Monday, July 26, 2021

Putting a Price on the Priceless: Measuring the Illicit Antiquities Trade in Data and Dollars

On July 26, 2021, the Antiquities Coalition and George Mason University Terrorism, Transnational Crime and Corruption Center (TrrACC) conducted an on-line discussion about measuring the illicit trade in antiquities.

 The participants included Louis Shelly (LS) (TrrACC), Neil Brodie (NB) (Oxford), Layla Hashemi (LH) (TrrACC), and Ute Wartenberg-Kagan (UWK) (American Numismatic Society).  Patrick Costello (PC) (Council on Foreign Relations) served as the moderator.

 LS explained the discussion is part of a “big data analysis” performed by TrrACC under a State Department contract.  It looked at both the low end and high-end markets using methods including advanced technologies developed by DARPA to review the Dark Web. 

 Their findings evidently will be published in a book by Rutledge.

 In 2013, NB valued the antiquities market at $64-300 million.  The coin market is valued at $56-$300 million.  RAND’s study did not value the coin market.

 UWK indicates that the coin market comprises of a low-end and a high-end market.  The low-end market found on eBay is huge with over 2 million pieces offered valued at $40-$100 million.  The low-end market represents a significant problem that collectors, archaeologists and the trade should address.

 NB says valuing the trade is a fool’s errand and we should instead focus on the damage the trade causes.  There are ways to estimate the values of artifacts extracted from archaeological sites. 

 LH indicates one must also assess tangible and intangible impacts to cultural heritage, links to terrorism, and funding conflicts.  Technology lowers the barriers to entry into the market meaning gray market participants can act with impunity.

 There is some discussion of free ports.  However, coin traders do not appear to use free ports.

 LH indicates the total illicit trade of all goods (not just antiquities and coins) is $2-$3 trillion.

 NB indicates looting during conflicts does not only harm cultural heritage directly, but the conflicts also drive qualified academics out of countries where they could assess the damage.

 UWK indicates that it is difficult to explain to villagers why it is not a good idea to loot.  In places like Turkey this is even more difficult because those who work the land often do so for absentee landlords.

 UWK indicates the coin trade still purchases fresh coins where it believes it is legal to do so under U.S. law.  She also indicates there are disagreements whether the proper date to assess the provenance for a coin should be the 1970 date of the UNESCO Convention or the date of a Memorandum of Understanding with a source country.  She indicates the focus should be to keeping coins that have been illicitly excavated recently off the market.

 LS indicates that the antiquities trade will soon be subject to Anti-Money laundering regulations, but the art and coin trade should also be subject to such regulations. 

 NB indicates that he is doubtful that established antiquities dealers sell recently looted artifacts, but he indicates that they regularly sell artifacts looted decades ago.

 LH indicates that much of the low-end market is sold on Facebook despite rules against selling antiquities on that platform.

 There are not many antiquities on the Dark Web, but that is because they are sold openly on other platforms. If there is a crackdown on these platforms, it is possible business will move onto the Dark Web.

 There also is some use of crypto currency to purchase antiquities which may raise some issues.

 NB indicates it is hard to get people motivated to protect sites unless tourist dollars are at issue.  Farmers typically aren’t interested in preserving sites.  It is difficult enough to convince people not to loot, but impossible when there is a conflict and people are desperate.

 Prosecutions are helpful to disincentivize unlawful activity.  There are members of DHS law enforcement on the zoom call. 

 NB believes training the military about cultural heritage is a waste of resources. 

 UWK indicates a major problem is the lack of resources directed at enforcement.  She is pessimistic eBay or Facebook can be convinced to stop allowing their platforms to sell coins.

 NB believes antiquities sales should be taxed with the funds going to enforcement.

 LS again states her belief that art in addition to antiquities should be subject to anti-money laundering regulations. 

 LH states her belief that there are some unsavory actors behind the trade on Facebook.

 UWK indicates that Covid has made it harder to move illicit goods. 

 NB does not believe the Portable Antiquities Scheme or Treasure Act is an answer.  He maintains that finds in the UK are grossly underreported, and that the PAS encourages looting.

 Comment:  Very little new information came out of this presentation.  All the participants except for UWK seemed generally hostile to collecting.  LH seemed to be reading Antiquities Coalition talking points throughout much of the presentation.  The content of this seminar should raise fundamental questions about how studies with inputs solely from activists are prepared.  Additionally, one suspects funding considerations may also impact how problems are viewed.  Here, all the focus on discouraging demand for antiquities and coins is not surprising because a holistic approach focused primarily on addressing the causes for looting at the source would require an acknowledgement that source country practices are often a major part of the problem.  No wonder TraCCC came up with a series of excuses why its staff could not to meet with representatives of the coin trade to discuss these issues from a different perspective while its study was ongoing.

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Biden Administration Implements Last Minute Trump MOU with Turkey; Coins, Religious Artifacts of Displaced Greek, Jewish, Armenian, and Kurdish Minorities Included

Today’s Federal Register announced regulations implementing the Trump Administration’s January 19, 2021, Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Republic of Turkey.   This MOU is the latest in a series of recent agreements with authoritarian Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) Governments engineered with behind the scenes help from archaeological advocacy groups.  

Following a pattern established in these other recent MENA MOUs, the restrictions being imposed are of exceptional breadth, including virtually all Turkish archaeological and ethnological material dating from 1.2 million B.C. to the founding of the Turkish Republic in 1924.

In a blow to advocacy groups representing displaced religious and ethnic Greek, Jewish, Armenian, and Kurdish minorities, the regulations explicitly list religious artifacts associated with these groups that were either forcibly deported and/or encouraged to leave Turkey during the troubled 20th century.  The import restrictions explicitly apply to:

I. Archaeological Material

B. Metal

7. Ceremonial Objects – Ritual and ceremonial objects pertaining to Turkey’s religious communities, in bronze, copper, gold, silver, electrum, iron, and lead. This type includes libation vessels, ritual cauldrons and pitchers, rhytons, masks, chalices, plates, censers, candelabras, crosses, pendants, bells, reliquaries, liturgical spoons, Kiddush cups, book covers and boxes, decorated book spines, Torah pointers, finials, andampoules. Approximate date: 5th millennium B.C. to the 18th century A.D.

