient Coin Exhibit

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, has opened our nation's only permanent exhibition space for ancient coins in a US art museum.   There are other more or less permanent displays of ancient coins at other art museums, but nothing of a similar scale.

Kudos to the MFA for exhibiting its fine collection of ancient coins for the public.  For more, see here.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Ancient Coin Trade Fights Back

The Art Newspaper (Oct. 2012) has published an article by Riah Pryor about the ACCG's test case, currently pending before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals.   The article correctly notes that one of  ACCG's key complaints is that the applicable regulations " muddl[e] up the place a coin was made with the place it was found."  If the point of import restrictions is to protect archaeological sites in source countries, why has the Government written restrictions based on a coin's place of production rather than its find spot? 

Nathan Elkins, a strident critic of collectors and the coin trade, suggests that the dispute is between "experts and academics on one side and and collectors and dealers on the other," but several more seasoned academics I know have also expressed concern that such over broad restrictions do little but encourage grasping cultural bureaucracies like  those of Cyprus, Greece, Italy, and China to lay claim to any artifact that may have been produced in those countries millenia ago. 

Is this really what protecting archaeological sites should be about?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Candidates Agree Small Business Needs Help-- When Will State and CBP Get the Message?

Like many Americans, I watched the Presidential debate last night.   The candidates disagreed on many things, but agreed that small business needs help and that "one size fits all" regulations can harm small business without really benefiting the public at large.

When will the State Department and US Customs and Border Protection get the message?  Their "one size fits all" import restrictions on cultural goods require the same showing for licit import of a $1 million dollar vase as a $2 coin widely traded abroad.   (And let's not forget CBP has gone well beyond what is allowed under law to only allow import of artifacts pictured in auction catalogues.)  As I observed during oral argument before the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals in the ACCG test case, that simply makes no sense. 

Despite nods of agreement from two of the judges on the panel, the Court may indeed decide to affirm Judge Blake's decision to give State and CBP the green light to crush the small businesses of the numismatic trade with such over regulation, but the question remains does this make sense?

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Turkish Minister of Culture Defends Repatriation Drive with New Age Spiritualism?

An informed CPO reader who has lived in the Islamic world found this statement attributed to  the Turkish Minister of Culture not only bizarre, but potentially offensive to Muslims:

“Artifacts, just like people, animals or plants, have souls and historical memories,” said Turkey’s culture minister, Ertugrul Gunay. “When they are repatriated to their countries, the balance of nature will be restored.”

The belief that objects are somehow sacred and that they possess "souls" would be considered idolatry in Islam. Only God can endow a creature with a soul and only living creatures are so endowed.

As a statement of official position from a secular, but nonetheless Islamic country run by an Islamicist party-- the AK-- this is deeply shocking. As a parroting of the overwrought SAFE line - perhaps not so much.

Was the Turkish Minister of Culture just playing to fringe elements within the archaeological lobby that have been supportive of Turkey's aggressive repatriation demands?  Does he really believe artifacts have "souls?"  If so, I suggest he make the same statement to a Turkish newspaper, and then see what reaction he receives.

And frankly, doesn't such talk just give ammunition to fanatic Islamic militants who have smashed antiquities in the name of stamping out idolatry? 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Has State and CBP Exceeded Their Authority in Imposing Import Restrictions on Ecclesiastical Artifacts?

The CPIA only allows for restrictions on archaeological or ethnological artifacts.   The latter are defined as the products of tribal or nonindustrial societies.  19 U.S.C. Section 2601 (2) (C) (ii).  The Senate Report further makes clear that ethnological artifacts are only supposed to encompass "tribal" or "primitive art," such as masks, idols or totem poles.  (Senate Report at 5.)

The recently announced expansion of Guatamalen import restrictions thus once again raises the question whether State and CBP have exceeded their authority, this time by adding restrictions on ecclesiastical artifacts that date as late as 1821.  Here is a list of the newly restricted artifacts.  Can State and CBP fairly claim they encompass "tribal" or "primitive" art?

Ecclesiastical Ethnological Material (Dating From Approximately A.D. 1524 to 1821)

VI. Sculpture—Sculptural images of scenes or figures, carved in wood andusually painted, relating to ecclesiastical themes, such as the Virgin Mary, saints,angels, Christ, and others.

A. Relief Sculptures—circular-shaped, low-relief plaques, often polychrome wood, relating to ecclesiastical themes.

B. Sculpted Figures—wood carvings of figures relating to ecclesiastical themes, often with moveable limbs, usually with polychrome painting of skin and features; clothing might be sculpted and painted, or actual fabric clothing might be added.

C. Life-Sized Sculptures—full figure wood carvings of figures relating to ecclesiastical themes, often with polychrome painting using the estofado technique, and occasionally embellished with metal objects such as halos, aureoles, and staves.

VII. Painting—paintings illustrating figures, narratives, and events relating to ecclesiastical themes, usually done in oil on wood, metal, walls, or canvas (linen, jute, or cotton).

A. Easel Paintings—pictorial works relating to ecclesiastical themes on wood, metal, or cloth (framed or applied directly to structural walls).

