Saturday, April 28, 2012

Latest Pompeii Collapse: Will State Control Model Collapse Next?

There has been another collapse at Pompeii despite recent EU funding efforts.  See

Yet, the US State Department, the Italian cultural bureaucracy, and the archaeological lobby still maintain that the Italian State should control anything old as it is the best steward to conserve, study and protect it.

No state has enough resources to protect everything, particularly one teetering on the edge of bankruptcy like Italy.  The sooner this basic fact is recognized, the sooner more rational approaches to cultural heritage preservation-- including ones that embrace the value of private collecting-- will be tried, rather than the current approach that assumes a nation state should control everything and anything old.

Friday, April 27, 2012

AIA Doubles Down Against Open Access

AIA President Elisabeth Bartman has responded to criticism about the AIA's opposition to legislation meant to guarantee open access to federally funded research.  See

This criticism extends to AIA ranks.  Recently, Sebastian Heath, the AIA's Past Vice President for Professional Responsibilities, took the AIA to task here:

The AIA claims it represents the public interest before the State Department's Cultural Property Advisory Committee and in lobbying before Congress.

If so, its publications-- particularly those funded through federal dollars-- should not be used as profit centers.  Instead, this research should made freely available to the public, and other fundraising efforts be used to ensure that the organization's publications program continues.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Could the Khmer Rouge Pass Good Title?

Tess Davis' recent opinion piece for the LA Times begs the question whether the Khmer Rouge could have passed along good title to the Khmer Statue that the US Government now maintains is stolen.  See

However despicable the Khmer Rouge were, they were internationally recognized as the legitimate government of Cambodia around the time the statue was thought to have disappeared, and held Cambodia's UN seat in a coalition government until the early 1990's with Western support.  Under the circumstances, should the US Government really take sides in this dispute between Sotheby's and the successor Cambodian government?

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

AIA Seeks to Maintain Monopoly on Research About the Past

The AIA is under attack from groups supporting open access to government funded research for its efforts to oppose the Federal Research Public Access Act of 2012.

The legislation is meant to ensure that government funded research is made available to the public on the Internet.

A group called, "Open Access Archaeology" takes the AIA to task, noting,

•The AIA does not understand that the legislation does not force them to make their materials Open Access. It only requires that research paid for by the US federal government be made Open Access after a period of closed access.
•We believe the AIA does not actually know what Open Access is or even what the term means. While public lectures are great it is not Open Access PUBLICATIONS.
•It is not the AIA that adds value to publications but the researchers who write the articles and peer reviewers who make improvements. Both actions are not paid for or undertaken by the AIA but by volunteers for FREE.
•We interpret the AIA mission statement, “Believing that greater understanding of the past enhances our shared sense of humanity and enriches our existence, the AIA seeks to educate people of all ages about the significance of archaeological discovery., to be in full support of Open Access and NOT in support of closed access.

For more, see
The AIA's stance in this matter certainly belies any claims made before Congress and the State Department Cultural Property Advisory Committee that import restrictions are necessary to further research that is then made available to the public. 
Interestingly, the AIA's efforts against open access appear nowhere on the AIA's advocacy page.  See

Is the AIA interested in the dissemination of knowledge as widely as possible or information control?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

An Enforcement Perspective: Nothing to Fear?

It's worth reading what James McAndrew, a former CBP official said at the recent Asia Society and ACCP event in New York.

James McAndrew: My fans are here! This is great! We are out of order, which is fine for me. Thank you very much I find this very interesting.

Let me talk about my role and background. It is important while we're here, and to share with you my observation quickly about even what I hear what's happening to the panel. It resembles what the discussions are in the trade privately.

One of the terms that you hear come up over and over again is 'fear.' We're supposed to espouse the fear to you, whether you're a private collector or a public institution.

I hear the discussion about how the United States should help out other countries more. I spent many years with the Department of State Audit Task Force. I know the Cultural Heritage Center does go to other countries and try to work with them on issues of looting and protection of archeological sites and implementing certain processes to register and identify what's within their borders. The issue of modern day borders versus cultural borders is not a negative.