 II.  Ethnological Material


C. Ritual and Ceremonial Objects – This category includes objects for use in religious services (Christian, Islamic, Jewish, and others) or for imperial use by the state (Byzantine Empire, Seljuk Empire, Anatolian Beyliks, and Ottoman Empire). Examples of ritual and ceremonial objects covered in the Agreement include, but are not limited to, the following objects:

1. Religious Objects – This category includes objects in all materials such as lamps, libation vessels, pitchers, chalices, plates, censers, candelabra, crosses and cross pendants, pilgrim flasks, tabernacles, boxes and chests, carved diptychs, liturgical spoons, Kiddush cups, bells, ampoules, Torah pointers and finials, prayer beads, icons,amulets, and Bektashi surrender stones. This type also includes reliquaries and reliquary containers, which may or may not include human remains. Often engraved or otherwise decorated.

 D. Paintings – This category includes works of paint on plaster, wood, or ceramic from religious or public contexts. Paintings from these periods provide information on social and religious history of the people of Turkey that may be absent from written records. Examples of paintings include, but are not limited to:

 1. Wall Paintings – This category includes paintings on various types of plaster, which generally portray religious images and/or scenes of Biblical events. Types may also include simple applied color, bands and borders, animal, floral, and geometric motifs.

2. Panel Paintings (Icons) – Icons are smaller versions of the scenes on wall paintings, and may be partially covered with gold or silver, sometimes encrusted with semiprecious or precious stones and are usually painted on a wooden panel, often for inclusion in a wooden screen. May also be painted on ceramic.

3. Works on Paper – Paintings may be on papyrus, parchment, and paper. Images depicted may include religious scenes, representations of imperial court life, simple applied color, bands and borders, animal, floral, and geometric motifs.

Additional materials associated with religious and ethnic minorities are covered more generally.  See, e.g., I. Archaeological Material, A. Stone, 1. Sculpture, b. Monuments and Stelae, c. Sarcophagi and Ossuaries, d. Large Statuary, e. Small Statuary, 2. Vessels, 4. Seals and Stamps, 5. Jewelry and Beads, B. Metal, 1. Sculpture, a. Large Statuary and Portraits, b. Small Statuary, c. Reliefs, d. Inscribed and Decorated Metal Sheets and Plates, 2. Vessels, 3. Jewelry and Personal Adornment, 6. Seals and Stamps, 8. Musical Instruments, C. Ceramic, Terracotta, and Faience, 1. Sculpture, a. Architectural Elements, b. Sarcophagi and Ossuaries, c. Large Statuary, d. Small Statuary, e. Terracotta Plaques, 2. Vessels, 4. Seals, Stamps, and Tablets, D. Bone, Ivory, and Other Organic Material, 1. Small Statuary and Figurines, 3. Seals and Stamps, E. Wood, 1. Architectural Elements, F. Glass, 1. Architectural Elements, 2. Vessels, 3. Beads and Jewelry, G. Plaster and Stucco, H. Textile, I. Leather, Parchment, and Paper, J. Rock Art, Painting, and Drawing, K. Mosaics, II. Ethnological Material, A. Architectural Elements, B. Funerary Objects, C. Ritual and Ceremonial Objects, 2. Imperial, 3. Furniture, 4. Textiles, 5. Musical Instruments, E. Written Records.

The prospect of such broad import restrictions on such artifacts raises two distinct concerns. First, as a practical matter, such import restrictions will allow Turkey to “claw back” the religious and community property of Turkey’s displaced Greek, Armenian, Jewish and Kurdish populations living in exile on import into the United States. Second, and perhaps of even more concern, the MOU provides de facto U.S. Government recognition to the claims of the authoritarian Erdogan Government to the cultural patrimony of Turkey’s ancient Greek civilization and the religious and community property of Turkey’s small Greek, Armenian, and Jewish population. Even worse, Erdogan can spin such a MOU as reflecting Department of State support for his conversion of Hagia Sophia and other former Greek Orthodox churches into mosques.

The regulations will also have a significant impact on millions of coin collectors and thousands of small businesses here and abroad that trade in historical coins.   The restrictions on coins are as follows: 

I. Archaeological Material

B. Metal

9. Coins

a. Greek coins – Archaic coins, dated to 640 – 480 B.C., in electrum, silver and billon, that circulated primarily in Turkey; Classical coins, dated to 479 – 332 B.C., in electrum, silver, gold, and bronze, that circulated primarily in Turkey; and Hellenistic coins, dated to 332 – 31 B.C., in gold, silver, bronze and other base metals, that circulated primarily in Turkey. Greek coins were minted by many authorities for trading and payment and often circulated all over the ancient world, including in Turkey. All categories are based on find information provided in Thompson, M., Mørkholm, O., Kraay, C., Inventory of Greek Coin Hoards, 1973 (available online at and the updates in Coin Hoards I-X as well as other hoard and single find publications. Mints located in Turkey and surrounding areas are found in Head, B. V., Historia Numorum, A Manual of Greek Numismatics, 1911 (available online at

b. Roman provincial coins – Roman provincial coins, dated from the end of 2nd century B.C. to the early 6th century A.D., in gold, silver, and bronze and copper that circulated primarily in Turkey.

c. Byzantine period coins – Byzantine period coins, in gold, silver, bronze, copper coins, and sometimes electrum, dating from the early 6th century to the 15th century A.D., that circulated primarily in Turkey, (e.g., coins produced at mints in Nicaea and Magnesia under the Empire of Nicaea).

d. Medieval and Islamic coins – Medieval and Islamic coins, in gold, silver,bronze, and copper coins from approximately A.D. 1077 – 1770, that circulated primarily in Turkey.