B. Mural Paintings—pictorial works, executed directly on structural walls, relating to ecclesiastical themes.

VIII. Metal—ritual objects for ceremonial ecclesiastical use made of gold, silver, or other metal, including monstrances, lecterns, chalices, censers, candlesticks, crucifixes, crosses, and tabernacles; and objects used to dress sculptures, such as crowns, halos, and aureoles, among others.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Reader Beware: Peter Weiss' Mea Culpa and Ancient Coin Collecting

The archaeological blogosphere is seeking to make the most of Peter Weiss' article in the ANS Magazine. While I don't have much to quibble with concerning Peter's recommendations-- at least as they relate to purchasing very expensive ancient coins-- one must also acknowledge that the article was written under duress as part of a plea deal, and one wonders if getting the article vetted by members of the archaeological lobby was some sort of requirement. It is of particular note that John Russell, a former (or current?) State Department employee also associated with the archaeological lobby (but not known as an expert in coins) is specifically mentioned in the introduction as one of Weiss' editors. Did prosecutor Bogdanos want to help his friends in the State Department justify their much criticized decision making concerning import restrictions on coins by "suggesting" that Russell and other members of the archaeological lobby be given editorial rights? The article certainly fails to mention some of the problems with the archaeological orthodoxy, including poor stewardship of coin finds by archaeologists and countries like Greece, Cyprus and Italy.  And let us not forget that unprovenanced coins are widely collected in each of the countries for which the US has granted import restrictions.  Yet, I hear no US archaeologist or State Department official criticizing such practices.

For more about Russell's apparent transformation from sanctions breaker to rule maker, see an earlier blog.

Update:  As some in the archaeological blogosphere purport to want me to respond to the topics raised in Peter Weiss' article, here again is a link to the article I wrote for the ANS Magazine.  I can also assure CPO readers that my own article was not written under duress.  Nor was it vetted by members of the archaeological lobby before publication.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Closed CPAC Meetings on Chinese and Cambodian MOU's

There was a time under the Bush Administration that CPAC conducted open meetings in conjunction with their interim reviews of controversial MOU's, like that of Italy.  Under the supposedly transparent Obama Administration that is no longer the case.  The Chinese MOU in particular has been very controversial.  So why not hold an open CPAC meeting where the public can comment on how China has responded to what is asked of it under the current MOU?

Oral Argument in ACCG v. U.S. Customs Appeal

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals has posted a somewhat hard to hear audio link of the oral argument in the ACCG v. U.S. Customs and Border Protection appeal that took place on September 19, 2012.   The panel included senior Judge Wilkinson, newly appointed Judge Thacker, and U.S. District Court Judge Urbanski, who was sitting by designation.  Samantha Chaifetz represented the Government and I represented the ACCG in the appeal.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

As Islamic Fanatics Destroy Libraries, State Department and Customs Reauthorize Regulations Returning Cultural Property to Mali

Given the latest round of destruction--this time of Islamic books-- it would not seem to be the best time to reauthorize import restrictions that call for the repatriation of cultural artifacts to Mali.   But the US Cultural Bureaucracy at State and US Customs seems unmoved by the recent turmoil in the country, and they have just announced the renewal of the current restrictions on such artifacts which authorize their return to the country.  Is our cultural bureaucracy out of touch with reality?  Does it make sense to send back artifacts to Mali where they may end up just getting destroyed?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Religious Bigotry Finds Home in Archaeological Blogosphere

One member of the archaeological blogosphere has now insulted the religion of one of the US Presidential candidates.  The basis for the attack is the opinion of a prominent UK atheist, who presumably thinks all other world religions are frauds too.  But what would that atheist think about the secular religion of archaeology, what with its view that culture bureaucrats and archaeologists are gods with absolute rights to control everything old and a first commandment that there can be no meaning without archaeological context?  I just wonder....  

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Egyptian Administrative Court Orders Return of Artifacts on Display in US

An Egyptian administrative court has ruled that objects in a US travelling exhibition should be returned home because they improperly left the country.  Former Egyptian antiquities Pharaoh Hawass has been charged with corruption based on his links to this exhibit.  It's unclear if Egyptian authorities believe that Hawass skimmed any of the money from the travelling show or they solely claim that improper procedures were followed in allowing the artifacts to be exhibited abroad.  

It is clear that this action will cause headaches for Hawass' friends in the US, including National Geographic.  (The Rupert Murdoch connection in the article is unclear, though presumably it relates to the National Geographic Cable TV channel.)   Before the revolution, National Geographic was paying Hawass as much as $200,000 per year for being an "explorer in residence."

The US Government has been very aggressive in seeking the repatriation of Egyptian artifacts, but  seemingly uninterested in determining if there have been any financial improprieties related to payments for this exhibit.  Given the money involved, one would think there should be some investigation even if it would by necessity look at Hawass' friends associated with the archaeological lobby.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A Turkish Scholar's Critique of Turkey's Hardball Tactics

A renowned Turkish historian, Dr Edhem Eldem, has critiqued Turkey's recent nationalistic hardball tactics here.    Will any American archaeologists be brave enough to speak up?   And what of the archaeological blogosphere?  

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Principle or Self-Preservation?

The archaeological lobby will no doubt pitch the Penn Museum's decision to repatriate ancient jewelry it purchased back in 1966 (well before the 1970 UNESCO Convention) to Turkey as a matter of principle.  However, given Turkey's hard ball tactics against German archaeologists at Troy, did preservation of digging rights and all that means for U. Penn archaeologists' careers also enter the picture? 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

ICOM Working on Syrian Red List

NBC News reports that ICOM is working on a Syrian Red List of Antiquities at Risk.  Unfortunately, the unfolding tragedy in Syria again seems to have encouraged others to use it as yet another opportunity to pursue an anti-collecting agenda, complete with the usual cast of villains and stratospheric valuations of objects that have allegedly been looted. 

