On April 1, 2019, the U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee (“CPAC”) met to take public comment on proposed MOUs with the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan and the Republic of Chile.
The following CPAC Members appeared to be present: (1) Jeremy Sabloff (Museum) (Chair); (2) Rosemary Joyce (Archaeology/Anthropology); (3) Dorit Straus (International Trade of Cultural Objects); (4) Lothar von Falkenhausen (Archaeology); (5) Karol Wight (Museums); and (6) James Willis (International Trade of Cultural Artifacts).
Andrew Cohen, CPAC’s executive director, provided some background. CPAC was constituted to provide advice to the executive department about proposed MOUs. Cohen is the designated federal official to act as liaison between the Department of State and CPAC.
Dr. Sabloff welcomes all presenters. He notes CPAC’s role is to advise the President’s designee in the Department of State about MOUs. He indicates that CPAC’s first annual report should be available on the Cultural Heritage Center website. He further indicates CPAC is not only charged with considering new MOUs, but with reviewing current agreements.
Dr. Sabloff indicates that past procedures have been changed. Now, the Committee would ask questions first and then allow 5 minutes for additional comments. Presenters should focus on a few points made in their submissions or bring up new matters in their presentation.
There were five speakers (1) Dr. Jane Evans, Temple University; (2) Kate FitzGibbon, Committee for Cultural Policy and Global Heritage Alliance; (3) Dr. Morag Kersel, DePaul University; (4) Dr. César Méndez, Center for Research of Patagonian Ecosystems, Coyhaique, Chile; and (5) Peter Tompa, representing International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild.
Rosemary Joyce askes Kate FitzGibbon about the market for Jordanian artifacts. Her point is that there are venues other than large auction houses where Jordanian material is sold. Ms. FitzGibbon indicates that the public summary provides little information on this issue. Dr. Joyce acknowledges the public summary could be better but notes CPAC receives additional information about the market in such materials.
Karol Wight asks Dr. Méndez about fossils. Dr. Méndez indicates he is an archaeologist and not a paleontologist. He notes the documentation he has seen points to looting of archaeological and paleontological objects in Central and Northern Chile. Collectors are the end of a chain that leads back to looters.
James Willis asks Kate FitzGibbon about how Jordan’s request—which she views as excessively broad—can be narrowed. Ms. FitzGibbon indicates the best way to narrow the request is to follow the Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”) and not impose import restrictions on repetitive objects that are not of cultural significance or trinkets. FitzGibbon understands concerns about ruined archaeological sites, but Congress drew lines that need to be followed. She understands the impetus to “do something,” but above all else CPAC should follow the law. Mr. Willis asks about fossils. Ms. FitzGibbon indicates that fact that Chile treats them as archaeological objects does not mean the U.S. statute does. Ms. FitzGibbon believes the CPIA does not apply to paleontological objects like fossils.
Dr. Sabloff allows Dr. Evans to speak even though she submitted her comments late after the comment period closed. She reads her letter supporting import restrictions on coins. She maintains that Nabataean coins are local issues primarily found in Jordan. She indicates that illegal metal detectors are in use in Jordan. She mentions that 400 coins were stolen from a Jordanian museum and fakes put in their place. She maintains that import restrictions are necessary to protect Jordanian coins from looters.
Dorit Straus asks Peter Tompa about how dealers police themselves and about provenance issues related to coins. Peter Tompa states that the major trade associations ask their dealer members to comply with the law of every country in which they do business. As for provenance, Tompa indicates that provenance information is normally not kept for low value coins like those from Jordan. Provenance is being increasingly transmitted for higher value coins that have previously appeared at auction. He notes that most people have antiques in their house that also lack a solid provenance. It is simply not a legal requirement in the US or Europe and presumably is not a requirement for collectors in Jordan either.
Dr. Sabloff asks Tompa about the annual coin show that takes place in Amman, Jordan. He indicates that he cannot add more to the article cited in his papers.
