Friday, October 30, 2015

Green Collection Needs More Transparency

Gary Vikan suggests that the Green collection respond to concerns raised about the collection's origins by being more transparent.  Vikan championed a similar way to deal with cultural property issues during his long and successful tenure as Director at the Walters.  In the end, the Greens and their dream for a Museum of the Bible will likely be best served by adopting the approach Vikan suggests.

Syrian Civil War for Dummies

Here is an exceptionally good overview of who is who and who controls what in Syria.  Note Apamea is nowhere near territory held by ISIS.

Bad Paperwork to Save S.1887/HR 1493?

That would seem to be the hope, at least, of some of the bill's proponents, given the involvement of archaeologists associated with the State Department/ASOR Syrian cultural heritage initiative in hyping a story about alleged misrepresentations on paperwork of antiquities destined for the Green collection.  Misleadingly, the article associates the seizure of the antiquities with ISIS, even though the alleged transgression dates from 2011, well before ISIS was much of a force in either Iraq or Syria.  

In any event, suspicions aroused about cynical efforts to use ISIS scare tactics probably account for the bill's troubles as much as anything else.  As it is, the Senate is rightly taking its time to consider the the bill's proposed creation of a new State Department bureaucracy as well as its proposed bypass of the CPIA's procedures for CPAC review.  The concerns of all stakeholders should be taken into account despite efforts to distract the Senate with more false claims about ISIS.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2015


Is a good way to describe the cultural property laws a Greek numismatist must deal with for the private foundation where he works to add Byzantine and other coins to its collection.   At least the politically connected KIKPE Numismatic Collection is designated a "collector" under Greek law. That allows them to do more than merely "possess" the coins they own.

One would hope that efforts to cut down on choking regulation-- which have been discussed in Greece as a much needed remedy to open up its moribund economy to growth-- would carry over to "cultural property issues."  However, the archaeological lobby and the cultural bureaucracy are probably too entrenched to make that possible.

Indeed, it would appear, if anything, based on red tape creating legislative proposals in Germany and the United States that the trend is in the opposite direction.  CPO strongly believes that such added layers of bureaucracy and over regulation do little, or nothing, to protect archaeology as claimed, but much to undercut legitimate cultural exchange and the study and appreciation of coins and other artifacts that comes with it.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Oil Continues to be ISIS' major funding source

The Financial Times has again provided more evidence, if any were needed, that "hot oil" remains ISIS' main funding source.   Claims that looted antiquities have become the most important source of funding as the US-led coalition have degraded ISIS' ability to sell antiquties seem to have as much credibility as other claims that ISIS makes "$100's of millions" from antiquties sales.

Thursday, October 22, 2015


The reality of how archaeological sites are treated in places like Iraq again should raise questions concerning whether nation states are the best stewards "cultural property."  Iraq, of course, remains mired in war, but Uruk is such an important site one have hoped it would receive better care.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Mainstream Media Wakes Up

The Washington Post and mainstream media have finally recognized that Syrian archaeological sites have also been looted by regime and rebel forces other than ISIS.  Yet, no one has yet raised the question of what looting by regime forces means for both UNESCO's repatriationist agenda as well as the presumption that nation states are the best stewards of cultural patrimony.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Two Ways of Protecting Syrian Cultural Property

Two ways of protecting Syrian cultural patrimony emerged during the past week.

First, the AAMD announced protocols for safe haven of cultural property endangered by war, something that CPO heartily supports, but which is a concept that has provoked opposition from ASOR (which is running the State Department's Syrian Cultural Heritage Initiative) and the Archaeological Institute of America.

Second, Russian warplanes reportedly bombed Palmyra, a move welcomed by the Assad regime's director of antiquities who hopes the Russians will drive out ISIS before the site is destroyed.   So far, the same groups that have criticised the AAMD have been silent as to the reported Russian actions.

CPO wonders how long before Putin is being heralded as the savior of Syria's antiquities, at least in some quarters.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Email to CBS News

Margaret Brennan's report on documents seized from a terrorist financier in Syria contains some serious errors. (see 

First, the report states that documents seized from Abu Sayyaf prove that ISIS has made $100's of millions of dollars from stolen antiquities. However, the documents themselves only support a far lower number, $1.25 million. (See 

Second, the story again suggests that Apamea  has been looted by ISIS.  In fact, the city has been in the hands of the Assad government since the beginning of the conflict. (See 

These errors would be more forgivable if it were not that a CBS producer was on a panel at the MET event where these issues were discussed.

Michael Danti of the State Department/ASOR Cultural Heritage Initiative spoke about Apamea being in Assad's hands at the conference.  In addition, several speakers put far lower values on stolen antiquities. (See

All this begs the question whether facts are being distorted in order to help justify proposed legislation in Germany and the US that would create intrusive new bureaucracies to regulate the longstanding trade in cultural goods.

Peter Tompa