CPO nonetheless wishes to join others in their concern about the consequences for archaeology of the chaos in Syria. Syria has far fewer sites than Iraq, but the disintegration of government authority across the country will surely put these, and the treasures in Syria's museums, at risk. Many Syrian artifacts are self-evident to the knowledgeable scholar and collector, and while most do not reach the level of high art, CPO counsels against acquisition of anything that is clearly of Syrian origin from anything other than reputable sources. 

It continues to be a dark shame that much Syrian archaeology is so little documented. The inventory of the Damascus Museum's, a true gem among museums in the Middle East, filled with crucially important material, is meager in comparison to what it holds. The same is true of Syria's other regional museum. Perhaps worse, excavations have done little to fully document what they have dug up, or allocated funds necessary to make full records of the material they have uncovered. It is always easier and more fun to dig than to record or publish. But the consequences of such negligence have been apparent in Iraq, and now stare us in the face in Syria.

What are we to do about it?

Monday, September 10, 2012


Archaeology Magazine has a nice write up about Aquincum, Roman ruins that can be seen in today's Budapest.  I just had the opportunity to visit again after a period of 16 years.   In addition to the ruins themselves, there is a beautiful new museum, though sadly the old museum on the grounds is now closed and in disrepair.  The site also features a Roman themed playground for children and some neat periscope like devices that place an image of a reconstruction of the site over today's scene.  For those visiting Budapest, Aquincum is a bit off the beaten track, but well worth the visit.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

What of SAFE's Turkish Repatriation Fest?

Some months ago Saving Antiquities for Everyone was working with Turkey's US lawyers (who also help fund SAFE) to produce a conference to help make the case that antiquities should be repatriated to that country. 

From what I heard about this repatriation fest, there would be no discussion of the fact that many of these antiquities left before 1970 or that many are also the products of Greek culture, when Turkey's own Greek citizens were ethnically cleansed back in the 1920's.

Yet, nothing more has been heard of this conference, which was originally scheduled for early October.  Is there to be a great Turkish showcase?   Who will participate?  And does anyone really care anyway except SAFE, Turkey's lawyers and some Turkish cultural bureaucrats?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Cyprus Mail Belatedly Reports on Renewal of Cypriot MOU

The Cyprus Mail has belatedly reported the renewal of the MOU with Cyprus. The report contains yet more evidence such MOU’s are little more than special interest programs for archaeologists, cultural bureaucrats, and law enforcement. According to the report,

The Memorandum ... provides for the prevention of illicit trade of antiquities, the protection of the Cypriot museums and archaeological sites, raising public awareness, bilateral cooperation between Cypriot and American universities, archaeological missions and museums and law enforcement agencies of the two states.

I’m not aware of any specific benefit to museums, other than the fact that import restrictions give a significant competitive advantage to the Bank of Cyprus Cultural Foundation in their purchase of ancient Cypriot coins on the designated list. While Americans no longer can import undocumented Cypriot coins, the Bank of Cyprus and wealthy Cypriot collectors remain free to do so without similar limitations.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

"Trafficking Culture:" EU Funded Self-Promotion?

Simon Mackenzie's and Neil Brodie's EU Funded University of Glasgow "research project" has now established a web site.  To date, any "research" seems to be the same sort of one sided "junk science" one sees on the SAFE website or links to the prior work of the lead researchers in the same vein.

Has the European Research Council funded real research or shameless self-promotion of anti-trade and anti-collector views?

For additional background, see here.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Archaeologists, Foreign Policy and the National Security State

Christina Luke, previously best known in collecting circles for her association with Nathan Elkins' notorious academic diatribe against a not-for-profit group that uses ancient coins to teach children about Roman history, has authored an article entitled, "U.S. Policy, Cultural Heritage, and U.S. Borders," 19 International Journal of Cultural Property 175 (2012) .

Luke, like many of her peers, appears to subscribe to the view that any artifact without a demonstrated provenance before 1970 should be deemed stolen.  She describes a system where this view has permeated into the State Department bureaucracy that makes the applicable regulations, and which is taught by archaeologists holding similar views to the enforcement arm of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

She maintains that the resultant crack down on collectors, museums and dealers is good for U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security, but cites little evidence other than self-serving statements of  several diplomats and off the record comments of unnamed CBP officials.

So does this system really benefit our foreign policy and national security?  Or is it just another special interest program to help archaeologists get access to excavations and which provides the US Cultural Bureaucrats with increased funding?

And even if there is some benefit to our foreign policy or national security, is it worth the costs and the burden associated regulations place on American businesses, collectors and museums?  Doesn't overregulation adversely impact the people to people contacts and cultural exchange collecting brings (at no cost to the US taxpayer)?

Our nation is in financial difficulty. Foreign aid for important projects like defeating Aids in Africa is under threat.  Under the circumstances, the programs Luke describes should be closely scrutinized for their real value.  In short, our courts are already open to foreign states that seek to repatriate objects.  So why should the U.S. taxpayer underwrite these efforts instead?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Motion to Dismiss in T-Rex Bataar Forfeiture Action

Here is a link to a motion to dismiss my firm, Bailey & Ehrenberg PLLC, filed in conjunction with Michael McCullough LLC.  The motion seeks to gain the return of a fossilized T-Rex Bataar skeleton to its rightful owner, a Florida small businessman who spent considerable time, effort, money and expertise in preparing and mounting the composite specimen for sale:

One needs a Google account to review it.

