Thursday, January 29, 2015

King Tut Gold Mask Botch Job: Calls for Investigation as Head Restorer Demoted

While the archaeological blogosphere is still claiming the Tut Gold Mask botch job is no big deal or even that such concerns that have been raised stem from "neo-colonialist" attitudes, more serious commentators have demanded an investigation and the head of restoration at the Cairo Museum has been demoted.  At least the offending restoration specialist was not condemned to death.  That has already happened to others in Sisi's Egypt for those charged with destruction of cultural property.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

St. Louis Chapter of AIA Capitulates to Academic Bullies

In a sad  reversal, the St. Louis Chapter of the AIA has capitulated to the academic bullies that run the national organization by replacing its board.  Presumably, after considering the matter further, it was decided that the St. Louis Chapter had no future as an independent organization.  That's too bad. There is a need for an archaeological organization that reaches out to collectors rather than marginalizing them.  The fact that the St. Louis' Chapter's "crime" was the sale of well-provenanced artifacts that were no longer displayed for purposes of promoting archaeology speaks volumes about what the AIA has become. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Greek Archaeological Site Up for Sale in Turkey

Bargylia, a first rate Greek archaeological site in Turkey, is up for sale.  If so, why not take things to the logical conclusion by allowing the new owners to excavate the site in a manner consistent with international norms and share the proceeds with the Turkish state?

Monday, January 26, 2015

Apologist: Tut Mask Botch Job No Big Deal

Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford has now taken on the role of apologist for the Egyptian Military Dictatorship and its cultural bureaucracy.  It's no surprise that Barford relies mainly on official Egyptian and Chinese sources for the claim that irreparable damage to the iconic Tut Gold Mummy Mask is "no big deal" despite reports the soft gold mask was also scratched in the debacle.   And Egypt is a democracy.  And the restoration of the Step Pyramid was performed to the highest standards.  And looting in the aftermath of the military takeover was caused by "cultural racketeers," not mobs angry that "their president" was overthrown.  Such are the fictions that become "fact" in dictatorships like those in Egypt and China.  So, why is Barford so willing to take Egyptian claims at face value and why are his own fellow archaeo-bloggers so willing to remain silent about the matter? Is it really about conservation or control and continued access to digs in Egypt?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cultural Heritage Center in Conservative Cross-Hairs

The State Department and its Cultural Heritage Center find themselves in conservative cross-hairs for wasteful spending in their Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Heritage Preservation.   The Weekly Standard paints a picture of a misguided "soft power" effort that has spent millions in anti-American countries.  In so doing, the author, Stephen Schwartz, focuses on the foolishness of giving millions for restoration projects to the same Assad regime which has bombed the Old City of Aleppo into rubble.

The article expresses hope the new Congress will scrutinize the program.  CPO also hopes Congress will also review the Cultural Heritage Center's administration of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.  Even leaving aside serious concerns about prejudgement of MOUs, it's increasingly clear that MOUs are little more than special interest programs for foreign cultural bureaucracies and the archaeologists that do business with them.  For proof, one need look no further than low public support for MOUs.  For instance, CPAC recently received only four public comments regarding a renewal of the MOU with Nicaragua, including one from the AAMD that suggested it should be turned down.

Friday, January 23, 2015

"It's a crime, it's really an art crime, it's insane.... It happened due to incompetence."

So says Egyptian archaeologist Monica Hanna about the botched repair job on King Tut's iconic gold mummy mask.  But where are Hanna's Western colleagues on this?   And how is it that the archaeological blogosphere, which goes into overdrive whenever there is a whiff of looting or other damage to Egyptian artifacts allegedly perpetrated at the behest of Western Museums or collectors, is strangely silent about the tragedy?  This deafening silence again raises the question:  Is it really about conservation or ensuring state control and continued access for professional archaeologists?

What's Wrong with the Rule of Law Anyway?

Archaeo-blogger Rick St. Hilaire has expressed alarm that the AAMD has opposed the renewal of the MOU with Nicaragua.  But the concerns that AAMD expressed relate to Nicaragua's failures to meet the statutory criteria for a renewal.   CPO also questions whether the AAMD has "changed its prior position" as much as reemphasized the importance of adhering to the letter of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.  So, an apt question to put to "Cultural Heritage Lawyer" St. Hilaire might be, what's wrong with the rule of law anyway?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Egypt's Most Iconic Object Irreparably Damaged in a Botched Cleaning and Restoration Effort

King Tut's Gold Mask, Egypt's most iconic object, has been irreparably damaged in a botched cleaning and restoration effort. This horrible news is part of a pattern.  Just recently, allegations also surfaced that an unqualified contracting firm had also botched the restoration of the Step Pyramid. 

All this raises a simple question.  Is this really time to help legitimize the Egyptian Military Dictatorship with a MOU that will in effect recognize its rights to exclusive control over every artifact deemed "Egyptian?"

