Thursday, January 27, 2022

Summary of January 25, 2022, Cultural Property Advisory Committee Meeting to Discuss Proposed Renewals and Amendments of MOUs with Cyprus and Mali and a Proposed Renewal of a MOU with Guatemala

                 On January 25, 2022, the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) met to consider proposed renewals and amendments of MOUs with Cyprus and Mali and a proposed renewal of a MOU with Guatemala.  CPAC carried over a discussion of the Cypriot renewal from its October 5, 2021, meeting.  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); Rachael Fulton Brown (Archaeology?); (7) Anthony Wisniewski (Collector-Sale of International Cultural Property); (8) Mark Hendricks (Sale of International Cultural Property); and (9) David Tamasi (International Sale of Cultural Property).  Allison Davis, CPAC’s State Department Executive Director, and Michele Prior, also of ECA, were also present.

                Chairman Passantino welcomed the speakers.  He apologized for starting late due to some technical difficulties.  He indicated that the Committee had read all the comments, and speakers could only be allotted 4 minutes time given the busy schedule.  The speakers would be divided up according to subject matter.  The Chair also reserved a short amount of time for questions.

                The following speakers addressed the Committee on Mali: (1) Kathleen Bickford Berzock (Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University); (2) Kate FitzGibbon (Committee for Cultural Policy and Global Heritage Alliance); (3) Susan McIntosh (Rice University). Barbara Arroyo (Society for American Archaeology) addressed the Committee about Guatemala.   The following speakers spoke specifically about import restrictions on coins: (1) Peter Tompa (Peter Tompa Law representing the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN)); (2) Robert Leonard (private collector); and (3) Randy Myers (Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG)).  The following speakers focused their comments on Cyprus: (1) Andrew McCarthy (College of Southern Nevada); (2) Josh Knerly (Hahn Loeser representing Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD); (3) Helena Aroz (HA) (Antiquities Coalition); (4) Lindy Crewe(Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI); and (5) Dr. Despina Pilides (former Curator of Antiquities, Cypriot Department of Antiquities).  The following speakers covered all the MOUs at issue: (1) Dr. Brian Daniels (Archaeological Institute of America); and (2) Dr. Marlene Losier (ML) (Losier Gonz law firm).

                Kathleen Bickford Berzock (KBB) indicates that the Caravans of Gold exhibit demonstrates that Mali has engaged in cultural exchange.  KBB believes that Mali has done all it could to preserve its cultural patrimony despite political instability and the pandemic.

                Kate FitzGibbon (KFG) does not believe Mali has met any of the four determinations before import restrictions may be renewed.  There are minimal exports coming from Mali with only $691 of cultural goods being exported in 2019.  There is a concern with insufficient notice of any amendment.  The Federal Register indicates that the request only goes up to the mid-18th c. while the Cultural Heritage Center’s website suggests that restrictions up to the 1920’s will be considered.  Most of the Malian material on the market was exported during the French Colonial period.  Mali has failed to fund its cultural heritage sector.  MOUs should not be renewed over and over again if they are not making a difference.  Most of the effort to protect Malian cultural heritage seems to have been funded from abroad.  The US Government made a significant grant back in 2020.  We need to insist on better benchmarks before the MOU is renewed.  The real problem in Mali is political turmoil, most recently with a military coup.  There should also be safe haven given to Malian artifacts in the event of further armed conflict that could destroy cultural heritage.

                The Committee for Cultural Policy’s and Global Heritage Alliance’s papers can be found here:




                Susan McIntosh (SM) did not have time to submit written comments.  The MOU with Mali is necessary to reduce looting.  The Malian government has done what it can to protect its own cultural heritage by creating nine cultural missions.  These formerly had been funded by taxes on tourists who are now scarce due to Covid and political instability.  Despite the lack of taxes, the Malian government has still funded this effort to the best of its ability.  Looting remains a problem at least with lower value material.

                Barbara Arroyo (BA) supports renewal of the MOU with Guatemala.  The MOU is important to stem criminal activities.  Most of the problems occur where the government does not have adequate resources to protect cultural heritage.  There is an ongoing effort to work with the Catholic Church to document religious artifacts.  There is still a looting problem.  Recently, the US recovered 257 Guatemalan archaeological items.  US archaeologists have not only funded digs, but the training of Guatemalan archaeologists. 