What I want to share with you is not to be fearful. US law is very specific on how it can go about, from a law enforcement perspective, taking enforcement action on an object. That specificity is driven by what information is given to them by the source requesting/claiming country. When I was the agent in charge and the requesting country comes to me and says, "I want an auction house to remove all forty lots of my Egyptian artifact," if the claim came from Egypt, I would ask them "What do you have to support that?" More times than not they had little to nothing. On top of that, the object they're asking for might not even have come out of that country.

From an investigative agent's point of view, I didn't care much about the AAMD's 1970 threshold. It's a line. It's nice, it works, it's scholarly, it's a step in the right direction, but from my point of view as an agent, I don't care. I'm focused on this object. Where'd you get it, where'd it come from, what's its history?

We seem to have adopted this mindset that an undocumented object is guilty or illegal, that undocumented means looted. This is not going in the right direction, and it's not the case, as was spoken about in the opening comments. A legitimate fair, commercial, wonderful exchange of culture and objects - the Silk Road for ex ample - has happened for thousands and thousands of years. Somewhere someone drew the line: 1970, the UNESCO convention, countries sign on, and forty years later, this hysteria.

For you the collector the important thing is this: when you import something, the weak point is going to be the point of entry. Whether you acquired an object domestically or at auction, the agent is going to evaluate, with whatever method they have - subpoenas, search warrants, developing sources, interviewing people in the trade - how that piece came into the country. We are a market country. We don't have that 10,000 year-old history. The source countries have the objects. By the time an object winds up here domestically in the United States it has probably passed through a hundred hands and as many countries over the last 10,000 years.

The burden of proof is on the source country to establish how and when that piece left their borders and if that information fits within the timeframe. Not 1970. The ball game has advanced. The government is looking now at when the country established a natural ownership law. 1932, 1934 for Italy. They may say 1906, some countries have 1897. Pick a date. It's not much past the twentieth century. It's up to them. The problem- what's happening with the trade- is this fear factor.

When you import something, it's in the Customs documentation that the Homeland Security agent would love to find that one discrepancy, that one anomaly, that one thing that doesn't exactly match the description of what an import is supposed to say or have. That's the basis of the seizure. If an agent can make that seizure based on a Customs technicality or violation of the regulations, that agent just did a monumental favor to the source country.

What the trade is doing is to try to undervalue. All of a sudden we start thinking too much. We think, "Well, I purchased it for a million dollars. If I value it at $100,000 maybe there will be less scrutiny." Or, "If I order it through an exporter from the source country, maybe that's too easy a line. So let's bring it to London, or Germany or Mexico." When you add those layers, you're asking for trouble.

Because somewhere in there there's going to be a technical Customs problem, and there can be a seizure. Now the burden is on you to explain why you made this technical problem, and you're fighting from the back going forward.

If you document your imports properly, exactly as it should be, you should have nothing to worry about. You leave the burden where it belongs. The CPIA [Cultural Property Implementation Act] is very clear: before a country can get a bilateral agreement to restrict your imports, before the US government sits down, they need to be working within their borders first.

US agencies receive requests from foreign governments. How big is that? Not requests from your competitor next door - you get a massive request on fancy letterhead from the Supreme Council of Antiquities from Iraq or Egypt or Thailand - you pick it - of course you have to react. You don't have much of a choice. I'm out of time. I have a lot to say. Look me up later.

Chiu: Thank you, Jim. Some practical comments and guidelines for collectors today.

Comment:  Former Agent McAndrew won an award from SAFE for his aggressive enforcement efforts.  In my opinion, sometimes these efforts went well beyond what the law allows.  For example, customs sources have indicated that under his watch, Customs typically demanded that imports of artifacts designated for restriction under the CPIA be accompanied not only by the certifications required by the CPIA, but also by a picture from an auction catalogue proving that the artifact was out of the country for which restrictions were granted before the date of the restrictions.  Obviously, this makes it impossible to import many minor objects like coins even with the statutory certifications, because only a small number of such artifacts are significant enough to be pictured in auction catalogues.  For example, perhaps only one of every 10,000 coins that appears on the Cypirot, Greek, and Italian designated lists is actually pictured in an auction catalogue.  For Chinese coins, I would estimate the number as perhaps literally one in a million.