Dr. Sabloff asks Tompa to give his statement. Tompa focuses on two issues. First, one cannot assume that coins that circulated within Jordan were actually found there. There is no question about this for coins struck by Greek, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic empires struck elsewhere. Nabatean and coins of the Decapolis should be considered “regional issues” rather than “local” ones as maintained by Doctors Elkins and Evans. The Nabatean kingdom encompassed parts of what are now Jordan, Israel, Palestine, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Nabatean coins are found in all these countries. The same should be the case for later Roman provincial coins because Decapolis cities were not only in Jordan but in Syria and Israel as well. This is significant because Customs conflates where a coin is made with where it is found. There either should be no import restrictions on coins or any restrictions should be explicitly limited to coins illicitly removed from Jordan after the effective date of regulations. Customs currently misapplies import restrictions as embargos on all coins of a given type imported after the effective date of restrictions. In contrast, the CPIA only allows prospective import restrictions on objects illicitly exported from a country like Jordan after the effective date of the governing regulations. Tompa also notes that ancient coins are openly sold at an Amman coin fair and at the Petra archaeological site. These sales argue either for no import restrictions on coins or at least that Jordan issue exports for coins sold at these venues. This would allow for the lawful export of such coins as well as stimulate the local economy and encourage tourism.
Dr. Kersel indicates that even “trinkets’ may have archaeological value. She notes there are over 30 letters of support from archaeologists and archaeological groups for a MOU with Jordan. Jordan could do more to protect its cultural patrimony, but it is probably doing what it can with current budgetary constraints. Jordan has hosted many refugees from Iraq and Syria. This has put great strains on the country. Jordan has a new cultural patrimony law. It recently signed a MOU with Egypt to protect cultural artifacts. The Antiquities Department is underfunded but doing what it can. Dr. Kersel’s “Follow the Pots” project has shown that biblical artifacts are subject to looting. There have been anti-looting workshops in Jordan. There have been museum loans, most recently to the Met for the “World Between Empires” exhibit. Jordan has been very generous with loans to US institutions to study artifacts from archaeological digs. Illicit material has traditionally left Jordan through Israel. Israel has a new registration requirement placed on antiquities dealers, but it is too early to know if it has worked.
Ms. FitzGibbon states the Jordanian request includes many repetitive objects that should not be subject to import restrictions under the CPIA. She notes such objects appear to be sold openly at the Petra archaeological site. The police apparently look the other way. She recounts one incident in one of the letters that was submitted where the police were making tea for looters. She indicates that the trade in “biblical artifacts” has been going on for a long time. Mark Twain wrote about them and Ms. FitzGibbon has a cheap oil lamp purchased years ago by a relative. Now that Israel has instituted a registration system, it will be far more difficult for material looted from Jordan to be sold there. The Israeli Antiquities Service is certainly not lax in enforcing anti-smuggling laws. Ms. FitzGibbon called Bob Dodge, who was mentioned in the summary as selling Jordanian artifacts. He indicated that he sold two such artifacts in the last 20 years. Ms. FitzGibbon states there is no indication valuable Jordanian artifacts are for sale in quantity in the United States.
Dr. Méndez indicates local looters are just the end of a chain that starts with wealthy collectors. There are agencies in Chile charged with protecting cultural patrimony from looting. Antiquities help give a voice to the people.
Dorit Straus asks Dr. Kersel asked about cooperation between Israeli and Jordanian authorities. Dr. Kersel indicates such cooperation has existed since the Oslo accords. She also indicates a MOU with the US would be a signal to local authorities to increase such cooperation.
Dr. Sabloff asks Dr. Evans if she would like to add anything. She states that an archaeological dig in the Golan Heights demonstrates that Nabataen coins circulated primarily in Jordan because only a few Nabataen coins were found at this site. She also indicated that the use of metal detectors made it important that import restrictions be imposed.
Dr. Sabloff asks Kate FitzGibbon if she has any final words. She notes that the US Congress requires CPAC to quantify the amount of money Jordan is spending on protecting its cultural heritage. She also notes in response to Dr. Sabloff’s comment that CPAC also undertakes a continuing review of current agreements that CPAC has allowed MOUs to buttress authoritarian governments’ claims to control the past. Ms. FitzGibbon reports she attended a large 3000 person meeting of the Association of Asian Studies. They have issued a very strong statement condemning China for its oppression of Uyghurs in Xinjiang. Ms. FitzGibbon spoke with several US academics whose graduate students had gone back to visit family and then disappeared into camps where they were tortured or even killed. She indicated unless CPAC also takes strong steps to disavow agreements and renewals with Egypt, Cambodia, Libya, and most especially China, it will be accountable for the use of cultural heritage as tool for authoritarian governments. She recognizes these are strong words, but notes despite China’s actions a renewal of the current MOU was nonetheless done in January 2019. Ms. FitzGibbon urges that this not be allowed to continue.
Dr. Sabloff closed the session thanking the participants. He notes CPAC closely reviews the testimony and submissions before making recommendations to the State Department.