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

AIA St. Louis Chapter President on the Controversy

The AIA St. Louis Society President Michael Fuller has made a forthright statement to the AIA national organization about the issue of deacessioning artifacts and orphans.  Unfortunately, while Fuller sought reasonable accommodation on these issues, the AIA's ivory tower academic leadership answered with nothing but ideology and disdain for anyone not of the view that all antiquities should be the exclusive preserve of cultural bureaucrats from such authoritarian and/or dysfunctional countries as China, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Italy and Turkey and their chosen archaeologists.  The shame of it all.   The AIA has sadly become little more than a club for out of touch academics more interested in "purity" than common sense.

It's Official: AIA Against All Dealing in Cultural Artifacts-Violators to Be Terminated

In conjunction with its revocation of the Charter of the AIA's St. Louis Society, the AIA has now also made quite clear that it's against all trade and private ownership of archaeological objects, not just those without a collection history dating back before the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

According to the AIA's new membership rules,

Cause [for termination] shall be deemed to be any action taken individually, or as an officer or director of an affiliated Society, detrimental to the purpose, interest, public image or principles of the Institute and shall include, without limitation, the use of the name of the Institute in connection with or in the furtherance of transactions involving archaeological artifacts which could have the effect of removing such archaeological artifacts from general availability for scholarly investigation or public display.

It remains to be seen how far the AIA will take this in practice and whether there will be a backlash against the AIA leadership once the effect of this rule change sinks in with the AIA's non-academic members whom are presumably the source for most, if not all, of its funds.

Old News

You might not know it from reading the AP Report, but the haul of antiquities Italian police have displayed in Rome likely were seized back in 2002 and 2005 raids in Switzerland. The larger question is whether cash-strapped Italy would be better served selling off at least some of these materials rather than holding onto large numbers of similar artifacts. 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Archaeological Lobby and Export Certificates

Does the archaeological lobby only raise the issue of "export certificates" just to make themselves "sound reasonable" or as a useful cudgel against collectors or dealers?

Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford loves to reference them, even where he knows or should know countries like Cyprus don't issue them for "their own" artifacts. And now, archaeologist Donna Yates seems disappointed to learn after first taking National Geographic to task on the subject that Israel does not require permits for exports of ancient glass shards that are being given new life as jewelry.  Indeed, Yates apparently agrees with scholar Morag Kersel's view that there is "no justification" for Israel's position, presumably because it allows such material to be legally exported without a license and sold.

So, does the archaeological lobby respect a UNESCO State Party's views on "export certificates" at all times or only where it's convenient to do so?

Friday, January 16, 2015

Let's Blame White Collectors for Looting...

So says archaeologist/blogger Donna Yates.  According to Yates,

“It’s a situation in which extremely rich and wealthy white people take complete advantage of people who can’t fight back, and then blame them for it. I see it as double victimisation – these people are not only having their property taken from them, they are having their ability to construct their own identities taken from them by people who have all this power, who don’t even consider it to be a problem.”

Yet, Yates herself almost came to harm from Bolivian villagers who could very well have been angry that "white" foreign archaeologists show up for a few months a year, "steal" valuable artifacts that could otherwise be sold for necessities like food and then haul them off for an uncaring national government that, of course, shows little concern when local "rich and wealthy white people" build up stupendous collections of such material.  

Instead of blaming "white collectors" for looting, archaeology would be better served if "white archaeologists" addressed the abject poverty that motivates looting by paying local diggers they employ a living wage, paying for site guards in the long off-season, and ensuring significant items they find stay and get displayed in local communities rather than being packed off to store rooms in some far off national museum.  And yes, really what's wrong with selling off some duplicates for the benefit of the local community after they have been properly recorded?

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Saint Louis AIA Chapter Stands Firm

They must be made of tougher stuff in Missouri.  First, the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild was born there.  Then, the Saint Louis Art Museum stood up to overreach by both the Egyptian and US Governments in successfully defending its title to the Ka Nefer Nefer Mask.  And now, by voting to retain its current board, the Saint Louis Chapter of the AIA has rightly stood up against the ivory tower bullies of the national organization.   That the fanatics that currently run the AIA made the deaccession of such well provenanced artifacts such an issue at all speaks volumes about how far archaeological elitists have distanced themselves from collectors and museums.  Indeed, after all this, it remains unclear to CPO and other knowledgeable observers what exact AIA stricture the St. Louis Society supposedly violated when it put up well-provenanced artifacts for sale to benefit local programs designed to foster interest in archaeology. 