Former Agent McAndrew's words also underscore the fact how faulty paperwork can lead to an item being seized.   Thus, sometimes even innocent mistakes can have serious consequences.  Finally, it is troubling that the US is enforcing foreign cultural patrimony laws under our own law, no matter the date and no matter the circumstances.  For example, such foreign laws typically apply to artifacts found on private land when the US Constitution would preclude the US Government from taking such artifacts in similar circumstances without fair compensation.

For more on the ACCP, see

For a video and a copy of the transcript of this event, see

Monday, April 23, 2012

The Future of the Past - Collecting Ancient Art in the 21st Century

The transcript of the program, The Future of the Past - Collecting Ancient Art in the 21st Century, has been posted here:

The program sponsored by The Asia Society and the American Committee for Cultural Policy largely focuses on Asian Art, but in so doing, raises serious concerns about how the United States Department of State and US Customs makes and enforces import restrictions on cultural goods.  Kate Fitz Gibbon, a former CPAC member who now practices as an attorney in New Mexico, set the tone of the event:
We had recently very dramatic, highly publicized raids of California museums accusing them back in 2008 of accepting donations of so-called stolen art from Thailand. These made the front pages for weeks, though it later turned out that bad law and bad facts resulted in a lot of dropped cases.
Other cases that never make the paper come as unpleasant surprise to ordinary folks. An elderly lady from Los Angeles puts some ceramics that she bought at a flea market up for sale on the internet, and then finds four Homeland Security agents on her doorstep. They have a letter from the Minister of Culture of Mali claiming her artifacts were stolen.

A probate lawyer in Albuquerque calls US Customs when he discovers some Pre-Columbian art in an estate. "Any problem?" He asks. "No problem," they say, "it's all stolen. Agents will be by to collect it."

These kinds of actions don’t reach the papers. Most of the time the people involved don’t even realize they have been the victim of a misinformed or overzealous agent, but if we allow a declaration of blanket ownership by a source country to trigger a violation of our National Stolen Property Act, and we assume that lack of documentation is proof of guilt, then we have an end to art collecting, sooner rather than later.

When art becomes stolen through an administrative declaration, a flourish of the pen, then all art collecting is at risk. This applies not only to antiquities but to the myriad of other objects that are claimed as national cultural heritage in many countries: photographs, paintings, sculpture, documents, coins, textiles and costumes.  We'll be hearing later today about the Association of Art Museum Directors' decision not to purchase or accept for donation artworks that cannot be proven to have come into the United States before 1970. To my mind this rule is a self-administered slow poison, completely illogical and not required under any law.

There are already hundreds of thousands of objects, mostly minor, that cannot be donated under these rules. In another ten years, there will be many thousands more as owners pass away.

If art collecting is no longer honored, then the benefits to institutions of art collecting will end. If institutions aren't exciting places for collectors, collectors will stop supporting institutions. Archeology, which is supported by this enthusiasm and by the museum system, will suffer in turn.

This should be sobering stuff for anyone interested in the preservation of the past.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Division in Archaeological Community Over Immunity Bill

Rick St. Hilaire, former SAFE VP and current Lawyers’ Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation Board Member, has departed from his fellows to support S. 2212, a bill meant to immunize art coming into the United States for museum exhibitions.   See  I have critiqued the position of SAFE and the Lawyers’  Committee here.  See

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Mischief Making

I’ve always thought of Dorothy King (PhDiva) as a friend even though on occasion we have disagreed on various issues related to cultural patrimony. In that regard, I sent Dr. King an email about her recent critique of my comment on the Morris Khouli case where I provided her some further information about my thinking.  My email to her did not discuss her recent post about coins from Turkey.

I was surprised to receive this response to a short reply I made to her, and even more surprised to see her then suggest she is being harassed by attorneys representing the ACCG (see

Dear Mr Tompa,

Since I have received a formal legal letter from Arthur Brand, representing the ACCG, I request that neither you nor anyone else from the ACCG contact me until my US attorney has been able to resolve the issues claimed.

I have already requested that all correspondence go through him, will be furious if this basic request cannot be honoured, and will consider it an attempt at harassment.

Without prejudice,

D. King

Let’s be clear. No “Arthur Brand” represents the ACCG. There is, however, an “Arthur Brand” who is known to be a confederate of Michael VanRijn, and a critic of the numismatic trade. I have emailed Dr. King to inform her of her mistaken impression, but have received no response. I reluctantly, therefore, post this notice here as I believe any suggestion that ACCG or its attorneys are“harassing” her to be quite unfortunate and unfair.