As we observe,

It may or may not be time to regulate fossil collecting like antiquities collecting, but surely any such regulatory effort should only be accomplished prospectively through the legislative or administrative process rather than retroactively through a forfeiture action prompted by a media frenzy and foreign politics. The Government should not be allowed to seize property based upon obscure foreign laws or unwritten interpretations of “country of origin” or valuation rules for fossils. Moreover, the Government has not alleged sufficient facts to establish a reasonable basis to believe that it could meet its burden to prove that the Display Piece was “stolen.” For all these reasons, the Complaint should be dismissed.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

I Am Egyptian Antiquities

So says Zahi Hawass, who is apparently even now is planning his return as Egypt’s Antiquities Pharaoh. Never mind the stink of corruption, cronyism, and disdain for ordinary Egyptians. Apparently, some think Egypt’s problems in attracting tourists to a country beset by the prospect of violence can be solved by returning Hawass to his post. Not likely. And one hopes Hawass’ hopes for a return are just that.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Romney Picks Ancient Coin Collector Supporter as VP Choice

Mitt Romney has picked Congressman Paul Ryan as his VP Choice.   Congressman Ryan's office took the lead on a letter to the State Department that expressed concerns about the Italian MOU.  However, it's also worth noting that the letter was a bipartisan one, and the concerns expressed by coin collectors on how State and Customs have abused their statutory authority are non-partisan as well.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Minerva Provides Open Access

The AIA claims it acts in the public interest and antiquities dealers are only interested in profit.  If so, how is it that Minerva, a commercial journal run by an antiquities dealer, has allowed open access to past issues, but the AIA continues to oppose open access, even for research material paid for by taxpayer dollars?


The budget for the Greek cultural establishment has been slashed to the bone.  Appeals are being made to other EU members for yet more cash.  So what better time than to launch a grandiose new campaign to repatriate the Elgin Marbles and other Greek antiquties to the bankrupt Hellenic Republic?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

African Antiquities Under Threat

The New York Times has published a balanced piece about threats against African Art that have only increased since archaeologists have sought to ban the trade. The article asks whether all the emphasis on protecting “context” really help preserve the artifacts themselves or their study and appreciation.   One nit: the 1970 UNESCO Convention in itself did not ban the trade.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Aleppo Codex Mystery

The New York Times has an interesting article about the mystery how the Aleppo Codex came to Israel and how it might have lost some 200 pages along the way.  It does ask whether the Codex should belong to the Modern State of Israel or Aleppo's Jewish exiles.  It does not suggest, however, like some in the archaeological blogosphere have, that the Codex still belongs in Syria, which conducted a thorough "ethnic cleansing" of its Jewish population well before the Assad regime began its recent bombardment of Aleppo itself. Interestingly, even some associated with the hard line archaeological advocacy group Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) have begun to acknowledge that perhaps Jewish artifacts are not best off in the hands of governments that have persecuted Jews after all.  Will others in the archaeological blogosphere follow?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

More Coins Return to ANS

"Culture Grrl" has additional coverage about more Huntington coins being “repatriated” back to the ANS due to the generosity of a donor.  More good news for the ANS. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Poor Laws Damage Heritage

Here is a bit of common sense from an Indian professor that outlines how poor laws and a worse cultural establishment in that country have actually done more harm than good to India's cultural patrimony.  

It's to the discredit of the American archaeological community that they never so much as acknowledge that poor laws and underfunded, corrupt or inept cultural bureaucracies may be the actual root of the problem.

But real tragedy is that "control" all too often seems more important to cultural bureaucracies both here and abroad than common sense measures that promote both conservation and public participation in caring for the past. 

Thursday, July 19, 2012

If You Can't Beat Them Why Not Join Them?

The archaeological blogosphere is full at the moment with all sorts of snobby, condescending blather about a new TV show in the UK that highlights some of the most interesting finds made under the PAS and Treasure Act.  I think it would be better if archaeologists recognized that metal detectors are a fact of life-- even in countries like Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Bulgaria etc. where we have heard that they are either banned outright or heavily regulated.

It's a bit amazing to me that archaeologists can abandon a site for 10 months or so out of a year, and then be shocked that locals with metal detectors show up in their absence.  Even worse, some of these same archaeologists then argue the only people who should be "paying for the damage" are American collectors who should be banned from importing coins from abroad-- an argument foreign cultural bureaucrats and their American counterparts are apparently all too happy to buy because it diverts attention from the need to address the problem at the source.

If archaeologists are not going to ensure their sites are secure in their absence, perhaps then they should at least explore the sites themselves with metal detectors, and get there first.   Archaeologists in the UK have long used metal detectors to assist them with their digs.  Archaeologists in countries like Cyprus, Italy, Greece and Turkey should do likewise.  At a minimum, perhaps they will then find all those coins that never get recovered because they are either so small that they go through sieves or are stuck in clumps of excavated earth.

For most people-- but perhaps not archaeo-bloggers or other archaeologists who want to complete control over anything old-- an ounce of prevention is worth far more than a pound of cure.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Revised MOU Confirms Restrictions Wrongly Placed on Coins?

The CPIA, 19 U.S.C. Section 2602 (a) (1) (C) (ii) limits restrictions only to circumstances where less drastic remedies are unavailable.

Testimony during CPAC’s public session to discuss a renewal of the MOU with Cyprus established that the use of metal detectors was responsible for any looting of historical coins from the Island.

Yet, after 5 years of restrictions on “coins of Cypriot type” the renewed MOU available under "What's New"  on the Cultural Heritage Center webstite states,

"The Government of the Republic of Cyprus will use its best efforts to enforce applicable laws and regulations regarding the use of metal detectors."

Isn’t this an admission that self-help measures on metal detectors were never really tried FIRST before import restrictions were placed on coins?

