Wednesday, January 29, 2014

PAS and Treasure Act Records over 920,000 Archaeological Finds

Last week's news of the new Bulgarian and renewed China MOUs overshadowed good news coming out of the UK-  the Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Act have now recorded over 920,000 archaeological finds.

It's thus too bad that our own State Department appears to be only interested in helping to prop up corrupt systems in places like Bulgaria and China that only benefit connected insiders.  Why not instead promote the system in place in our friend and ally, Great Britain, one that actually engages the public in helping to record and preserve the past?

The proof is in these numbers.  We know how many archaeological finds the public has reported in Britain and Wales.  How many do you think have been recorded in places like Cyprus, Greece and Italy?

It would be interesting to learn more about such figures from some of the "models" for the anti-collector archaeological establishment, but, of course, these are not readily available, if they are kept at all.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Coin World on Bulgarian Restrictions

Coin World, a publication that is mainly directed at collectors of American coins, has published this article about recent import restrictions, which will drastically limit the ability of Americans to import coins of a sort widely available to collectors in the EU and, indeed, Bulgaria itself.

Such coins may now only be legally imported with documentation proving they were out of Bulgaria as of the date of restrictions, information that is either typically not available (particularly over time) and which foreign sellers are often unwilling to provide (particularly given the modest value of most coins).

CPO will leave it to the reader to judge the relevant merits of the views of Wayne Sayles, myself and Nathan Elkins, but questions whether any archaeological publications will offer the same level of coverage to those opposed to the MOU and explain to their readers the basis for those concerns. Of course, they should as a matter of fairness, but will they?  CPO seriously doubts it, but would be happy to be surprised.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Himmler Letters Now in Israel

Letters between SS Chief Heinrich Himmler and his wife have surfaced in Israel.  They appear to support "the banality of evil" observation of scholars who have reviewed other Holocaust era documents.  Will archaeo-bloggers who purport to represent the interests of the archaeological community demand their repatriation to Germany?

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Cashing In

Hollywood is not the only one seeking to cash in on the new "Monuments Men" movie.  Not surprisingly, anti-collecting academics are seeking to do the same thing, though the parallels between looting of archaeological sites and Nazi state sponsored confiscations are not very close in CPO's opinion.   Indeed, a far closer parallel is the Iraqi State's confiscation of Iraqi-Jewish artifacts.  Yet, the issue of the repatriation of artifacts stolen from Iraqi Jews back to the country that expropriated them receives no notice from these same groups.  Hypocrisy?  Perhaps.  More evidence, if any is needed, that it's more about control than conservation?  Definitely.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Context Matters

Or, so CPO thought.  Yet, archaeo-blogger Rick St. Hilaire offers no context with his selective quotations from the Fourth Circuit's opinion in the ACCG test case to support his views on whether State and Customs must make a principled determination of whether coin types are "first discovered" in a specific county before restricting them.  Nor does he link to the opinion itself; only his own "archaeology over all spin" on it.

Specifically, St. Hilaire fails to acknowledge that the Court's statements related to the "first discovery" provision were made in the context of a decision that affirmed dismissal of the ACCG's test case on so-called "foreign policy grounds."  For that reason, the ACCG was never allowed to take discovery that would go to how the "first discovery" requirement was meant to work in practice.

 One can question whether the Fourth Circuit's opinion has any real vitality at all after a recent  Supreme Court decision that addressed this "foreign policy" issue.  See Zifotofsky v. Clinton, 132 S.Ct. 1421 (2012).  However, it cannot be debated that the Fourth Circuit also stated that ACCG should be given the opportunity to contest that its coins are covered by import restrictions in the context of a forfeiture action.   It's ACCG's view that by necessity this requires discovery into whether State and Customs made a principled determination of whether the coins subject to forfeiture were of the sort that can only be "first discovered" in Cyprus or China, something that was not allowed in in the context of the test case that sought to modify or throw out the applicable regulations.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Two-Thirds of Americans Think Government Too Big, Too Powerful

According to a recent Gallup poll, two-thirds of Americans think the Government is too big and too powerful and are dissatisfied with how it's working.  Wonder what a poll of antiquities and coin collectors would show, particularly given the recent spate of import restrictions on anything and everything.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

ACCG FOIAs State and Customs About Bulgarian Designated List

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild has served Freedom of Information Requests on the State Department and U.S. Customs seeking information about the preparation of  the designated lists for coins.   Did State and U.S. Customs undertake a principled review of the numismatic scholarship about the find spots of Bulgarian coins before concluding all such coins struck from ancient times to 1750 could legitimately be assumed to be "first discovered within" and "subject to the export control" of the modern Bulgarian nation state?  Or, did they merely seek to justify their efforts to impose the broadest restrictions possible by relying upon information supplied by archaeologists with an ax to grind against collectors who claim that all Bulgarian coins (including those of gold and silver) are "local issues?"  Stay tuned.  

