Monday, 31 October 2011

Palestine Granted Full UNESCO Membership Despite US Threats

The UN cultural and educational agency UNESCO has granted Palestine full membership in a move opposed by Israel and the United States. Delegates approved the membership by 107 votes to 14, 52 abstentions - the UK and Poland were among the latter.

Three hours later the US announced that it was cutting UNESCO funds to punish members for exercising their democratic right and voting to grant full membership to the Palestinians. A US state department spokeswoman said a payment of some $60m (£37m) due next month would not be made, but said that while continued US funding was impossible, "the administration wanted to remain an active member of UNESCO". Anyone like to give a reason why they should? Perhaps all those nations whose stolen cultural property is sold there because they have no "1970 Convention article 9 MOU" might like to take a vote on whether the US has been as active as they could have been and whether it should stay if it's not going to pay. According to UNESCO's constitution, if a country is in arrears in its payments to UNESCO for more than two years, it could lose its voting rights in the body anyway. I think those voting rights should be removed now, seeing as the US are so intent on abusing the spirit behind the voting process in addition to their continued acceptance of the sale of illicitly exported antiquities under the noses of the administration, making an utter mockery of the 1983 US 'acceptance' of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

The UN Security Council will vote next month on whether to grant the Palestinians full UN membership.

'Palestine secures seat in UNESCO despite US threats': TV-Novosti, 31 October, 2011,

'US cuts Unesco funds over vote for Palestinian seat', BBC 31 October 2011.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Can the Coiney Lobby Group get more Ridiculous?

I have already discussed the ridiculous lengths gone to by the US lobbyists busy on behalf of "I-wanna-buy-smuggled-coins" collectors and dealers. If, as a result of recent events, one was left wondering whether this could get even sillier, it does. A shock-horror headline on one of their blogs alleges:
SAFE Shortcuts Public Comment Procedure

"Jeepers, creepers, Goleta Boy we have to save the world from this evil!" urgently gasps Wishingham Lawyerguy. "Look ! Saving Antiquities for Everyone (SAFE) has begun a petition campaign in support of the Bulgarian MOU, you can read all about it on !(it is odd that he does not give a link to the SAFE website, but Wishingham Lawyerguy is not very good at links).

Goleta Boy gasps: "But Wishingham Lawyerguy, the State Department Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs has already set up a procedure for public comment open to all interested in whether there should be an MOU with Bulgaria! Can't SAFE follow directions?"

"...And anyway", the Boy adds with his voice quivering with concern, "Petitions like SAFE has prepared are inherently unreliable, There is no way to verify that the signatories are real people or if one person has signed the petition under different names (like Roy Iwata)"

Wishingham Lawyerguy, shaking his head sorrowfully admonishes: "It's doubtful, Boy, that many of the signatories have any real knowledge of the issues involved beyond the minimal information they have received with the petition, not like coin collectors, fully informed about all the issues by their lobbyists and dealer pals".

"This is serious!" Exclaims Goleta Boy, "Western Democracy is at stake! We have to do something!"

"Indeed", concedes Wishingham Lawyerguy, "the very foundations of democracy could be shattered if the President's Cultural Property Advisory Committee mistakes a private petition for the Government's consultancy procedure. The results could be catastrophic, devastating !! I have to warn the President!"

I think the reason for all this concern is that it turns out that all the lobbyists' alarmist nonsense talk about auction houses and the sky falling again has so far managed to arouse less than 238 coiney naysayers adding their nimbyist comments to the Government's website. On the other hand, they've noticed that, after running for just a few days, the SAFE "Say Yes to Bulgaria" Human Rights petition has so far 230 signatures. The coineys would like by their lobbying to create the impression that "the American public" are overwhelmingly in favour of NOT having import restrictions on illegally exported dugup artefacts. Then they can claim that the "voice of the People" (the voice of the American people) allegedly is being ignored when MOUs are signed. Well, are the citizens of the
USA as a whole overwhelmingly in favour of NOT having import restrictions on illegally exported dugup artefacts? Is the whole nation of one mind and one heart with the could-not-care-less buyers of looted and smuggled coins ? Indeed, are all US coin collectors of one mind and heart over this?

