Saturday, 28 August 2010

Security problems abound in Egypt's museums

Interesting article - Hadeel Al-Shalchi: 'Security problems abound in Egypt's museums'. Californian coin dealer Dave Welsh posted it to antiquity forums and predictably and ungraciouly jeers:
We should, of course, strive to return all antiquities to State custody in their nations of origin so that they can be properly studied and cared for.
What of course we and others are "striving for" is to return all stolen antiquities to the people they were stolen from. Of course that does not stop other thieves from wanting to steal more stuff from the Egyptians and other "source nations" whose cultural property is coveted by unscrupulous thieves, traders and collectors. Welsh's complacency is ill-placed. The Cairo painting was small enough to hide on the person the Isabella Stewart Gardner paintings stolen from a Boston Museum show that it is not just in Africa that public collections are raided.

Friday, 27 August 2010

Urgent Request from CNG: Help to Keep the Flow of Illegally Exported Artefacts From Greece Unrestrained by US Law

Five False Arguments in the service of the dugup coin trade:

The Staff at coin dealer CNG, Inc. with offices in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and London, England is sending out an "Urgent Request from CNG" by email to all (?) its clients. This document asks for their help "to oppose any new restrictions on the trade of coins" resulting from the Greek government's request to the US to curb imports of ancient artefacts illegally exported from Greece by application of the measures allowed by the 1983 Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA). They are asking their clients to help by making their "thoughts known to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC), which will soon evaluate the Greek request". This matter is important because:
In the past, coins [illegally exported - PMB] from Greece have not been subject to restrictions of this type. If this new request is granted, the impact on both collectors and dealers could be substantial. Please see our instructions below to send CPAC your comments.
In case the poor dears cannot work it out for themselves The CNG instruct ancient dugup coin collectors how to do this and then give them some thoughts to express on their behalf:
Industry attorney Peter Tompa has suggested that collectors consider the following points:
(1) US law requires that restrictions only be applied on artifacts "first discovered in Greece." But hoard evidence demonstrates that Greek coins circulated extensively outside the confines of the modern Greek nation state.
(2) US law requires restrictions only be placed on artifacts of "cultural significance." But coins -- which exist in many multiples-- do not meet that particular criteria.
(3) US law requires that less drastic remedies be tried before import restrictions. But Greece has not tried systems akin the the UK Treasure Act before seeking restrictions.
(4) US law requires that restrictions be consistent with the interests of the international community in cultural exchanges. But restrictions will diminish the ability of American collectors to appreciate Greek culture and could greatly limit people to people contacts with other collectors in Europe.
(5) Restrictions are unfair and discriminatory to Americans. Collectors in the EU--including Greece-- have no similar limitations on their ability to import ancient coins.
[numbering of bullet points is mine PMB].
This is taken directly from a text posted a few hours earlier on Tompa's blog: Calling All Coin Collectors [Again]

What an extraordinary text. I am glad Mr Tompa is not my lawyer, though it is gratifying that he's the dugup coin industry's. Let us analyse these five interpretations of the CCPIA starting with the last.

Collectors in the EU in states which have signed or ratified the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property have of course the same rights to buy illegally exported ancient artefacts as US collectors should an MOU be signed. None. Article 8 of that convention is one that is rarely discussed in the US, and it would be worth collectors looking at it and pondering what it means. It means that all nations signatory to that Convention have a right to expect that all states party to it will respect that to the same measure. The United States is a state party to that but by means of its 1983 cop-out law (CPIA) announces that instead of accepting Art 8, it will apply another additional criterion. So far illegally exported coins from nations (like Greece) who are not on the State Department's list of "special cultural property friends of the US" pass effortlessly both ways through the barrier of bubbles that US customs comprises for all types of dugup and other cultural property. It is the US here who having signed the 1970 Convention is being discriminatory.

Let us look at Tompa's second "point". According to him, the CCPIA "requires restrictions only be placed on artifacts of "cultural significance" and says this does not apply to coins. He is referring it would seem to the Act's Section 302 [definitions] (2). Take a look at it, it is really badly composed (as I say, it is a cop-out law). Nevertheless the term "archaeological material of the State Party" in the understanding of the CCPIA means (A and C) any object or part of object "of archaeological interest". Then there is the bit which Tompa is so interested in: "For purposes of this paragraph" (by which is meant paragraph 2 which is by no means clear from the way this document is published on the State Department website) "[...] no object may be considered to be an object of archaeological interest unless such object (I) is of cultural significance; (II) is at least two hundred and fifty years old; and (III) was normally discovered as a result of scientific excavation, clandestine or accidental digging, or exploration on land or under water".

So the Greek request covers artefacts up to the mid eighteenth century ("at least 250 years" old see the transparent and deceptive attempt by an ACCG officer to provoke collectors by claiming that the measures will affect nineteenth century coins) and ancient Greek coins certainly are "normally discovered as a result of scientific excavation, clandestine or accidental digging, or exploration on land or under water". But Tompa (who collects coins) says that ancient coins are "not of cultural significance". This is rich coming from a group of people who use "numismatics" as a "window to the past" as one of them puts it, who claim that by collecting them they are learning about past cultures, even adding to our knowledge of ancient cultures. That they have a right to access this culture. Ancient coins are a product of ancient cultures, they bear all sorts of culturally coded information on them (the basis of the ACCG's revised claim in the Baltimore Illegal Coin Import Stunt - apparently written by Tompa's law firm). The coineys cannot have it both ways, either coins are "not objects of cultural significance", or they are - which is the justification for collecting them. (Mr Tompa's numismocentric blog of course is called "Cultural Property Observer")

The first of Tompa's points is really odd. He says that the CPIA "requires that restrictions only be applied on artifacts "first discovered in Greece"...". Although the garbled construction of the 1983 US cultural property cop-out law does not facilitate exegesis, by my reading this is by no means the case. Look at Section 302 [definitions] (2) The term "archaeological [....] material of the State Party" means [....]; or (C) any fragment or part of any object referred to in subparagraph (A) or (B); which was first discovered within, and is subject to export control by, the State Party". Any object or part of object. The "first discovered in" clause preceded by "or" however clearly applies to the class "any fragment or part of any object" and not to the objects "referred to in subparagraph (A) or (B)". What this seems to be referring to is a situation where looted stuff is taken out of a country, broken up and then sold off as individual pieces piecemeal, like for example mosaics ripped off Cypriot church walls and sold as "panels" by European dealers (the famous Kanakaria mosaic case came to light after the CCPIA was enacted). This is because it could be argued that, by dismemberment the objects become different objects from the ones that were illegally exported.

Nevertheless divigations on this are totally beside the point. It is clear that what is being discussed is how US customs are to react to packages coming from Greece containing ancient artefacts. For the duration of any eventual MOU, they are to look more carefully at the paperwork than they otherwise do. That is all, importers and exporters of ancient artefacts from Greece must make sure their papers are in order, that is all. Is that so difficult? For many dealers in the legitimate art and antiques market, even in the US, this is second nature. These measures are intended to help fight illegal exports of ancient artefacts from Greece, rather than control the flow of ancient material of Greek origin globally. The latter depiction of what source nations are proposing is a fallacy fostered by the dealers' lobby (the material produced by the ACCG being a particularly egregious example) and swallowed by the more gullible and easily roused among collectors who apparently are incapable of thinking these things out for themselves.