And if so, doesn’t this just help confirm that the State Department’s and CBP’s controversial decision to impose import restrictions on coins was based not on an application of the law to the facts but rather on cronyism and some behind the scenes lobbying of then Undersecretary Nicholas Burns?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Cyprus in Breach of MOU with US?

In return for precluding Americans from purchasing undocumented Cypriot antiquities (which means an embargo for all practical purposes for things like coins) Cyprus is supposed to undertake serious efforts to protect its own cultural patrimony.  Here is an email that was forwarded to me from a Cypriot coin dealer that alleges that Cyprus has done little to live up to its end of the MOU:

Dear Sir/Madam, I didn't know who else to send this email too so I hope you can forward it to the appropriate parties. I do not hold out much hope that it will make any difference but I have nothing to lose. Regarding the renewal of the Cyprus/USA MOU, it is my belief that Cyprus is in breach of at least 3 of the criteria in article II. Article II/C. states "The Government of the Republic of Cyprus will systematically continue to conduct the inventory of cultural resources in museums, ecclesiastical buildings, private collections and archaeological sites. Every effort should be made to engage all Cypriots in this effort." The last time the Department of Antiquities gave an amnesty for the registration of private collections of antiquities/coins was in 1996. An amendment to the current antiquities law has just been passed and we pressed the DOA and the 'lawmakers' to include another amnesty during this period but the DOA has categorically refused. I don't know if once in the last 16 years can be classed as a 'systematic inventory' but in my opinion it does not! Article II/D. states " The Government of the Republic of Cyprus will make every effort to discourage pillage of cultural resources, and the unauthorized export of such material, through public education programs, including posting appropriate signage at airports, hotels, museums, and other public areas that draw attention to this Memorandum of Understanding and to the cultural heritage protection laws of Cyprus, and introducing initiatives in support of the importance of protecting and preserving the cultural heritage into schools and to the general public." Nothing whatsoever suggested in this paragraph has been implemented. Article II/F. "The Government of the Republic of Cyprus will use its best efforts to allocate sufficient resources for site conservation, museum development, and the adequate conduct of salvage archaeology where there is proposed land development; and to ensure that such development, which can give rise to pillage, is fully monitored by the Department of Antiquities." I wont go into the "adequate conduct of salvage archaeology" as this is a joke in Cyprus. Concerning the "best efforts to allocate sufficient resources for site conservation" I think I have emailed about this before. Apart from a few of the main 'tourist attraction' archaeological sites, 95% of all other sites in Cyprus don't even have the basic deterrents needed to counter looting. In my opinion lighting is the most basic and most important of all deterrents needed and even the main sites do not have this. So, of the 9 criteria listed in the MOU, 5 are the sole responsibility of Cyprus. Of these 5 criteria 3 have DEFINITELY not been met, possibly more.

Friday, July 13, 2012

It's Friday the 13th-- Cypriot Import Restrictions Renewed

It’s Friday the 13th and the State Department and US Customs and Border Protection  have extended the current import restrictions on Cypriot archaeological artifacts for another five years. The restrictions on coins remain unchanged (despite demands from archaeologists that such restrictions be extended to Crusader issues):

D. Coins of Cypriot Types

Coins of Cypriot types made of gold, silver, and bronze including but not limited to:

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.

3. Provincial and local issues of the Roman period from c. 30 B.C. to 235 A.D. Often these have a bust or head on one side and the image of a temple (the Temple of Aphrodite at Palaipaphos) or statue (statue of Zeus Salaminios) on the other.

What has changed is that there are new restrictions on ecclesiastical objects dating to 1850. This is another example of State Department and CBP overreach—restrictions on ethnological artifacts were only meant to extend to the products of tribal and pre-industrial cultures, not religious artifacts made as late as 1850.

In any event, by its actions the Obama State Department has ratified the decisions of the Bush State Department despite credible information that the decision to extend import restrictions to coins was made against CPAC’s recommendations based on little more than cronyism and behind the scenes lobbying of then Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals is yet to decide whether the State Department will be required to respond to these allegations or not. Certainly the public has already spoken with some 77% of the latest public comments to CPAC either opposed to the MOU or its extension to coins.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

NYT on Orphan Artifacts

The New York Times has published an article on so-called orphan artifacts without the long collection histories increasingly required by museums and high end auction houses based on pressure from the archaeological community.

Given all their finger wagging, the New York Times should also have queried archaeologists about the quality of the record keeping on the millions of artifacts in the inventories of archaeological digs and source country museums around the world. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Return our Rock!

Venezuela’s Leftist Regime has taken up the cause of an indigenous tribe which claims that a German artist stole their sacred rock. The artist in question is devastated because he believes the rock was legally exported with the full consent of the tribe. One suspects that Hugo Chavez’s regime is stirring up the controversy for its own political ends. If the rock is repatriated, it will not only spoil the unity of artist’s vision but divest him of the value of his own efforts to prep the rock for its installation with other rocks from other lands. The rock in question has been on display since 1999 in a Berlin park.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Europe Turns to Corporate Sponsors for Cultural Heritage

Purists are agast, but financial realities have caused cash strapped countries like Italy to turn to corporate sponsors to save crumbling cultural sites. 

Hopefully, the same countries will next work on deaccessioning duplicates they have no funds to adequately care for anyway.