Addendum  4-22-12:  Now, Dr. King states on her blog that she was mistaken and an "Arthur Brandt" and not an "Arthur Brand" contacted her.  Again, no such individual represents the ACCG, and I am not acquainted with anyone by that name. I will comment no further on this matter on this blog, other than to note I find Dr. King's recent statements to be inexplicable, and potentially defamatory.  In addition, I have received a communication from Arthur Brand denying any knowledge of this matter.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Italian Museum Burns Art

I guess this can be written off as a publicity stunt, but it does demonstrate how badly Italy's sovereign debt crisis is impacting funding for the arts:

It is unrealistic to think such stunts will somehow restore funding-- there is none to be had.

Instead, Italy, like Greece, has to give up with the pretense that the State should be a guardian and funder for everything of cultural worth. Instead, it should concentrate on protecting cultural treasures like Pompeii, and frankly allow interested members of the public to help conserve the rest, through collecting, yes.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Small Businessman Pleads Guilty to False Statements; Government Ignores Allegations of Misrepresentations to Congress

Morris Khouli, a New York antiquities and coin dealer, has plead guilty to smuggling and false statements to federal law enforcement. See

Hopefully, the Court will not sentence Mr. Khouli to anywhere near the 20 year maximum for the offenses. Any such penalty would be very harsh for the conduct alleged in the indictment.

One must also question a system where a small businessman can potentially be sentenced to 20 years for falsifying import documents, but which ignores credible allegations that State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Employees misled Congress in an official report about CPAC's true recommendations concerning the controversial 2007 decision to impose import restrictions on coins.

And even worse, it is likely that some of the same employees who pressed for the prosecution of Mr. Khouli, also had something to do with any false declarations to Congress.

Numismatic Press Helps Promote Temple Cleanup

Coins Weekly, a German Internet numismatic publication, has spotlighted community efforts in Greece to cleanup the Temple of Aphrodite in Thessaloniki. See

Greek archaeological authorities had allowed the temple to be taken over by trash, and had refused private efforts to help.

Apparently, however, an article in Coins Weekly helped embarrass Greek authorities enough that they allowed community members access to the site to clean up the mess.

Perhaps then, coin collecting and what it does to encourage interest in the past should be encouraged rather than suppressed as advocated in archaeological circles, and by cultural bureaucrats in both Greece and the United States.

Lobbying Effort Against Immunity Bill Raises Questions About Funding and Consistency with Prior Stances

The Lawyers' Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation and Saving Antiquities for Everyone have joined in the effort to scuttle S.2212, legislation aimed to immunize art brought into the United States for museum exhibitions. See and

This lobbying campaign raises questions about the funding of both organizations.

It appears law firms that have made considerable money from repatriating art and artifacts are funders of both organizations.

If both groups are going to lobby against S.2212, they should be more transparent about their funding sources.

Meanwhile, other voices that have been generally supportive of repatriation efforts have raised serious questions about the consistency of these groups' opposition to S.2212 compared to their prior stances before CPAC. See

To that, I would add that these groups were also previously opposed to an effort to seize Iranian artifacts at the Oriental Institute to satisfy a judgment awarded to victims of terrorists with ties to to the Iranian government. See

Both groups should explain their positions better in light of their prior stances and provide more information about their funding sources.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Oil Over Antiquities-- Where is the International Archaeological Uproar?

The Iraqi Oil Ministry and the Iraqi Tourism Ministry are at odds over the extension of an oil pipeline that impinges on the ancient site of Babylon. See

I suspect that the Iraqi Oil Ministry will win out in this dispute.

Imagine the uproar if this happened under US Military occupation.