Tompa's thought Number Four was that the CCPIA requires that measures adopted by the President be consistent with the interests of the international community in cultural exchanges. Tompa argues that restrictions on coins illegally exported from Greece [which is what the Greek request concerns]: "will diminish the ability of American collectors to appreciate Greek culture" and furthermore "could greatly limit people to people contacts with other collectors in Europe". Well, let us recall the name of the Convention the CCPIA partially "implements" ( Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property). I wonder just what sort of 'people-to-people contacts' are involved in the illicit movement of saleable artefacts around and out of Europe. Perhaps they are precisely the type that the US and its voracious no-questions-asked market for antiquities should not be encouraging. The prevention of the import of illegally exported dugup cultural property will not probably unduly affect the ability of 300 million American citizens "to appreciate Greek culture". I think many of them would anyway be appalled if they knew the extent of the problem being caused by US dealers and private collectors. Many of them can gain an appreciation of the culture through its literature, drama, the licitly exported artefacts available in museums, those art books, multimedia or other representations and indeed travel to Greece. Anyway, I thought Tompa was arguing that ancient coins are NOT objects of cultural significance, so if so, how can they in any significant way contribute to the "appreciation" of Greek culture? [By the way, to "appreciate ancient Greek culture", many collectors collect stamps, phonecards and banknotes depicting ancient Greek themes, there are a lot of them, and their collection does no damage to the archaeological heritage - but I would expect the ACCG coineys to claim they are in some way superior to those non-erosive other collectors].

Then we come to the funniest of the five. Tompa's third point is that collectors should be instructing the CPAC that the CCPIA "requires that less drastic remedies be tried before import restrictions. But Greece has not tried systems akin the the UK Treasure Act before seeking restrictions". Wow. This refers to Section 303 [3] [implementation of Article 9 of the Convention] (a) [Agreement Authority] (1) [4], (C) (i). In brief this means that the President can apply the measures defined by the CCPIA if he decides that there is a looting problem ("the cultural patrimony of the State Party is in jeopardy" - unqualified) in the requesting state party, that the requesting state (duh) is itself undertaking measures outlined by the Convention (only) to counter the problem and curbing imports of illegally exported material by the US would help but only after determining that "(ii) remedies less drastic than the application of the restrictions set forth in such section are not available". Taken in context of Section 303 it can be seen that this has absolutely NOTHING to do with "systems akin to the UK Treasure Act" in Greece since the measures the President considers applying instead are domestic, US ones to deal with the problem which would be less drastic than applying import restrictions. (Note this clause is part of subparagraph C and not subparagraph B of Section 303 (a) (1).)

By the way, collectors might like to look at article 8 of the 2002 Greek antiquities legislation and consider just where the difference is between that and the United Kingdom's 1996 Treasure Act. I do not see any, but then I guess the problem is that collectors who follow the ACCG's Pied Piper simply have not looked.

This discussion of the CNG "Appeal" seems well to deserve my "collectors being led by the nose" vignette, I think. Let us keep an eye on the public comments and see how many of them have been able to work this out for themselves, and how many are firing off protests which simply echo what they have been told to say by the ACCG and the commercial arm, the CNG.

Oh, and before you go, just do please take a look at this post about the CNG's last appeal for help - see any similarities?

Antiquities Lobbyists Use Crude Scare Tactics Again to Snare Gullible Collectors

Wayne Sayles wrote it, sidekick Dave publicised it on the forums, giving it a crude propaganda spin.

For years the ACCG and its hangers on (see here and here for example) have been trying to drum up support among other collectors by trying to persuade them that "archaeologists" even want to take little kiddies' stamp collections away from them under the international conventions on cultural property, "you must join us in our fight", they say. Fortunately stamp collectors are a cannier lot than the collectors of ancient coins obviously are and they can see through the transparent ploy. There is no Ancient Stamp Collectors Guild fighting the cultural property policies of the US. Nor will there ever be. Most people (dealers and collectors) abide by the existing US and other regulations without a murmur, to everybody's benefit, its only the US collectors of dugup ancient coins that are kicking up an unseemly fuss.

Memorable also was the infamous deceit when the same people convinced thousands of collectors of ancient coins that, although nobody had actually seen (and still has not seen) the request, Italy had allegedly requested that the US gubn'mint stop all imports of any coins struck and found anywhere in the Roman Empire as "Italian cultural property". The claim is not only foundationless but so ridiculous that of course nobody normal would believe it. But guess what? Thousands of US ancient coin collectors apparently swallowed this hook, line and sinker and actually bombed the US State Department with thousands of faxes expressing their outrage at such an idea! Can you believe that? The ACCG apparently thinks what matters is quantity and not quality, and hoped to obtain the former by shock tactics and deceit. It did not matter that the story was invented, what mattered was the size of the response it generated. I really do hope the State Departement has all those faxes archived so future generations can see what complete idiots were responsible for the destruction of the world's archaeological heritage still in the first decades of the twenty first century.

Well, when I discussed this on my blog, I used a vignette of a bull being led by the nose, and I am using it again. Now Greece has asked the US to stop illegally exported items of Greek cultural property from entering the country. As we all know the request concerns archaeological and ethnological material from Greece dating to the Neolithic Period through the mid-eighteenth century. So what is happening?

Wayne Sayles wrote it, sidekick Dave publicised it on the forums, giving it a crude propaganda spin. Mr Sayles (deliberately?) does not say what the request covers, but Mr Welsh adds his commentary:
Although no formal disclosure has yet been made of the exact contents of the Greek request, it is widely expected that this did include coins, and that the request for restrictions on coins may extend from antiquity down to the independence of modern Greece.
Now obviously Mr Welsh has knowledge of the history of Greece that we do not posess. Apparently the War of Greek Independence was actually fought nearly a hundred years earlier than it says in the books. Guess that's what you get for looking at Wikipedia. So anyone who collects nineteenth century Ottoman coinage should get onto the State Department and tell them what is what. No matter that the 1983 CCPIA only applies to antiquities older than 250 years.

It seems to me a pattern is emerging here, the ACCG seems intent on drumming up support for its militant obstructionism by producing pseudo-facts of shock-horror value to provoke a knee-jerk reaction ("how could they?") from those too lazy to check the facts before firing off a response. These are not honest tactics, they are not ethical tactics. And they show not only how much respect the dealers of the ACCG have for the facts and open dialogue and debate about dealing with dugup cultural property, but also their total lack of respect for their clients, the collectors who it seems they are intent of time and time again misleading.

Thursday, 26 August 2010

Unprovenanced Greek Coins on the International Market

I am reminded of a case that came up last year on David Gill's Looting matters (Octodrachm seized in Switzerland: update)... Although we did not hear of the final outcome of this case, it seems the coineys are afraid that if Greece asks the US to step in and help stem the flow of illegal exports, seizures of this type will become more frequent. But what does this tell us about the current nature of the trade in such items? Does not talking about a problem make it go away?

What is the real significance of coiney claims about their "internationalism"?

UPDATE 12.01.2012:
Greece secures Swiss confiscation of rare ancient coin that was allegedly illegally excavated Washington Post 12th January 2012.

Photo: Is this the coin in question? "Kings of the Bisaltae, Mosses, Octodrachm" sold by Numismatica Ars Classica NAC AG last year (" Like much of the Archaic coinage from the Thraco-Macedonian region, this discovery piece of the ruler Mosses raises as many questions as it answers": like where it came from). The date of the sale seems to match that mentioned in the Greek news report. SeePeter Tompa's "Gill Post on Coin Seizure Does Not Add Up".

Greeks Too Request US Clampdown on Handling Illegally Exported Artefacts

Apparently now Greece has joined the nations that has made a formal request to the USA for import restrictions on cultural property illegally exported from Greece. The material to be considered comprises archaeological and ethnological material from Greece dating to the Neolithic Period through the mid-eighteenth century. Good. It seems US museums cannot keep their hands off illegally exported clandestinely-excavated Greek artefacts, so it is unlikely that no-questions asked US collectors and dealers will exercise any more constraint. As one of the biggest foreign markets for such material, curbing imports of illicit artefacts will aid combatting the looting and trade in its products.

A lawyer representing US dealers and collectors comments on this on his blog: ECA Sets CPAC Hearing on Greek Request, calling the request "controversial" (how so?). He complains that "the time for comment is short, only until 9/22" so a full month. He also moans that "At this point, we know little about what artifacts Greeks seeks to restrict. The State Department has declared the country request to be "secret"..." Well, golly a communication between two governments, secret eh? Whatever next? Maybe Wikileaks will be able to show us what is in these gubn'mint documents too. In the meantime let us assume that the request covers archaeological and ethnological material from Greece dating to the Neolithic Period through the mid-eighteenth century. So dugup antiquities and certain types of handicrafts up to about the 1750s being imported without being accompanied by documentation of legitimate origins (ie legal export).