Monday, July 2, 2012

Archaeologists Ignore Implications of Timbuku's Destruction at the Hands of Islamic Militants

Islamic Militants linked to Al Qaeda have destroyed culturally significant Islamic religious sites in Timbuktu.  Back in April, CPO reported that a proposed renewal of the current MOU with Mali had already been overtaken by events on the ground and then concluded,

A recent military coup and the takeover of important cultural sites like Timbuktu by well armed Islamic rebels again raises fundamental questions about whether the State Department and its allies in the archaeological community are really furthering the protection of cultural artifacts or whether their knee-jerk repatriationism does more harm than good.

Yet, it would seem that this latest sad but predicatable news has so far at least been largely ignored by the same archaeological community that was so quick to press for the unqualified renewal of he MOU.   
It also remains to be seen what, if any, impact this news will have on the State Department's own decisionmaking.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

US Government Appeals SLAM Decision

The US Government has appealed the decision to dismiss its effort to seek the forfeiture of the Ka Nefer Nefer Mask.  It has been reported such decisions are made by the same US State Department and Customs and Border Protection cultural bureacracy responsible for imposing import restrictions.  If so, one wonders if the appeal is at least in part an effort to throw a lifeline to Zahi Hawass, who after all has sought to bolster his position with the Egyptian Government through being "indispensible" for the protection of Egyptian cultural property.

Richard Engel on Egyptian Looting: Does Video Match Reality?

Richard Engel of NBC News has produced  a piece that reflects the views of Egypt’s cultural bureaucracy under the old guard in the person of Zahi Hawass and his allies in the American archaeological community.

Yet, does Engel’s reporting really match the reality on the ground or just the propaganda of Egypt’s discredited cultural bureaucracy, which must be desperate to justify itself to Egypt’s new Islamic rulers?

The real issues are that there are no police to protect the sites, the people are desperately poor, and the Egyptian cultural bureaucracy wants to control more than they can or should (even what you find under your own house!).

One should also note for all the talk about criminal looters from Hawass (allegedly a crook on a much larger scale -- a subject Engel studiously avoided broaching) and an American archaeologist, all I saw were locals looking for stuff presumably to feed their impoverished families.

Perhaps in the complete absence of police American archaeologists should pay for local security guards to protect their sites. Their salaries can't cost all that much. I'm also mystified how looters can find a previously unknown tomb and loot it overnight on a site that has apparently been under archaeological investigation for years.  Perhaps now unemployed diggers for American archaeologists knew about the tomb for years, but did not to divulge it to them out of distrust of foreign archaeologists who would take these treasures from them.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

ACCG Oral Argument Scheduled

The ACCG's appeal of Judge Blake's dismissal of its test case will be heard before the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Virginia, on September 19, 2012.   The Court will decide whether the ACCG is entitled to judicial review of the State Department's and Customs and Border Protection's controversial decisions to impose import restrictions on Cypriot and Chinese coins, and whether it is proper to restrict coins based on their place of production rather than their find spot under the provisions of the applicable law, the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. 

Friday, June 29, 2012

Government Strikes Out Yet Again Against SLAM

A U.S. District Court has denied the Government's Second Motion for Reconsideration of a decision to throw out a forfeiture case against an Egyptian funerary mask that has been on display at the St. Louis Art Museum for years.  I'm not sure what the Government hoped to accomplish by seeking reconsideration of the Court's dismissal order for a second time.   Perhaps, it was a tactical move to give the Government more time to consider an appeal.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Huge Iron Age Coin Hoard Found in Jersey

Coins Weekly discusses a huge coin hoard found on the Island of Jersey.   Metal detectorists found the hoard, but archaeologists excavated it making for a good example of the collaboration that is still possible between the groups where laws are not of a confiscatory nature.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Egypt Elects Muslim Brotherhood Leader Mohamed Morsi as President

The Egyptian people have spoken. In so doing, they have rejected the old guard, and instead have embraced a sectarian candidate. Some of his rhetoric has been troubling, but it is unclear if his Muslim Brotherhood intends to rule Egypt as Ahmadinezh─üd’s Iran or Erdogan’s Turkey.

And what will the transition hold for Egyptian antiquities? The rejection of the old guard is probably bad news for Zahi Hawass, who presumably still faces corruption charges. But it also remains to be seen if government funding for Egypt’s antiquities will be maintained (it should) or whether the cultural bureaucracy will be allowed to maintain its absolute control over everything and anything old (it shouldn’t.).

Friday, June 22, 2012

More on Return of Polish Museum Artifacts

Harlan Berk has kindly elaborated on his firm's part in returning artifacts stolen from a Polish American museum in Chicago.

Here is how Harlan recounts the event.

On September 30, 2011 a Friday evening at 6 PM as I was getting home I received a call from our document and paper money specialist Dennis Forgue. He informed me that we had purchased late that day an 4 page letter by Thomas Jefferson about how to finance the US government dated 1814 and a letter endorsed by Abraham Lincoln ,Gen. McClernand and Gen. Winfield Scott, and other items for $5000 . The people had asked for $2000. Monday morning I told Dennis to research the items for pedigree. The Jefferson papers were only published through 1813 so far by the Papers of Thomas Jefferson: Retirement Series at Monticello and the U of VA, so he worked on the Lincoln. It came up that the Lincoln was published in the Collected Works of Abraham Lincoln from 1953 and that it was owned by the Polish Roman Catholic Union in Chicago, which had been renamed The Polish Museum of America, in Chicago.

