Monday, February 12, 2024

State Department Inks New and Renewed MOUs with Authoritarian Governments After Giving and Getting A Little Help From Its Friends

In the last several months, the State Department has inked a significant number of cultural property MOUs with authoritarian governments.   These include new MOUs with Uzbekistan and Pakistan as well as renewals of current MOUs with Cambodia and Communist China.  Given their authoritarian nature, it is no surprise that these governments have demanded that such agreements cover the cultural heritage of displaced minorities and a wide array of artifacts, including common ones like collector's coins, which are legally, or at least openly, sold in these countries.  What should be more concerning is that our State Department now apparently feels that "soft power" is more important than honestly balancing the interests of impacted groups as Congress contemplated in the  Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.  And in doing so, the State Department has gone so far as funding archaeological advocacy groups to help "check the box" to help justify such dubious decision making. 

Monday, February 5, 2024

Public Meeting of the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee to Consider Renewal with Algeria and Proposed MOU with India

 On January 30, 2024, the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) met in a virtual public session to hear testimony regarding a proposed renewal of MOUs with Algeria and a new proposed MOU with the Republic of India.  An update on the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA’s) website made shortly before the hearing provided further information about the scope of the requests.  See Cultural Property Advisory Committee Meeting, January 30 – February 1, 2024, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs Media Center (November 29, 2023) (but subsequently updated), available at (last visited February 3, 2024).   Although that update was subsequently deleted, it stated that Algeria sought no change to the current exceptionally broad designated list for import restrictions, and that India sought a breathtakingly broad list of items to be covered which included cultural goods made as recently as the end of the British Raj in 1950:


 The Government of India seeks import restrictions on archaeological and ethnological materials dating from 1.7 million years ago to 100 years ago, including objects dating from the Paleolithic, Mesolithic, Neolithic, Ancient Periods (including, but not limited to, the Indus Valley Civilization, Maurayan Empire, Shunga Empire, Gandharan Kingdom, Gupta Period, and the Gurjara-Pratihara, Rastrakuta, and Pala Dynasties), and Historic Periods (including, but not limited to, the Chola Dynasty, Delhi Sultanate, Mughal Empire, and the British Raj).  Categories of objects include stone tools and artifacts, terracotta figurines, toys, coins and medals, seals and sealing, molds, dies, sculpture, utensils, architectural materials, arms and ammunition, scientific instruments, and jewelry and toiletries.  Protection is also sought for miniature paintings, art pieces in cloth and paper, and manuscripts dating from the 7th century CE to 75 years ago. 

 Id. (but subsequently deleted from the website). 

 The CPAC members did not introduce themselves before the public session, but CPAC currently includes the following members: (1) Alexandra Jones (Chair, Represents/Expertise Archaeology, Anthropology, related fields, CEO Archaeology in the Community, Washington, DC); (2) Alex Barker (Represents/Expertise Archaeology, Anthropology, related fields) Director, Arkansas Archeological Survey, Arkansas); (3) Mirriam Stark, Represents/Expertise Archaeology, Anthropology, related fields, Professor of Anthropology, University of Hawaii); (4) Nii Otokunor Quarcoopome (Represents/Expertise Museums, Curator and Department head, Detroit Museum of Art); ( (5) Andrew Conners (Represents/Expertise Museums, Director, Albuquerque Museum, New Mexico); (6) Michael Findlay (Represents/Expertise: International Sale of Cultural Property, Director, Acquavella Galleries, New York); (7) Amy Cappellazzo, Represents/Expertise: International Sale of Cultural Property, Principal, Art Intelligence Global; (8) Cynthia Herbert (Represents/Expertise: International Sale of Cultural Property President, Appretium Appraisal Services LLC, Connecticut); (9) Thomas R. Lamont (Represents Public, President of Lamont Consulting Services, LLC, Illinois);  (10) Susan Schoenfeld Harrington  (Represents Public, Past Deputy Finance Chair, Democratic National Committee, Past Board member, China Art Foundation); and, (11) William Teitelman (Represents General Public, Legislative Counsel to the PA Trial Lawyers Association, Attorney (Retired)).