Vignette: Be afraid, be very afraid, coiney democridiocy is about to be challenged.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Looted Assyrian Relief Slabs Returned to Iraq

Two stone slabs bearing reliefs (dating to about 650 BC) of Assyrian kings waving to their subjects have been returned to Iraq by a delegation that went to Geneva at the beginning of this month. Together "they weigh as much as a small family car" a newspaper report says (so "barely portable antiquities", then). The reliefs had been taken from the ruins of Assyrian palaces in the northern Nineveh province and disappeared in 1994 in the period of chaos caused by US-led sanctions and the consequent looting of archaeological sites at the end of Saddam Hussein's reign. The stolen slabs had been purchased by an unnamed Swiss dealer who in 2004 contacted the Iraqi authorities because he wanted to give them back to Iraq, officials said.The slabs were "delivered by a Swiss citizen to the Iraqi embassy in Geneva in 2007 and were kept in the house of a former Iraqi ambassador", Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshiyar Zebari is reported as saying at a press conference at Iraqi National Museum in Baghdad. the slabs will not return to the site where they were taken, but will be displayed in the Baghdad Museum.

So, who was the generous, or repentant "Swiss dealer" then? Would it have been the first name that comes to mind who was involved in 2006 in another repatriation of a stolen Iraqi artefact ?

Muhanad Mohammed, 'Ancient Assyrian stone slabs returned to Iraq', Reuters Thu Oct 27, 2011 (edited by Jim Loney and Belinda Goldsmith)

Alssabbah, 'Iraqi delegation to Switzerland to restore the effects of a stolen'.

SAFE's "Say Yes to Bulgaria" Petition

.SAFE now has a petition on the aptly-named "" website which people can use to show their support for measures to prevent antiquities smuggling from Bulgaria. So far it has about a third as many signatories as the supporters of buying smuggled artefacts have comments on the website, which is odd. The petition allows comments, I wrote this:
The US is a state party of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and as should do its part to prevent the illicit trade in antiquities from other states parties (irrespective of article 9). What is happening now under everyone's noses on the US antiquities market (in which artefacts removed from archaeological sites in Bulgaria have figured prominently) fills me with disgust. It is well past time for the US to step in and do something about this.
And it is. It is telling that it needs Bulgaria to actually ask and SAFE start a petition before anyone over there will lift a finger to do anything about this totally open trade in looted archaeological artefacts.

SAFE also has a poll on its webpage which poses a question "Are all nations obligated to protect one another's cultural heritage?". There are four choices, one especially for the naysaying extremists.

Sugar Coating Illegal Metal Detecting, and You are paying for it.


“I conclude and declare that the hoard of 9,315 coins found by Mr Davies are treasure", saith Coroner John Ellery at a hearing in the place with the unlikely name of Wem. He adds however "It’s clear the finder did not have permission to enter the land with his detector. People should always seek permission". Indeed they should, otherwise what they do when they go digging up other people's property on other people's land without their permission or knowledge is illegal. It is called "theft". But most normal people "shelter from the rain" in a car, under a tree, in the pub. In England it seems some metal detectorists do not behave like normal people, but do it standing with their machines turned ON in the middle of a field where they have no permission. In what way can one "shelter from the rain" in the middle of a field without a tent?

Mr wet-behind-the-ears-detectorist admits that before the rain “I’d been at the site for three or four hours and found nothing". What is the official PAS definition of a "nighthawk"? Does one have to be metal detecting on a "site" without permission from the landowner for more than a fixed period of time (say four hours) to qualify? Can we have some PAS outreach here, in place of the state-funded sugar coated press release which skips lightly over the whole question of the legal aspects of this find (not for the first time one might add, a certain PAS press release about a torc and WW2 aircraft crash site come to mind).

"Friends of Numismatists" Tompa and the other guy are alleging that looters and corrupt politicians are paying Bulgarian archaeologists to 'look the other way', so is anyone paying the PAS to skip over this part of the story with scarcely a comment? Or are they doing it of their own volition? Why?

The non-artefact-hunting public are paying (13 million quid at last count) for this outreach, are they getting it?

