Friday, June 5, 2015


Yesterday, the archaeological blogosphere and twitterdom whipped itself up into a minor frenzy over of an image of a page from a book that Kurdish fighters evidently seized from ISIS that included a picture of some ancient coins.

The implication of course is that this image is somehow hard "proof" that ISIS is funding itself with conflict antiquities, specifically ancient coins.  Indeed, we are informed, "[The book]  might help us to identify which ancient coins the Islamic State is handling (or expecting to handle). Thereby, it might help us to trace how the Islamic State is funding itself through the trafficking of conflict antiquities."

Of course, it does not seem much to matter that the coins depicted appear to be either Phoenician ones struck in Lebanon and coastal areas in Syria (outside of ISIS' control) or perhaps Egyptian copies of Athenian Tetradrachms.  As it is further explained, "obviously they were used and may have been deposited elsewhere". (Prof. Elkins take note.)

In any event, with all the millions ISIS is supposedly making from "conflict antiquities" one would think they could at least buy a decent price guide.


Dave Welsh said...

I believe that if the identity of that book could somehow be established, the archaeological blogosphere and twitterdom would then find reasons to advocate more restrictive regulations affecting importation of ancient coins into the USA.

It accordingly seems sensible to allow the said blogosphere and twitterdom to rely upon its own vast and encyclopedic knowledge resources to identify that, and any other objects, which they are interested in.

After all they have the expertise of Dr. Elkins to assist them. Judging by what they have said about Elkins, they believe that his academic qualifications are such as to make him a superior resource to any and all professional numismatists who sell coins for a living, or represent numismatic organizations.

Cultural Property Observer said...

That's true. Why do they need mere "coineys" to help them?

Ed S said...

Ute has identified the book. It's Archéologie et Histoire de la Syrie II.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Thanks. Good detective work on Ute's part, but there can be many reasons why they had such a book. The most likely is that they stole it from a local museum, library, academic or collector and kept it because they thought it had some value. The concern I have is that such slim evidence is being used to hype a claim that ISIS is making millions off selling antiquities, here ancient coins. This would be all good fun except for the fact that such claims are being used to justify problematical legislation both here and in Germany.

Ed Snible said...

The map shows archaeological sites in Hawran, an area in southwestern Syria near Jordan. The lines I had assumed were rivers seem to have been elevation data.

It is, or was, difficult to get topological maps in Syria. It is possible the fighter wanted the book for this map. However, as it was found with a book on Egyptian antiquities it seems more likely the fighter wanted the book for the antiquities rather than the topography.

After the looting of the Baghdad museum many coin dealers went on record saying there was no sudden influx of antiquities from the region. I am curious if those in the coin trade are seeing Syrian material appearing. I suspect displaced Syrians would be selling of family heirlooms independent of ISIS. Is there more Syrian material that is new to the market appearing? I have not seen it, but I have not been looking.

Cultural Property Observer said...

I think the same was said not just by coin dealers on Iraq and now Syria. Jim McAndrew, a former high ranking Customs official, has said the same thing. In any case, the other options are that not as much is being looted as claimed, it is going instead to the Gulf States or it is being warehoused. The third claim was also made after the Iraq war, but it never surfaced. Basically, I suspect its a combination of not as much material being looted as claimed and what is going out is going out to the Gulf States. i can't foreclose the possibility some material is coming here, but it does not seem to be coming in any quantity.