Yet, there is none here.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

James Willis Reappointed to CPAC

President Obama has reappointed James Willis to one of the trade slots on CPAC. See

Jane Levine of Sotheby's continues in another trade slot despite the fact that the Department of State and its Cultural Heritage Center have funded Heritage Watch, the NGO that has been at the forefront of pressing the US and Cambodian governments to seek repatriation of a Khmer statue that was due to be auctioned off by Sotheby's. See

One other trade slot remains vacant.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

SAFE Summary of Hearing in Khmer Statue Case

Despite the predictable editorial spin, this summary from the SAFE website about the initial hearing in the forfeiture case against the Sotheby's Khmer statue is worth reading:

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Greek Archaeologists Point Fingers

Here is more evidence the Greek archaeological community is seriously out of touch. See

Expressions of international solidarity will do little to make up for slashed budgets, and fantasies about artifacts being stolen to order by wealthy Western collectors can't justify lax security.

The Greek cultural establishment needs to cope with the economic meltdown facing the country, and stop making excuses.

The first step to salvation is for Greece to end overregulation of everything old, and instead sell off duplicate artifacts. That will free up funds to help protect Greece's true cultural treasures.

European Commission Funded Campaign to Repatriate Nefertiti to Egypt?

This blog has expressed concern about the US State Department funding groups that support repatriation of artifacts to places like Cyprus and Cambodia. See and

Now, it also appears that the European Commission was funding a group that wants to send the world famous bust of Nefertiti back to Egypt. See and

Though supposedly the Egyptians just want the bust back as a loan, one can easily imagine scenarios where any such "loan" becomes "permanent."

Perhaps, the German Government, presumably one of the European Commission's largest funders, should have demanded an explanation why the European Commission supported such a campaign directed against German interests.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Will Return of Khmer Statue Back to Little Known Ruins Lead to Economic Development?

One can empathize with the Cambodians interviewed by the VOA who hope that the repatriation of a statue back to ruins in the area will lead to a tourist driven economic renaissance. See However, is this a realistic hope?

If one operates under the assumption that antiquities should be "saved for everyone" doesn't it instead also follow they should then be displayed in places where the most people will have an opportunity to see and enjoy them?

That is the point in this interesting comment I received from a knowledgeable individual after he reviewed the report:

Many of the local people in small towns in Italy, Greece, Turkey and elsewhere are convinced that having their own museum would be a panacea for all their ills. This, is in fact, never the case. That Getty statue found in the sea is often claimed as 'our' statue by the local villagers in the town where it was landed because they firmly believe that their town would become prosperous from all the visitors who would come to see it. This was also the case with the Riace bronzes, which the local people feel has been robbed from them because they are exhibited in Reggio. In Turkey they returned the Lydian Treasure to some dinky town museum in Usak which, according to that book on the treasure (by some woman I forget), received a total of 1000 visitors in the 5 years it had then been opened for. The fact that 1000s of people would see it per day in NYC versus 1000 in 5 years in Turkey is not a reason to accept illegal excavations, but it is, in a sensible way, justification for them!

If more Turks would view the items in the US than would ever see them in Turkey, well, this is a factor. The Melfi Sarcophagus is one of the top 10 or 20 of all Roman sarcophagi - found in 1856 it was for years stored in the Bishop's garage in Melfi (and had paint dripped on it when they painted the roof) but was removed to a new museum in the castle in 1976. How many people see it per year? If it had been found earlier and removed to Naples by the Bourbon kings, and put on display there how many more people would see it and how much better known would it be?In fact very few people travel to Melfi to see this object and few people leave any of their money there. Another perfect example of an object that is in an obscure place that you have to make a pilgrimage to see is the Vix Krater in the museum of Chatillon sur Seine. It is thelargest surviving ancient metal vessal and is super spectacular (I've actually seen it). But how many people actually get to see it? I am sure one can find out and I am sure that many,many more do go there than go to Usak or Melfi (and there is bound to be a restaurant nearby that has to be better than anything near either U or M). Thus, comparing a well run small museum in an out of the way place with totally useless small museums, brings up the question:if one of the basic tenets against private collecting is that the objects are for "everyone to enjoy", how can they do so if they are put in places that no one goes to?You can say that having objects from Turkey in the Metropolitan in NYC means that more people will see them (and 'enjoy' them) in a week than will see them in their place of origin in a year (or more), but this is very politically incorrect. But if they go on and on about how they are for everyone, it is thus better to have them where everyone is, rather than where they aren't.

While I actually think that major antiquities can be a draw for local tourism, I also believe for that to happen there needs to be an infrastructure in place, and that often takes substantial money that is well spent, and not wasted through poor planning or corruption.