Vignette: do you approve of law breakers getting a reward?

Lots More Old Pictur'd Metal Discs Found in Another Pot!

My, my, we live in really exciting times for British archaeology. Whoopppee, eh? "Inquest into largest coin hoard from Shropshire" - largest until the next one is hoiked out from "in the ploughsoil - honest". Frankly this pot does not look much as if it has been dragged around a field on the tip of a ploughshare to me. So, when are we going to see the full publication of this early fourth century "Near Shrewsbury" hoard, allowing all those home-based numismatists over the big ocean to do their all-important die-study analyses using the information presented as a result of England's "enlightened" "Treasure" process? When will we see the full publication of the "recent work by the British Museum [which] has revealed important new information about the find"? When will we see what the random removal of this deposit from the surrounding archaeological context has added to the knowledge of economic and social relations in the early fourth century gained from the study of other types of evidence? How much reliable and useful archaeological information per pound can we get for the reward money?

Happy man with his pot and a heap of coiney things on a table (PAS)

This is the hoard, isn't it that reportedly was found "near" (I thought the original reports said "on") "a public bridleway on land that Mr Davies did not have permission to detect on"? If so, are there going to be any (financial) consequences of such trespassing? It is otherwise called "nighthawking", isn't it, though perhaps the finder will just get a pat on the head from the fluffy-bunny pro-collecting archaeologists, because it's not really NIGHTawking if you are out on a public path in broad daylihght? ("Go on, off you run, you young scamp, but don't do it again!"). I mean, nothing happened, we got the coins, didn't we? That's what matters, isn't it? Lots and lots of round things with pictures and writing on them to put in a case so people can gawp at them with happy smiles on their faces. Never mind all this "preserving/sustainable management of the archaeological record" malarky, just look at all the "heritage" we can get hoiked out from it now with these metal detectors in the hands of thousands of unsupervised "heritage heroes" hoovering it all out for us.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Washington Lawyer Tompa and Metal Detectors, "Regulate Them!"

Over on his CPO blog (in a deliberately provocative post: "SAFE: Say Yes to the Corrupt Bulgarian Status Quo?") Peter Tompa proposes the "regulation of metal detectors" in Bulgaria which goes against (as British-based collector Kyri noted in his comments on CPO) what he'd been saying about their use for searching for collectable 'portable antiquities' in England and Wales. His reply to Kyri is notable:
The use of metal detectors is regulated in the UK through the Treasure Act and scheduling archaeological sites. On the other hand, there does not seem to be any effective regulation of them in Bulgaria at all.
So the use of metal detectors to hunt for collectable archaeological objects on archaeological sites in Bulgaria according to this cultural property lawyer is totally unregulated by law? I suggest the cultural property lawyer go back to cultural property law school. The use of metal detectors in Britain is NOT "regulated" through the Treasure Act (which applies to dog-walkers and truffle-diggers who find Treasure), the only place in the UK where metal detector use is regulated (by a permit system) is in Northern Ireland, but that is under different legislation. I find it somewhat odd that the Washington lawyer is calling for a "regulation" of something in one EU country where he praises the lack of regulation of use of the same thing for finding archaeological material in England and Wales.

Peter Tompa reports: "
Mr. Barford [....] does not provide me the courtesy of publishing my comments on his own blog".
Really? There do seem to be quite a few comments below many of my posts on this blog signed by some "Cultural Property Observer" guy; is Peter Tompa now denying any relationship with that blogger? I have just checked this allegation and find it foundationless. "Cultural Property Observer" has in the whole time the Portable Antiquities Collecting and Heritage Issues blog been online sent the grand sum of 11 comments to 8 posts here. Despite what Tompa alleges, on checking I find that every single comment I have received from him has been approved and is visible under the post to which they refer and in most cases has even been replied to. If he sent a comment recently which was not posted, I clearly did not receive it (it happens with Blogger sometimes). Mr Tompa is invited to send it/them again.

Vignette: Ralph Wiggum depressed by all this talk about metal detecting.