I suppose now this means that poor old Greece will join the list of countries which are the subject of Tompa's hate-blogging (China, Italy, Cyprus - notice a pattern here? USA has MOUs with other countries too, but Colombia Peru and the rest do not produce ancient coins).

The Greek request will be among the measures discussed at both open and closed meetings of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee on Tuesday-Thursday, October 12-14, 2010 (Greece, Peru, Columbia, Cyprus). After the pointless fax-bombing campaigns which the militant coineys stubbornly mount every time there is another US move to curb the import of illegally exported artefacts, Tompa feigns surprise that:
In addition, the State Department now evidently wants to avoid being deluged with faxes from concerned coin collectors. As a result, most public comment now must be made through the following website:
Comments by fax or by e-mail will no longer be accepted, but you can send texts by normal mail too. What is interesting is that comments submitted in electronic form will now be posted, unedited, on the Web site for all to see. That should be revealing. At the moment there is just (?) a comment by one A. Weiss about.... guess what? (yeah: how "coins should not be included in the agreement"). Coiney Weiss obviously has not read the blurb: "All oral and written comments must relate specifically to the determinations under Section303(a)(1) (19 U.S.C. § 2602) of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act , pursuant to which the Committee must make findings" (when will they learn? Or perhaps they cannot read? Perhaps here is a clue why the State department is not a fan of the irrelevant fax machine set up by V-Coins and the ACCG?).

If you want to comment on the Greek request, you need to type the code DOS-2010-0339 in the search box. It seems to me that the list of countries indicates you do not have to live in the US to do so.

I wonder how many Greek coins with no provenance documentation offered upfront there will be in the upcoming ACCG Benefit Auction being mounted at the same time as public comment is being invited on the Greek request? I think I'll wait until their auction opens before making my own comment.

UPDATE: it is already up, some Greek stuff, low on provenance and information on collecting history. I'll do a post on this later.

The Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act Section 303 (1) for Concerned Collectors

(Mr Weiss, this means you) Just for any straying collectors who might be looking in before making a public comment on the request by the Hellenic Republic of Greece for the USA to curb imports of illegally exported ancient artefacts and other cultural property from Greece, here is a reminder of what Art 303 (1) of the CCPIA (which is what the CPAC will be assessing) actually says:



(1) [4] IN GENERAL. -If the President determines, after request is made to the United States under article 9 of the Convention by any State Party-

(A) that the cultural patrimony of the State Party is in jeopardy from the pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials of the State Party;
(B) that the State Party has taken measures consistent with the Convention to protect its cultural patrimony;
(C) that-
(i) the application of the import restrictions set forth in section 307 with respect to archaeological or ethnological material of the State Party, if applied in concert with similar restrictions implemented, or to be implemented within a reasonable period of time, by those nations (whether or not State Parties) individually having a significant import trade in such material, would be of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage, and
(ii) remedies less drastic than the application of the restrictions set forth in such section are not available; and
(D) that the application of the import restrictions set forth in section 307 in the particular circumstances is consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes;
the President may, subject to the provisions of this chapter, take the actions described in paragraph (2).
That is what the public submissions to the CPAC should cover, not whether coins "were widely traded in antiquity" or whatever. Would stopping ancient artefacts illegally exported from Greece from easily entering arguably one of the biggest foreign markets for this kind of material be a means of reducing the pillage caused by the clandestine excavation of ancient sites to produce saleable artefacts for the international market? Or not? Note, it allows commentators to suggest other, less drastic, measures the USA can take. What could they be?

"Britain's Scattered Heritage"

I come from a tiny little green island on the very edge of Europe, which due to a series of historical accidents [and actually against the odds] for a large part of recent history became very powerful (creating an "Empire on which the sun never sets") and then gave independence to that nation over the other side of the Atlantic that now aspires to that mantle.

In that role Britain was one of the few states that in the past four or five centuries has grabbed an awful lot of "cultural stuff" from other nations by conquest, economic dominance and other mechanisms (and now the US is doing the same). Today many of these victim nations "want our cultural property back please". In response the cultural property grabbing states like Britain refuse and then make up some high-faluting stuff about "cultural cosmopolitanism/internationalism" which is in some way superior to ill-defined "cultural nationalism" lying behind the request to be treated as an equal. Then came the Declaration of Universal (Encyclopedic) Museums and Cuno. All just different ways of saying "no, you inferior foreigners, shut up and go away and let us continue to enjoy your art and culture in our collections".

All this is very much to the taste of the no-questions-asked dealers and private collectors of portable antiquities, they too want to walk all over the rights of the people of the "source countries" to any of the archaeological (in particular) heritage of the land they inhabit. I have always felt however that including the broader "repatriation" issue in the debate on the current no-questions-asked trade in antiquities (which is the main subject of my blogging) is confusing the issue, and I believe this is done deliberatly by the dealers' lobby. For this reason, I have not dwelt on it much here on this blog, seeing it as a largely separate issue.

In one of the debates with Cuno last year (I think), a speaker asked how we would feel if it was our cultural property that had been taken "by the Chinese", would we still be spouting off about "universal museums" and a nation's manifest destiny to take everybody else's cultural stuff as trophies. This blog is an adaptation of that thought.

As I say Britain owes its former and current position (and survival of its own cultural heritage more or less intact) to a series of historical accidents. Britain came close to a Napoleonic invasion, arguably it would have only needed a few things go against Britain at the same time as a naval commander to woke up with a migrane on the morning of the Battle of Finistere for example and Britain to lose the air battle with Hitler to have had two invasions take place, with consequent serious losses of cultural property (and of course much else).

So in a new blog I activated today (I've been collecting the ideas and stuff for several weeks now) I decided to take a few significant pieces of our cultural property and imagine how in an alternative historical framework, they could have ended up in different places. Not all of the examples are entirely fictional. I had to use a bit of invention, I did not want to make the French, Americans and Nazis the only villans. I tried to make the discussed cases reflect the various types of problems involved, the Parthenon Marbles are (sort of) parallelled, the problem with repatriation of human remains is touched upon. I have not yet written the one on metal detectorists, but that will be going up in the next few days. I should admit that I do not intend maintaining it as a blog to which new material is constantly added, that is just the form I gave it when I set it up, it seemed less complicated than setting up a website.

The blog can be found here:

Is there anything else I should have covered?

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Cairo art theft


Stassa Edwards writing on Current Intelligence has an interesting summary of the recent Cairo art theft:

Vincent van Gogh’s 1887 painting Poppy Flowers (Vase with Flowers) was stolen from the Mahmoud Khalil Museum in the Giza area of Cairo on Saturday. The roughly one-foot-square work, valued at $50 million, was cut from its frame after robbers borrowed a near-by sofa and used it as a makeshift ladder; not exactly the work of professionals. Shortly after news of the theft broke, Egypt’s culture minister, Farouk Hosni, issued a statement claiming that an Italian couple seen suspiciously“visiting a toilet” and then “rapidly leaving the premises” had been detained in connection with the crime. Alas, it turns out that the tale of international intrigue proved to be untrue, and Hosni retracted the statement a few hours later.

As the narrative of the theft continues to unfold it’s beginning to sound more and more like the plot to The Thomas Crowne Affair (the Steve McQueen/Faye Dunaway version, of course). Not long after accusing the Italian tourists, the deputy culture minister, Muhsin Sha’lan, and four of the museum’s security guards were detained on suspicion of neglect and delinquency. Professional delinquency might be an understatement: the museum had an abysmal attendance of only ten people that day, none of the museum’s alarms were working, and only seven of the 43 surveillance cameras were functioning at the time of the robbery.