                The Society for American Archaeology’s papers can be found here:

                Peter Tompa (PT) noted that there were no import restrictions on coins for 25 years after the CPIA was passed into law.  This is not surprising as coins are items of commerce, and while they may be of “archaeological interest,” they are not generally of “cultural significance.”  In 2007, this changed under questionable circumstances that raise fairness questions.  Coin collectors are realists and recognize such import restrictions are here to stay, but a reset is warranted in how they are implemented.  First, to be consistent with the Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”), restrictions should only be placed on coins that are exclusively or actually found in Cyprus.  The State Department’s current standard, based on where a coin “primarily circulated” simply ignores the statutory requirements.  Second, even if this standard is utilized, all Cypriot mint gold coins and Cypriot mint coins of Alexander the Great and his immediate successors struck on an Attic weight standard should be delisted based on hoard evidence.  Third, the State Department should only utilize neutral experts to prepare designated lists and meet and confer with the trade and collectors about such lists.  Under no circumstances should collectors have to guess what coins are restricted and which are not restricted.  Finally, there should be no restrictions on Spanish Colonial and Republican era coins from Guatemalan mints.  These coins either do not meet the 250-year-old threshold for archaeological objects or are not normally discovered on the ground.  They are not ethnological objects because they are not the products of tribal cultures but what were for the time sophisticated industrial processes.  Moreover, one cannot assume they are found in Guatemala because they travelled widely in international commerce and even served as legal tender in the United States until 1857. 

                PT’s oral comments can be found here:

                IAPN’s written comments can be found here:


Cyprus Supplemental:


                Robert Leonard (RL) states that import restrictions should not be extended to Crusader era coins.  Examination of the actual object is essential for proper scholarship, and import blockages will harm the study of medieval Cypriot numismatics in the United States.  Such coins were well known to Italian merchants.  The hoard evidence presented proves that they circulated outside of Cyprus in quantity.  Legitimate Cypriot dealers only sell Cypriot coins imported from abroad.  Import restrictions only hurt American collectors buying such coins from third countries.  It makes absolutely no sense to restrict Guatemalan coins because that would be restricting what were legal tender in the United States. 

                RL’s written testimony can be found here:

                Randy Myers (RM) wants to focus his comments on behalf of the ACCG on one procedural and one substantive issue.  Procedurally, the Federal Register notice fails to indicate specifically that there will be an effort to amend the Cypriot MOU to include more coins.  This does not provide sufficient notice to allow collectors to comment. Substantively, there is no indication that less drastic measures have been considered before import restrictions have been imposed on coins.  One such less drastic measure would be for Cyprus to adopt a program akin to the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme.  This program requires coins that are found to be reported so they can be recorded and gives the State a right of first refusal over coins for a payment of fair market value.  CPAC should also recommend that the State Department honor export permits from fellow EU members for imports of Cypriot coins.

                The ACCG’s written testimony can be found here:

                Andrew McCarthy (AM) states that MOUs are a crucial tool.  Coins should be included because how is he supposed to know if a coin on the market was stolen from his archaeological site unless the burden of proof is placed on collectors to provide a provenance for it.  McCarthy hopes the MOU will be expanded to include both very early material as well as a rolling date for material over 100 years old.  Early settlements have been looted for paleolithic tools.  Archaeological remains of a famous bandit dating from the early 20th century should also be protected. 

                Josh Knerly (JK) focuses on the fourth determination that asks if 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.  He notes that this provision contemplates collaboration far broader than that related to the exchange of archaeological and ethnological material because “cultural property” is far more broadly defined in the CPIA and UNESCO Convention.  He also notes that the boilerplate Article II placed in the current Cypriot MOU fails to set forth specific criteria to facilitate such cultural exchange.  The same issues arise with regard to the MOUs with Guatemala and Mali.  There is a separate “action plan” for Mali which addresses these issues to some extent, but JK questions whether the State Department will allow CPAC to make recommendations to modify it in an effort to stimulate cultural exchange.

                The AAMD’s written testimony on Cyprus can be found here:

                Helena Aroz (HA) viewed the 2016 CPAC proceedings on Cyprus.  MOUs are important in combatting looting and benefit collectors and dealers by keeping looted material off the market.  They complement widely held ethical guidelines.  HA also had the opportunity to excavate in Cyprus where she saw firsthand that looting leads to the loss of important information.  She also had excellent interchanges with the Cypriot people and remembers fondly being invited to attend local weddings.  MOUs are also important in fostering cultural exchange. 

                The Antiquity Coalition’s paper on Cyprus can be found here:

                Lindy Crewe (LC) speaks about CAARI’s efforts as the only on-site American archaeological organization in Cyprus.  CAARI hosts both US scholars and US tourists. It has hosted Fulbright scholars and interacts with the 17 US archaeological digs on Cyprus.  There have been major advances in the study of Byzantine and Colonial era archaeology which also deserves protection.  Looting has also impacted the ability to study DNA when cemeteries are disturbed.    