 The Chair, Alexandra Jones, welcomed the speakers and assured them that their written comments had been read.  She indicated that speakers would be given 5 minutes each. 

 Dr. Mark Lycett was the first speaker.  He is the director at the South Asia Resources Center at the University of Pennsylvania.  He supported the MOU and thought that import restriction will help encourage continued collaboration between the Indian government and American archaeologists.  His talk focused on looting of temple complexes for idols.

 Prof. Miriam Stark (represents archaeology) asked Lycett if he had observed looting.  He says yes, particularly of temple complexes.  He had not seen metal detectors in use but understood they are used.

 His written comments can be found here: (last visited February 3, 2024).

 Kate FitzGibbon (Executive Director, Committee for Cultural Policy) spoke about India.  India has a terrible record of neglect of its archaeological heritage and its government, run by Hindu religious supremacists, has engaged in a policy of destroying the cultural heritage of its Muslim population.  The Indian legal system is ineffective at dealing with looting.   What has been returned already has neglected.   Many of the bronze idols that have been returned suffer from bronze disease because they have not been conserved.  During the British Raj both Indian and British enthusiasts built up great collections, many of which were removed from India right after Independence due to fear that the post-independence Socialist leaning government would confiscate them. 

 Despite Ms. FitzGibbon’s obvious knowledge of the subject, there were no questions. 

 The Committee for Cultural Policy and the Global Heritage Alliance’s written comments on the proposed MOU with India can be found here: (last visited February 3, 2024)

 Sanja Kampoor briefly spoke.  He indicated that he agreed with the points made in Kate FitzGibbon’s testimony. 

 Nicholas Fritz spoke next.  Fritz is a young professional numismatist with Stack’s Bowers auction house.  He indicated that the Indian MOU request as to coins was over broad, including many types well-known to scholarship, which should not be restricted.  He further indicated that an MOU would only encourage smuggling.  

 Alexandra Jones (Chair, representing archaeology) and Miriam Stark (representing archaeology) asked Fritz a series of hostile questions.  Jones wanted to know why modern-day India should not be able to control the heritage of all of historic India (which included Pakistan and Bangladesh), and Stark debated with Fritz about the importance of coins as archaeological artifacts.  (Comment:  The belligerent tone both Ms. Jones and Ms. Stark used with Mr. Fritz did not reflect well either on CPAC or the Biden Administration that appointed them.  If the State Department really wants public comment, it should advise CPAC members of their responsibility to treat members of the public, particularly those who have never appeared before the Committee, with respect.)

 Peter Tompa (Executive Director, International Association of Professional Numismatists) was called to speak next.   He made the point that the designated list for Algeria and the proposed one for India were greatly overbroad, including coin types that circulated far outside these countries.  He also indicated that later coins, particularly of the Raj, do not fit the definitions of either archaeological or ethnological objects necessary for them to be restricted.  All coins of the British Raj are less than 250 years old and hence cannot be treated as archaeological objects under the governing statute. Additionally, they are the products of what at the time were sophisticated industrial practices, so they cannot be treated as ethnological objects.  He also discussed the large internal market in India and how given such a market, import restrictions that only impact American collectors made no sense.  He also noted that collecting is necessary because governments and museums cannot preserve all the coins out there. Finally, he discussed the importance of regulating metal detectors as a self-help measure and a less drastic remedy.  In so doing, Tompa made clear that the British Portable Antiquities scheme and Treasure Act were the preferred method of regulation. Tompa closed by recalling that he had met an Indian collector some years ago who had built up his collection by buying coins from jewelers in India, who would have otherwise melted the coins for bullion.  Tompa provided members of CPAC with a real-world example to show that collectors are essential for the preservation of coins. 