Unless you are part of an organized tour, getting into Cairo's museums can be a bewildering and frustrating experience, a few months ago I tried twice to visit the museum of Islamic ceramics on Zamalek in the time it was supposed to be open, only to be turned away by guards at the gate because... well, really I never worked out why. Did I look too much like a pot-thief maybe? Or had they had their quota of ten visitors that day? Egypt has had a long and difficult history with protecting the works of art in public collections:
[...] In 2009, Cairo’s Mohamed Ali Pasha Museum, often referred to as Egypt’s Versailles Palace, was robbed of nine paintings depicting the 19th century ruler and his family. In 2000, Pharaonic artifacts were taken from the Egyptian Museum and smuggled into London via Switzerland. Five years earlier, thieves looted the vault of the Temple of Montu at Karnak, walking away with some 55 objects. Even this particular van Gogh painting had been stolen once before, in 1978, though authorities recovered it two years later in an undisclosed location in Kuwait. [...]
let us not forget the Ka-nefer-nefer mummy mask now in St Louis Art Museum, and other objects apparently stolen from the Sakkara storerooms, and those reliefs robbed from TT15 which the Louvre bought with such carefreee abandon recently. But of course that is part of the problem, there is an all too ready market for stolen "art" items, particularly anonymous antiquities - taking the object is only the easy part, the more difficult part is selling the stolen goods for a decent price.

Edwards goes on to note:
Certainly this latest theft will not aid Egypt’s campaign to pressure Western museums to return what it considers pilfered works. Institutions like the British Museum and Berlin’s Neues Museum have rebuffed the Egyptian culture ministry’s request claiming that the well-being of the objects would be compromised if they were returned.
I am sure dealers and no-questions-asked antiquity collectors are watching these events unfold with a grim 'told you so' satisfaction.

More Problems with Accountability in Cultural Policy in the US

It seems that the coin dealers' lobbyists and Miami legalistic watchdogs Urice and Adler are the only ones to perceive problems in the legality of the way cultural policy is handled in the USA:
A new Government Accountability Office report centering on the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act is casting doubt on the ability of key federal agencies to follow the letter of the law. And the federal office charged with overseeing implementation was found to have a plethora of problems of its own.

The 1990 legislation is important to Indian communities because it created a legal process for federal agencies and institutions that receive federal funding to return American Indian human remains and cultural items to respective tribes or lineal descendants. Before the policy was established, thousands of Native American artifacts and remains nationwide were desecrated, and many were sent to museums or anthropology labs for controversial study. Under the law, federal agencies and museums are required to take inventory and notify tribes about their collections and work in collaboration with tribes in determining a cultural link to the remains or objects.

But some federal agencies have not identified or reported all the remains or cultural items in their possession, according to the 106-page GAO report, which offers a wide-range of insights into the lack of federal progress involving the law over two decades.
See the full text here.

Perhaps the US really could do with a central body to oversee and guide cultural policy on the line of the ministries of culture which most other countries have? Why has the US not got one?

Monday, 23 August 2010

Well, it was inevitable was it not?

In a press release today "Academics Cite Extralegal Cultural Property Policies at the State Department" the ACCG gets very excited about the recent draft text by Urice and Adler (University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-20): "The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild's (ACCG) legal actions against the Department of State (DOS) have been vindicated" (!). [Hurraaah]. Even more so in that it actually mentions their little coin collecting interest group and their rather pathetic law suit(!) [Hurraaah]. So it was inevitable that the ACCG would spend more of their members' money on a jubilant press release telling the world about it [Hurraaah]. Executive Director of the ACCG, Wayne Sayles adds his comments that this article is "timely" (indeed it is, suggestively so), it plays right into the ACCG's hands [doh!].

But it is all a bit clutching at straws. To my mind in the present state of the paper (which as ( David Gill remarks is plainly labelled a "draft"), Urice and Adler have not at all proven there is a "consistent" (their word) "pattern" (their word) of outside-the-law dealings by the US government in their attempts to deal with the market in illicit cultural property, this is apart from several other flaws in this text. Gill wonders whether the authors were asked for permission to cite their text by the ACCG press release in a way which suggests the authors share the anti-gubn'mint views of the militantly anti-preservationist dugup ancient coin collectors and traders of the US.

Vignette: Glenn Beck in a tinfoil hat also on the lookout for gubn'mint conspiracies.

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Stolen Cambodian artefacts repatriated from US museums case (Operation Antiquity)

In a feelgood press release, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement's (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations (HSI), summarise current progress in Operation Antiquity ('Ancient artifacts returned to Cambodia via the USNS Mercy ICE/HSI led investigations have museums looking closer at their collections'). In Operation Antiquity, "federal agents from ICE/HSI, the National Park Service (NPS) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) worked together in a massive investigation that unveiled an interconnected web of individuals involved in the plundering of Southeast Asian ancient objects then smuggling and selling them within the U.S.".
Operation Antiquity initially focused on Robert Olson, a U.S. citizen and importer of Southeast Asian items. Olson worked with Cambodian and Thai "brokers." These brokers hired private "diggers" who visited ancient sites with the purpose of pillaging, sometimes cutting away friezes and other parts of a structure's ornamentation. Olson falsified documents as the goods were shipped into the United States. Olson was breaking several U.S. and international laws and bilateral agreements in his profit-making venture. His nearly 25-year scam was so prodigious that Crabb says Olson was responsible for Thailand's loss of one-third of its remnants from the ancient Ban Chiang culture.

But when the law caught up with Olson, federal agents, working undercover, discovered they had just scratched the surface. One of Olson's associates was a wealthy and well-traveled Wall Street financial analyst who was also cashing in on the theft and importation of Southeast Asian antiquities. Another buyer was a private museum owner who bought vast amounts of illicit items concealing them in containerized cargo shipments. One shipment authorities intercepted contained a 7th century Khumer sandstone head and a 2nd century Dong Son bronze container. Together these items were worth more than $35,000. But coming through U.S. customs, the smuggler declared the entire shipment as "handicrafts" worth $250.

The smuggling scheme not only involved undervaluing the worth of ancient items to pass them through U.S. customs, but inflating their value when the purpose was to donate an artifact to a museum and write it off as a charitable tax donation.

In January 2008, more than 400 federal agents from the ICE Special Agent in Charge (SAC) office in Los Angeles, the NPS and the IRS conducted a massive raid, sanctioned by search warrants issued by the U.S. Attorney's Office in California. Law enforcement officials surprised owners, curators, registrars and collection mangers from 16 museums and galleries in California and Illinois, interviewing them and examining their collections. Several people were indicted, one individual was prosecuted and thousands of objects were seized.

The press release makes no mention of a victim of the case, Roxanna Brown. Whatever happened to Mr Olsen? Is "Operation Antiquity" over now?

The ICE press release goes on to say that as a result of these investigations US museums are increasingly looking again at their acquisition policies. As these tighten up, the dealers in stolen antiquities will be looking increasingly to the no-questions-asked private collectors' market to maintain their profits. US authorities however will be on their tail here too:
U.S. customs inspectors have [...] wised up to the tricks of the antiquity trafficking trade, and these officials have gained more expertise in how to catch this type of thief. An unfortunate phenomenon in today's world is that historical and cultural artifacts that are looted and smuggled out of their home countries are often auctioned and sold in cyberspace, rapidly changing hands. But the Internet is no safe haven for criminals of any kind, including illegal traffickers of antiquities. [...] ICE Special Agent Razmik Madoyan of SAC Los Angeles who led an Internet investigation that helped recover some of the artifacts, said "Sometimes people turn a blind eye to what they are purchasing and don't care about the provenance. If it looks good they buy it. But if these individuals are purchasing historical or cultural property that's been stolen, they are breaking U.S. and international laws." The red flag indicators of stolen artifacts, said Madoyan, "are an item's lack of provenance or provenance with nonspecific item descriptions or country of origin, such as "Babylonian items" or "the Middle East."

"ICE's Homeland Security Investigations goes the distance when it comes to investigating and tracking the true ownership of ancient treasures being traded and sold within the U.S.," said Herbert Kaufer, acting executive deputy assistant director of ICE International Affairs. "We'll hunt down the perpetrators of these crimes and use every law on the books against aspiring profiteers so they'll learn to keep their paws off historical and cultural heirlooms they have no right to acquire".

