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.