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Time for a Change

An American archaeologist is calling for Greek authorities to consider new approaches to preserving the nation's ancient sites.  He's not suggesting that the Greeks sell duplicates and loosen up restrictions on the trade of common artifacts like ancient coins (which is limited to a few dealers "grandfathered" in under older laws), but given the depth of Greece's financial problems and the reality the Greek state cannot possibly care for everything, nothing should be off the table.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Nice Diversion?

The recently announced MOU with the United States will do absolutely nothing to cure endemic corruption within Bulgaria's cultural establishment and the concomitant over-regulation of collectors that is the root of Bulgaria's problems, but it may provide at least a momentary diversion from allegations of well, corruption at the highest levels of Bulgaria's Socialist Government.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Historic Coin Circulation Commission

Given the confusion at the State Department, US Customs and within the archaeological blogoshere about which coins circulated broadly and which did not for purposes of preparing designated lists for the ever growing laundry list of countries for which MOUs have been granted, CPO hereby officially proposes the  formation of the Historic Coin Circulation Commission so everyone-- State Department bureaucrat, archaeologist, coiney and culture cop-- will be on the same page. 

Specifically, CPO envisions a nine (9) member commission with representatives from the ANA, ANS, IAPN, PNG, AIA, ACCG, Smithsonian, Penn Cultural Heritage Center and the ever fair Brits from the BM. CPO suspects that some archaeo-bloggers may gripe about under-representation, but as CPO has also observed few, if any, field archaeologists really care about or understand coins anyway except when it comes to restricting them for the greater glory of their foreign hosts in the cultural bureaucracies of  the world.

The HCCC will be instrumental in deciding what coin types are local (so they can be safely restricted and repatriated to the modern nation states from which the originated) and what coin types circulated in international trade (so they can remain in American collectors' trays and also continue to travel in the international coiney trade without fear of seizure).  

In light of our country's budget deficit, CPO also suggests that no new funds be allocated, but that rather that existing monies be reprogrammed away from grants to the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute, which, after all apparently got the ball rolling on import restrictions on coins in the first place. 

CPO has been assured that the HCCC is likely to meet with approval at the highest levels of American Government, a place where some well placed "coineys" apparently serve in anonymity but with some distinction. 

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Challenge To Doctor Elkins

Nathan Elkins purports to be a serious academic numismatist, but  CPO has had its doubts ever since the release of his academic diatribe directed against a non-profit that uses ancient Roman coins to teach kids about history.   CPO now has more such doubts based on Elkins' latest claim that "Clearly existing import restrictions are at pains to restrict only regional and locally circulating types, such as the provincial coins, while more broadly circulating types such as republican and imperial denarii are not included in restrictions." 

And so would any serious academic numismatist who reviews the State Department and Customs designated lists that (with the exception of the Greek list that leaves off gold and some silver coins) restrict all coins made in Cyprus, China, Italy, Greece, and Bulgaria over periods of hundreds and hundreds of years.  

For example, does Elkins really believe each  and every coin type placed on the Bulgarian designated list (including those of gold and silver) only circulated "locally and regionally" within the confines of the modern Bulgarian nation state?  Let's hope not.   CPO therefore challenges Dr. Elkins to either explain his statement with respect to such coins or to retract it.  

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Archaeo-Blogger Provides Advance Notice of Bulgarian Restrictions