While the regulations continue a current exemption for widely collected Roman Imperial coins, everything else down to 1770 is included, subject to the qualification that the coin type “circulated primarily in Turkey.”   This qualification apparently stems from the acknowledgement  found in the regulations themselves that ancient coins as a general rule circulated far from where they were minted.  Before the controversial decision to first impose import restrictions on Cypriot coins in 2007, the wide circulation of such coins, as well as the fact that individual types have often come down to us in hundreds or thousands of examples, was enough to keep ancient and early modern coins from being placed on the designated lists. Since that time, coins have usually been included, often misleadingly simply based on the fact that they were minted within the confines of what is today a modern nation state.  

If the phraseology here is meant to better comply with the Cultural Property Implementation Act’s (CPIA’s) language, it still only pays “lip service” to the statutory provisions.  Indeed, the “plain meaning” of the CPIA requires far more.  Import restrictions only apply to “designated archaeological material” under 19 U.S.C. §   2606.  This “designated archaeological material” is that “covered by an agreement” and “listed” under Section 2604.  19 U.S.C. § 2601 (7).  Section 2604 states that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and/or the Treasury Department “may list this such material by type or other appropriate classification, but each listing made under this section shall be sufficiently specific and precise to insure that (1) the import restrictions under Section 2606 are applied only to the archaeological . . . material covered by the agreement . . . ; and (2) fair notice is given to importers . . . as to what material is subject to such restrictions.”  19 U.S.C. § 2604 (emphasis added).  The word “only” emphasizes the requirement that “designated archaeological material” must be only that covered by the agreement, i.e., “first discovered within” and “subject to export control by, the State Party.”   19 U.S.C. § 2601 (2).   The word “shall” emphasizes the mandatory nature of this Congressional direction; there is simply no discretion allowed.     See, e.g., Black's Law Dictionary 1407 (8th ed. 2004) (defining "shall" as "has a duty to; more broadly, is required to").  Therefore, under the CPIA, the proper standard is not whether a coin type “primarily” circulated within the confines of a given, modern nation state, but whether it can only be found there.  Moreover, even assuming the “circulated primarily” phraseology were correct, the regulation’s failure to identify which coins “circulated primarily in Turkey” raises the question whether the regulation may be constitutionally void for vagueness. 

In any event, the real problem with such a broad MOU with Turkey is that in seeking to “protect” any and all “Turkish Cultural Patrimony” from looting, the U.S. Government will further harm minority communities living abroad as well as the legitimate trade in “Turkish” artifacts with our major trading partners in the European Union and the United Kingdom.  The cumulative impact of import restrictions on behalf of authoritarian MENA governments has been very problematical because most minor artifacts (like coins) and family keepsakes simply lack the document trail necessary for legal import under the “safe harbor” provisions of CPIA, 19 U.S.C. § 2606. The CPIA only authorizes the government to impose import restrictions on artifacts first discovered within and subject to the export control of a particular country. (19 U.S.C. § 2601.) Furthermore, seizure is only appropriate for items on the designated list exported from the State Party after the effective date of regulations. (19 U.S.C. § 2606.) Unfortunately, the Department of State and CBP view this authority far more broadly. CBP has promulgated designated lists based on where items are made and sometimes found, not where they are actually found and hence are subject to export control. Additionally, restrictions are not applied prospectively solely to illegal exports made after the effective date of regulations, but rather are enforced against any import into the U.S. made after the effective date of regulations, i.e., an embargo, not targeted, prospective import restrictions.

What can be done?  Advocates for displaced minorities and trade and collector groups need to engage with their elected representatives.  Our elected representatives need to be sensitized to these concerns and asked for help in ensuring that any import restrictions are only be applied to archaeological or ethnological objects illicitly exported from Turkey after the June 16, 2021 effective date of the implementing regulations.  Otherwise, the U.S. Government will become Erdogan’s enforcer in clawing back virtually every object that can be considered “Turkish” on entry to the United States, and we will all be poorer for it.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Summary of March 17, 2021 CPAC Meeting to Accept Public Comments on Proposed MOU with Albania and Proposed Renewal with Egypt

 On March 17, 2021, the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (“CPAC”) met to consider a proposed MOU with Albania and a proposed renewal of the MOU with Egypt. The following members were present: (1) Stefan Passantino (Chairman- Public); (2) Steven Bledsoe (Public); (3) Karol Wight (Museums); (4) J.D. Demming (Public); (5) Ricardo St. Hilaire (Archaeology); (6) Joan Connelly (Archaeology) and (7) Anthony Wisniewski (Collector-Sale of International Cultural Property).  Allison Davis, CPAC’s State Department Executive Director, and Andrew Cohen, State Department Lead Foreign Affairs Analyst, were also present.

Chairman Passantino welcomed the speakers.  He indicated that the Committee had read all the comments, and as indicated in an email to the speakers, they would be allotted 3 minutes to focus on points most important to them.  Chairman Passantino called on speakers who had put in papers on Albania first, then speakers who had written about coins, and finally speakers who wrote on Egypt.  There was some overlap because some speakers put in papers on more than one topic.  He deferred questions to the end to be assured everyone who registered to speak would be heard.

The following individuals provided oral comments:  (1) John K. Papadopoulos  (UCLA); (2) Michael Galaty (U. Michigan), (3) James Gould (RPM Nautical Foundation); (4) Randolph Myers (Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG)); (5) Peter Tompa (Peter Tompa Law-International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) and Professional Numismatics Guild (PNG)); (6) Steve Benner (Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington, D.C. (ANSWDC)); (7) Kate FitzGibbon (FitzGibbon Law-Committee for Cultural Policy (CCP) and Global Heritage Alliance (GHA)); (8) Brian Daniels (Archaeological Institute of America (AIA)); (9) Mireille Lee (Vanderbilt); (10) Marcel Marée and Suzanne Veigh (British Museum); (11) Rocco Debitetto (Hahn Loeser- Association of Art Museum Directors); and (12) Katie Paul (ATHAR Project). 