State Department Clarifies US-Egypt MoU

Further to my earlier attempts to help hasty ranting coiney buffoons (see here too) understand that one can have many types of Memoranda of Understanding about dealing with illicit antiquity movements, I post this statement which the Department of State has produced in response to the confusion being spread by certain parties in the collecting milieu (and the Cultural Property "Research Institute"):
"Potential Memorandum of Understanding between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Egypt's Ministry of State for Antiquities

The Department of State's Cultural Heritage Center has become aware that confusion exists concerning a potential MOU between U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Egypt's Ministry of State for Antiquities. Such an agreement would differ from the type of MOU made under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention for import restrictions on certain categories of cultural materials. The Department understands that the MOU presently under discussion by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement concerns information exchange and not import restrictions. If the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt requests an agreement pursuant to Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, the Department of State would announce receipt of such a request in the Federal Register. This procedure is the only means currently available to a country wishing U.S. import restrictions on its cultural property."
As I said earlier, the US Administration must be getting heartily fed up with the antics of these dugup coin collectors wasting everybody's time when there are far more important issues to deal with.

Hat tip to Rick St Hilaire.

AIA CPAC Templates: Ummmmmm...

Well, either I do not understand what it means when it says: "All comments must relate specifically to the determinations under Section 303(a) (1) of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act, 19 U.S.C. § 2602, pursuant to which the Committee makes findings", or the Archaeological Institute of America don't.

They've produced some templates for the thousands of caring and informed US citizens who are somehow failing to write supporting the MOU request. I think these templates do not provide what the CPAC requested, any more than what the coineys are writing.

I am at a loss to see where the divergence of interpretation arises, it seems quite a simple sentence, and it is repeated:

All comments /Again, your comments
must / must
relate specifically to / relate specifically to
the determinations / the determinations
under Section 303 / under Section 303
(a) / (a)
(1) of the / (1) of the
Convention on Cultural Property / Convention on Cultural Property
Implementation Act, / Implementation Act,
19 U.S.C. § 2602, / 19 U.S.C. § 2602,
pursuant to which / pursuant to which
the Committee makes findings. / the Committee must make findings.

Perhaps the reason why there are so few responses from the White Hat guys on the website is a lack of leadership. Look at what the 1970 Convention says about that (article 5 (esp. f), 10(b) and 14). The USA quite clearly is not fulfilling its obligations to the Convention in that regard. Even so, I am sure the AIA is capable of far better, isn't it?

Torquing about Treasure Again

[About a text sent to me by a reader with a question:]

Two Asda warehouse workers from Castleford, Andy Green and Shaun Scott "have spent three years uncovering a hoard of rare artefacts on private land in North Yorkshire" reports the Pontefract and Castleford Express ("Rare torque-ing point"
23 October 2011). The metal detecting buddies have found three gold torques, two Celtic gold staters, a gold pin and a Viking ring. "Experts say" the gold torque unearthed [...] "earlier this year – could be part of the lost treasure of first century British queen Cartimandua". If that's what "experts" say, it's probably got her name on it then. So if is true that they started finding this hoard three years ago, why is the newspaper giving us all the impression (without any additional comment) that the inquest is still forthcoming? What delayed the coroner calling it three years ago? Luckily, unlike some metal detectorists, the pair are not in a hurry to get their reward, Green said: “I am really excited about the rarity of this torque, but it has never been about the money for me", adding he hopes that it will be within the possibilities of the cash-strapped Yorkshire Museum to raise to raise the funds to pay the reward for the torque "because the people to this area should be the ones to learn from it and enjoy it”. They'd probably have learnt a lot more about it if it had not been hoiked out from below plough level (the photo shows it remarkably undamaged for something all metal detectorists swear blind was found "less than six inches down in the ploughed soil - honest") and the elements of the hoard recovered piecemeal over a period of years as reported. What does the PAS have to say about this news report and find?

Vignette: Ancient history has never looked so good, Cartimandua (from the United Celtic Brotherhood website) dressed rather unsuitably for the British climate looks for her jewellery which she just put down under a bush for a moment while she skinned a leopard...

Avenge the Armenians: Steal From the Turks?