And that is the real challenge, particularly when overgrasping cultural bureaucracies seek control over anything and everything old, rather than focusing on what is most important.

VOA Turns Up Heat on Sotheby's

The VOA, which is purportedly independent, but which has been identified with the US State Department since its inception (see, has issued a report that has been publicised in the archaeological blogosphere that supports the seizure and repatriation of a Khmer statue back to Cambodia as stolen goods. See

According to Wikipedia,

A 1976 law signed by President Gerald Ford requires VOA to "serve as a consistently reliable and authoritative source of news." The VOA Charter states: "VOA news will be accurate, objective and comprehensive." However, the service has been criticized as an instrument of American propaganda.

If the VOA truly strives to be as "accurate, objective and comprehensive" as claimed, why not also provide Sotheby's side of the story?

Monday, April 9, 2012

Mali MOU Renewal Overtaken By Events?

With one exception, no MOU restricting imports of cultural goods has ever been allowed to expire.

Yet, the assumption behind MOU's -- that the US should help State Parties to the UNESCO Convention control cultural goods found within their borders because nation states are the best protectors of their own cultural patrimony-- has been sorely tested, first by the economic meltdowns in Greece and Italy, and now even more clearly by the descent of Mali into chaos.

A recent military coup and the take over 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.

For more on the situation in Mali, see

To read the arguments for renewing the MOU wiht Mali, see!docketDetail;dct=O%252BSR%252BPS;rpp=25;po=0;D=DOS-2012-0012

On April 24, 2012, CPAC will conduct a public hearing that will discuss the proposed renewal of the MOU with Mali.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Overaggressive US Prosecutors Basing Sotheby's Seizure on Repealed Foreign Law?

It appears that the US Government is hinging its seizure of a valuable statue from Sotheby’s based upon French colonial era laws that were repealed when the Khmer Rouge took power. See

However, even assuming such colonial era laws vested absolute title over the statue in question in the Cambodian state, there is a real question whether they remain in force today. This is what a UN Report has to say on the subject.

According to Article 158 of the 1993 Constitution, laws and regulations which safeguard state property, as well as the rights and property of private individuals, and are consistent with the national interest, continue to be in force unless and until they are amended or repealed, except to the extent that they are contrary to the spirit of the Constitution. There have been sharp disagreements in the interpretation of this Article, between those who would prefer to limit its effect to those laws and regulations which were actually in force immediately before the entry into force of the 1993 Constitution, and those who seek to use its provisions to revive laws which had been in force prior to the Khmer Rouge regime, but have in effect been repealed by the Khmer Rouge. It is an issue which would need to be addressed and successfully resolved, through passage of fresh legislation, if need be, if the objectives of the publication of laws are to be fully achieved.


This issue obviously requires additional research, but it again raises the legitimate question whether collectors, museums, dealers and auction houses should be subject to civil and/or criminal liability based on the vagaries of foreign law.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Government, Supported By Archaeological Lobby, Moves Against Sotheby's on Behalf of Cambodia

The Government of Cambodia has been criticized for its undemocratic ways and its border disputes with Thailand. Yet, the US State Department, its Cultural Heritage Center, and its allies in the archaeological community-- including the Department of State funded “Heritage Watch” --have been instrumental in imposing broad restrictions on cultural goods from Cambodia. This, despite the wide availability of this material in markets abroad and the forthright admission by Cambodia’s representative at the most recent CPAC hearing that the Cambodian Army is deeply involved in the supply of ancient Cambodian artifacts to world markets. See

Now, the Government, again supported by the archaeological lobby, is seeking to seize a Cambodian artifact from Sotheby’s based on allegations that the statute was stolen from an archaeological site, presumably during the dislocation associated with fall of the US-Supported Cambodian government during the aftermath of the Vietnam war. See :

My advice to Sotheby’s would be to fight. Experience teaches that press reports sourced to the archaeological lobby may not provide either a complete or accurate depiction of the actual strength of the Government’s case. If SLAM can prevail, perhaps Sotheby’s can as well.

The seizure does, however, suggests that Sotheby’s hiring of a former prosecutor, Jane Levine, has not protected Sotheby’s and its consigners from the aggressive repatriation efforts of the US Government.

