Friday, February 7, 2020

The US State Department Imposes Import Restrictions on a Wide Variety of Jordanian Archaeological Objects-- Including More ROPE!

The Federal Register has announced broad import restrictions on Jordanian archaeological objects, effective Feb. 5, 2020.  The Federal Register Notice along with the "designated list" of objects subject to restrictions can be found here.

The U.S. Embassy in Jordan announced the Memorandum of Understanding that authorized these import restrictions back in December.  While we now know what has been restricted, the MOU-- which should detail any promises Jordan has made as part of the agreement-- has yet to be released.

Exceptionally Broad List

As with other recent MOU's, the designated list is ridiculously broad.  For example, the State Department has concluded that Jordanian rope must be subject to detention, seizure and repatriation, just like Algerian rope  which was restricted earlier.  One really has to wonder how either could possibly  meet the CPIA's "cultural significance" test for objects to be restricted. 19 U.S.C.  § 2601.

Thankfully, the "designated list" for coins at least leaves out Greek and Roman types made elsewhere that circulated not only in Jordan, but throughout the Middle East and beyond.  Nonetheless, the list remains quite broad, incorporating not only local bronze issues, but Nabataean and Byzantine coins that circulated regionally.  

Here is the list for coins:

10. Coins—Some of the best-known
types include:
a. Nabataean—Coins in silver, lead,
copper or bronze and struck at Petra.
They typically have cornucopiae or
wreaths on the reverse and portrait of
the ruler or rulers on the obverse.
b. Roman Provincial—Coins in silver
and bronze were struck through the
third century A.D. at Roman and Roman
provincial mints of Abila (Abel), Adraa
(Daraa), Charachmoba (Al-Karak), Dium,
Esbous (Heshbon), Gadara (Umm Qais),
Gerasa (Jerash), Medaba (Madaba), Pella,
Petra, Philadelphia (Amman),
Rabbathmoba (Aroer) Capitolias/Dion
(Beit Ras), and Raphana. This type also
includes the pseudo-autonomous
coinage of the second and first centuries
c. Byzantine—Coins in bronze and
struck at the Arab-Byzantine mint of
Aylah/Elath (Aqaba).
d. Early Islamic—Coins in bronze or
silver and struck at the Umayyad mints
of Adraa (Daraa), Gerasa (Jerash),
Philadelphia/Rabbath-Ammon (Amman)
and under the Abbasids at Philadelphia/
Rabbath-Ammon (Amman). These coins
are epigraphic in design, featuring one
or more lines of Arabic script. Some
Abbasid bronze coins from
Philadelphia/Rabbath-Ammon (Amman)
feature a small flower-like design in the
center of one side.
e. Crusader—These coins appear as
thin, light-weight, low-quality-silver
billon. Examples usually feature crosses
and/or crude portraits or buildings as
central images.

Jewish artifacts are another hot topic because import restrictions recognize the rights of Arab governments to the material culture of displaced Jewish minorities.  Presumably,  the State Department will argue it addressed the concerns of Jewish groups when it limited restrictions on manuscripts to archaeological objects dating before 1750 AD—but there was no specific exemption for Torahs and other Jewish artifacts as Jewish groups have requested.

What's All the Fuss About?

The archaeological lobby supporting import restrictions have pitched them as  a "consumer protection" measure designed to keep U.S. collectors from buying recently looted material.   Yet, they must know that import restrictions are controversial to the trade and collectors because, as construed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, they embargo all undocumented items of types on designated lists imported after the effective date of the regulations, not just items illegally exported from a UNESCO State party after the effective date of import restrictions as required under CPIA, 19 U.S.C. §§ 2601, 2604, 2606, 2610. Such regulatory actions have converted CPIA import restrictions into embargoes of all objects of restricted types rather  than targeted, prospective import restrictions that do not impact the purchase of artifacts from the legitimate marketplace abroad.

Import restrictions have been particularly hard on coin collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade because most collector's coins (which typically are of limited value) lack detailed provenance histories necessary for legal import. This has greatly damaged the legitimate trade in such items with fellow collectors, especially from within the E.U.

There is also the question of what will happen when U.S. Tourists return with common ancient coins sold openly at Petra and at an annual numismatic bourse that takes place in Amman.  Presumably, if Jordan does not provide for export certificates for such items, they will be subject to detention, seizure and repatriation back to Jordan-- rough treatment for law abiding Americans that will be sure to sour any positive experiences for tourists simply wanting a memento of their journey.

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