Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cultural Nationalism Bites German Archaeologists

American archaeologists have been generally supportive of  the repatriation efforts of countries like Egypt, Turkey, Greece and Italy.  Although they may claim that they are disinterested experts that only support repatriation for moral reasons, the fact is their careers may very well depend on excavation permits issued by the cultural bureaucracies of these same countries.

But now the same cultural nationalism that has motivated Turkey's recent repatriation claims appears to have led the Turkish cultural bureaucracy to force German archaeologists out from excavations at Troy.   See  Although the above article points to "financial problems" as the reason German archaeologists are leaving the site, it also suggests that Turkey ultimately wants to replace German archaeologists with Turkish ones.   Moreover, other sources suggest that move is part of a larger dispute between German state museums and Turkey over repatriation demands for artifacts in their collections.  See

Indeed, as quoted in the above article, a Turkish minister has stated quite bluntly, "Turkey has new universities, new archaeological institutes, not to mention engaged and successful archaeologists....When we don't see the cooperation we hope for in this area, then we won't hesitate to transfer digs to our own universities."

For now, American archaeologists' careers at Troy and other Turkish sites appear safe.  But one can only imagine that Turkish authorities expect unqualified support from American archaeologists for their recent repatriation claims against US Museums.  See

And what of the 1970 UNESCO benchmark that the AIA hoodwinked American museums into accepting in order to buy peace?   That "safe harbor" has evidently suddenly become all but forgotten given what one reads about Turkey's claims in the archaeological blogosphere.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

ACCG: AIA Under Fire on Open Access

Here is a revised press release from the ACCG critical of the AIA on its stand against "open access" to archaeological research:

At public meetings before the State Department's Cultural Property Advisory Committee, AIA members have claimed that import restrictions on cultural goods are necessary to promote archaeological research which is then shared with members of the public.

Isn't the AIA's stance against open access to federally funded research inconsistent with such claims?  Should the AIA instead provide CPAC with a disclaimer that archaeological research is only made freely available to fellow members of the archaeological trade?

Monday, May 28, 2012

We Buy Chinese Antiques

Oriental Heritage Inc., has announced a 7 day Antiques Buying Event in the Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Area. A prominent advertisement in the Washington Post exclaims, “The Chinese economy is booming. As a result, the market for Chinese antiques is red hot. Prices for many Chinese antiques have grown dramatically.” The advertisement also informs us that the Oriental Heritage Inc. is “backed up by major investment groups in China” and “has access to tens of millions of dollars of funds instantly.” Although not explicitly stated in the advertisement itself, the implication is that any art purchased in the United States will be repatriated to China.

Comment: While I support Oriental Heritage’s rights to purchase antiques in the United States and send them to China, its actions again underscore the utter foolishness of the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Cultural Heritage Center’s effort to secure US import restrictions on Chinese cultural goods. Those restrictions have been pitched by State Department cultural bureaucrats and supportive archaeologists as necessary to protect Chinese archaeological sites. Yet, they appear to have in fact done little more than help redirect the trade in Chinese art back to China itself.

For more about Oriental Heritage, see

Sunday, May 27, 2012

CPAC Charter Renewed

The Federal Register (5/26/2012) belatedly reports that CPAC's Charter has been renewed:

DEPARTMENT OF STATE [Public Notice 7897]
Renewal of Cultural Property Advisory Committee Charter

SUMMARY: The Charter of the Department of State's Cultural PropertyAdvisory Committee (CPAC) has been renewed for an additional two years.  The Charter of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee is being renewed for a two-year period. The Committee was established by the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act of 1983, 19 U.S.C. 2601 et seq. It reviews requests from other countries seeking U.S. import restrictions on archaeological or ethnological material the pillage of which places a country's cultural heritage in jeopardy. The Committee makes findings and recommendations to the President's designee who, on behalf of the President, determines whether to impose the import restrictions. The membership of the Committee consists of private sector experts in archaeology, anthropology, or ethnology; experts in the international sale of cultural property; and representatives of museums and of the general public.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Cultural Heritage Center, U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, 2200 C Street NW., Washington, DC 20522. Telephone: (202) 632-6301; Fax: (202) 632-6300.

