Sunday, August 28, 2016

Where's the Beef?

Last week's Diane Rehm Radio Show segment entitled, "The Big Business in Looted Art," is getting lots of play in the archaeological blogosphere.  And why not?  The statement of the token "collector representative" (Gary Vikan, past Director of the Walters Art Gallery) questioning the show's premise-- that large amounts of material looted by ISIS is leaving Syria-- was ignored by the host and the other guests who are all associated with the Antiquities Coalition.  And the only difficult question from the audience about the repatriation of artifacts to unstable regimes was turned into a discussion about how wonderful it was that Khmer artifacts were being repatriated to Cambodia.  More evidence, if any were needed, that establishment media is not really interested in hearing from all sides in the cultural heritage debate or questioning the archaeological lobby's narrative that "collectors are the problem."

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Syrian Import Restrictions Imposed

US Customs has published a very extensive list of "Syrian" artifacts now restricted pursuant to the "Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act."  Coin collectors should special take note that that the "designated list" includes all coins minted and circulated in Syria through the Ottoman period.

Now that restrictions are in place, two important enforcement issues remain.  First, will Customs only detain, seize and seek the forfeiture of artifacts on the new designated list "unlawfully removed from Syria on or after March 15, 2011?"  Or, will Customs revert back to its current extralegal practice of detaining, seizing,  and seeking the forfeiture of anything that looks remotely like it appears on the designated list and then require the importer to "prove the negative?"  One can only hope that the explicit directions  of the measure's sponsor, Congressman Elliot Engel, emphasizing the limits on Customs' discretion will control.

Second, what will happen to any artifacts that are seized and forfeited under the regulations?   When the  "Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Implementation Act" was first introduced, there was a real hope the Assad regime would be replaced by a far more Democratic alternative.  No more.  So, will Customs and the State Department still follow current practice and repatriate the artifacts to the Syrian Government which means the Assad regime?  And, if so, what does that really say about the wisdom of the statute and the US Government's current emphasis on repatriation over preservation?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Collectors' Voices Need to be Heard Once Again!

The State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center have announced a comment period for a proposed extension of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Cyprus.  See

The U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee will review these comments and make recommendations based upon them with regard to any extension of the current agreement with Cyprus. 

According to U.S. Customs’ interpretation of the governing statute, import restrictions authorized by this MOU currently bar entry into the United States of the following coin types unless they are accompanied with documentation establishing that they were out of Cyprus as of the date of the restrictions, July 16, 2007:

1. Issues of the ancient kingdoms of Amathus, Kition, Kourion, Idalion, Lapethos, Marion, Paphos, Soli, and Salamis dating from the end of the 6th century B.C. to 332 B.C.

2. Issues of the Hellenistic period, such as those of Paphos, Salamis, and Kition from 332 B.C. to c. 30 B.C. (including coins of Alexander the Great, Ptolemy, and his Dynasty)

3. Provincial and local issues of the Roman period from c. 30 B.C. to 235 A.D.

Why bother to comment when Jay Kislak, CPAC’s Chairman at the time, has stated that the State Department rejected CPAC’s recommendations against import restrictions on Cypriot coins back in 2007 and then misled both Congress and the public about its actions?   And isn’t it also true that although the vast majority of public comments recorded have been squarely against import restrictions, the State Department and U.S. Customs have imposed import restrictions on coins anyway, most recently on ancient coins from Bulgaria?

Simply, silence just allows the State Department bureaucrats and their allies in the archaeological establishment to claim that collectors have acquiesced to broad restrictions on their ability to import common ancient coins that are widely available worldwide.   And, of course, acquiescence is all that may be needed to justify going back and imposing import restrictions on more recent coins that are still exempt from these regulations.

Under the circumstances, please take 5 minutes and tell CPAC, the State Department bureaucrats and the archaeologists what you think. 

How do I comment?  To submit short comment just click on the green box on the upper right hand side of the above notice that says “submit a formal comment” and follow ther directions:

If you are having trouble, go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal (, and enter Docket No. DOS-2016-0054 for Cyprus, and follow the prompts to submit comments. To send comments via US Mail or FEDEX see the directions contained in the Federal Register Notice above. 

What should I say?  The State Department bureaucracy has dictated that any public comments should relate solely to the following statutory criteria: 

1.       Whether the cultural patrimony of Cyprus is in jeopardy from looting of its archaeological materials;
2.      Whether Cyprus has taken measures consistent with the 1970 UNESCO Convention to protect its cultural patrimony;
3.      Whether application of U.S. import restrictions, if applied in concert with similar restrictions by other art importing countries, would be of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage and that less drastic remedies are not available;  and,
4.      Whether the application of import restrictions is consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.

(See 19 U.S.C. § 2602 (a).)   Yet, collectors can really only speak to what they know.  So, tell them what you think within this broad framework.  For instance, over time, import restrictions will certainly impact the American public’s ability to study and preserve historical coins and maintain people to people contacts with collectors abroad.  (These particular restrictions have hurt the ability of Cypriot Americans to collect ancient coins of their own culture.)  Yet, foreign collectors—including collectors in Cyprus—will be able to import coins as before.  And, one can also remind CPAC that less drastic remedies, like regulating metal detectors or instituting reporting programs akin to the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme, must be tried first.   Finally, Cyprus is a member of the European Union, so why not allow legal exports of Cypriot coins from other EU countries?

Be forceful, but polite.  We can and should disagree with what the State Department bureaucrats and their allies in the archaeological establishment are doing to our hobby, but we should endeavor to do so in an upstanding manner.

Please submit comments just once, before the deadline on September 30, 2016.

Cyprus: What's Wrong with This Picture?

Cypriot Government requests extension of MOU with US that authorizes the detention, seizure and repatriation of undocumented artifacts of Cypriot origin to Cyprus because they "may be stolen."  For more, see here.

Mayor of Paphos, Cyprus, accuses antiquities service of stealing artifacts; antiquities service says not stolen, just undocumented.  For more, see here.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Credulous Live Science Blames Western Collectors for the Death of Child Looters

In what must be a new low, advocates with ties to Egypt's military dictatorship have used credulous media to divert attention  from Egypt's poor cultural heritage record with inflammatory claims that Western collectors are responsible for the death of children from impoverished families that engage in looting.  And once again, the main "proof" for such claims are dubious figures billed as representing exports from Egypt but which in fact likely reflect exports of artifacts with a "country of origin" of Egypt that likely have been out of the country for years.  Coin collectors-- who have raised serious concerns about Egypt's problematical MOU request-- get special mention, again based on a dubious assumption that an increase in trade in gold coins must mean there has been more looting of Egyptian archaeological sites.  Of course, it's just as likely that the small overall increase in trade in antique gold coins with a country of origin of Egypt (at least compared to the immense number of gold coins that must be on the international market) relates to modern issues from the 19th century and earlier as opposed to ancient coins that originated in buried hoards.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Third Circuit Awards Valuable 1933 Gold Coins to Government

The Third Circuit Court of Appeals has awarded valuable 1933 $20 Gold coins to the Government.  A panel of the same court had previously reversed a jury decision for the government because of delays in bringing the matter before a court.  Steve Roach's article about the decision can be found here.  The Court's opinion can be found here.