Lawyers like Miami's Adler and Urice of course are not supportive of the idea of "using every law in the book" to go after such culture thieves. The rest of us though would approve the adoption of tougher policies by the US authorities to fight this problem, accompanied of course by the appropriate and effective tightening up of US law.

No Power of Place for the Americans

In the ICE press release about the repatriation to Cambodia of items seized in "Operation Antiquity" it is perhaps telling that when searching for an analogy to bring home to US readers what such culture-crime involves, the best ICE/HSI Special Agent Michael Scott Crabb, who led 'Operation Antiquity', could come up with was:
"How would we, as U.S. citizens, feel if someone were to steal an original copy of the U.S. Constitution or Declaration of Independence and sell to it to someone across the globe?" Another analogous hypothetical might be, 'How would Americans feel if someone sliced the head off of George Washington from Mount Rushmore and sold it to the highest bidder?'
A state whose own view of valued cultural property is exemplified by two curated late eighteenth century documents and a 1930s tourist attraction carved out of the Black Hills of South Dakota really is going to have difficulties actually understanding the issues involving dugup antiquities and the destruction of archaeological sites in the same way as the inhabitants of the Old World. How notable that he did not mention looting of Anasazi villages as the analogy.

This goes some way to explaining the gap which divides US collectors and dealers from those of us who live in the "source countries" which is noticeable when the issue of the looting of archaeological sites is being discussed. Not actually seeing the past of their own land in the way we do, they apparently simply do not understand the problem in the way which is obvious to the rest of us.

Vignette: Invented heritage: 1930s construction at Mount Rushmore - echos of other monuments from the ancient world, but not quite making it really...

Saturday, 21 August 2010

Fincham on Kuwait

Derek Fincham weighs in on the "did he/didn't he?" fracas caused by London-based blogger PhDiva claiming she has a taped admission that a visiting professor at a US university single-handedly "looted" the Kuwait National Museum and "private collections" during the Iraq invasion. His verdict:
Looks like Donny George didn't help Iraq "steal" objects from Kuwait in 1991.
That really should not come as a great surprise to anyone - except perhaps ACCG's sensation-seeking lawyer Peter Tompa, who will, it seems believe anything without checking his facts. Will Cultural Property Observer should show a little culture himself and give Donny George the apology he is owed?

Canadian Cultural Property "Rot at the Top" too?

I mentioned earlier the post on Moneta-L which, among other things, alleged that in dealing with illegally exported archaeological material, it is "obvious now that the rot goes close to the top!". The author of those words is Canadian, writing of the heritage policies south of the border in the USA. It strikes me that from the North American continent we see an awful lot of no-questions-asked griping aout US policies, and in comparison virtually nothing about Canadian policies. Why is that? Are Canadian authorities even worse at enforcing them than US ones, so its not a problem for collectors what "laws" exist, that they can all be easily side-stepped? Or on the contrary are Canadians more amenable to understanding why these laws exist and out of concern to do their own bit to curb looting are abiding by them accordingly? Or is it political, that there so few collectors of dugups in Canada that they feel they will not be heard even if they kick up a fuss? How many antiquity collectors are there in Canada, what do they collect and how, how many dealers are there? Why is there not a Canadian ACCG and that people from north of the border therefore have to join in with the activities of the ACCG down south?

There is an interesting discussion document published online on the Canadian Heritage website in 2008 that seems not to have received much discussion in the usual North American no-questions-asked collecting/dealing circles (probably has too many big words for the usual culprits, who are in any case more concerned about looking after their own commercial interests): Strengthening the Cultural Property Export and Import Act.

It would be interesting to look at the phenomenon of opposition to a regulated and transparent trade in legally acquired antiquities in the five English-speaking milieus, the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. What similarities and differences would we see and to what would they be attributed? For too long the aggressive US dealers' lobby has tended to dominate discussions, but there are other milieus with their own problems and social backgrounds, let's hear more about and from them.

Friday, 20 August 2010

Spink, eh?

Looting Matters reports (The Baltimore Coin Test Case: The List ) that the Baltimore Illegal Coin Import stunt utilised coins from London-based coin dealers "Spink"
How odd it is that Spinks was (a) apparently unaware of the not-so-new-by-the-time-of-this-sale import requirements for coins of China and Cyprus purchased by their clients, nor (b) were able to supply the piece of paper required by the CPIA that they had been exported in accord with the MOU signed between China/Cyprus and the USA. I wonder how many more of Spink's coins would be ineligible for import into the US if the CPIA was applied across the board? Is that not the point of this whole sorry exercise?

More to the point, the photos which the ACCG exhibited of those cash coins to my eye do not look like they had been lying corroding away in the ground for centuries, are these not the sort of fakes with which western markets have been flooded in recent years? They have what looks like chemical patina. Are these actually the coins sold by Spink? I challenge the ACCG or Spinks to publish detailed photos of all 23 of these unprovenanced coins; let us see what ACCG dealers were buying. It may well be that a court case is unneccessary. If Spink in fact does not know where those coins came from, how do they know they were legally obtained and/or not recently made and "matured" in a pig-pen?

What reputable coin dealer cant actually manage a proper attribution and lists coins as: "bronze coins more than 100 years old"? answer: Spink.

(I note that the ACCG does not figure on their lengthy list of links, apparently they do not consider they do collectors a service, nor dealers).

Vignette: in this manner Spink suggest to new collectors where they can get their coins from, freshly dug-up hoards not old collections. In the UK such hoards should be reported through the Treasure process, in the case of those from foreign countries (except the US and Sealand), they will need an export licence - how then can Spink say they "don't know where they came from"? (Their FAQ contains nothing on "origins" and the legalities of collecting dugup coins).

Talking Rot About "Rot at the Top"

On Wednesday 18th August (so a full day after my own post on the topic) an ACCG-affiliated Moneta-L member wrote an odd "contribution to the debate" about US cultural policies. It is called " CPAC Outlaws" (sic):
Hi all, Extralegal: not regulated or sanctioned by law. (Webster's) unveiling-executive-branchs-extralegal.html

or, (if you choose to avoid the main point):
Anyone who has had anything written about them by Barford et al. will be familiar with how everything is twisted to their own ends. It's obvious now that the rot goes close to the top!
Tunnel vision: *2* *:* extreme narrowness of viewpoint*: narrowmindedness*; /also/ *:* single-minded concentration on one objective (Webster)
Here it can be seen to what extent ACCG members feel the need for a "balanced bibliography" in their discussions of portable antiquity issues. At the time this was written there were (at least) FOUR texts on the topic of this paper, two enthusiastically welcoming it (Fincham and Tompa), one which the author of the forum post attempts to persuade coineys "misses the point". But one text is not mentioned at all, even though its author is specifically mentioned in that post. A day earlier "Barford" had posted a text on this blog which suggests that there is no "pattern" unveiled, no rot at the top has been "unveiled". How typical that the coiney propagandist does not tell the coiney forums that this fourth text is out there proposng a different view of Adler and Urice's production.

The connection between what Adler and Urice claim to have "unveiled" and collectors and dealers having "anything written about them by Barford et al." is unclear to me. Let it be noted however that typically n0-questions-asked collectors/dealers accuse "archaeologists" or specific groups of them of something or other, but most frequently without backing that up with any kind of reference where the reader can check the truth of the assertion. I make assertions about no-questions-asked trade and collecting of artefacts based not on fictional generalisations and stereotypes as in their case, but referring to specific cases made available through the wondrous properties of the internet and other media. At the basis of what I write is a reference to where any reader who so cares can check out where I got the information from and, more importantly see it for themselves in its original context. Whether or not "everything is twisted to [my] own ends" can of course be judged by the reader.

As is my prerogative as a blogger, I present my own personal 'take' on what I see, but I am not shy of indicating where I saw it, why should I be when it is what I am writing about? The author of the above-mentioned forum post however apparently does not want HIS readers to be aware that there was a fourth text he did not mention - still less explain where my analysis of what Urice and Adler wrote is wrong, and indeed intellectually dishonest.

When are the no-questions-asked dealers' lobby going to engage in honest and open debate of the issues and not shut their own discussions away on closed-access forums like Moneta-L and AncientArtifacts, and fob the rest of us off with their habitual glib denials, avoiding uncomfortable issues and feelgood propaganda?

