Friday, December 28, 2012

ACCG to Petition the Supreme Court

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild has decided to petition the U.S. Supreme Court and request reversal of the Fourth Circuit's decision to affirm the dismissal of its test case. 

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Soft Sell on Cambodian Repatriation

It's interesting to contrast the hardball tactics of elements within the US Government and the US archaeological lobby with the softer line on Cambodian antiquities taken by Prince Ravivaddhana Sisowath of Cambodia.  Is this a case of Good Cop/Bad Cop or is the archaeological lobby cart pushing the repatriation horse once again? 

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

SAFE No More?

A reliable source indicates that Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) is effectively dead.  While SAFE's website remains online, it has not really been updated for some time.

Certainly, SAFE has not been very active in the past year or so. And despite rumors that SAFE was planning a major conference on Turkish antiquities that was to be funded by Turkey’s U.S. lawyers, nothing ever came of it.

It does appear that a related group called "Antiquity Now" is forming on Facebook. It will be interesting to see if it becomes more active as time goes by.

I for one will not mourn the demise of SAFE.   From the start, it was highly confrontational, and brought far more heat than light to cultural property issues.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Nanny State Empowered to Regulate Hemingway's Cats

The Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals has affirmed a decision allowing the Department of Agriculture to regulate how the Hemingway Museum treats the descendants of Hemingway's cats that live on the property.  In so doing, the Court concluded that the Museum met the definition of an an animal exhibitor and that agency regulations and advertisements featuring the cats were enough to provide the necessary nexus to interstate commerce.  Now, the DOA can force the Hemingway Museum to cage the cats individually at night, to construct a higher electrified fence or to hire a night watchman, and to build additional cat resting areas.  As with coin collecting, even if the Government has the right to regulate something, one can still question its stupidity in doing so. Perhaps the Supreme Court might consider taking both the Hemingway cat case and ACCG coin case.  Each would present a good opportunity for the Court to consider Government overreach at its most ridiculous. 

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Belize Lays Claim to Crystal Skull Movie's "Illegal Profits"

It must take awhile for movies to get down to Belize.  It's been out for years, but now an archaeologist, purportedly acting on behalf of that nation's government, is suing the owners of the Indiana Jones franchise for their alleged unauthorized use of a facsimile of an artifact from that country.

According to press reports, "Scientist Jaime Awe claims Hollywood hot shots used a model of the swiped Belizean relic in the 2008 flick, “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull” to rake in 'illegal profits.'”

Of course, he now wants a piece of the action, i.e., a portion of the Crystal Skull Movie's $378 million profit, for the Central American country.

In so doing, Awe and Belize seem to be taking a page from Zahi Hawass and Egypt who hoped to copyright  the pyramids and rake in even larger sums.  

Leaving aside the dubious merits of this lawsuit, I have to assume this news is a bit embarrassing for Harrison Ford, a.k.a "Indiana Jones," who is a past AIA Trustee.

And which side will the AIA take in this dispute?  The downtrodden and exploited country of Belize or the Hollywood hot shots who have helped promote archaeology?

And will SAFE and other hard liners be telling the AIA "we told you so" for its efforts to promote the movie and make its leading man an AIA Trustee?

Friday, December 7, 2012

Archaeobloggers Seek "Union Shop?"

The UK's PAS and Treasure Act are popular programs because they encourage the public to report coins and other ancient artifacts they find so they can be properly recorded.  That which the government does not need for its collections is disclaimed, and returned to the finder to do with what he or she will.   Moreover, the State pays fair market value for what it keeps, which incentivizes the State to only retain what it will properly care for, study and display.

What is the result of this win-win situation? The UK's Minister of Culture recently observed surprise, surprise, that incentivizing the public to report what they find has led to more finds being reported in England and Wales than anywhere else:

A little known fact I discovered this week – Britain tops the league table for hoards. I am told, we have more archaeological finds every year than any other country. Whether this is per square foot or per head of the population, I am not sure, but it is a good statistic so I’m going to use it.

However, the archaeological blogosphere does not celebrate, but rather condemns this news, claiming that the U.K.'s system encourages metal detecting rather than the recording of finds.  Yet, take the case of Bulgaria.  It has been estimated that 100,000-250,000 Bulgarians conduct illicit excavations, and little is  actually recorded because all the incentives in that corrupt system discourage people to report what they might find.  So, which system is better?

Clearly, the U.K.'s system, no?  Yet, the archaeological blogosphere begs to differ.  Instead, they claim that even the most common artifacts like coins should be left in the ground for some future archaeologist to find.  But the reality is that archaeologists will always be few in number and it is highly unlikely any will ever actually tread where many of the artifacts reported by the PAS and Treasure Act are found.

Thus, one really must wonder whether the archaeological blogosphere is more concerned about preserving and recording the past or ensuring that cultural heritage is a union shop for card carrying archaeologists.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Corruption and the Archaeological Lobby's Models

It's interesting to see where the archaeological lobby's models stack up on Transparency International's 2012 Corruption Perception Index:  Bulgaria-75; China-80; Cyprus-29; Egypt-118, Greece-94; Italy-72 and Turkey-54. 

The higher the number, the higher the perception of corruption.  Denmark is No. 1 as the least corrupt country while No.174, Somalia, is perceived as most corrupt.

While Cyprus' rank of 29 would seem at first blush to be fairly good, at least some commentators suggest that Cypriots themselves think their government is more corrupt than Transparency International's experts believe.  

It's interesting that these countries also have very restrictive export controls for cultural property.  One might suspect that such controls merely provide an opportunity for corrupt officials to profit from the system.

Why does the archaeological lobby continue to see such corrupt systems as models for cultural heritage protection?  Or are they somehow suggesting the cultural bureaucracies in these countries are far cleaner than government in general?  And, if so, what is their basis for any such claim?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

More Success from Treasure Act and PAS

The Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme have reported another good year, which again begs the question why the US archaeological lobby is so hostile to any suggestion that a similar program should be tried elsewhere and barely tolerant of the program even for England and Wales.

Indeed, it's a bit of a puzzle why the archaeological lobby (and by default their allies in the State Department Cultural Heritage Center) seem more influenced by the views of the corrupt and/or bankrupt and/or authoritarian governments of places like Bulgaria, China, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece and Italy than by the fair play of our longstanding ally, the United Kingdom. 

Perhaps, some of the millions of dollars of US taxpayer money committed to archaeological projects in places  like Iraq and Egypt should instead be invested in a pilot Portable Antiquities Scheme program in a place like Bulgaria.  That would help Bulgaria record many of the coins that now are not recorded, and show our support not only for Bulgaria, but for our ally, the United Kingdom.