Nathan Elkins, an archaeo-blogger associated with the AIA who spoke before CPAC, appears to have received some advance notice about a MOU with Bulgaria and related import restrictions on a wide variety of cultural goods, including the following coins:
7. Coins – In copper, bronze, silver and gold. Many of the listed coins with inscriptions in Greek can be found in B. Head, Historia Numorum: A Manual of Greek Numismatics (London, 1911) and C.M. Kraay, Archaic and Classical Greek Coins (London, 1976). Many of the Roman provincial mints in modern Bulgaria are covered in I. Varbanov, Greek Imperial Coins I: Dacia, Moesia Superior, Moesia Inferior (Bourgas, 2005), id., Greek Imperial Coins II: Thrace (from Abderato Pautalia) (Bourgas, 2005), id., Greek Imperial Coins III: Thrace (from Perinthus to Trajanopolis), Chersonesos Thraciae, Insula Thraciae, Macedonia (Bourgas 2007). A non-exclusive list of pre-Roman and Roman mints include Mesembria (modern Nesembar), Dionysopolis (Balchik), Marcianopolis (Devnya), Nicopolis ad Istrum (near Veliko Tarnovo), Odessus (Varna), Anchialus (Pomorie), Apollonia Pontica (Sozopol), Cabyle (Kabile), Deultum (Debelt), Nicopolis ad Nestum (Garmen), Pautalia (Kyustendil), Philippopolis (Plovdiv), Serdica (Sofia), and Augusta Traiana (Stara Zagora). Later coins may be found in A. Radushev and G. Zhekov, Catalogue of Bulgarian MedievalCoins IX-XV c. (Sofia 1999) and J.Youroukova and V. Penchev, Bulgarian Medieval Coins and Seals (Sofia 1990).
a. Pre-monetary media of exchange including “arrow money,” bells, and bracelets. Approximate date: 13th century B.C. through 6th century B.C.
b. Thracian and Hellenistic coins struck in gold, silver, and bronze by city-states and kingdoms that operated in the territory of the modern Bulgarian state. This designation includes official coinages of Greek-using city-states and kingdoms, Sycthian and Celtic coinage, and local imitations of official issues. Also included are Greek coins from nearby regions that are found in Bulgaria. Approximate date: 6th century BC through the 1st century B.C.
c. Roman provincial coins – Locally produced coins usually struck in bronze or copper at mints in the territory of the modern state of Bulgaria. May also be silver, silver plate, or gold. Approximate date: 1st century BC through the 4th century A.D.
d. Coinage of the First and Second Bulgarian Empires and Byzantine Empire – Struck in gold, silver, and bronze by Bulgarian and Byzantine emperors at mints within the modern state of Bulgaria. Approximate date: 4th century A.D. through A.D. 1396.
e. Ottoman coins – Struck at mints within the modern state of Bulgaria. Approximate date: A.D. 1396 through A.D. 1750.
Elkins suggests, without providing any supporting evidence,  that the restrictions comply with the governing statute, the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), because such coins "primarily circulated in and are found in ancient Bulgaria."   But the plain meaning of the statue only allows for restrictions of artifacts "first discovered within" and "subject to the export" control of Bulgaria, a far stricter standard.  19 U.S.C. Section 2601 (2).  Moreover, there is a real question whether restrictions on "Greek coins from nearby regions that are found in Bulgaria" provides importers with fair notice of what is restricted, a requirement not only of 19 U.S.C. Section 2604 but of constitutional due process.

Finally, it's worth noting that the same coins that are now restricted for American collectors are freely and legally available for sale within Bulgaria itself, and that public comments received by CPAC were overwhelmingly against restrictions:of the 499 relevant comments posted on the website (a few meant for the MOU with Belize were listed on the docket for Bulgaria), 353 (mostly coin collectors) were opposed to the MOU while only 146 favored it (or 71%-29%).  So, we again have a situation where State and Customs have not only ignored the law but the majority of public comments.  More evidence, if any were needed, that the entire CPAC process has become a farce of the sort we hear is common in infamously corrupt places like Bulgaria, but supposedly not here in our own Democracy.  

Italian Cops Seek Pompeii Brick in Tennessee While Site Itself in Jeopardy Due to Incompetence and Corruption

It's a longstanding but bad practice for tourists to take souvenirs from archaeological sites.  Still, in yet another case of severe overkill, Italian cops, tipped off by ever vigilant archaeologists, are after a brick taken from Pompeii in 1958.  No doubt, US law enforcement will cooperate with this effort and threaten the offending eBay seller with a federal criminal prosecution, but will graciously relent if the seller will just relinquish that old brick his mother brought back from vacation so it can be returned to its rightful home in Italy.

Meanwhile, in Italy itself,  Pompeii remains in jeopardy due to the incompetence and corruption of the very officials charged with protecting it.  Perhaps, Italian cops and the press should instead be focusing their attention on this present day tragedy rather than on some hapless eBay seller in Tennessee.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

More Reaction to Extension of China MOU

Kate FitzGibbon, a past CPAC member appointed by President Clinton, has reacted to  news of the extension on behalf of the Committee for Cultural Policy.  Her blog on the subject is aptly titled: "Cultural Property Hypocrisy:  State Department Renews China Import Restrictions."   It begs the question whether the State Department actually considered whether extension of the MOU made sense given China's booming internal market and abject failure to comply with its own undertakings under the original MOU.  Or, is this just more evidence that the entire CPAC process is a farce of the sort common in dictatorships like the People's Republic of China, but supposedly not here.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Chinese Import Restrictions Extended

The Department of State and US Customs and Border Protection have extended controversial import restrictions on Chinese cultural goods for another five years.  These restrictions in particular show how far the State Department and US Customs have departed not only from the requirements of the governing statute but common sense.   The net effect of the current restrictions has been to give Chinese collectors,  dealers and auction houses a competitive advantage over their American counterparts.   This will now continue for another five years, time enough for the likes of the People Liberation Army's Poly Group to become the dominant force in the market for Chinese artifacts.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Abuse of Power

The news channels in the United States are pulling out all stops in covering an abuse of power by associates of New Jersey Governor Christie, a front runner for the Republican nomination to run for the presidency of the United States.  The Governor has taken decisive action, apologizing for the actions of his aides in ordering the closure of lanes of traffic on the busy George Washington Bridge as "political payback" against a Democratic mayor who refused to endorse his reelection bid.  He has also reached out to this mayor personally and has fired those responsible.  The political consensus at the moment is that because of his decisive action, Christie will weather this storm, that is as long as he is telling the truth about his own lack of culpability.