In the blog "", we find a strange compilation of two letters the Boston Globe declined to print in reply to the article by Geoff Edgers about Boston Museum of Fine Arts and a statue: “MFA sends ‘Weary Herakles’ statue back to Turkey,” (Sept. 24, 2011). They were written by two US Armenians Berge Tatian and David Boyajian both of Massachusetts. Tatian (from Newton MA) objects to the return:
[...] It's as if I find a work of art on my property and then go around claiming it as part of my patrimony. The Turk's complaint over looting is pathetic if not laughable when they themselves are guilty of the most egregious crime of looting, that of the properties of the Armenians, Greeks, and Assyrians of Asia Minor, after destroying their heritage.
Boyajian of Stoneham MA also objects for much the same reasons:
[...] Turkey has exterminated the indigenous peoples of Asia Minor – Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians – and tried to erase all traces of their existence, while harassing the few who are left. Turkey has destroyed, deliberately misidentified, or grossly neglected most of the churches, cultural landmarks, and villages of these ancient peoples, whom Turks conquered after arriving from Central Asia. Hundreds of such villages have also been assigned Turkish names to erase the fact that these were the lands and homes of people whom Turkey annihilated. [...] Rather than returning the Herakles statue, the MFA should be shedding light on Turkey’s acts of cultural destruction and genocide.
Well, of course this is all about the Armenian genocide of 1915-23, and these two are just trying to entangle the Greek statue in their own quarrel about their own history and identity. We note again the use - so unusually prevalent when reading cultural property arguments written by Americans - the "two wrongs make a right" ("it's OK to steal from the citizens of Turkey because they are all descendants of slanty-eyed culture-damaging monsters from central Asia"). This is the rhetoric of the playground rather than an adult argument.

First of all of course Berge finding an ancient object on his own property in Massachusetts is free to do with it, and call it, what he wants. That is what US law states. That's what US property owners do to native American artefacts found by the thousand on eBay. In the same way Turkish law states certain things about antiquities. The upper half of the Herakles statue was removed in a clandestine fashion, and not reported or subject to the export licencing procedures. it was illegally removed from the site and the country. Those, and no other, are grounds enough for it to go back. In the same way as if Mr Berge had had his car stolen from his driveway, or a Chinese vase from his living room. Its not anything to do with "culture" or "looting", it is theft.

Tatian and Boyajian write as though the establishment of a Turkish nation was the only case ever in world history of population displacement with all that goes with it. Far from it. The process affected my country several times since the end of the eighteenth century. Despite all the historical grievances, the Poles don't go running round advocating stealing from the Russians, Germans, Austrians and Hungarians because of what they were doing to Poland at the time of the Armenian 'holocaust'. It is perfectly natural that villages in the Ukraine which were once Polish now have Ukrainian names, and villages in what was once Germany in the west of Poland have names that can be inflected in Polish and not their original German names which often cannot.

Likewise maybe Tatian and Boyajian would like to give us a list of the preserved places of worship, burial grounds, cultural landmarks, and villages of the ancient peoples who the colonists found here (the Wampanoag tribes) which are the traces of the existence of these peoples and their cultures in Massachusetts (which of course has territorial boundaries entirely coterminous with those of the native groups living there before the colonisation). And where are the thousands of Wampanoag tribesmen? The ones that survived the so-called King Phillip's War? The Narragansett, Wampanoag, Podunk, Nipmuck ? And of course "Newton" and "Stoneham" have well-obvious Wampanoag etymology, don't they?

What, given their own history of cultural replacement, do Tatian and Boyajian imagine gives the people of Boston, MA any right to keep foreign stolen artefacts on the grounds which they cite?

Vignette: The Wampanoag, cultures and communities gone before the Trail of Tears.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Corruption Fosters Illicit Antiquity Trade?

Quite obviously, no-questions-asked trading US coin dealers have decided their best bet to fight measures intended to stop antiquities smuggling from source countries like Bulgaria is now to continually point out how "corrupt" the antiquity-source countries are. This is the "two wrongs make a right argument" that we observe is quite common in the antiquity-collecting world ("its OK for me to steal from the Wongawongians because they are all bad citizens anyway who do not deserve a heritage"), especially in the US. This however is the rhetoric of the playground.