John Papadopoulos has visited in Albania periodically since the late 1990’s.  He undertook field work there from 2004-2008.  Looting was at its height in the late 1990’s.  It is not as severe today, but it is still problematic.  Looting destroys context which tells us much about how people lived in the area from the Neolithic through the Byzantine and post-Byzantine periods.  Coins are amongst the most common, easily located, and smuggled ancient objects. Albania is very welcoming to academic exchange and has made strides in cultural heritage management. 

His written testimony may be found here:

Michael Galaty has excavated in Apollonia and North Albania.  Galatay has documented systematic metal-detecting in the Shkoder province, targeting both settlements and burial mounds. He says he has been approached by children selling coins at archaeological sites.  He also has seen people metal detecting who had learned about it in England where it is legal.  Some are hobbyists but others are in it for profit.  He also indicates European coin dealers buy coins in Albania. Over the years, he has seen the government of Albania take great strides in trying to limit looting, including expansive cultural heritage laws, a professionalized regional archaeological/heritage service, upgrades to site security, and public education about the problem.  His testimony may be found here:

James Gould speaks for the RPM Nautical Foundation.  During the Hoxha regime, anyone diving in Albanian waters would be shot on sight.  Since the fall of Communism, underwater looting with the use of scuba gear and fast boats for a getaway have become a problem.  Amphorae are typical targets for looters.  The Albanians have been excellent collaborators and a MOU would help address looting.

The Nautical Foundation’s written comments can be found here:

Randolph Myers indicates the current membership of CPAC does not reflect Congressional intent because the interests of dealers and the small businesses of the numismatic trade are underrepresented. Given their wide circulation, it is impossible to assume that coins struck in Albania are necessarily found there.  Numismatic research proves far more hoards of coins struck at Apollonia and Dyrrachium are found outside Albanian than within it.

The ACCG’s written comments may be found here:

Peter Tompa acknowledges the passing of James Fitzpatrick, Esq., one of the drafters of the CPIA who appeared before CPAC multiple times to emphasize the need for the Committee to follow Congressional intent.  He indicates that only coins that exclusively circulated within a given country can be restricted under the CPIA’s limitations of import restrictions to archaeological objects “first discovered within” and “subject to export control” by a UNESCO State party.  He believes that the 2016 Egyptian designated list violated this requirement because it included widely circulating large denomination Greek and Roman Provincial coins.  He also indicates there is no basis to expand current import restrictions further to widely circulating Roman Imperial coins struck in Egypt.  Nor is there any basis for restrictions on silver ancient Illyrian coinage struck in what is now Albania because far more hoards of these coins are found in Romania than Albania.  He also asks CPAC to recommend that Customs no longer apply import restrictions on coins as embargoes, but rather limit detentions and seizures to situations where there is probable cause that coins were illicitly exported after the effective date of governing regulations. 

Peter Tompa’s oral comments may be found here:

IAPN’s and PNG’s written submissions may be found here:



Peter Tompa’s personal written submission may be found here:

Steve Benner indicates that collectors like himself and other members of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington, D.C. are interested in numismatic scholarship, not making money out of coins.  The joy of holding an ancient coin in one’s hand stimulates one’s interest even more, pushing collectors to ascertain facts about a coin’s history and composition. Taking this away would be demoralizing to collectors and detrimental to our hobby. The Roman Republic and Empire included all the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea as well as Western Europe, Britain, the Balkans, etc. Roman coins struck at any of the mints circulated freely throughout the Empire and should not be considered the property of any single country.

Kate FitzGibbon also invokes Jim Fitzpatrick’s efforts to ensure that the Committee complies with the law, particularly the need for a showing of substantial current looting for an agreement to be justified. She questions whether there is such a problem in Albania or if looted material is coming here in quantity given the dearth of archaeological items being imported into the United States. As for Egypt, Ms. FitzGibbon notes that Egypt fails to acknowledge much material left the country legally before the 1980’s, and even where export certificates were issued, they were so general as to be useless to show provenance. Ms. FitzGibbon suggests that Egypt has only made a token effort at self help measures to care for its own cultural patrimony. Instead of spending money on preservation efforts, it has dumped huge amounts of money on General Sissi’s museum vanity project being built in the desert.  CPAC must consider such self help measures as part of its review of MOUs.  She also notes the China MOU which should be undergoing an interim review should consider China’s intentional destruction of Uighur cultural heritage.

The CCP’s and GHA’s written submission on the Albanian MOU can be found here:

The CCP’s and GHA’s written submission on the Egyptian MOU can be found here:

Brian Daniels indicates ongoing looting and violence in Egypt justify the renewal of its MOU.  Recently, two site guards were killed by looters.  Egypt has been a good collaborator with U.S. archaeologists.  There was a conference about looting in Albania in 2009. There has been excellent collaboration with Albanian colleagues.  There will be a travelling exhibition of Albanian archaeological material in the U.S. in 2022.  Archaeological preservation efforts help foster tourism.  The AIA conducts tours in both Egypt and Albania.

The AIA’s written submissions for both Albania and Egypt can be found here:

Mireille Lee has used travelling exhibits as teaching tools.  It is important to question how an object got there. There are also ethical questions related to exhibiting mummies.  Hopefully, after the pandemic students will be able to visit exhibitions in person, but in the meantime, they have taken advantage of the Internet.

Marcel Marée and Suzanne Veigh work with the British Museum’s CircArt project.  The project, made possible by grants from the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund, is generating a digital knowledge base of Egyptian and Sudanese antiquities in the trade.  CircArt examines objects offered for sale on the ‘official’ open market as well as on social media. CircArt and the ATHAR Project work closely together, as there are many synergies between the projects.