Dated: April 27, 2012.
Maria P. Kouroupas, Executive Director, Cultural Property Advisory, Committee Department of State.
[FR Doc. 2012-12937 Filed 5-25-12; 8:45 am] BILLING CODE 4710-11-P

Comment: CPAC was meant to provide useful advice to the Executive Branch Decision-maker, but unfortunately the body has become little more than a rubber stamp for the State Department Cultural Heritage Center’s efforts to impose the broadest possible restrictions on cultural goods. See  If anything, the situation has gotten worse under the Obama Administration because non-archaeological slots on CPAC have now become packed with archaeological supporters. See

Friday, May 25, 2012

Closed "Open Access" Debate?

One of the archaeologists that has taken the AIA to task on its "Open Access" Position apparently feels free to edit my comments to his blog here:

I'll let the reader judge whether his own attempt to steer the debate about "open access" away from its broader implications is warranted or not.  Here is my comment in its entirety:

This actually appears to be a bit of a childish response to this press release. You admit the content is largely accurate; what you disagree with seems to be the fact that an advocacy group with a different perspective than your own has used the Open Access website for its own purposes-- welcome to the Internet! If you want, I can point out to you several archaeological blogs that regularly do the same thing. And why not? Your group put this statement out on the web for all to see. To change the link to change the message may have some "gotcha" appeal to people who agree with you, but it does also suggest that you think only fellow archaeologists have the right to criticize AIA policies.

As to what this has to do with import restrictions point, see my blog here: Basically, it is fair to point out that the AIA has suggested in public meetings before the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee that import restrictions are necessary to promote numismatic research which then can be shared with the public.

Incidentally, it is the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, not the American Coin Collectors Guild as you state. (Though, of course, you are correct to point out the error related to the AIA.).


Peter Tompa, ACCG Board Member

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

UNESCO Database of Cultural Property Laws

I received this solicitation, which I am happy to pass along:

Dear Sir or Madam:

I write to you regarding the UNESCO Database of National Cultural Heritage Laws. Created in 2003, the Database contains more than 2,350 laws of 180 countries, and is available on-line at   It is easy to use and free of charge, and provides a unique tool for cultural authorities, museums, universities, law firms, and heritage professionals. More generally, the database can play an important role in fighting the illicit traffic of cultural heritage.

We believe that the content of the Cultural Property Observer Blog may benefit from this resource and that it is well-positioned to help promote the Database to a large audience of possible users. Accordingly, we invite you to share the above URL widely, and to promote its use among other relevant individuals and institutions.

Thank you, and best regards,
Jordan Jacobs

UNESCO Consultant

Comment:  This is a useful resource. IFAR has a similar database, but it is probably not as complete.  Of course, the fact that a law exists on the subject does not answer the specific question of whether it is just to all stakeholders, whether it is enforced at home or whether it should be enforced abroad.  That, of course, is what much of the cultural property debate is about.

Sunday, May 20, 2012


Does snobbery help motivate the archaeological community’s support for clamp downs on collecting? One might conclude “yes,” based on this:

I’ve had the pleasure of being both a Trustee of the American Numismatic Society and the head of a local ancient coin club, the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington, DC. Both have done excellent work fostering the appreciation and study of ancient coins. The work of the ANS is unparalleled. But the work of individual collectors has been important too. For example, members of the ANSWDC have written books that have ranged from the major work on Seleucid coins to another on an understudied area in Roman numismatics.

Now, more information is being placed on the Internet. Alfredo De La Fe should be commended for his new contribution. To mock it instead only betrays the academic snobbery behind the archaeological community’s opposition to collectors and collecting.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Economist Takes On Turkey's Repatriation Drive

The Economist Magazine has critiqued Turkey’s new repatriation drive here:

The Economist points out Turkey’s nationalist stance is popular at home, but that it is hypocritical in the extreme. Turkey itself was an Imperial power and its museums --like those of other Imperial powers-- also contain artifacts taken from what today are other countries.

The Economist could have gone further. Isn't it also wrong for Turkey to lay claim to cultural artifacts produced by Greek culture when Turkey itself forcibly deported its Greek citizens in the 1920’s?

Friday, May 18, 2012

Archaeo-Blogger Advocates Repatriating Jewish Bible to War Torn Syria?

Archaeo-Blogger Paul Barford has sought to bait me with this blog about a new book concerning the Aleppo Codex. See

Barford apparently thinks the Aleppo Codex would have been better off left in Syria, even though the Syrian Government has persecuted Syria’s Jewish culture virtually out of existence, and now Aleppo itself is under threat.

I uploaded this comment in response on his blog, but he has not had the courtesy to post it:

I doubt I will have a chance to read the book, but even if it is true the Codex has suffered somewhat since coming to Israel, that does not establish that it would have been better off in the clutches of the anti-Semitic Baathist regime in Syria, which in case you have not been reading the news, is now involved in a civil war against its own people. (And if memory serves which has specifically targeted Aleppo for retribution).

