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?