 The first results of their research show clearly that the scale of ongoing looting and trafficking is far greater than is generally assumed. Since its inception in 2018, CircArt has recorded some 50,000 circulating artefacts from Egypt on the market, of which at least 15% were demonstrably excavated and exported illegally. A group of dealers in the USA remain heavily involved in the release of such objects onto the open market. They show images of broken off faces from mummy cartonnages where the rest of the coffin was discarded.  They indicate all these faces were offered by one U.S. dealer.  Dealers in Turkey have also been active with trans-shipment points in the Middle and Far East.  Much material also shows up on eBay or Facebook.  The data show with increasing urgency the true scale of illicit trade in cultural artefacts, indicating not only a need to renew the MOU between the US and Egypt, but ideally to reinforce the present import restrictions and to enact more robust regulation of the trade.

The British Museum’s CircArt project’s submission may be found here:

Its website may be found here:

Rocco Debitetto indicates that CPAC must consider whether Egypt has met all the four determinations before its MOU is renewed.  The renewal should not be used to expand the designated list beyond the 250-year-old threshold for archaeological objects.  Ethnological objects need not be 250 years old, but Egyptian ethnological objects do not fit the criteria under the CPIA.  Egypt was not a tribal society in the 19th century but a major power. If anything, the current designated list should be narrowed.  In addition, the MOU needs to be reformed to require Egypt to make available more objects for loan without attendant high fees.  Since the 2016 MOU, Egypt has only sent two travelling exhibitions to the United States, both of which were only available to museums willing to pay high fees.

The AAMD’s written submission can be found here:

Katie Paul states that the ATHAR project is devoted to fighting trafficking on Facebook.   Research conducted by ATHAR Project illustrates a trafficking crisis in Egypt that is feeding material to black market groups on Facebook. This material includes items as small as coins and as large as coffins. She has tracked material from “trafficker groups” on Facebook that have ended up in the United States. She indicates this trade is hard to track because the buyers frequently try to cover their tracks.

The ATHAR Project’s written submission can be found here:

Question and Answer Period

Anthony Wisniewski asks Marcel Marée to explain the difference between Alexander the Great and Hellenism. He indicates the Hellenistic period is generally thought to have started after Alexander died and his Empire was divided amongst his generals.

Anthony Wisniewski asks Randy Myers to confirm that Alexander the Great coins as well as Roman and Byzantine coins from Egyptian mints are found in quantity outside of Egypt.  He points to the ACCG’s research online and within the Royal Numismatic Society’s Coin hoard series of books.

Anthony Wisniewski asks Peter Tompa to confirm there were no Roman Imperial mints in Albania.  He does so.

Anthony Wisniewski asks Brian Daniels if there is sufficient evidence to establish the 4 required determinations for a MOU with Albania.  He says he believes so because the totality of the evidence shows that there is ongoing looting, and that Albania has also undertaken sufficient self-help measures and efforts at collaboration with American archaeologists to satisfy the statutory criteria.

Ricardo St. Hilaire notes that we should also acknowledge the passing of Nancy Wilkie, a long-term member of CPAC.  He asks Brian Daniels if archaeologists have had problems dealing with Egypt during the pandemic.  He says there have been issues, but they have been understandable ones given the circumstances. 

Joan Connelly elicits information from Michael Galaty and John K. Papadopoulos about a 1991-coin hoard containing coins from Aegina (in Greece).  She posits that the hoard shows that Albania was important cross-roads and that it suggests the presence of a city thought to be in the area.  They suggest we only know this information because the hoard was professionally excavated.

Stefan Passantino then closed the public meeting with thanks to all those who testified.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021


 This is what I said today, more or less, at CPAC's public session regarding a proposed renewal of the current MOU with Egypt and a proposed new MOU with Albania:

I would like to take a moment to acknowledge the passing of James Fitzpatrick, Esq., one of the CPIA’s drafters who appeared before CPAC multiple times to emphasize the need for the Committee to follow Congressional intent.  In that spirit, I would ask you to focus on two important provisions concerning the scope and enforcement of import restrictions.  Both touch on less drastic remedies to be considered and facilitating the legal exchange of cultural property. 

The current designated list for Egypt ignores the statutory requirement that restricted objects must both be “first discovered within” and subject to Egyptian “export control.” Only coins that “exclusively” circulated within Egypt can meet both requirements, but larger denomination gold and silver Alexander the Great, Ptolemaic and Roman Egyptian coin types that circulated in quantity outside the modern borders of Egypt nonetheless ended up on the 2016 designated list.  Proponents may have raised Egypt’s so-called “closed monetary system” under the Ptolemies and Roman Provincial authorities to justify these restrictions, but that system was meant to keep foreign coins "out" and not Egyptian coins “in.”  Moreover, the borders of ancient Egypt stretched well beyond its modern borders and as stated, larger denomination Greek and Roman Egyptian Provincial coins with Greek legends are found in quantity well outside of Egypt. 

No new restrictions should be recommended for Roman Imperial, Byzantine, and Islamic issues.   Standardized Roman Imperial coins with Latin legends from the Alexandria Mint have been found in substantial numbers throughout the Empire and beyond.  In the later Byzantine and Islamic period, as in the later Roman period, standardized coinage made in Alexandria and elsewhere circulated widely.  Randy Myers speaking for the ACCG will focus on Albanian coinage, but I will also note there should be no restrictions on silver coins from there either because far more hoards of Illyrian coinage have been found in Romania than Albania.