Stolen Greek statue to return to Egypt

The Seattle Times reports (after AFP) that:

The Egyptian antiquities department says a stolen Greek-era statue that was confiscated in Canada is on its way home. Thursday's statement said the marble bust was seized by Canadian customs after it was illegally brought into the country. The 5 inch (13 centimeter) tall figure will be handed over to the Egyptian embassy in Canada. There were no further details on the age and nature of the statue. Egypt has been in negotiations over the statue's return since 2007.
This is a useful reminder that it is not just ancient Egyptian archaeological finds that are stolen from the archaeological record within the boundaries of modern Egypt. Neither is it the case that trying to prevent this sort of material being stolen and being taken out of the country to satisfy foreign markets is any kind of "nationalism". Collectors try to pretend they are some kind of enlightened cosmopolitan "internationalists" when they pay dealers to supply such objects, but they are not. They are just culture thieves.

Vignette, Cleopatra (I think it is supposed to be) looking sexy, there is nothing "sexy" about stolen antiquities or those who dirty their hands with them.

A Golden Age of Destruction

University College London is running a session of lectures in November called "A "Golden Age"? Reflections on New Labour's Cultural Policy and its Post-Recession Legacy".

Cultural Trends, the journal that champions the need for better evidence-based analyses of the cultural sector, is delighted to provide a major opportunity for researchers to consider whether what Tony Blair described as a Golden Age, in a 2007 valedictory speech at the Tate, actually existed. Questions to be considered include:
*What did it achieve?
* What might the effects of the recession on the cultural sector be in terms of changes in audiences and audience profiles, the economics of the sector and its financial impacts?
*How might government policy, and the sector itself – whether in the UK, Europe and elsewhere – assess its legacy and learn the lessons that inform a post-recession economy?
A “Golden Age”? provides the occasion for cultural commentators, policy analysts and historians to brigade the evidence for cultural achievements since 1997 and consider the relationship between culture and recessions since the 1970s. While this might appear retrospective, we are also keen to look forward and bring together ideas for the longer term impacts of what we observe and to develop hypotheses about cultural policy and activity in the future.

Well, state-supported looting of archaeological sites for collectables for entertainment and profit was instituted in 1997 with the pilot scheme of the PAS. Since then, the erosion of the archaeological record has got worse, and the wildness of the claims that this is in any way mitigated by the production of archaeological information and the "rescue" (sic) of evidence even more unbelieable. New Labour's "cultural policy" towards the buried archaeological heritage certainly seems to have been awfully wrong-headed. Let us see some proper debate on the erosive effects of the artefact hunting rather than the current "what a lot of luvverly trezures we've got hoiked out" idiocies we hear so much about instead.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

Reptilian Beginnings of an Antiquities Case?

1980s Virginia dealer "Universal Select Animals" was engaged in buying, selling and trading in "exotic, rare and protected reptiles", it was a big business well-organized. Back in 1991 an executive of a cosmetic firm in Richmond, Virginia whose firm this appears to have been was convicted of conspiracy with two men in California to import lizards (shingleback skinks and bearded dragon lizards) from Australia. The animals were shut up in mislabelled packages and simply sent through the post, we are not told how many of them survived the trip in the cargo hold of an aeroplane from Australia to Richmond. Now it apparently turns out that 17 years later a guy by the same name and in the same branch of business is named in court records as the man awaiting the arrival of a mummy case he was importing. This too reportedly came in a mislabelled shipment (as "agricultural produce"). Perhaps the earlier conviction, if it is the same man, makes it easier to understand why the buyer of the mummy case did not want to take this matter to court. After all, being the defendent in an alleged smuggling case cannot be good for one's new business specializing "in the breeding and captive propagation of rare and exotic snakes , turtles and lizards".

David Gill has revealed that there may be a dynasty of Virginia collectors of Egyptian antiquities: lizard and mummy importer and now owner of cosmetics firm (Google it) Joseph A. Lewis II, and a Joseph A. Lewis III, who seems also to own (presumably with partner Sofi) a number of items including an ancient Egyptian mummy falcon. Curiouser and curiouser.

I guess if you were a reptile dealer in the US in the 1980s you would have told all your customers that the animals are "not rare" and were all bred in captivity and not taken from the wild, even if in fact you know they were cruelly smuggled out of the source country. Just the same as if you deal in antiquities you will tell your customers that "of course" these ancient objects are "not rare" (or threatened) and came from "old collections".

UK "Metal Detectorists" and the (Continued) Unholy Fuss over the PAS Landowners' Leaflet

When the British parliament set about creating an antiquity preservation legislation back in the 1880s there were no heritage bodies to speak of, only a few amateur archaeological societies attended largely by the landowning classes and churchmen. At the time society was perceived as divided into a moneyed and educated elite and the yokels, and the law accordingly made the landowning class responsible for the protection of monuments on their land. Today Britain still has the same basic Victorian system. The landowning class is the one that needs to be encouraged to think of the conservation needs of and look after the archaeological sites on their land which they hold in trust for us all. But to do that, they need to be told what those needs are and how they can do what needs to be done.

So it is high time that the Portable Antiquities Scheme actually got published the "Advice for landowners" leaflet they have been dithering abouut producing for nearly a decade now. Literally dithering. Why? Because they feel that before publication this archaeological body "has to" show it to metal detectorists and get them to approve the text (!). That in itself is telling. The PAS is [it says] conducting archaeological outreach to the public (and metal detectorists a just a minority segment of society), so why actually is this text being agreed with them (and virtually no other groups that use the countryside for reccreation) at all before being released to a larger segment of society? This tells us a lot about the REAL relationship between the PAS and artefact collectors in England and Wales.

The problem is that artefact hunting is an erosive activity. The PAS should be pointing that out. A metal detectorist knocking on a farmer's door to ask for permission to go onto a piece of land and strip it of a significan portion of its archaeological content for personal entertainment and gain does not want farmers thinking of it like that. There is therefore a fundamental conflict between what it is the PAS' duty from the standpoint of the conservation of the archaeological record to point out to the landowner and user, and what artefact collectors want the farmer to be aware of. In particular the farmer needs to learn that the willy-nilly collecting of archaeological artefacts from archaeological sites damages them, and that IF it is to occur at all, all such activity should be consulted at least with the Portable Antiquities Scheme which allows a (rather minimalistic) record to be made of what was taken when and from where. That there is a single Code of Responsible Metal Detecting (sic) which states this. Metal detectorists do not want the farmer to know this, they want to have the opportunity to be the only person from whom the farmer hears about the effects of metal detecting. To tell only their side of the story.

So we have the to-ing and fro-ing of a edited text which the PAS cringingly presents for "approval", accompanied by aggressive posturing from the artefact hunters about what they will "do", if this next version of the text is published. There was a threat a couple of years ago (it could be seen on the PAS forum, which has conveninetly now 'disappeared') that if the PAS went ahead and published their "advice for landowners" leaflet, all metal detectorists in the UK would boycott the Scheme, and then it would have nothing new on its database to show funding agencies when it came for the next application for funds. Faced with that, the PAS gave way and did not publish the "advice" for landowners, on the "advice" of the eroders. Scandalous.

Heritage Action has a post about the latest draft which has been leaked (!) on a metal detecting forum: it gives a link to where this document can be seen - if you are a metal detectorist, because of course the Looters' Forum is closed access like almost any connected with artefact collecting these days. The post by HA ('Whose interest will the Portable Antiquities Scheme choose to protect – the landowning public or the detectorist at the door?') will of course be ignored by the PAS - that's why they got rid of their forum where theere was the possibility of interaction with heritage concerned groups and individuals, the metal detectorists will ignore it (that's why they shut themselves away in their closed-off little looters' ghettos). Despite efforts to hide from the real stakeholders in this (the public whose heritage is in part comprised by the archaeological remains in the fields of Britain) that there is a disagreement between the PAS and its "partners" over how much the landowner should know about artefact hunting, the problem will not go away. It will not go away until the PAS starts to stand more FIRMLY by the conservation principles that surely it was set up to uphold. As Heritage Action says, the PAS "must demonstrate whose side it is on. Either farmers are told the truth by the signatories [of this leaflet] (prompting the fury of metal detectorists) or they are told half truths (or worse) to persuade them to allow metal detecting on their land".