                Dr. Despina Pilides (DP) strongly supports the MOU.  She previously was the curator for the Department of Antiquities in charge of museums.  She also worked on archaeological digs and has been a Chair of ICOM, the International Council of Museums.  A study indicates that one-half of the Byzantine material that was left in the Turkish occupied zone remains missing.  There needs to be strong protections for Byzantine and Ottoman era artifacts.  There has been an effort to digitize Byzantine era artifacts from the Turkish zone that are in the museum at Nicosia.  Coins are important for Cypriot history and should be protected to help protect the context in which they are found. 

                DP’s written testimony can be found here:

                Dr. Brian Daniels (BD) mentions that the AIA has over 200,000 members [the vast majority of this number are individuals who subscribe to Archaeology Magazine].  The AIA supports renewals of MOUS with Mali, Cyprus and Guatemala.  Import restrictions are an important tool in discouraging looting of archaeological sites. The MOU with Cyprus should be made consistent with that of Greece and Turkey regarding what coins should be covered.  There have been long term loans of objects provided by Cyprus, Guatemala and Mali.  Mali in particular has done what it can despite political turmoil.

                The AIA’s papers can be found here:

                Dr. Marlene Losier (ML) supports renewals and expansion of import restrictions to new categories as part of a “progressive view” of the development of the law.  By entering into such MOUs we encourage other countries to protect our own heritage both abroad and even in space like the Apollo 11 landing site.

                Chairman Passantino then allowed CPAC members a brief time for questions.

                Anthony Wisniewski observed that most of the oral and written testimony reflected the opinions of the speakers.  He also noted that CPAC cannot apply a “progressive view of the law” because it is obliged to apply Congressional statutes as written.  He notes that coin collectors have produced information from third party academic sources that by their nature have a much higher degree of reliability than the arguments of the participants.  He asks PT if he agrees with the statement that those sources show that over 95% of the Cypriot mint coins of Alexander the Great are found outside of Cyprus.  PT agrees.  He then indicates this carries a burden on this point which has not been contested by proponents of the restrictions. 

                Joan Connelly asks DP about the digitization of collections.  DP says some 96,000 objects have been digitized.  There has been a special effort to digitize items in the Nicosia Museum that come from the occupied North of Cyprus.  She then reiterates the importance of coins.

                Karol Wight asks JK about Cyprus’ lack of an immunity from seizure law.  JK indicates such a law patterned on those of other EU countries would help facilitate loans. 

                Chairman Passantino then thanked the speakers and CPAC went into a recess for lunch before reconvening. 

                Some additional testimony on the Cypriot renewal can be found in this summary of CPAC’s October 5, 2021, meeting:  

Tuesday, January 25, 2022

Comments from Today's CPAC Hearing: It’s Time for a Reset for Import Restrictions on Coins

 I said this more or less at today's CPAC hearing to discuss proposed renewals of MOUs with Cyprus and Guatemala: 

            I am speaking on behalf of IAPN which represents the micro and small businesses of the numismatic trade.  In many ways, this hearing is a much greater test for CPAC than for ancient coin collectors.  We’ve heard a lot in the past several years about how the system is rigged.  Here, unfortunately, there is convincing evidence that may be the case.  

            For 25 years after the CPIA was passed, there were no restrictions on coins.   This should be no surprise.  Coins are items of commerce.  So, it is difficult for modern nation states to justifiably claim them as their “cultural property.”  They are among the most common of historical artifacts and while they may be of “archaeological interest”, they are generally not of “cultural significance.”  They are avidly collected and traded worldwide including in Cyprus.  It simply makes no sense to preclude Americans from importing such coins.   Indeed, when the CPIA was being discussed, Mark Feldman, a high-ranking State Department lawyer, represented to Congress that it was “hard … to imagine a case where we would need to deal with coins except in the most unusual circumstances.”

            In 2007, all this changed with Cypriot coins.   According to the declarations of two former CPAC Members, including Former Chair Kislak, that change was made against CPAC’s recommendations.  Moreover, there was an attempt to mislead the public and the Congress about CPAC’s opposition to import restrictions on coins.  Even worse, the decision maker made the decision after she had already announced she was leaving for a job at Goldman Sachs, where she was recruited by and worked for the husband of a former AIA trustee and the founder of the Antiquities Coalition, which has been highly active lobbying for import restrictions.  How can such a decision be a fair one?

            We are realists and understand at this point that import restrictions on coins are probably here to stay, but CPAC can still advocate for a reset on how they are implemented.  First, CPAC should insist that the State Department only apply restrictions to coins that are “exclusively found” within Cyprus or to those where there is proof that they were illicitly excavated there.  Only such coins can be “first discovered within, and … subject to export control by” Cyprus as required by the CPIA at 19 U.S.C. § 2601(2).   In contrast, the State Department’s current standard based on where a coin “primarily circulated” simply ignores these requirements.