There also is the issue of enforcement.  As the Antiquities Coalition also observes in its papers, import restrictions only apply to artifacts illicitly exported from Egypt after the December 6, 2016 effective date of the implementing regulations.  19 U.S.C § 2606.  Unfortunately, U.S. Customs applies restrictions far more broadly as embargoes on any coins imported into the U.S.   Instead, coins should only be detained and seized where there is probable cause they were illicitly exported from Egypt after December 6, 2016.  In other words, coins should no longer be seized and forfeited, and the collector deprived of their private property, solely because a coin is of a type on the designated list.   This should particularly hold for purchases from legitimate markets in the EU, UK, and Switzerland where Egyptian coins have been collected for generations.   Thank you for listening to our concerns.  I am happy to answer any questions regarding our submission.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

James Fitzpatrick- An Appreciation

 Prominent DC lawyer and lobbyist James Fitzpatrick has passed away at age 88.  His obituary can be found here.   Among his many accomplishments, Jim was an important advocate for collectors, museums and the small businesses of the art and antiquities trade on cultural property matters.  He helped draft the Cultural Property Implementation Act, prevailed in an important  cultural property case, and argued before the Cultural Property Advisory Committee many times about the importance of following Congressional intent when considering foreign requests for cultural property MOU's.  In his later years, Jim shared his deep knowledge of the area with students, both as a professor and guest lecturer.  Quite unlike all too many prominent lawyers, Jim was also a very kind and engaging person, always ready to reach out to friends and foes alike.  He will be much missed. 

Friday, March 12, 2021

Requests for MENA Cultural Property Agreements Originate not with the Source Country, but with the Archaeological Lobby and our own State Department

This is a follow up to CPO's February 12, 2020, blog post:  

The Convention on Cultural Implementation Act contemplates that UNESCO State parties will request the United States to enter into MOU's which authorize the imposition of import restrictions on cultural goods. However, it now appears that MOU requests supposedly from Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) countries actually originate from the State Department itself with  the help of funding from the Antiquities Coalition, a major archaeological advocacy group that has lobbied the United States Government for an import ban on so-called "blood antiquities" from the MENA region. See

 According to Lynn Roche of the State Department's Near East Affairs Bureau,

“Bilateral Memoranda of Understanding, based on the 1970 UNESCO Convention on Cultural Property, are creating the foundation for long-term partnerships with governments in the NEA region. These MOUs authorize DHS’s Customs and Border Protection to seize undocumented cultural property. The first case in NEA was when Egypt committed resources to cultural heritage protection and signed an MOU with the U.S. in November of 2016. Following that, NEA provided funding to advise NEA countries in preparing their MOU request packages. ECA and NEA training and capacity building for Libyan archeologists and law enforcement personnel laid the groundwork for signing an MOU with Libya in February 2018. Post, the Libya External Office that’s based in Tunis, is now working with a Fulbright Specialist to support this effort. So, posts are looking at the whole toolkit of what they can do to bring these resources to bear and advance this cause.”


 According to the Antiquities Coalition's 2017 990 filing, the Coalition gave a grant of $60,000 which was apparently passed through the State Department to help fund these MOU requests.  requests. See (Form 990, Schedule I, Part II, Grants and Assistance to Domestic Organizations and Domestic Governments)  

This new information helps confirm why collectors, dealers, museums, and representatives of displaced religious and ethnic minorities are treated as outsiders to the process of imposing import restrictions on cultural goods. It also suggests there needs to be far more transparency with regard to how import restrictions are processed. 

Sunday, February 7, 2021

Please Comment on a Proposed Renewal of the MOU with Egypt and a Proposed New MOU with Albania

The State Department has announced a proposed renewal and amendment of a cultural property agreement or memorandum of understanding with the Arab Republic of Egypt.  The State Department has also announced a proposed new MOU with the Republic of Albania.  Import restrictions under the current Egyptian MOU cover all ancient coins up to Diocletian's reforms.  Roman and Byzantine coins of Imperial types struck in Egypt after that date are not currently subject to import restrictions.  

Further information about the March 17, 2021 Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) meeting, how to comment, and a link to comment may be found here:  Regulations .gov is transitioning to a new website, so at various times, you may need to comment here instead:

 Alternatively, go to the website and type in DOS-2021-0003 in the search box to be taken to the notice and link to comment.  Comments must be uploaded no later than March 3, 2021.

A.  Background for Coin Collectors

There are large numbers of coin collectors and numismatic firms in the US.  Very few collectors do so to “invest.”  Most collect out of love of history, as an expression of their own cultural identity, or out of interest in other cultures.  All firms that specialize in ancient coins in the US are small businesses. Private collectors and dealers support much academic research into coins.  For example, an American collector collaborated with academics to produce an extensive study of Seleucid coins. A further clamp down on collecting will inevitably lead to less scholarship.

While what became the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) was being negotiated, one of the State Department’s top lawyers assured Congress that “it would be hard to imagine a case” where coins would be restricted.   In 2007, however, the State Department imposed import restrictions on Cypriot coins, against CPAC’s recommendations, and then misled the public and Congress about it in official government reports.  What also should be troubling is that the decision maker, Assistant Secretary Dina Powell, did so AFTER she had accepted a job with Goldman Sachs where she was recruited by and worked for the spouse of the founder of the Antiquities Coalition, an archaeological advocacy group that has lobbied extensively for import restrictions.  Since that time, additional import restrictions have been imposed on coins from Algeria, Bulgaria, China, Egypt, Greece, Iraq, Italy, Jordan, Libya, Morocco, Syria, and Yemen.  Import restrictions remain pending for Tunisia and Turkey. 

1.        Current Egyptian import restrictions

The current Egyptian designated list restricts the following ancient coin types down to 294 AD:

H. Coins

In copper or bronze, silver, and gold.