Wednesday, 18 August 2010

ACCG, New website, URLs Change

The ACCG has revamped its website, its now very sombre and dark to reflect that it represents the Dark Side incarnate. As a result, some of the URLs given here in previous posts do not all work. I thought for a while that they had taken the opportunity to get rid of the embarassing "Coin Collectors and Cultural Property Nationalism", but it has been moved from: to:

It is interesting to see whose blogs they count as among their supporters (because of course it would be expecting too much to assume that after castigating others about not producing one, they'd be producing a "balanced bibliography" of them): Peter K. Tompa Cultural Property Observer (first place, before) Wayne G. Sayles' Ancient Coin Collecting, then there is David Meadows' RogueClassicism, Dave Welsh's Classical Coins, then - oddly - Kimberly Alderman's "Cultural Property and Archaeology Law Blog" and Derek Fincham's "Illicit Cultural Property", then Dorothy King's doggie gossip blog "PhDiva" and Lee Rosenbaum' coinless "Culture Grrl". What an odd selection. Where is david Knell and robin C.'s? Where is the Portable Antiquities scheme?

And looky-looky, the third benefit auction is being advertised:
2010 Benefit Auction, Bidding Opens September 16, 2010 - Closes October 7, 2010 "A benefit auction to raise funds for legal expenses in opposition to State Department imposed import restrictions on ancient coins".
So how much of that will be going to former ACCG president Peter Tompa's law firm (Bailey and Ehrenberg), eh? So far just V-coins has donated some gift vouchers, if the last two auctions are anything to go by, these will be among the very few items up for auction which have any kind of information concerning from where they originate.

Vignette: Dark Side by "R3V4N".

Art Loss Register had on Record Coins Stolen from Fed-Ex

A recent press release praises the Art Loss Register ('ALR') because it led to the recovery of "three high-value historic coins" stolen from a FedEx package en transit from New York to London ten years ago. They were stolen going from one coin seller (in this case Sotheby's) to another. The art loss register of course can never be used to keep track of illegally dugup coins or ancient artefacts since illegal excavation is by its nature a clandestine activity. It cannot be stressed enough that in the case of recently "surfaced" archaeological artefacts, their absence from the ALR is totally meaningless. It is not "proof" that they have not been stolen, merely that they do not figure in the ALR - two completely different things in the trade of archaeological artefacts such as coins. Sadly the nearest we have to an Antiquity Loss Register is the Heritage Action Erosion Counter, and a similar French initiative.

Vignette: Art Loss Register logo (clever, no?).

Artefact Dealer Pleads Guilty

Colorado antiquities dealer Robert B. Knowlton accused of illegally selling American Indian relics to two misdemeanors in the Operation Cerberus sting operation pleaded guilty in U.S. District Court in Denver on Tuesday. He reportedly admitted he sold a “cloud blower” pipe from BLM land near Blanding for 750 dollars , and mailed it to a buyer in Kamas in July 2008. Sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 19, but nobodyy is now under any illusions that the pubnishement will be as symbolic as the rest. Knowlton was initially indicted in August 2009 on five felony counts for allegedly selling looted Indian antiquities worth $6,750 to the operative and shipping the items from Colorado to Utah, but these cases were being contested on learning of the death of the witness Ted Gardiner (here and here).

Pamela Manson, Colorado man pleads guilty in artifacts case, Salt Lake Tribune 17 August 2010.

Artefacts Dealer Warns

Good advice for those who would buy antiquities:
When buying American Indian artifacts, question the sellers about where and when they obtained the items, get as much as possible in writing and watch out for trickery.

That's the advice of an Arizona dealer who narrowly avoided arrest after he was approached by the government's chief informant in last year's Four Corners antiquities investigation.

"Fortunately, I was able to pick up on the subtle things he was saying, and I was able to turn down the items he was offering, but nevertheless it was very tricky," he said. "If you weren't listening very, very closely, you would have missed it."

Dace Hyatt of Show Low, Ariz., spoke on a panel hosted by the Antique Tribal Art Dealers Association on Monday, the opening day of the Whitehawk Antique Indian Art Show, where several dealers posted signs assuring buyers that everything for sale was legally obtained.
The rest (including criticism of Ted Gardiner from dealers) here: Tom Sharpe, 'Artifacts dealer: Don't get snared by 'tricks' of the trade', The New Mexican - August 16, 2010

Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Miami Law: US Cultural Property Policies a Shambles

There is a pretty depressing text by Stephen K. Urice (University of Miami, School of Law) with Andrew Adler (University of Miami), "Unveiling the Executive Branch's Extralegal Cultural Property Policy", University of Miami Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2010-20 (available online here). While it is not entirely clear what this article is in fact trying to achieve, the authors' thesis is that "we reveal that the executive branch of the United States has consistently - and astonishingly - exceeded constraining legal authority with respect to the movement of cultural property into the United States" and "our purposes in unveiling this policy are to promote a rigorous and transparent review of the executive’s practices and to restore the rule of law. In our conclusion we speculate as to why the executive has undertaken these practices and, among other observations, suggest with some sympathy that the current legal framework is outdated". Derek Fincham (Urice and Adler on the "Executive Branch's Extralegal Cultural Property Policy") writes that though the authors are critical of the policies of the Executive branch..."this does not mean that they endorse the looting of sites or the black market".

Frankly, I am not so sure what their motivations are, this looks very much like a piece written to order for the collectors' lobby (perhaps in connection with the upcoming Italy MOU extension, 'just in case'). Many of whom are cited, acknowledged and quoted in the body of the text. This plays right into their hands, as Wayne Sayles acknowledges in his comment on Fincham's blog.

It seems to me that there is a fundamental piece of intellectual dishonesty in the assertion at the basis of this text that (all?) archaeologists are for the banning of a trade in antiquities altogether (page 3) while dealers "favour a regulated trade in antiquities" (pp 3 and 16). On the contrary, all those who care about the preservation of the archaeological record are in favour of a much more strongly regulated trade, while the dealers are doing everything they can to fight any kind of regulation of the trade, and Mr Urice and Adler's text plays right into their hands. I would not be very surprised to learn that one or both of them collect coins or other antiquities.

What is it about US lawyers? Why do when it comes to matters conencted with tha antiquities trade and collecting do the majority who contribute anything to the debate come over as entirely mercenary philistines? Is there really so much money to be made out of defending collectors and dealers that it pays to sell their souls? (Mr Urice for example is a former archaeologist, rather sad to see he's gone over to the dark side).

So these two authors engage in an entirely destructive analysis of some of the problems of "US cultural property policy", though as is traditional in such circles seeing it in isolation, as a totally separate issue from the protection of the archaeological heritage in the US. Their aim seems to be to demonstrate that there is a "pattern of practices" (sic) which they "unveil" and then claim forms "an extralegal cultural property policy". It just looks like another conspiracy theory to me.

Their paper has three main parts. The first points out that the Department of Justice has been in the wrong, and discusses two cases where collectors had items seized, an antique car bought by Charles Morse in 2008 (pp. 8-10) and a Third Intermediate Period mummy case bought by a Joseph A. Lewis and his wife Sofi seized in Miami in 2008. They claim that both were wrongfully seized under the National Stolen Property Act (NSPA).

The second part then discusses what they see as the wrongful application of the US's rather pathetic Archaeological Resources Protection Act (ARPA) to combat traffic in illicitly obtained artefacts (Adler has previously published an article on this). They briefly discuss three such cases from 1996, 2003 and 2008 concerning Etruscan, Peruvian and Southeast Asian artefacts (none of which reached court) and conclude that again the Department of Justice may have acted unlawfully applying this Act in these three cases.