I immediately called the Polish Museum and spoke to the museum president Maria Ciesla. I asked her if they had even de-accessioned anything. Her answer told me the items we had purchased were stolen ,in the true meaning of the word.To say the least she was thrilled. I told her that we should continue to buy from these people so we could recover all or as much of the material as possible. She ,with board approval agreed to reimburse us our purchase prices. We continued to buy for two months until November 7, 2011, spending $31,400 in all . The items were sold to us by different combinations of individuals usually brought in by a young man who ,until the last purchase refused to give his ID. There was always someone with him who gave ID and to whom the checks were written. We documented every transaction. Photocopying the ID ,the check we paid and every item we purchased and kept every individual purchase together. On the several occasions when the Museum reimbursed us we gave them copies of everything along with the real documents we had recovered.

The Museum wanted to call in the FBI but I asked them to wait as the repurchase program was working so well . I did not want to spook them and never be able to recover all the material. Finally when they said they were going to Sothebys with the rest of the material. I alerted a friend at Sothebys to the problem. The Museum then call in the FBI. They ,special agent Luigi Mondini, was very nice and professional as one would expect. We gave them copies of everything we had collected. The FBI recovered the final 121 items to add to the 279 we recovered. Even though we suspected that these items were past the statutes of limitation for theft, it never crossed our mind to keep them. They were and are the property of the Polish Museum of America and we are very happy to have recovered these great pieces of American history for them.

Again, kudos to Harlan Berk and Harlan J. Berk, Ltd. for ensuring long lost artifacts were returned to the Polish American Museum.

Kudos for Chicago Coin, Antiquities and Antiques Dealer

Coin, antiquities, and antiques dealer Harlan Berk has been instrumental in the return of artifacts to Chicago's Polish Museum.  The artifacts appear to have been taken over time by a museum curator.   Kudos to Harlan Berk for his efforts to return these artifacts back to the Museum.  Now, the museum needs to do a much better job in protecting the artifacts in its care. 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Congratulations to Jerry Eisenberg

CPO congratulates NY antiquities dealer Jerry Eisenberg.

The President of the Republic of Italy, the Hon. Giorgio Napolitano, awarded Eisenberg with the Order of the Star of Italy and the title of Ufficiale (Officer) at a ceremony that took place in  NY on June 2nd. 

Coins Weekly states that the Order of the Star of Italy is bestowed upon those who have provided a meaningful contribution to the prestige of Italy while promoting friendly relations and cooperation between Italy and other countries.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Everyone is Entitled to Find Out What the Government is Up To

Scott Hodes, an attorney who devotes his practice to Freedom of Information Act ("FOIA") cases, has commented on the archaeological blogosphere's attack on the efforts of  ACCG, IAPN and PNG to seek transparency in how the State Department and US Customs impose import restrictions on cultural goods.

The drafters of FOIA hoped that the release of government files would help the public learn what its government is up to.  The fact that ACCG, IAPN and PNG have sought to shed some light on what State Department and US Customs Bureaucrats have been up to behind closed doors should be applauded, not condemned by archaeological groups, particularly given their own demands for transparency from private parties involved in the trade in cultural goods.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

ANS Recaptures Part of HSA Collection

Lee Rosenbaum (aka "Culture Grrl") reports the welcome news that a generous donor has agreed to return some 10,000 coins from the Hispanic Society of America collection back to the American Numismatic Society, where they resided for so many years.

Update (6-20-12):  The New York times has now reported on the generous contribution as well. 

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Government Seeks Third Bite at the Apple

The Government has filed a second motion for reconsideration of a US District Court's decision to dismiss its forfeiture complaint against the Ka Nefer Nefer mask owed by the St. Louis Museum of Art (SLAM).  The Government now claims that the Court should accept an amended complaint that questions the mask's provenance.  Even if one accepts the Government's claim that the mask's provenance was false, I'm not sure that establishes that the mask is "stolen" so that it may be forfeited.

In any event, the Court should deny this second motion for reconsideration as it did the first.  If the Government believes that it has a good faith basis to appeal the Court's dismissal of its forfeiture complaint, it should do so.  Filing multiple motions for reconsideration seems little more than an effort to drive up SLAM's legal costs and to buy more time for the multiple federal agencies involved to decide whether to file an appeal.  (Filing of such motions typically tolls the time in which an appeal may be filed.  As it is, the Government gets 60 days-- rather than the usual 30 days-- to appeal.)

The Government's motion is available on-line for those with a "Pacer" account with the federal court system.

District Court Again Accepts State Secrecy Claims; But Transparency Needed More than Ever

The same US District Court judge who ruled for the State Department in the ACCG-IAPN-PNG FOIA case has again ruled for the government on the remaining issues on remand from the D.C. Circuit.

Just because the US District Court gave the State Department another pass does not mean that the State Department is acting in accordance with President Obama's promise to make his Administration the most transparent ever.  To the contrary, the veil of secrecy placed over State Department decisions to impose import restrictions on cultural goods would seem to be entirely inconsistent with that pledge. 

The State Department needs to be far more transparent about its decision making processes, which after all have a real impact on the ability of American collectors, businesses and museums to import cultural goods.

Archaeologists should also support greater transparency.  The archaeological lobby harps on the need for more transparency about private transactions involving the sale or transfer of cultural goods, but has been supportive of government secrecy concerning how import decisions are made.  Why?  Could it be that it fears that any such transparency will only confirm that such decisions are actually the products of bias/and or prejudgement and/or ex parte contacts between State Department staff and members of the archaeological lobby?  The particular redacted document at issue in the remand (an email communication between an archaeologist associated with the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute and a State Department employee about including coins in the MOU that predated a Cypriot request for import restrictions on coins) certainly suggests as much.