            Second, even under a “primarily circulated” standard, certain coin types on the current designated list should be removed.  Here, numismatic research proves that all Cypriot mint gold and all Attic standard Hellenistic silver coins of Alexander the Great, Philip and Demetrius did not “primarily circulate” within Cyprus and should be delisted.

            Third, CPAC should ensure that the State Department only uses neutral experts to help prepare designated lists; not ones who have advocated for import restrictions in the past.  At a minimum, State should be directed to meet and confer with collectors and the trade on the contents of these lists.  Under no circumstances should collectors and US Customs be forced to guess what coin types are restricted and which are not, as is the case with the recent Turkish and amended Greek lists.

            Finally, no new restrictions should be contemplated for Guatemalan coins.  Spanish Colonial and Republican era coins are not archaeological in nature; they either do not meet the 250-year threshold and/or are not “normally discovered” within the ground.  Nor do such coins meet the definition of ethnological objects.  They are not the products of tribal cultures but were produced en masse with sophisticated industrial processes.  Finally, due to their wide circulation in international commerce, one cannot assume such coins were “first discovered within” and hence were “subject to export control by” Guatemalan authorities. Indeed, early coins that circulated within Guatemala were also legal tender in the United States until 1857.

            With these recommended actions, CPAC can demonstrate that it operates with fairness and adheres to the CPIA’s statutory requirements. 

            Thank you.

Friday, January 7, 2022

State Department reopens record for renewal and possible amendment of the current MOU with Cyprus; Renewals of MOUs with Guatemala and Mali also to be discussed.

The State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and its Cultural Heritage Center have provided public notice of a Cultural Property Advisory Committee meeting on January 25 and 26 to discuss a renewal of a MOU with Guatemala, and renewals and possible amendments of current MOUs with Cyprus and Mali.  The public notice can be found here. A direct link to comment can be found here.  It is important that any comments be received before the January 18, 2021 11:59 PM deadline. That is also the deadline to inform the Cultural Heritage Center if you want to speak at the hearing. 

The renewal and possible amendment of the MOU with Cyprus was to be discussed last October, but consideration of the request was bumped to CPAC's January meeting given a last minute addition of proposed "emergency import restrictions" on behalf of Afghanistan being placed on the docket.  CPO has covered the CPAC public meeting that discussed that absurd request that will only benefit the Taliban regime here.  At this juncture, we have not heard one way or the other whether the State Department will actually go through with authorizing such import restrictions that would claw back Afghan heritage imported from legitimate markets in Europe just so it can be handed over to the iconoclasts who blew up the Bamiyan Buddhas and smashed many of the statues in the Kabul Museum. 

In any case, that report also includes links to papers submitted by the ACCG, IAPN, and Alan Berman about the proposal to extend and amend the Cypriot MOU.  Collectors of Byzantine, Crusader and Turkish coins should beware; it is likely that this renewal will be used as a vehicle to amend current restrictions on Archaic, Classical, Hellenistic, and Roman Provincial coins minted in Cyprus to include such later issues.   

Please consider commenting if you failed to do so back in September because silence will be spun as acquiescence.  A guide on the request and what to say can be found here.  Those of you who also collect Latin American coinage should also consider commenting on the Guatemalan request.  The issues there are similar to those raised with regard to MOUs with other Latin American countries.  As described in  IAPN's paper about last year's Peruvian request, Spanish Colonial and Republican era coinage of Latin American countries simply fail to meet the threshold criteria for archaeological or ethnological objects.  Spanish Colonial and Republican era coins cannot be considered archaeological objects because they are not normally discovered in the ground.  Nor can they be properly viewed as ethnological objects.  They are the products of what at the time were sophisticated industrial practices, not crafts of tribal societies.  Moreover, such coins circulated widely, including within the United States, where they were legal tender until 1857. 

On Mali, there are no numismatic issues as far as CPO can tell. Evidently, the people of Mali preferred to use salt as currency rather than coins.  The first Malian coins were not local, but French Colonial issues from the late 19th c, making Mali one of the few countries coin collectors at least have little to worry about. Or, maybe we all should be worried if the State Department embargoes Malian salt as cultural heritage and US Customs bans all salt imports because even trained customs inspectors cannot tell Malian from other types of salt.  Don't laugh!  Recently, "rope" became targets of such embargoes, although to be fair any rope shortage appears to be the result of pandemic related supply chain issues and not cultural property embargoes.