 Miriam Stark (representing archaeology) stated her belief that coins must be restricted because they are important for archaeology.  She demanded to know if Tompa had ever worked at an archaeological site.  He indicated he had not, but he had discussed the issue with others who had.  Tompa indicated that archaeologists mainly see coins as dating tools, but they are generally poor tools for dating archaeological strata because historical coins circulated for long periods of time and only coins from secured contexts were really useful for that purpose.  Stark also asserted that CPAC had no right to suggest that the Indian government regulate metal detectors.  Tompa indicated the governing statute requires as much and before the State Department started issuing generic MOUs, an agreement with Cyprus required as much.  He suggested that Stark should consult with State Department lawyers about the statutory requirements for MOUs. 

 The International Association of Professional Numismatists’ comments for the proposed renewal of the MOU with Algeria can be found here: (last visited February 3, 2024).

 The International Association of Professional Numismatists’ comments for the proposed MOU with India can be found here:  (last visited February 3, 2024).

 Tompa’s personal comments can be found here: (last visited February 3, 2024). 

 Randy Myers spoke next on behalf of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild.   He raised concerns about insufficient public notice for CPAC meetings, including the details of any requests.  He noted that the State Department website that announced the upcoming CPAC meeting, though dated November 29, 2023, was updated just recently to include more details about the request, but misleadingly without indicating the date the text was modified.  (Perhaps in response, the State Department recently deleted this additional information from the post.)  Myers also reiterated the argument that one cannot assume many of the coins on the Algerian designated list or conceivably might be on the one for India were actually found there.  He also discussed the importance of considering a portable antiquities scheme as a less drastic measure before imposing import restrictions.  Finally, he also indicated that neither Algeria or India should be awarded rights to coin issues of displaced or discriminated minorities.  This would include Christian Spanish and Byzantine coins and many Muslim coins from India.

 Alexandra Jones (chair, representing archaeology) debated with Myers about the notice requirements, maintaining that the State Department only needed to give the public 15 days’ notice.   Myers explained based on his long experience as an attorney for a large federal agency, he believed that the law requires 60 days’ notice.  He also indicated that if Jones wants to encourage informed public comment, 60 days’ notice is essential. 

 The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild’s and the American Numismatic Association’s joint written comments can be found here: (last visited February 3, 2024).

Elias Gerasoulis (Executive Director, Global Heritage Alliance) next spoke on behalf of both the Global Heritage Alliance and the Committee for Cultural Policy with regard to the proposed renewal of the MOU with Algeria.  Gerasoulis indicated that Algeria had failed to meet any of the statutory for renewal.   He further indicated that CPAC should not recommend a renewal of a MOU that recognizes the rights of Algeria’s authoritarian government to the cultural heritage of its displaced Jewish population.

 The Global Heritage Alliance’s and the Committee for Cultural Policy’s comments for the proposed renewal of the MOU with Algeria can be found here: (last visited February 3, 2024).

 Ömür Harmanşah (Vice President for Cultural Heritage, Archaeological Institute of America) spoke briefly in support of both MOUs.  He indicated that both countries had met their statutory burdens and MOUs should be completed with each.  

 The Archaeological Institute of America’s comments with regard to India can be found here: (last visited February 3, 2024).

 Those related to Algeria can be found here: (last visited February 3, 2024).

 Peter Herdrich (Executive Project Director, Algerian Cooperative Plan for the Digitization of HeritageCEO, Cultural Capital Group) discussed a digitization project for Algerian museum and private collections paid for by the US government which also involved the Antiquities Coalition.  Herdrich maintained that this US government funded program showed that Algeria was engaged in protecting its own cultural heritage. (Comment:  There is a real question whether money paid to US contractors who also lobby for MOUs should be considered “self-help.”  See  (last visited February 5, 2024).)

Nii Otokunor Quarcoopome (representing museums) asked Herdrich if any of these efforts were directed at preserving Jewish and Berber culture.  Hedrich responded by indicating that such materials were included in the inventories of institutions that were partner organizations. 

 Herdrich’s written comments can be found here: (last visited February 3, 2024).