Friday, May 29, 2015

What's There to Hide?

Archaeo-blogger and anti-coin trade advocate Nathan Elkins has accused CPO of misrepresenting his views about the circulation of ancient coins.   Yet, Elkins has been cagey about not making his work easily accessible to anyone but like-minded academics.  Indeed, Elkins has even gone so far as to avoid making his comments to CPAC public by refusing to post  them on the website. (CPO is puzzled by his statement that CPO refused to post his comments on this blog.  Only one fellow archaeo-blogger is banned based on the tenor of his comments.)  If Elkins is really concerned about his views about coin circulation being misrepresented, he can easily remedy that concern by making his papers and CPAC comments public.  Really, what's there to hide?

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Trade Professionals Speak Common Sense

The Ivory Tower academics of the archaeological lobby often speak about requiring "provenance information" and "export certificates" as proof that items are not the products of recent looting. However, those with actual practical experience in the international trade of cultural goods have once again demonstrated that coming up with such documentation is easier said than done.

Numismatic professional Alfredo de la Fe has written about the lack of provenance information for most coins and antiquities dealer James Ede has explained the impossible task of supplying export certificates that simply don't exist.

Hopefully, decision makers will give much needed consideration to these practical concerns raised by those in the know.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Fall of Palmyra Calls for Safe Harbor for Syrian Antiquities

As fear grows that ISIS may target Palmyra's ancient ruins for destruction, it's time to rethink the wisdom of repatriating artifacts to failed states like Syria and Iraq.  If anything, artifacts of cultural significance from such war zones should be removed and given temporary safe harbor, something suggested by the AAMD.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Poor Timing in Cairo

On May 14, 2015, the Antiquities Coalition and Middle Eastern Institute joined with the Egyptian Military Dictatorship and some other authoritarian Arab governments to announce a "Cairo Declaration" aimed at clamping down on sales of Middle Eastern antiquities just two days before Egypt's military controlled court system imposed a death sentence on Egypt's first Democratically elected President, Mohamed Morsi, for his part in a prison break that took place before he achieved high office.

While CPO supports tackling looting at the source, it's a fair question whether private property rights and rule of law will be respected in the process.

Or, is it far more likely that the effort will have all the same hallmarks of the Morsi persecution where “Due process, regard for evidence, and minimum standard of justice have been tossed aside in favor of draconian injustice.”

And it's also a fair question, does the archaeological lobby much care?

Thursday, May 14, 2015

ISIS Iconclasm a Mere Cover Story for Looting?

So says an Iraqi official based on unnamed sources.  But Iraqi sources were also the basis for the now widely discredited claim that ISIS has netted $36 million from one site in Syria alone. 

So, is this new claim as well as other unsupported claims that there must be warehouses full of material looted by ISIS to be believed?  Or, is it possible that ISIS came up with far more "dry holes" than artifacts to be put into "cold storage?"

If the 2003 Iraq war proved anything, it was that "experts" could be dead wrong not only on the existence of weapons of mass destruction, but on the nature and extent of looting.  So caution should be warranted-- particularly where such information is being used to justify the creation of a new State Department bureaucracy and new import restrictions on all things "Syrian."

Meanwhile, on the ground in Syria, Palmyra, another UNESCO World Heritage site, is under threat of capture by ISIS.  What is needed is not more talk or even legislation, but concrete action to save the city from ISIS or at least a cost to pay for anyone who seeks to destroy its ruins.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

More Transparency and Inclusion Needed

The well-funded and well-connected Antiquities Coalition has helped promote and organize  conferences at the Smithsonian and in Cairo to address the problem of looting in times of civil unrest and war.

Unfortunately, the conferences-- like HR 1493, legislation the archaeological lobby is promoting to address these same issues-- rely on flawed assumptions:

1.  That state ownership and control over everything "old" is justified because nation states are always the best stewards of cultural artifacts;

2.  That the only groups that "count" are governments, law enforcement, archaeologists and state sponsored museums; and

3.  That panels of experts representing these same interests, blog posts, press releases and articles meant to shape public opinion can substitute for transparent decision making.

Here, if anything, the Egyptian Generals' sponsorship of the Cairo conference and the unclear nature of the Antiquities Coalition's relationship with the Egyptian Government should give some pause.  Let's stipulate that members of the Antiquities Coalition and the other participants of these conferences are all deeply committed to preserving cultural heritage, but that does not mean that legitimate questions should not be raised about this endeavor.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Anti-Collector Advocacy Poses as Academics Once More

Dr. Nathan Elkins has continued his anti-collector crusade by posting an abstract of an article from the Journal of Field Archaeology that is critical of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild and its test case on Elkins' latest article itself is not posted on, though invites readers to ask Elkins to make it available on the website.

This rather obscure journal (in the world beyond field archaeology at least)  is apparently Elkins' publisher of choice.  Indeed, its like-minded academics also published his 2010 diatribe directed against Ancient Coins for Education,  a not-for-profit that uses ancient coins as a teaching tool on Ancient Rome for kids.  That article is already posted in its entirety on 

Elkins evidently has already made advance copies of this latest article about ACCG and its test case available to Messrs. Gill and Barford, whom he regards as colleagues.  CPO and Wayne Sayles, ACCG's Executive Director, have already asked Elkins for an advance copy of the article too as a matter of fairness, but he has denied that request point blank.

The article has now also been posted on-line on the publisher's website, but the cost is high--$39 for the rights to review the article on-line for a 24 hour period.  So, its no surprise that CPO has also asked and hopes Elkins will get whatever permissions he needs to make his article available free on-line on so that interested members of the public can judge the quality of his work for themselves short of subsidizing anti-collector academics by purchasing his article from JFA on-line or searching high and low for some library which might actually carry it. Despite Elkins' protests, it's unclear why he can't ask JFA to be allowed to post his article on  Certainly, Elkins has already posted his last JFA article attacking Ancient Coins for Education in its entirety on that platform.

Leaving this lack of "open access" aside, it's questionable that Elkins' claims that the State Department acted properly are justified.  His apparent thesis-- that coins on the designated lists "primarily circulated" where they were made may or may not be true, but there is also a real question whether more is required under the plain meaning of the governing statute's "first discovery" requirement embedded in 19 USC Sections 2601, 2604 and 2610.

And even assuming Elkins is onto something, a cursory review of the designated lists for Cyprus and China should raise serious questions as to whether the Government did anything other than pick an arbitrary date and simply restrict all artifacts made in those countries beforehand.

Elkins may be entitled to his own opinions, but in the end the issue is one of law, an area in which he most certainly lacks expertise.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, the Government has been ordered to respond to the ACCG's written discovery requests on these points on or before June 20, 2015.  We will hopefully know more then whether the Government made a good faith effort to comply with the CPIA's "first discovery" requirement or not.

(Text updated 5/12/15)

Friday, May 1, 2015

Selling Artifacts to Save the Past?

Chris Maupin asks why not?   And it's not just Maupin.  Others have also suggested that there be deaccession of duplicates from stores.  This does not only makes sense.  It will increasingly become a necessity for cash strapped cultural establishments in places like Greece and Italy.