Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Cultural Property Advisory Committee, May 24, 2016 Open Session to Discuss Renewals of Bolivian and Greek MOUs

On May 24, 2016, The US State Department Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) met in open session to discuss renewal of the Bolivian and Greek MOUs.  The following CPAC members were present:  (1) Prof. Patty Gerstenblith, Chair (PG) (Public Member); (2) Rosemary Joyce (RJ)(Archaeology);  (3) Jane Levine (JL) (Trade); (4) Marta de la Torre  (MT)(Public); (5) Nancy Wilkie (NW) (Archaeology); 6) James Willis (JW) (Trade); (7) Barbara Kaul  (Public) (arrived late); (8) Lothar von Falenhausen (LVF) (Archaeology); and (9) Thomas Murray (Trade).  Katherine Reid (Museum) and Nina Archabal (Museum) were absent.

The following individuals spoke on the Bolivian MOU in this order: (1) Donna Yates (DH) (University of Glasgow); and (2) Sonia Alconini, Society of American Archaeology.  Both speakers supported the MOU with Bolivia.

The following individuals spoke on the Greek MOU in this order:  (1) Sue McGovern-Huffman (SM) (Association of Dealers and Collectors of Ancient and Ethnographic Art); (2) Peter Tompa (PT) (International Association of Professional Numismatists/Professional Numismatists Guild); (3) Carmen Arnold-Biucchi (CAB) (Harvard University); (4) Nathan Elkins (NE) (Baylor University); (5) Peter Schertz  (PS) (Virginia Museum of Fine Arts); (6) William Parkinson (WP) (Field Museum/University of Chicago); (7) Bryan Burns (BB) (Wellesley); (8) John Papadopoulos (JP) (University of California, Los Angeles); (9) Kim Shelton (KS) (University of California, Berkeley); and (10) Barbara Tsinakis (BT) (Vanderbilt). 
The first two speakers supported the MOU with changes or opposed import restrictions on coins.  The second two speakers supported the MOU and restrictions on coins.  The next speaker supported the MOU with modest changes on museum loans.  The rest of the speakers supported renewal of the MOU without qualification.  

Bolivian MOU   

Donna Yates (DY) - Focuses comments on ecclesiastical artifacts that are trafficked into the US.  Since the last MOU there have been church robberies.   310 items were stolen in two separate thefts.  Registries are better for ecclesiastical artifacts because Churches maintain inventories.  It’s hard to tell Peruvian from Bolivian ecclesiastical artifacts apart, but both are subject to MOUs.  There were 24,000 ecclesiastical artifacts recorded before the last MOU.  DY is unsure if additional work has been done since.

Sonia Alconini (SA) - SA teaches at the University of Texas at San Antonio.  She previously taught in Bolivia.  MOUs are important instruments to stop trafficking in Bolivian artifacts.  Bolivian artifacts still appear on eBay.  Some may be fake. 

MT asked if there are warnings at the airport about exporting Bolivian archaeological and ethnological goods.  SA states, “no.”

TM asks about Bolivian textiles.  SA says that some stores still sell them from “hidden rooms,” but that there was a crack-down on such activity in 2013.  

NW asks about local collections.  Both DY and SA indicate they exist, but the objects are supposed to be registered. 

There is also a market for Bolivian artifacts in Brazil.

SA is asked about working in Bolivia.  She indicates there are 5 levels of permits that must be procured, but she maintains this added bureaucracy is “worth it” because it demonstrates a buy-in to the archaeological work at both a national and local level.

JL asks if any Bolivian material is legal under Bolivian law.   DY indicates archaeological artifacts purchased before 1906 and ecclesiastical artifacts purchased before 1923 would be legal under Bolivian law.  Apparently, artifacts can only leave legally with a “presidential decree” and this sometimes happens. 

Greek MOU

Sue McGovern (SM) – SM represents the Association of Dealers and Collectors of Ancient and Ethnographic Art (ADCAEA).   ADCAEA stands for a responsible and legal trade.  The MOU has not worked.  No seizures have been reported under it.  ADCAEA recommends that the MOU not be extended in its current form.  ADCAEA believes that US Customs should allow legal import of artifacts on the designated list that are legally exported from Greece’s sister EU countries. 

MT questions a statement in SM’s written presentation that artifacts without a provenance have no commercial value.  SM states all the objects she sells have a provenance and she could not sell them without one.  SM also states as an appraiser she would give “0” value to an artifact without a provenance.  SM states that eBay is full of material without a provenance. SM defines good provenance as an artifact that is documented to have come from a recognized collection.  1970 is an ideal date, but not always possible, particularly for minor items like oil lamps. 