Then the main (third) part of the text (pages 16-41) goes through the arguments by now familiar from the coiney so-called "internationalists" camp on the allegedly improper application of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA). Let us note that this act itself is a cop-out on a massive scale, allowing the United States of America, arguably one of the biggest, if not the biggest market for all manner of other people's dug up and knocked-off cultural heritage, to go through the motions of "taking a moral lead" without actually doing anything much to actually make their import controls more than the sorry barrier of bubbles that it actually is. This is entirely under the influence of the trade lobby and due to the absence of any kind of strong policy on the antiquities trade. Urice and Adler take much the same line as Sayles and Welsh in their "manifesto" of "internationalism", and indeed even quote some of the same sensationalist journalism (Steven Vincent for example) to support their views. Basically it seems to me that Urice and Adler basically want to retain the CPIA as a totally ineffective cop-out rather than see it used to combat illegal exports of illicitly obtained material.

They say they are concerned about the "law" being "upheld", I'd like to hear their views on the Four Corners sentencing.

Frankly, I remain to be convinced that the authors have "unveiled" a hidden "pattern" or that the US government actually has an "Extralegal Cultural Property Policy". As I say, this looks like another of those conspiracy theories so dear to the heart of a Washington lawyer (who also notes the publication of their 'paper' with enthusiasm). The authors' smug presentation of two cases from 2008 relating to the NSPA (in one of which - the car - the authors admit the NSPA was actually applicable in one of the justifications for seizure), three cases of the application of the ARPA between 1996 and 2008 and some wearisome whinging echoing the no-questions-asked trade's take on the CPIA really do not seem sufficient to demonstrate a pattern, still less a gubn'mint conspiracy agin' its citizens which is where it seems to me the authors are heading. The pattern I see this article reflecting is of a totally different nature.

This leaves the question: on what should policy be based, and on what basis should policy be adapted and changed? On what should laws be based, and on what basis should laws be adapted and changed? Should policies take into account only commercial interests, or should policies reflect some other aspects like moral leadership, responsibility, sustainable utilisation of finite resources for example? I would say that this paper in fact demonstrates very little, apart from the fact that there is a state of shambles in US cultural policy in general, not just (imported dugup) "cultural property" and even though the authors claim not to have any thoughts on this, that this needs sorting out. Whether or not that should be done in a way to enable and facilitate the trading of illegally exported archaeological (and ethnographic) material by US dealers or whether it will be done in a way which starts to clean up this disreputable and damaging no-questions-asked market should be a matter of public debate, but not just between dealers' lobbies and their lawyers and the law-makers, but concerned and conservation-conscious citizens and the government.

See Derek Fincham: Urice and Adler on the "Executive Branch's Extralegal Cultural Property Policy"
Peter Tompa: Unveiling the Executive Branch's Extralegal Cultural Property Policy
David Gill: Miami Law: Missing the Ethical Point?
(Come on Kimberly, what's your take on this?)

Vignette: Urice and Adler ride out allegedly to "restore the rule of law", but do they serve today's robber barons?

Monday, 16 August 2010

Trophy Relics, the Egyptian Shopping List

Over on Andie Byrnes' Egyptology Blog a commentator (one "Mercury") says s/he has never heard of "another country ardently demanding the return of artifacts or even a nation of native people", and that anyway "institutions cannot be held responsible for the return of artifacts".

According to this writer it is just Egypt that is being "ureasonable", and this is all because of a single person:
It is important to note that one person is the instigator of this movement...Zahi Hawass. He appears to be on a crusade to not only retrieve artifacts but enhance his persona and accumulate wealth from the media.
"Mercury" seems unaware of something called the "Parthenon Marbles", the "Euphronios Krater" and all the rest, far from being just Egypt" there are many countries that would "like some of our cultural heritage back please": Italy, Greece, Cyprus, Turkey, Nigeria, Peru, Guatamala, China, India for starters. Britain of course does not, it alone could not care less what collectors swipe, but then that's tit-for-tat as its antiquities market and "wannabe-universal" museums are one of the prime swipers.

As for the Egyptian government, should not the return of the chunks hacked off the walls of TT15 which the Louvre bought have been requested?

Should not the mask of Ka Nefer Nefer which was bought by the St Louis Art Museum although it should be in a Sakkara excavation storeroom be returned?

The import of the paperless "Miami coffin" should not have been stopped?

The probably mummy of Ramsses I from the Niagara Falls museum?

Hawass' Antiquities "Shopping List"

Hawass is currently spearheading a movement to return to Egypt from collections in various other countries many prominent unique and/or allegedly irregularly taken Ancient Egyptian artefacts. The six antiquities on his shopping list are:
1) the Rosetta Stone at the British Museum,
2) the bust of Nefertiti in Berlin's Neues Museum,
3) the Dendera zodiac ceiling from the Dendera Temple now in the Louvre in Paris,
4) the bust of Prince Ankhhaf in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts,
5) the statue of Hemiunu, in Hildesheim's Pelizaeus Museum,
6) the statue of King Ramses II in the Turin Museum.

What is "wrong" with the Egyptians trying to get these things back for display in their own museums where surely they belong as much as in London, Boston or Hildesheim? Are the items in these western collections on Hawass' "shopping list" actually anything more than trophies in the foreign museums? Is that why people get so up tight about surrendering them when it is suggested?

See post below about Rosetta Stone, see also Heritage Key: Is Repatriation Good for Archaeology? Zahi Hawass' Quest for Egypt's Antiquities with its neat image by Prad Patel.

Trophy Relics: Rosetta Stone

Number one on the "Shopping List", is the Rosetta Stone in the British Museum actually anything more than a trophy? Quite literally as it was indeed war-booty, taken from the French who themselves had removed it from Egypt (OK, they found it in construction work, and secured it instead of cementing it into the fort's foundations). So this object symbolises another step on the way to Britain consolidating its imperialist hold on far off exotic lands, the cosmopolitan interests of the citizens of the capital in the centre of the empire on which the sun never set. Is that why people get so up tight about surrendering it when it is suggested?

Question: In what way would the British Museum's presentation of the culture of Ancient Egypt actually "suffer" by not having the Rosetta stone in the gallery? Are the BM short of stones with hieroglyphs on them? Do they not have any other items that illustrate the story of the "development of egyptology" for example? Why actually does that very object have to be in the galleries?

The "Freeman Institute Black History Collection" has gathered materials about the story of the Stone and can put on a nice display without having the object itself, so why in fact does the British museum not have this ability? Maybe it needs to buy more stuff, like a copy of the first published illustration of the hieroglyphics actually in a penny magazine (showing popular interest). Have any of the original paper squeezes or rubbings made before Champollion survived?

This is the Rosetta Stone as I remember it displayed once (note the inscription: "presented by King George III" now scrubbed off). You could actually touch it [and I remember as an eleven year old boy visiting the Museum with great aunt Ethel doing so - ooops]. You cannot even get near it now.

So why can't the BM give the original back now and replace it by an epoxy cast with the same tactile qualities (silica gel dust in the resin) as the original and allow people to touch it? With a little box of pieces of paper next to it and soft crayons for making rubbings of the cartouches, and then getting kids to wander the galleries with their rubbings looking for other examples of the same piece of inscription?
On the wall a touch screen version of the stone where touching the words retrieves that word read out loud by the computer and flicking a switch moves from one language to another? It seems to me that this text could also serve as the basis of a really spectacular multi-media presentation to 'bring it to life'. These can be produced in a saleable DVD form which visitors on a whistle-stop tour of the Museum (and who is not?) can buy at the sales desk to play with at home, or give as presents. All of this can be done today here and now without having the Stone in the London gallery. So why is it still there?

Would people stop visiting the BM if the 'Real Genuwine' Rosetta stone was not there? Would they stop coming to London? I think not. What purpose does hanging on to it actually serve?

This "How the Rosetta Stone works" page is fun. I could not resist the image of people looking at the stone.

Photo at top of page: Delegates of the Congress of orientalists study the stone (Illustrated London News 1874) Below: or was the stone in this frame when I first saw it? note the pedestal has changed, but then it seems to have been dchanged back again.

(Getty images)
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