Friday, 15 October 2010

CPAC Hearing on the Proposed US-Greek Bilateral Cultural property Agreement

Peter Tompa has presented his report of the October 12, 2010 CPAC Hearing on the Proposed Greek MOU which is far more detailed, and has to be said apparently a good deal more objective, than the ACCG's Executive Director's version discussed earlier here.

Tompa paid especial attention any time the word "coins" was used, it seems a fair number of people supported including coins as archaeological artefacts and thus as such items which should be protected from illegal export. Coins are small artefacts, easily concealed for smuggling, and there is a large market that asks no questions, making it very easy to obtain money for their resale once they are out of the source country. Figures were quoted that some 61% of seizures of illegally exported artefacts from Greece were numismatic items. So, I really cannot see how it is possible for coin collectors and dealers to pretend there is no looting of sites to find coins and that there is no trade of illegally exported coins into the US. What does it tell you about the "integrity" of the US market that it is in denial about this and refusing to allow the US government to attempt to take steps to remedy the situation?

It is interesting to compare Tompa's account of what AIA president Brian Rose said with Sayles' scandal-raising account. Sayles says that Rose had asserted that "he was not aware of any schism between the collector community and the archaeological community", and I remarked that it would be useful to see the context of this. Here is what Tompa says about that:
Rose then agreed with trade representative Korver’s comment that what we know about coins is the product of a close collaboration between numismatists and archaeologists. When asked by Korver about why a schism between numismatists and archaeologist now exists, Rose disagreed that there is such a schism.
I suppose the question is now who Brian Rose considers a numismatist, is it Sad Sammy with his collection of 'zapped' Constantinian metal detected Balkan bronze coins from kilogramme bulk buys of the leavings of East Coast middlemen? Sayles uses the term inclusively, Rose well may have been using it exclusively to refer to published scholars engaged in numismatic research and curatorship. At any rate Tompa's account makes more sense than Sayles' - obviously present in the latter text to contrast with the opinion(s) he wanted to write about.

In contrast to the assertions contained in the "five points to mention to the CPAC" which Tompa drafted for dugup coin dealers to send to their clients, Tompa at last concedes that the Greek request for a BIlateral agreement - quelle surprise - only seeks restrictions on artefacts that were found on Greek territory. This was a point reiterated by Patty Gerstenblith of DePaul University and the Lawyers Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation. She indicated that
the “first discovery” requirement is implicit in any designated list, in that an artifact must be found in a country for which restrictions are granted rather than produced there. She also indicated as more MOU’s are entered into, the first discovery issue will disappear [...] She acknowledged that the place of modern discovery is the country of origin for purposes of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”).
It seems to me that the result of all the fog-screens thrown up by the coin collecting community in this debate seems to be making a farce of the CPAC deliberations, requiring a hammer to crack a nut. Then the bit the ancient coin collecting world had been waiting for.
Wayne Sayles spoke next on behalf of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild. Given the lateness of the hour, he departed from his prepared remarks to make a few points.
That is a shame he backed down, he was going to tell a State Department-supported committee about the coins a former State Department employee brought back from his period of government service in Afghanistan. That might have been entertaining - anyway he sent the text as a written comment too, so you can read all about it and imagine what questions the CPAC might have had for him. Anyhow, the comedy relief was supplied by Rick Witschonke who "spoke next on his own behalf", Mr Tompa does not record if he and later speakers departed from their original text due to "the lateness of the hour", but says:
Like he did at the Italian MOU hearing, he suggested that Greece adopt a program similar to the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in Britain and Wales.
Britain's lax heritage protection laws and the cop-out compromise continue to wreak havoc in the international debate. Witschonke presumably told the CPAC how he thinks having a programme where people can show what they have previously looted will STOP LOOTING and illegal export. Witschonke is a pal of US numismatists' Friend Roger Bland. Maybe since he keeps coming out with this "why don't you copy the Brits?" nonsense, might also like to explain in the context of the discussion on the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (which nota bene is about regulating imports with reference to export approval by the source country and NOT "recording finds") what he thinks is the connection between the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme in Britain and Wales and the mechanisms for applying for an export licence in the UK. There actually is NO connection at all, these are two entirely different procedures and guided by entirely different principles.

Also it should be noted that the people trotting out this argument (and Witschonke here has been no exception) persist in calling the people by whose agency the coins leave the ground "finders" - never "seekers". The idea is that - quite independently of what they want or desire - people going about their everyday lives "find" ancient artefacts by total accident and then have a decision to make about what to do with them. Is this in fact the case? Well, since coin collectors and dealers actually have absolutely no interest in (and therefore no information on) how and where the coins they buy and collect were found, I doubt that Witschonke can tell us. But since he is deeply enamoured with the PAS he'll know that in Britain accidental finds are a very small proportion of the artefacts coming in to be reported (in 2005/6 - the later reports are down in my cellar - there were 3700 accidental finds found by "finders" but 39002 found by people who were out there looking for them ("seekers"). In Greece we'd call them looters. So if these figures are extrapolated (and I'd really like to hear from Witschonke why he'd think they cannot be), ninety percent of the coins the Greek authorities would be looking at, if such a scheme was instituted like he suggests, would be looted coins. I really would be interested to know how the ANS numismatist thinks that this would stop looting.

More unintentional comedy with Michael McCullough, an "attorney who practices customs law" who "first questioned whether the art market is contributing to looting in Greece". This would be on legal grounds, archaeological, or his idea of "common sense"? I'd like to see him add the adjectival phrase "no-questions-asked" to his statement - and then ask himself what part of the US market in antiquities that would cover. But of course if you look at what is written, he actually said "art market". The US art market covers all sorts of things, and antiquities-as-art is indeed only a small proportion of the total trade, which includes even Bill ("ink-stained hands") Donnovan's paintings. It this attorney's statement not like Clinton's famous 'Monica' denial - that it depends what words you use?
He then explained that US Customs has difficulty understanding that the country of origin of an antiquity under the CPIA is the modern find spot, not the country of manufacture.
The unfamiliarity of US Customs with the law of their own country seems hardly relevant to what the CPAC were supposed to be debating. It would seem that Chair was allowing the presentation throughout of irrelevant "evidence" and not being firm enough with speakers - which may give a clue to why the hour was already "late". With regards to what he said, I cannot see how a customs officer can identify a Guatamalan (as opposed to Honduran) pot imported from Munich by eye easier than he could see that a package containing a pot was dispatched from Guatamala or Honduras.

Vignette: re: "Art market" (Ricardo Ponce). I don't know who this artist is, but it looks like a depiction of the "internationalist" coin dealers' lobbyists after chair refused to let them pass round their coins for fondling at the CPAC meeting.


Anonymous said...

Brian Rose used to run a survey in Turkey (Granikos valley)-- publishedin Studia Troica vol. 10 ? 12 ?, wth historically not very good conclusions. I wonder how he came to be so collector-friendly at the head of the AIA-- did he fall out with the Turkish authorities and get banned ?

Paul Barford said...

In what way "not very good"? "Bad archaeological reasoning"-not very good, or "what the Turks did not want to hear"-not very good?
Actually, as I recall, the photo is from a meeting where Shelby White was thinking about handing out lottsa money for research - so the presence of the AIA president there is legitimate I guess if he can secure funds for the AIA or his home institution. The question of whether he should, is another thing entirely.

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