But this begs the question whether you too believe the test should be "where the artifact is better off." Please elaborate.

If Barford wants to bait someone, he should have the courtesy to allow that person to respond.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Ponder the Fate of Zeugma

Before the Trustees of  Bowling Green State University seriously consider calls to send mosaics installed in their new arts center to Turkey because some academic claims they might have come from Zeugma, a Turkish site, they should ponder the fate that city-- sunk beneath waters created by a Turkish Government hydroelectric dam.

The Trustees should also consider that the AIA and other archaeological groups that support repatriation -- and which are so quick to jump on collectors, museums, and dealers at the mere whiff of looted art-- instead turn into pussycats when it comes to the decisions of foreign governments to sacrifice whole sites to dams and the like.  Indeed, instead of outrage for inundating Zeugma and many of its magnificent artifacts -- these groups only offered the Turkish Government their thanks for allowing "rescue excavations" that, of course, were largely funded not by the Turkish Government itself, but by an American Foundation.  See   Could this be because American archaeologists are beholden to the Turkish cultural bureacracy for excavation permits? 

It's not all that surprising that the Turkish Government wants to downplay its own calculated destruction of Turkey's archaeological past.  Yet, why should the Trustees of Bowling Green State University ignore Turkey's unclean hands as they consider any repatriation request?

Monday, May 14, 2012

More Looting in Egypt- But is the Prescription More of the Same?

The AP has filed this report on looting in Egypt.  See

Yet, branding poor people who dig under their own houses as "thieves" and calling for more repressive measures probably won't solve the problem.  Perhaps, the real issue is that the Egyptian State's Pharaonic approach to these issues confuses control with conservation to the detriment of the latter.

Speaking of lawbreaking, the article-- which apparently is based totally on information from archaeologists and Egyptian cultural bureaucrats-- nowhere discusses the status of the case against former Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass, who has been charged with antiquities theft and corruption.

If Egyptian authorities insist on prosecuting the poor for "antiquities theft" shouldn't they also take a similarly hard line against Dr. Hawass, who, after all, was one of the major proponents of such repressive measures when he was in charge?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Should an Ohio University Send Valuable Mosaics Back to Turkey Based on Speculation on their Origins and the Impact of Turkish Law?

I do hope the Trustees at Bowling Green State University in Ohio seek opinions of others than those with a vested interest in repatriating objects before they seriously consider ripping valuable mosaics out of its new Wolfe Center and sending them to an uncertain fate in Turkey.  See and
After all, the Trustees have fiduciary duties that require substantial justification before the University despoils its own new art center to feed the cultural nationalist beast.

At a minimum, the Trustees must ask:

Is academic speculation that the objects may have come from Zeugma, a site in Turkey, enough to justify such an irreversible action?

And even if the mosaics did come from Zeugma, how can a 1983 Turkish law be used as a basis to return them when they could not have left Turkey later than the 1960's?

And what moral right does the Turkish Government have to such objects?  After all, that same Turkish government sacrificed the entire ancient city of Zeugma itself in a quest for hydroelectric power. 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Cooperation Fails to End Confrontation

For more evidence that American Museums' efforts to cooperate with the cultural bureaucracies of source countries like Italy has not bought them the peace that was promised, read Jason Felch's blog about the latest efforts to send the "Getty Bronze" to Italy.  See

He states,

Since 2005, the Getty has voluntarily returned 49 antiquities in its collection, acknowledging they were the product of illegal excavations and had been smuggled out of their country of origin. Hundreds of other objects were returned by other American dealers, collectors and museums. In the wake of those returns, several American museums struck cooperative deals with Italy and Greece that allow for long-term loans of ancient art.

But such agreements have not shielded American museums from further claims that ancient art in their display cases are the product of a black market responsible for the destruction of archaeological sites around the world. In March, Turkish officials revealed they were seeking the return of dozens of allegedly looted antiquities from the Getty, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, the Cleveland Museum of Art and Harvard’s Dumbarton Oaks.

