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.