1. General—There are a number of references that list Egyptian coin types. Below are some examples. Most Hellenistic and Ptolemaic coin types are listed in R.S. Poole, A Catalogue of Greek Coins in the British Museum: Alexandria and the Nomes (London, 1893); J.N. Svoronos, Τα Nομισματα του Κρατουσ των Πτολe μαιων (Münzen der Ptolemäer) (Athens 1904); and R.A. Hazzard, Ptolemaic Coins: An Introduction for Collectors (Toronto, 1985). Examples of catalogues listing the Roman coinage in Egypt are J.G. Milne, Catalogue of Alexandrian Coins (Oxford, 1933); J.W. Curtis, The Tetradrachms of Roman Egypt (Chicago, 1969); A. Burnett, M. Amandry, and P.P Ripollès, Roman Provincial Coinage I: From the Death of Caesar to the Death of Vitellius (44 BC-AD 69) (London, 1998—revised edition); and A. Burnett, M. Amandry, and I. Carradice, Roman Provincial Coinage II: From Vespasian to Domitian (AD 69-96) (London, 1999). There are also so-called nwb-nfr coins, which may date to Dynasty 30. See T. Faucher, W. Fischer-Bossert, and S. Dhennin, “Les Monnaies en or aux types hiéroglyphiques nwb nfr,” Bulletin de l'institut français d'archéologie orientale 112 (2012), pp. 147-169.


2. Dynasty 30 —Nwb nfr coins have the hieroglyphs nwb nfr on one side and a horse on the other.


3. Hellenistic and Ptolemaic coins—Struck in gold, silver, and bronze at Alexandria and any other mints that operated within the borders of the modern Egyptian state. Gold coins of and in honor of Alexander the Great, struck at Alexandria and Memphis, depict a helmeted bust of Athena on the obverse and a winged Victory on the reverse. Silver coins of Alexander the Great, struck at Alexandria and Memphis, depict a bust of Herakles wearing the lion skin on the obverse, or “heads” side, and a seated statue of Olympian Zeus on the reverse, or “tails” side. Gold coins of the Ptolemies from Egypt will have jugate portraits on both obverse and reverse, a portrait of the king on the obverse and a cornucopia on the reverse, or a jugate portrait of the king and queen on the obverse and cornucopiae on the reverse. Silver coins of the Ptolemies coins from Egypt tend to depict a portrait of Alexander wearing an elephant skin on the obverse and Athena on the reverse or a portrait Start Printed Page 87808of the reigning king with an eagle on the reverse. Some silver coins have jugate portraits of the king and queen on the obverse. Bronze coins of the Ptolemies commonly depict a head of Zeus (bearded) on the obverse and an eagle on the reverse. These iconographical descriptions are non-exclusive and describe only some of the more common examples. There are other types and variants. Approximate date: ca. 332 B.C. through ca. 31 B.C.

4. Roman coins—Struck in silver or bronze at Alexandria and any other mints that operated within the borders of the modern Egyptian state in the territory of the modern state of Egypt until the monetary reforms of Diocletian. The iconography of the coinage in the Roman period varied widely, although a portrait of the reigning emperor is almost always present on the obverse of the coin. Approximate date: ca. 31 B.C. through ca. A.D. 294.

With respect to the wording of the restrictions themselves, Customs has issued restrictions based on place of manufacture rather than find spot.

This is significant because such restrictions ignore evidence that demonstrates that Egyptian mint coins are regularly discovered outside of Egypt.  Egypt's so-called "closed monetary system” was meant to keep foreign coins "out" and not Egyptian coins “in.” Hoard evidence confirms Ptolemaic coins from Egyptian mints circulated throughout the Ptolemaic Empire which stretched well beyond the confines of modern-day Egypt.  (And, indeed, some hoards are found outside the Empire's territory.)  They also ignored finds reported under the UK's PAS that show Roman Egyptian Tetradrachms circulated as far away as Roman Britain. 

Under current Customs procedures, the above types can only be imported into the United States with: (a) an export certificate issued by Egypt (which have not been issued since the 1980’s and which when issued did not include pictures or detailed descriptions);   (b) “satisfactory evidence” demonstrating that the coins were exported from or were outside of Egypt at least 10 years prior to importation into the U.S.; or (c) “satisfactory evidence” demonstrating that the coins were exported from or were outside of Egypt before restrictions were announced on December 5, 2016.  What constitutes “satisfactory evidence” is ultimately left to the discretion of Customs, but usually takes the form of a declaration by the importer and a statement by the consigner.

The current restrictions do not extend to Roman or Byzantine coins of widely circulating Imperial types struck at Alexandria that are extremely popular with collectors. However, we cannot afford to take this for granted; we simply cannot assume that the archaeological lobby—which actively opposes private collecting—will not press for “more” this time around.  Accordingly, if one feels strongly about their continued ability to collect such coins, they should comment on the website.  Why?  Because silence will only be spun as acquiesce.  So, serious collectors should oppose restrictions on coins or their expansion to widely circulating trade coins as unnecessary and detrimental to the appreciation of ancient culture and the people-to-people contacts collecting brings. 

2.       Proposed Albanian MOU

The proposed MOU with Albania could also impact popular Greek coins from the cities of Apollonia and Dyrrhachium (Durres).  The early coins from these cities copied cow/calf designs of Corcyra (Corfu), their mother city.  Later, copies of Corinthian staters were struck, before massive issues of the cow/calf design were issued on the same weight standards as Roman Republican coins.  These coins are found in great numbers in former Yugoslavia, Romania, and Bulgaria.

3.       The Negative Impact of Import Restrictions on People-to-People Contacts Collecting Brings

The cumulative impact of import restrictions has been very problematical for collectors since outside of some valuable Greek coins, most coins simply lack the document trail necessary for legal import under the “safe harbor” provisions of 19 U.S.C. § 2606.  The CPIA only authorizes the government to impose import restrictions on coins and other artifacts first discovered within and subject to the export control of Italy. (19 U.S.C. § 2601). Furthermore, seizure is only appropriate for items on the designated list exported from the State Party after the effective date of regulations.  (19 U.S.C. § 2606).  Unfortunately, the State Department and Customs view this authority far more broadly.  Designated lists have been prepared based on where coins are made and sometimes found, not where they are actually found and hence are subject to export control.  Furthermore, restrictions are not applied prospectively solely to illegal exports made after the effective date of regulations, but rather are enforced against any import into the U.S. made after the effective date of regulations, i.e., an embargo, not targeted, prospective import restrictions.  While it is true enforcement has been spotty, we know of situations where coins have been detained, seized, and repatriated where the importer cannot produce information to prove his or her coins were outside of a country for which import restrictions were granted before the date of restrictions.