Moreover, the seizure raises further questions about whether Jane Levine can serve as an effective member of CPAC or whether her defense of Sotheby’s import of the statue for auction raises conflict of interest issues that cannot be adequately addressed.

Chinese Bowl Brings Big Bucks

Here is more evidence that US trade restrictions have just moved auction business overseas. See

There was a time this bowl would have been sold in New York. However, trade restrictions encourage sales to move abroad, even when the specific artifact in question may not be subject to restrictions.

Why have an auction in the US, if you can have a bigger one with artifacts from all periods in Hong Kong?

Wouldn't the New York city economy have benefited from auctioning off this piece in the US?

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

End Unilateral Trade Sanctions on Coin Collectors

The Huffington Post has published an editorial by Wayne Sayles attacking import restrictions on ancient coin collecting.

Coin collectors across the U.S. are tired of being singled out with unilateral sanctions. The State Department’s assault on our ability to collect coins is killing another American industry and leaving coin collectors in China and Europe to freely buy and sell. We’ve decided we aren’t going to take it anymore. Join us in ending the State Department’s assault on coin collecting.

Here is the first call to arms for coin collectors across the U.S.:

Seat Brent Benjamin on CPAC

A US District Court's decision to throw out the Government's claim against the Lady Ka-nefer-nefer Mask should also revive Brent Benjamin's appointment to CPAC to represent the interests of the Museum Community.

President Bush appointed Benjamin to the post, but the State Department never seated him, presumably because of Zahi Hawass' campaign to vilify Benjamin, a cause taken up by SAFE and other archaeological groups. See

Now that the Government's claim has been dismissed and Zahi Hawass has been disgraced, it's time for the State Department to follow the law and seat Mr. Benjamin, who after all was legally appointed by President Bush to the post.

Monday, April 2, 2012


A US District Court has dismissed a forfeiture claim brought by the United States on behalf of Egypt for a mummy mask owned by the St. Louis Art Museum (SLAM). The Government had claimed that the artifact, known as the Mask of Ka-Nefer-Nefer, was "stolen" under Egyptian law. The mask in question has been on display at SLAM since 1998.

In pertinent part, the Court stated,

The verified complaint does not provide a factual statement of theft, smuggling, or clandestine importation. Rather, the complaint merely states that the Mask was found to be "missing' from Egypt in 1973. Although the Government alleges, in conclusory fashion, that "the register did not document that the Mask was sold or given to a private party during the time frame 1966 to 1973," the Complaint is completely devoid of any facts showing that the Mask was sold or given to a private party during the time frame of 1966 to 1973," the complaint is completely devoid of any facts showing that the Mask was "missing" because it was stolen and then smuggled out of the country... The Government's legal conclusion, in paragraph 22 of the verified complaint, that "[b]ecause the Mask was stolen, it could not have been lawfully exported from Egypt or lawfully imported into the United States," misses a number of factual and logical steps, namely: (1) an assertion that the Mask was actually stolen; (2) factual circumstances relating to when the Government believes the Mask was stolen; (3) facts relating to the location from which the Mask was stolen; (4) facts regarding who the Government believes stole the Mask; and (5) a statement or identification of the law which the Government believes applies under which the Mask could be considered stolen and/or illegally exported.

The Government cannot simply rest on its laurels and believe that it can initiate a civil forfeiture proceeding on the basis of one bold assertion that because something went missing from one party in 1973 and turned up with another party in 1998, it was therefore stolen and/or imported or exported illegally.

Ironically, the decision was released the same day it was reported that the instigator of the claim against SLAM, former Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass, is to face corruption charges in Egypt, related to a National Geographic sponsored exhibit in the United States. See

One hopes that the US Government will be as aggressive investigating whether American archaeologists and the National Geographic were parties to any corrupt practices involving Hawass, as the US Government has been in going after SLAM over the Ka-Nefer-Nefer mask.

Hawass Involved in Illegal Scheme to Turn Egyptian Antiquities into Cash?

The Egyptian Government is alleging that former antiquities Pharaoh Zahi Hawass was engaged in a scheme to waste public funds and steal antiquities. See

It's a bit hard to tell from this article, but it seems that the Egyptian prosecutor is alleging that Hawass and the wife of Egypt's deposed President Mubark were skimming profits from a travelling exhibit and that Hawass was receiving unauthorized payments from the National Geographic Society.