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

All in for Sisi

Anyone who thinks the Antiquities Coalition is only about protecting Egyptian antiquities would do well to read Antiquities Coalition Chair Deborah Lehr's Huffington Post piece promoting General Sisi's efforts to establish business ties with Communist China.  It raises an obvious question.  Is the Antiquities Coalition about archaeology, promoting business deals with the Egyptian and Chinese governments, or both?  More transparency would be welcome.  The Antiquities Coalition entered into its own MOU with the Egyptian Government back in March, but its exact terms have yet to be revealed. 

In any event, perhaps the Egyptians could learn something from the Chinese and their promotion of collecting common ancient artifacts like coins.  Why not let people get back in touch with their past through collecting?  If the Antiquities Coalition is to be believed, looting certainly has not declined since Egypt cracked down on collecting in the 1980's. Indeed, associating antiquities with State ownership has done little more than turn artifacts into targets of rage during periods of civil unrest.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Archaeological Lobby Goes for the Gold?

It may or may not be a coincidence, but just as the archaeological lobby has geared up to press for legislation that would give the State Department unlimited authority to fund archaeological groups, a number of consultancies and/or research entities have apparently sprung up that have principals associated with that lobby.

These include: Red Arch with principals with current and/or past associations with the AIA, Lawyer's Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation and Saving Antiquities for Everyone; Heritas with principals with current and/or past associations with the AIA, Lawyer's Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation and Antiquities Coalition; and the Past for Sale Project with a researcher associated with Saving Antiquities for Everyone.

The bill in question (HR 5703) died at the end of the last legislative session, but presumably will be reintroduced in some form.  Of course, there is nothing wrong with lobbying for this or other cultural heritage legislation.  And there is also nothing wrong with making money from one's passion through "consulting" or "research." However, there needs to be far more transparency about the intersection between lobbying and consulting or researching here, particularly given the archaeological lobby's full throttled attacks on any "lobbying" by "commercial interests" concerned about the State Department's imposition of import restrictions on cultural goods.  After all, some big money-- like the $600,000 contract the State Department awarded to ASOR to assess Syrian cultural sites--is already out there for the taking by the State Department's allies against antiquities collecting.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

True Colors

The AIA has again shown its true colors.  It's unclear what bylaws the St. Louis Society actually violated, but it is clear the Society has become the victim of the fanaticism of the AIA  for the "crime" of selling well-provenanced artifacts for the benefit of archaeology.   And what of that declining number of wealthy AIA supporters who believe the AIA has said its "okay" to collect well-provenance pieces?  It's finally time for them to recognize the AIA is unalterably opposed to all collecting, not just the collecting of unprovenanced artifacts.  No more checks for these fanatics.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Paying People to Loot?

Archaeologist/children's author Jordan Jacobs suggests that the UK pays people to loot.   But what the UK does instead is to give the State a right of first refusal for artifacts found on private land that are properly reported to the authorities.  That's called fair compensation for a taking.

Doesn't Jacobs believe the State should compensate people for what it takes?  After all, the alternative is state sanctioned theft of the sort found under Communism.  Does Jacobs really believe the State should steal from its own citizens?  Or, has he not thought through his tweet?

Monday, January 5, 2015

ACCG Ahead of the Curve?

The New York Times reports that Republicans are challenging the White House in the Courts alleging that President Obama has exceeded his executive authority in his administration of our laws.  The ACCG made similar arguments in the Fourth Circuit only to have its challenge to import restrictions on "coins of Cypriot type" and coins "from China" dismissed.  It remains to be seen whether the Republicans-- who no doubt will utilize far better funding to "forum shop" and file multiple lawsuits in different jurisdictions-- will have any more success with a federal judiciary increasingly dominated as it is today by attorneys who formerly practiced as government lawyers or state court judges.

Economist on ISIS Funding

According to the Economist, ISIS terrorists derive most of their funds from hot oil, taxation, extortion and ransoms.  Fanciful claims that looted artifacts provide ISIS' second largest funding source or that $36 million was derived from looted antiquities in one Syrian locality alone are no where to be seen.  Good for the Economist not to be taken in by such nonsense.  

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Archaeological Lobby's Latest Heroine in Trouble with Egyptian Military Dictatorship

Amal Clooney, the archaeological lobby's latest heroine for her calls for the return of the Parthenon marbles, is now in trouble with the Egyptian military dictatorship for her views on the lack of independence of Egyptian courts.  So, can Ms. Clooney count on the archaeological lobby's support? Not a chance.  After all, open support for Clooney may put precious excavation permits at risk.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Archaeological Snobs Criticize Significant Reported Find

While the rest of the world is celebrating the discovery of a large hoard of Anglo-Saxon coins that was excavated with the help of a trained Portable Antiquities Scheme finds liaison officer, the archaeological snobosphere is going full out criticizing everything about the find.  Yet, the finders were detecting on private land with the permission of the landowner.  It's highly unlikely that any British archaeologists would have ever surveyed the site on their own and if the find were made in a country like Greece it's also highly unlikely any such find would ever have been properly reported much less recorded.