Thursday, August 27, 2015

A Question of Degree

The Art Newspaper has reported on warnings from the FBI's Bonnie Magness Gardiner, an alumnus of the State Department's Cultural Heritage Center, and Michael Danti, a beneficiary of a $600,000 contract from the US State Department, about ISIS looted material -- particularly coins-- entering the U.S. market.

CPO remains dubious that looted material is reaching our shores in any quantity, and further wonders whether the ultimate source of any such "fresh" material is just as likely, if not more likely, to be the cash-strapped Assad regime or the Free Syrian Army rather than ISIS.  After all, the iconoclasts of ISIS seem more intent on destruction than anything else,  and all those coins with graven images on them could be melted to provide metal for their new Caliphate coinage. 

Still, given the crisis, due diligence is warranted, particularly if one is offered groups of similar coins that may have come from the region.   Reasonable due diligence based on the type of artifact is one thing.  However, it's quite another thing to condition legal import of all collector's coins made in Syria millennia ago on difficult, if not impossible to obtain, documentary proof that an item was out of Syria before the start of Syria's civil war in 2011.   Nor should concerns about looting provide the State Department and US Customs license to ignore the provisions of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act and the Anglo-American notions of putting the government to its proofs  under that statute.  Otherwise, for every 1 looted coin recovered, it is quite likely hundreds if not thousands of quite legitimate but not adequately documented coins could be sucked up by Customs for repatriation to war torn Syria.   Is that what US Customs and the State Department really want?

And, finally, the question remains whether all the publicity at the end of Congress' summer break is also meant to help push along the still flawed HR 1493/S.1887, and its proposed creation of a new, pumped up State Department Cultural Heritage Center bureaucracy, as much as anything else.  So, as CPO has previously cautioned, consider the source.

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