Will the US Justice Department be as aggressive investigating allegations of public corruption potentially involving US archaeologists as it has been in tracking down allegedly stolen Egyptian antiquities?

Sunday, April 1, 2012

"Coiney 2012"

This is from the Philadelphia Enquirer April 1, 2012:

COINEY 2012: A Video Hit that Misses?

By April Fells

The archaeological advocacy group Saving Antiquities from Everyone (“SAFRE”) has joined with the archaeological advocacy website “Chasing Afrodite” to promote a video to publicize the evils of ancient coin collecting to a wider audience of young adults.

But a cyclone of controversy is swirling around Coiney 2012, a video by SAFRE members Dr. Nathan Snikel and Gill Barmore. The video that targets ancient coin collectors or “Coineys” has gotten more than 76 million views on YouTube since it was posted March 5.

Some say that Snikel and Barmore are a bunch of self-promoting, overprivileged young adults, others that they are brilliant filmmaker/advocates who know how to use new-media tools to grab the attention of high school and college students.

Actually, they are both, and Coiney 2012 embodies all the potential - and pitfalls - of high-tech advocacy.

Ancient coin collecting used to be known as a somewhat nerdy pastime for middle age and older men interested in ancient history. Then, SAFRE began arguing that ancient coin collecting encouraged the looting of archaeological sites by metal detectorists with ties to the mafia or terrorist groups. First, no one took such claims seriously, but then in 2007 SAFRE’s efforts gained a boost when Cypriot advocacy groups, which had hoped to get the US to agree to side with Greeks over the Turkish enemy on questions related to the division of Cyprus, instead got as a booby prize the commitment of then Undersecretary of State Nicholas Beans to order import restrictions on ancient coins, despite the views of State’s own advisory committee. No one could actually figure how this then became a cornerstone of US foreign policy, but since that time, SAFRE has allegedly worked hand in hand with SAFRE members embedded in the State Department Cultural Hermitage Center to extend import restrictions first imposed on coins from Cyprus, to ancient coins from Italy, Greece and China. Coins from Albania, Bulgaria and the rest of the alphabet are now set for new restrictions every other month.

Both the video and the Coiney 2012 campaign seek to raise awareness and to press the U.S. government to keep up the import restrictions on coin collectors or “Coineys” as the campaign wants them officially designated. Visitors to the Coiney 2012 website ( can sign a “call to de-coin the Coineys,” donate US coins, get an advocacy kit, or, by clicking share, post a link to their Facebook page.

The edgy, half-hour video appeals to those called millennials, or Generation Y, those born approximately between 1980 and 2000. Filmmaker and narrator Snikel begins Coiney 2012 by asserting a new world order created by Facebook, YouTube, and other social network sites: "There are more people on Facebook than there were on the planet 200 years ago. Humanity's greatest desire is to belong and connect. . . . And this connection is changing the way the world works."

It's about being cool. If a friend doesn't know about Coineys at this point, Snikel says, "you automatically think they're an idiot."

Criticism - and there has been a lot - has targeted the video's approach and accuracy, and SAFRE’s finances. The group raises millions yearly and spends much of it on filmmaking, travel and some great beer and “Legalize pot” parties.

The effort has also received criticism abroad, from “Coineys” in other countries. Italian coin collectors are the fiercest critics of all, claiming the group profits from Italy’s troubles, displays a colonialist attitude in its work, and fails to mention the Italian cultural bureaucracy cannot even take care of cultural treasures like Pompeii - charges SAFRE has hotly disputed.

There's another problem: If all these young people do is watch and share the video, then Coiney 2012 is not much more than "slacktivism," Net-based pseudo-activism that's little more than clicking computer keys. SAFRE and Chasing Afrodite have planned activities beyond the video, but the video's getting all the attention.

Moreover, there have been some whispers by worried SAFRE members that the campaign may have backfired, encouraging a new group of youths to take up ancient coin collecting because it is now “gangsta cool” in some hipster circles.

If Coiney 2012 in fact ends up bringing new, younger collectors to ancient coin collecting it will indeed be the hit that missed in a big way.