It's high time for American Museums to rethink their efforts to appease source countries and the AIA.  Such appeasement does little in the end, but encourage other, ever more aggressive claims.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Archaeologists Train Guns on Odessey Marine Again

Archaeologists-  this time in the United Kingdom- have once again shot a broadside at Odessey Marine-- this time with regard to its deal with the UK Government to salvage the wreck of the HMS Victory.  See

For an interesting critique of the position of archaeologists with regard to Odessey's work, see

According to the author, Tom King, an archaeologist who was commenting not specifically about the Victory wreck, but rather generally in favor of Odessey's work: 

1. Shipwrecks are deteriorating, both from natural causes and particularly as a result of modern methods of fishing, which plow up the bottom as effectively as agricultural land-levelers have torn up the Mississippi Valley.

2. Academic institutions and museums lack the financial resources to excavate everything that's being destroyed, or even a small percentage of it.

3. There are commercial salvagers who conduct very high quality archaeological excavations, and who have technological and financial resources that the academic community can’t touch (See, for example, the two recent publications by Odyssey Marine Exploration here and here --- which are substantial archaeological survey and site reports, some of which also document my point #1 above).

4. The only difference between such “salvage” and the work of academic underwater archaeologists (other than that, in my experience, Odyssey at least does better work) is that a percentage of the recovered material gets sold after it is described and analyzed.

5. Odyssey at least has rather strict protocols governing what can and can't be sold; what gets sold comprises mostly manufactured items of limited research interest;

6. We archaeologists used to claim that we were interested in the data from sites, not the goodies. The violent and near-mindless standard archaeological reaction to responsible shipwreck salvage proves that we've been dissembling all these years, or simply don't understand our own motivations.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Rutgers Publishes Urice and Adler Piece on Lawless State Department and CBP Actions in Cultural Property Field

The Urice and Adler article detailing the US State Department's and U.S. Customs' lawless approach to cultural property law has appeared on the Rutgers Law Review website here: and

The article touches on the ACCG test case, currently before the US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit.  In it, the authors state,

Cultural property policy in the United States has become increasingly lawless, for lack of a better term. In recent years, the executive branch has aggressively restricted the movement of cultural property into the United States, but it has repeatedly done so without regard for constraining legal authority. The result is a troubling disjunction between the executive branch’s (the “Executive”) current cultural property policies and the existing legal framework established by Congress and the Judiciary.

Archaeologists' Mantra Not Applicable to Coins

One of the mantras one hears from the archaeological community is that an artifact without context is worthless from a scholarly perspective.  It's refreshing then to hear from archaeologists that the iconography of coins does indeed give them quite a bit of meaning.  See

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Swank AIA Gala at Odds with Anti-Business, Due Dilligence Rhetoric?

The AIA has announced the success of its Spring Gala on its website.  See

But the optics of such a posh event are seemingly at odds with the anti-business rhetoric one sometimes hears from AIA members at hearings of the State Department Cultural Property Advisory Committee. 

It's also interesting to note that the AIA auctioned off an antique Turkish kilim during the event.  See  Again, one wonders given all the rhetoric about due dilligence whether the item was imported into the United States consistently with Turkish export controls. See

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Hillary More Attuned to Pop Culture than to Concerns of Numismatic Community?

I had to laugh a bit when I read that Hillary Clinton (or her staff) had time to write Jason Segal, a Hollywood personality, to decline an invitation to appear on his television show.  See

In contrast, Secretary Clinton has declined to respond at all to correspondence expressing the sincere concerns of the numismatic community about how import restrictions are damaging small business and the appreciation and study of ancient coins in the United States.

What gives?

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

No Shipment to the USA

One of the major Swiss coin auction houses has announced that it will no longer ship ancient coins to the USA, due to the growing list of import restrictions (and presumably recent problems importers have had with US Customs with regard to unrestricted ancient coins).

Here is the communication that has been sent by Sincona (formerly the numismatic arm of UBS) to US bidders:

Dear Mr. xxx

We would like to thank you very much for your bids.

Due to specific US customs regulations, Sincona is no longer shipping ancient coins into the USA!

Either you can personally pick up your auction lots at our office in Zurich (or having someone to do so on your behalf) or you have to provide us with a mailing address within the European Community, where we can send your purchase. If we do not receive your respective directives within 48 hours before the sale, we are sorry but cannot accept your bids for ancient coins!

Thank you for your understanding.

Elements within the AIA, the archaeological blogosphere, and cultural bureaucracies here and abroad will no doubt [at least secretly] applaud such developments.  On the other hand, others may now conclude that any speculative benefit import restrictions may have on the protection of archaeological sites is far outweighed by the direct,  negative consequences they undoubtedly also have on US small businesses, collectors, and ultimately the study, preservation and appreciation of ancient coins and the cultural exchange it fosters.