SM gives an example of artifacts with exceptional provenance.  She recently sold artifacts that had been previously lent to and exhibited at the Smithsonian. 

JW notes that the 1970 date is a construct and there is no real difference regarding the loss of context from an artifact illicitly excavated in 1969 and one illicitly excavated in 1971.

SM notes while provenance is important we “should not throw out the baby with the bathwater” when it comes to orphan artifacts. 

SM notes that Greece should sell documented artifacts and use the money to support archaeology.  She also notes back in the 1960’s no one could care less about provenance. 

Peter Tompa (PT) – PT represents the International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild.  He states that current restrictions based on where a coin is made rather than found are contrary to the plain meaning of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.  Such restrictions have already damaged coin collecting and the people to people contacts collecting brings.  He criticizes the paper of Nathan Elkins, an academic supporting restrictions, as advocating positions either contrary to the CPIA's plain meaning, contradictory to Elkins' prior statements, or misleading on details about past coin seizures.  PT also advocates that archaeological objects on the open market within Greece’s sister EU countries should be allowed entry into the US with either a valid EU export permit or no permit if this is allowed under local law.  He indicates instead of focusing on more restrictions, Greece can take simple steps like requiring that archaeologists pay a fair wage to locals and ensure there is site security in the long off season. 

JW indicates that the coin issue “is a difficult one” and wonders if all the emphasis on context is to the exclusion of other important issues.  PT notes that the CPIA suggests “context” is not the most important issue because the CPIA only allows restrictions on objects of archaeological interest if they are also of “cultural significance.”

MT questions PT’s views about EU regulations, but PT directs MT to attorney Michael McCullough’s expert report on the issue.  He promises to provide CPAC with that report.  PT also promises to provide Sotheby’s paper on “cultural significance” under the CPIA. 

JW asks about due diligence. PT indicates that US dealers are forming a “Council for Numismatic Integrity” to make their due diligence practices more transparent.

LVF objects to PT’s suggestions in his paper about privatizing archaeological sites, but PT notes that this assumes local groups will take them over with oversight from the Greek cultural ministry. 

NW asks about the provenances of coins. PT says very few have recorded provenances and that there is no law either here or within EU market countries that requires it for what is for sale. 

PG asks about the academic paper attached to IAPN/PNG’s submission that indicates that 18% of Greek coins are found outside of Greece.  PT notes that is a number for all issues.  For some issues, like Athenian Tetradrachms and Decadrachms, there are more found outside of Greece than within Greece. 

There is some discussion about what is an archaeological site.  PT indicates that it is a site with other material remains nearby, but recognizes that some archaeologists define the term as anywhere something ancient is found. 

PT's oral comments may be found here.  IAPN/PNG's written comment can be found here.

Carmen Arnold-Biucchi (CAB) – Indicates support for the MOU and restrictions on all coins found in Greece.  CAB emphasizes, however, that the coins must be found in Greece and not found elsewhere.  She agrees with PT that issues of Athens predominate outside of Greece.  CAB supports the sale of duplicate coins from state collections and the institution of programs like the UK’s Treasure Act and PAS.  Harvard only purchase coins with a 1970 provenance. 

TM asks if it is unrealistic to assume most collectors can find coins with a 1970 provenance.  CAB admits most coins lack any provenance.  However, she says collectors should be educated about its importance.

NW asks about Byzantine coins.  CAB indicates those found in Greece should also be restricted. 

JW expresses concern that “context” has been allowed to trump all other values.

CAB indicates that she supports laws that encourage coin hoards to be reported.

CAB criticizes the fact that so many excavation coins are not published, but notes that American archaeologists are far better than their foreign counterparts.

Nathan Elkins (NE) - Coins are looted by the thousands.  Even common coins can be significant to dating.  One coin worth 50 cents on the open market helped date a synagogue in Israel.  NE has written an article critical of the ACCG and its test case.  In it, he explains that the current designated lists are quite conservative because they only take in coins primarily found in a given country.  Elkins now thinks more should be covered—all those commonly found in a given country. 

NW wants to know about coins found in Bolivia.  Elkins indicates he is no expert.

Elkins thinks the broad Bulgarian MOU should be a guide and looks forward to a day where overlapping MOUs will protect all coins. 