      B.  What You Can Do

Admittedly, CPAC seems to be little more than a rubber stamp.  Still, to remain silent is to give the cultural bureaucrats and archaeologists with an ax to grind against collectors exactly what they want-- the claim that any restrictions will not be controversial. 

As discussed above, further information about the March 17, 2021 Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) meeting, how to comment, and a link to comment may be found here:  Regulations .gov is transitioning to a new website, so at various times, you may need to comment here instead:  Alternatively, go to the website and type in DOS-2021-0003 in the search box to be taken to the notice and link to comment or comment from the Federal Register Notice here:

Please also note comments submitted in electronic form are not private. They will be posted on Because the comments cannot be edited to remove any identifying or contact information, the Department of State cautions against including any information in an electronic submission that one does not want publicly disclosed (including trade secrets and commercial or financial information that is privileged or confidential pursuant to 19 U.S.C. 2605(i)(1)).

C.  What Should You Say?

 What should you say?  Provide a brief, polite explanation about how import restrictions impact you or your business and/or the cultural understanding and people to people contacts collecting provides.   Coin collectors should add it makes no sense to expand current restrictions when the State Department already determined which coins were typically “first discovered within” and “subject to the export control” of Greece.  Finally, collectors can point out that Albania, which is soon to become an EU member, must respect the rights of other EU members to export coins of types on the designated Greek designated list, and so should the U.S.  Comments from Egyptian or Albanian American collectors are particularly welcome! 

 Personalized comments are best, but feel free to use this submission as a model: 

 Dear CPAC:

Please either end the current restrictions on coins, or, at least, do not expand them.  It makes no sense to expand current restrictions when the State Department already determined Roman Imperial and Byzantine coins of Egypt did not primarily circulate within Egypt.  Nor does it make sense to impose import restrictions on Albanian coins struck on the weight standard of late Roman Republican coins that are not restricted nor widely circulating Corinthian types which are also not subject to import restrictions.  Finally, Albania, which is soon to become an EU member, must respect the rights of other EU members to export coins of types on any Albanian designated list, and so should the U.S.  This can easily be done by making any MOU with Albania recognize that a legal export of any item on the Albanian designated list from a sister EU country will be treated as a legal export from Albania itself.



Thursday, February 4, 2021

Eleventh Hour Trump Administration MOU with Turkey's Authoritarian Government Roils Representatives of Displaced Minorities, Collectors

On Jan. 19, 2021, the U.S. Department of State entered into a cultural property agreement or memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Erdogan's authoritarian Turkish government potentially covering everything and anything made as as recently as 1923.  Associated import restrictions have yet to be announced, but representatives of the Greek diaspora worry the MOU will empower Erdogan to “claw back” ancient and modern Greek cultural property and provide de facto recognition to Erdogan’s rights to convert Hagia Sophia and other Greek Orthodox churches into mosques.  Meanwhile, coin collectors are concerned overbroad restrictions will result in an embargo of most, if not all, ancient Greek coins of "Turkish type" circulating in legitimate markets in Europe.  The real question is whether the Biden Administration, which is so keen to overturn everything associated with Trump, will consider these concerns seriously before issuing any  implementing regulations. 

Monday, January 25, 2021

State Department Excludes Jewish Religious or Ceremonial Objects from Moroccan Designated List, but More Coins, Even Rope Embargoed.

 On January 22, 2021, U.S. Customs announced new State Department import restrictions on Moroccan cultural goods.  The extensive designated list may be found here.

For the first time, the regulations include a statement that the designated list of ethnological objects does not include Jewish ceremonial or religious objects.  While this is good news, it does raise a few issues.  First, it contradicts prior State Department claims to Jewish groups and coin collectors that it is impossible to grant such “exemptions.”  Second, none of the other MENA import restrictions have such language and in fact several (the MOU with Egypt comes to mind) explicitly include Jewish items.  Finally, it is unclear whether this exemption will be applied elsewhere. Unlike most MENA  countries, Morocco has good relations with the Jewish community.  As much as they would like to hope this is a trend, Jewish groups probably cannot assume the same exemption will be applied to all new MOU's or renewals of current MENA MOU's, particularly where Jewish populations have been forcibly displaced.

There are exceptionally broard restrictions placed on everything else again including “rope.”  (Sort of an inside joke at this point).  The restrictions on coins appear exceptionally broad too:

10. Coins—This category includes

coins of Numidian, Mauretanian, Greek/

Punic, Roman, Byzantine, Islamic, and

Medieval Spanish types that circulated

primarily in Morocco, ranging in date

from the fifth century B.C. to A.D. 1750.

Coins were made in copper, bronze,

silver, and gold. Examples may be

square or round, have writing, and show

imagery of animals, buildings, symbols,

or royal figures.

Yet, they are also essentially meaningless; with a few possible exceptions, coins that circulated within Morocco "primarily circulated" not there, but elsewhere.  

Oddly, Spanish coins are also mentioned, though Spain occupies two ports, Ceuta and Melilla on the Moroccan coast.  Portugal first captured Ceuta in 1415. Spanish rule began in 1581 when the Portuguese kingdom merged with the Spanish Kingdom. Melilla has been Spanish since 1497. Perhaps, the Moroccans wish the Spanish were not there, but to recognize Moroccan rights to claim Spanish coins can only be viewed as the State Department Cultural Heritage Center and U.S. Customs treading in areas that should be reserved for other parts of the U.S. State Department.