Addendum 6/15/12): Some in the archaeological blogosphere have now claimed that using the FOIA process to seek the email mentioned above is somehow "absurd," "shameful," "disturbing" and "disgusting."  Here is my response to archaeo-blogger Paul Barford, which he apparently refuses to publish:

Well, perhaps you should give your readers the whole context of why ACCG was seeking the Parks email, and let them decide if seeking some transparency as to how the import restrictions decision was made is as disgusting or disturbing as you claim:
Either State was using Parks (the now deceased archaeologist in question)  as a supposedly neutral expert (when she was not) or conferring with her about CAARI's effort to include coins in the Cypriot MOU. Because we don't have the entire document, we don't know which it was, but since Cyprus had not yet asked for restrictions on coins when the email exchange occurred, it presumably would be the latter.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cultural Nationalism Now Bites American Archaeologists

A Kurdish source is reporting that the Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities has stopped dealing with US archaeological teams in response to the refusal of US authorities to return Iraqi Jewish artifacts to the country. 

If so, this is a rebuff not only to American archaeologists who have tirelessly promoted the interests of the Iraqi archaeological establishment (both during and after the fall of Saddam's Baathist regime) but also to the US State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center, which have lavished millions of dollars on the Iraqi archaeological establishment-- all at a time US cultural institutions are finding themselves in an extremely harsh financial climate.

In punishing American archaeologists for a dispute over the repatriation of cultural artifacts, the Iraqis are apparently taking a page from the Turkish Government which has also recently punished German archaeologists for the perceived transgressions of German state museums.

Here, the Iraqis are apparently specifically miffed at US reconsideration of a controversial State Department "commitment"  to return cultural artifacts confiscated from Iraqi Jews who were forced from their homeland in a callous act of "ethnic cleansing".   Given their own "unclean hands," it's hard to see any "moral rights" Iraq may have to such artifacts. 

And in an ironic twist, American archaeologists apparently have now themselves become the "victims" of the very same virulent cultural nationalism they have themselves done so much to foster.  Perhaps it's finally time for the Archaeological Institute of America to rethink its unqualified support for the broadest claims of any nation state where American archaeologists excavate. 

And it's certainly time to cut any further funding of Iraqi archaeology or the repatriation of any "Iraqi looking" cultural goods based on the slimmest suspicion they may have left that country after an international embargo was placed on the import of any Iraqi products. 

Greek Archaeologists Out of Touch

The New York Times reports that Greek archaeologists are slow to recognize the financial reality of a bankrupt Greek Government.  I've previously blogged about their poster campaign which does absolutely nothing to advance necessary reforms of a system that can no longer assume (if it ever could) that the Greek State and its State Funded archaeologists should monopolize control over all ancient artifacts within Greek borders in order to "protect them."

Monday, June 11, 2012

Hirshhorn Presents “Ai Weiwei: Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads”

The Smithsonian’s Hirshorn Museum is displaying Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei’s ironic take on the infamous “Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads,” said to have been looted by British imperialists from the Summer Palace.   I suppose AiWeiwei’s oversized heads say something about the oversized nationalistic rhetoric Chinese officials and their allies in the Western archaeological community have employed to demand the return of the originals.   The exhibit will remain on view until February 24, 2013.

Spain Now in Hock to the Tune of 100 Billion Euros-- Is it time to Rethink Odyssey's Offer?

Spain has agreed to accept a 100 Billion Euro bail out from the EU.  Perhaps, it's now time for the Spanish Government to rethink Odyssey's offer to share the proceeds from rich Spanish shipwrecks as the British have done for their own shipwrecks.  Archaeologists may snipe at Odyssey's efforts to record wrecks, but the truth is without selling off the numerous duplicate coins found, exploration of deep water wrecks will never happen due to the considerable costs involved.  Isn't it better to record these wrecks before they deteriorate further?   And perhaps Spain's share of the proceeds could be used to support its cultural establishment, which must be in for substantial cuts in these times of financial austerity. Partnering with Odyssey should be viewed as a win win for all.  So why not?

Sunday, June 10, 2012

MOUs Should Be About "Respect" for Governing Law

The State Department has announced that the MOU with Peru has been extended once again to "demonstrate [its] continued respect for the extraordinary cultural heritage of Peru."

While I agree that Peru has an extraordinary cultural heritage, import restrictions are only supposed to be extended if they meet the significant procedural and substantive constraints found in the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.  What then about "respecting" governing law?

Certainly, restrictions were only meant to give countries like Peru time to get any looting under control-- they were never meant to be reinstated time and time and again.   Peru has already had the benefit of US import controls for 15 years.   Hopefully, by the time the next renewal comes along in another 5 years someone responsible at State will conclude enough is enough.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

"Blood Antiquities" or Stale Claim Against Legally Obtained Cultural Goods?

I am struck by the contrast between Sotheby's well-reasoned legal analysis of why the government's forfeiture action against its consigner's Cambodian statue should be dismissed and this well-written CNN opinion piece prepared by advocates for Cambodia.

Unfortunately, Sotheby's brief is not available on-line unless one has a "Pacer" account with the U.S. Court System.   However, "Cultural Heritage Lawyer" and former SAFE VP Rick St.  Hilaire has provided us with his own analysis.  Though St. Hilaire is also associated with the archaeological community, his summary does appear to convey most of Sotheby's arguments accurately.

It will be interesting to read the Government's response. But why has the U.S. Government taken sides at all?   Cambodia has plenty of friends in the archaeological community, including more than a few lawyers.   They should be pursuing any claims Cambodia may have rather than making the U.S. taxpayer foot the bill for such a stale claim that dates back at least to the 1970's (if you believe the Government) or perhaps far earlier (if you believe Sotheby's).