Peter Schertz (PS) – PS speaks on behalf of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) and AAMD.  Loans are an issue.  Pre-packaged loans like the one going to National Geographic are fine, but they don’t meet the current MOUs requirements for loans to institutions.   The AAMD is looking for clarity on loans. 

William Parkinson (WP) – WP speaks on behalf of the Field Museum, the University of Chicago, the Society for American Archaeology and the Archaeological Institute of America.  WP lauds Greece’s efforts and collaboration.   WP works at the excavation of an early cave site.   WP says a new exhibit from Greece called “the Greeks” to be seen at National Geographic opens up 5000 years of Greek history.  It is a stunning achievement and to call it “pre-packaged” is wrong. 

In response to a question, WP admits it’s easier to collaborate with people you know and its possible AAMD museums have problems because their curators do not have such personal relationships. 
Bryan Burns (BB) – BB teaches at Wellesley College.  BB supports the MOU.   He thinks more can be done to help Greece digitize collections and ensure site security.   In response to a question from TM, BB says Cycladic art is problematical because the area where this art is found has been heavily looted.     

John Papadopoulos (JP) - JP teaches at UCLA.  Looting is a fact of life in Greece.   There has been an increase in first time offenses.  Artifacts stolen from the Corinth museum ended up in Miami.  Shelby White and the Getty have repatriated artifacts stolen from Greece. 

PG asks about private museums in Greece.  JP indicates there are several, but each has a public function.  TM notes that the Cycladic museum in Greece is a private institution.  JP thinks there should be better on-line inventories.  JP also advocates public awareness campaigns to tackle looting.

Kim Shelton (KS) – KS teaches at University of California, Berkeley.   She works at Nemea and has made efforts of outreach to the local people.  They have repaid her by reporting suspicious activity on site. 

Barbara Tsinakis (BT) – BT teaches at Vanderbilt.  She is speaking on behalf of the AIA.  BT works on excavating homes.  She thinks common artifacts found at the sites of homes have cultural significance because the artifacts have much to tell about how people lived.   Coins are obvious common objects, but others include transport amphora, loom weights and cooking pots.  BT would support making loans more long term, but recognizes the difficulty of transporting fragile artifacts.  

Monday, May 30, 2016

Hitting a Nerve

In the extremes of the archaeological blogosphere, the suggestion that rich American Universities that  sponsor archaeological digs in source countries like Greece should pay their local workers a fair living wage has provoked some controversy.  Yet, with authorities such as Donna Yates admitting that underpaid diggers loot in the long off season, doesn't it make sense that well paid workers will be less likely to use their knowledge of their sites to steal?   And it's also true that after some pressure American Universities have already been paying their service workers at home better?   So, why isn't this instead a common sense solution to an obvious problem that American Universities should adopt and publicize as something they are doing to give back to the localities where they sponsor digs?

Update (5/31/16)-- One of CPO's readers indicates that the issues of site security and fair wages for local archaeological workers were discussed at a recent conference sponsored by the University of Chicago.  Glad to hear there are others out there who support responsible archaeology!

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

IAPN and PNG Statement on Greek MOU

I hope to summarize today's proceeding when I can, but in the interim, here is what I said more or less at today's CPAC meeting:

             IAPN and PNG join 88% of the public comments posted on the regulations.gov website that express concerns about the MOU’s restrictions on ancient coins. The cumulative effect of these restrictions has already damaged private and institutional collecting, the preservation of coins, the study of the history they represent, the appreciation of other cultures, and the people to people contacts collecting brings.  And, of course, it has hurt the ability of Greek Americans to get in touch with their own culture.
Greece—which is still trying to dig out of a terrible sovereign debt crisis that has been exacerbated by an influx of Syrian refugees—needs our help, but import restrictions on coins are not the way to go.  As applied by US Customs to coin types made in Greece rather than exclusively found in Greece, they do nothing but hurt legitimate collectors who want to obey the law.  In this regard, I would like to commend Carmen Arnold-Biucchi for recognizing the wrong-headedness of an approach that focuses on where a coin is made rather than found.  However, her proposal that all coins found in Greece be designated will just sow more confusion and further damage legitimate coin collecting UNLESS Customs is directed only to detain and seize coins WHERE there is specific proof that they were illicitly exported from that country.  And, really, who is going to do that?
Restricting all Greek coins merely because some coins of the same type have been found in Greece would make a mockery of the plain meaning of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.  It requires that objects of “archaeological interest” must be first discovered within Greece and subject to Greek export control before they can be restricted.
          Let me also comment on some of the statements made by Dr. Nathan Elkins.   Elkins now suggests the designated list should include all coins “commonly found” in Greece.  However, Elkins previously advanced a different standard in his Journal of Field Archaeology article that attacks the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild and its test case.  There, Elkins claims that the current designated list is proper because it is limited to coins that “primarily circulated there.  Such shifting positions totally ignore the statutory mandate and for that matter the past Greek Ambassador’s promise made on the record at the last MOU hearing that Greece only seeks restrictions on artifacts that are exclusively found there. 
Elkins (and Prof. Jane Evans) also point to an increase in applications for metal detectors as a reason for restrictions, but isn’t that instead a reason for Greece to be either more careful in issuing such permits or adopting something akin to the PAS in the UK? 
Next, Elkins suggests that a seizure of valuable Greek coins from Peter Weiss, a former ANS Trustee back in 2012 justifies restrictions.  However, he fails to mention that a number of the coins had old provenances from the early 20th and late 19th century. If anything, the seizure and repatriation of coins with such old provenances should raise serious questions about overreach by NY State authorities. 
Finally, Elkins points to a change in the ANS acquisition guidelines, but fails to note the ANS’ “cultural property” statement continues to recognize, “because most coins in private collections have been traded and held without any provenance, it is unreasonable to assume that a coin is stolen, illegally exported, or illegally imported merely because the holder cannot establish a chain of custody beyond receipt from a reputable source.”
          Rather than overbroad restrictions that adversely impact Americans interested in Greek culture, let’s consider modest steps archaeologists can take—like ensuring their sites are monitored in the long off-season and ensuring local people they employ are paid a fair living wage so they don’t have an incentive to loot to help make ends meet—instead. 
Simple steps like these could do far more to help protect Greece’s cultural patrimony than prohibitions on imports that only hurt legitimate collecting and people to people contacts and appreciation of Greek culture it engenders. Thank you.     

Friday, May 20, 2016

Italy Squanders 150 Million Euros in Grant Money

More evidence, if any were needed, that MOU's won't cure  what really ails places like Italy.

Friday, May 13, 2016

HR 1493: The View from Beirut; Propaganda vs. the Reality on the Ground

Franklin Lamb, a sympathizer of the Assad regime, states in an article he published in April that US Congressional sources told him that Palmyra's recapture by Syrian Government forces helped move HR 1493 forward.  Yet, while Palmyra is a rallying cry for Assad's propaganda machine, Syrian government forces shelled it when it was initially in rebel hands, looted it when it was previously in government hands, and with its recapture, have given over part of the site so that it can be turned into a Russian military camp.  This again begs the question whether repatriation contemplated under HR 1493 to Syria and its government is a good thing.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

88% of Public Comments Either Oppose Renewal of Greek MOU or Restrictions on Coins

The overall numbers may be down from five years ago, but, if anything, the percentage of public comments against the MOU with Greece or its inclusion of coins has gone up.  Some 88% of the 207 public comments recorded on the regulations.gov website express qualms about the MOU.  And of the 25 comments in favor, those of AAMD member museums may support the MOU, but only with substantial changes.  In contrast, those who expressed unqualified support appear largely to be archaeologists who excavate in Greece at the sufferance of the Greek government.

More evidence, if any were needed, that MOUs are special interest programs for small numbers of politically connected archaeologists and their trade associations.

HR 1493 Becomes Law

Congressman Engel, HR 1493's sponsor, has issued a press release to mark the passage of the bill into law.  CPO finds it a bit ironic that the press release indicates that Prof. Patty Gerstenblith actively lobbied for the bill that allowed the State Department to bypass the Cultural Property Advisory Committee she chairs before imposing import restrictions.  The numismatic trade and collector's groups supported CPAC review under the CPIA's well established procedures, and it unclear why Prof. Gerstenblith sought to cut out her own Committee from the process.

Monday, May 2, 2016

Worth the Wait?

The House has approved the Senate's trimmed down version of HR 1493.  Now, the legislation will go to President Obama for signature.

Both bills included Syrian import restrictions, but the Senate did away with a controversial new State Department "Cultural Property Czar" in favor of recommending a coordinating committee.  In addition, the Senate bill strengthened the House "safe harbor" provision for certain Syrian antiquities brought into the country for protection by Museums.

As much of the delay in passing the legislation appears related to the proponent's desire to use the Syrian crisis as a justification for the creation of a new State Department enforcement bureaucracy, CPO wonders whether all this again begs the question whether it's really about "cultural heritage preservation" or "bureaucratic fiefdom building" and "control."