How then do Governor Christie's decisive actions contrast to those of the US Department of State?  Two former CPAC members (including a former CPAC Chairman) have given credible testimony that State Department employees abused their power in manipulating the process for imposing import restrictions on Cypriot and Chinese coins, contrary to CPAC's recommendations and US law.  Even worse, there is also credible evidence that these same State Department employees then misled the Congress and the public about it in official government documents.

Why shouldn't the State Department also take its own decisive action against such abuses of power?  If anything, their long term impact on thousands upon thousands of US Collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade is far greater than the closure of a few lanes of traffic.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Weed in; Collecting Out?

Things like collecting ancient coins and arrowheads used to be viewed as harmless and indeed educational pursuits.  CPO seems to recall kids could even be awarded a badge by the Boy Scouts for putting together collections of such artifacts.  Now though, collecting equates with looting and criminal activity, at least in some parts of academia, the press, the State Department and U.S. Law Enforcement.  Meanwhile, all of the sudden smoking dope seems not only to be legal, but all the rage, not only in places like Colorado, but even in the seat of our national government.   And with the Obama Administration signalling it will not enforce our nation's drug laws relating to the sale and distribution of marijuana,  perhaps all of those underemployed law enforcement types will be redirected to a further clamp down on collecting any artifacts claimed to be the property of foreign governments under their own laws (even where they make little, if any, effort to enforce those laws at home).  The Boy Scouts should be horrified.  But come to think of it,  they are "out" too, aren't they?

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Another Bataar Skull to Be Repatriated, but Was it "Stolen?"

The Feds have made another fossil dealer an offer he could not refuse--  give us your Tyrannosaurs Bataar Skull, plead guilty to smuggling, pay a fine and almost all will be forgiven.  The problem with all of this is that serious questions remain about claims that such fossils are "stolen" from Mongolia, i.e., does Mongolia have a law that vests absolute title of all such fossils in the Mongolian state that is actively enforced at home?

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Florida Arrowhead Sting

The Tampa Bay Times has published an extensive article about a sting carried out by Florida Fish and Wildlife Authorities against arrowhead hunters.  Government overreach that ruins lives or the protection of archaeological resources on State Land?  Or, perhaps, a bit of both.

Save the Date- Pearlstein White Paper to Be Subject of Symposium at Cardozo School of Law

The Committee for Cultural Policy and the Cardozo Arts and Entertainment Law Journal (AELJ) will be hosting a symposium at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York City on April 10, 2014 at 2 pm. Tentatively titled, Reform of U.S. Cultural Property Policy: Accountability, Transparency, and Legal Certainty, the event is a response to the  forthcoming publication by William Pearlstein, A Proposal to Reform U.S. Law and Policy Relating to the International Exchange of Cultural Property, being published in AELJ’s Volume 32, Issue 2.
To continue to receive updates on the event and the final publication or have further questions, please email

Rule Happy

The Competitive Enterprise Institute has drawn attention to the vast increase in the number of Federal Regulations Americans must comply with on a whole host of issues.   Of course, collectors, museums, auction houses and small businesses of the antiquities and numismatic trade now have to comply with a confusing list of foreign and domestic regulations and it would seem neither Congress nor the Courts are willing or even able to tamp down on government overreach in this area or others. One group appears to be largely unregulated though-- the archaeological community.  Perhaps, it's time to ensure that they too are complying with their own obligations to report, publish and preserve artifacts through a host of new regulations.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Archaeologists Need Not Report Finds to the Authorities?

Archaeoblogger Paul Barford apparently does not think that English and Welsh archaeologists have an obligation to report finds under the Treasure Act.  But the guidance to archaeologists seems clear on that point.  Presumably,  they should also voluntarily report finds that don't meet the definition of treasure-- only if they do so will the PAS database created with the help of the public be complete as possible.  Perhaps, there needs to be a study whether English and Welsh archaeologists report under the Treasure Act and the PAS and if not, why not?

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cambodia's Moral Case for Returns Falters II

More confirmation, if any was needed, that the Cambodian Government abuses its own people at the very same time American archaeologists are championing the repatriation of Khmer artifacts long in this country, all courtesy of the US taxpayer.  How can one speak of justice for Cambodia when the Cambodian government does not treat its own people justly?