Peter Tompa in a number of blog posts (here for example) and comments on other people's blogs (here for example) relishes in revelations contained in a report on organized crime in Bulgaria (a report which was being discussed by Nathan Elkins - who found it - and myself here several years ago) and blames the situation on that old McCarthyist bogeyman, "Communism". The topic has been taken up with much excitement by other coineys on their discussion lists and blogs. An example is Dave Welsh's post: "Perpetuating Corruption":
In these nations, import restrictions tend to postpone and perhaps even avert development of public outrage such as that which has recently toppled several oppressive and corrupt dictatorships. US import restrictions are not a solution to the problem of looting - they are in reality part of the problem.
[Of course the US backing some of these "oppressive and corrupt dictatorships" have received in the past is conveniently here forgotten, also they were not toppled by public outrage about looted antiquities - on the contrary.]

Certainly, seen from the perspective of our own political systems, "corruption" is a problem for much of the world's population. The Berlin-based NGO 'Transparency International' is dedicated to monitoring political and corporate corruption. Their famous Corruption Perceptions Index keeps track on (perceptions of) this problem.The 2010 Index shows corruption on a scale from 10 (highly clean) to 0 (highly corrupt). The results for 2010 can be shown graphically (red is bad, yellow better).
Readers may go to Transparency International’s website for full details of the list and an interactive world map. North Americans and Western European collectors obviously have grounds here for "I'm all right, Jack" complacency. These results indicate a serious corruption problem, nearly three quarters of the 178 countries in the index score below five. At the bottom are the most corrupt states in the world (like Somaila and Burma but also the puppet governments set up following US-led invasion in Afghanistan and Iraq). At the top of the ranking are mainly the Anglophone and Germanic language zone 'protestant work-ethic countries' of Western Europe and the Commonwealth. In this ranking, the UK came at 20th place in the list, while the US has been ranked as more corrupt, dropping to 22. Another notable result is Russia, rated as among the worst for corruption, in 154th place, antiquity collectors will notice no doubt that Italy, down in 67th spot, now comes below Rwanda.

So, let us have a look at where ancient coins are coming from in these terms.

Coineys claim they are reviving in their coin cabinets "the glories of Greece and grandeur of Rome" but it becomes clear that the legacy of that classical world today in the regions that were the core of their territories are governments classed by this index as 'corrupt'. Any familiarity with the places of origin and circulation of the majority of the coins offered through Internet portals such as V-coins, eBay and individual dealers' offerings (such as ACCG's Dave Welsh's Classical coins and Wayne Sayles' online shopfront) as well as bulk uncleaned lots will immediately recognise that the patterns match. It is suggestive that the largest quantities of ancient coins (and artefacts) on sale in the US today are most likely coming from the regions countries coloured red and orange on this map. Coins of the Greek, Celtic and Roman world from sources in Spain, Portugal, France, southern Germany and Austria and, what is most interesting, PAS recorded items from metal-detector-infested England and Wales are much less common (exactly the same patterns occur when you look at Medieval hammered coins offered by these sellers). That is despite major markets in Germany (Munich), Switzerland and London. So how are these coins - some of them being offered online still encrusted in soil and dirt - leaving those countries with high indices of corruption, and why are the coins from countries with low ones conspicuously much less common? Is there a connection between government corruption, at federal, state and local levels and smuggling for example? We have already noted that very few sales offers of ancient artefacts on the US markets (even from countries also party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention - see its article 3) make any mention of the seller possessing any export documentation whatsoever, should that not make the buyer somewhat suspicious in the circumstances?

Mr Welsh claims that restricting imports to the US to only items which have documentation of licit export is "not a solution to the problem of looting" but "in reality part of the problem". Surely this is wrong. If a person in a source country looking for a way to make money knows that he cannot get a valid export licence for looted material ("where did you get it from sir?") and that one of the world's biggest markets for this sort of thing cannot import it without one, he may well decide instead to abandon a life of culture crime and go into politics. It is only in the knowledge that there is a huge no-questions-asked market out there making such activity profitable, that criminal activity of this sort flourishes.

An impartial observer would be struck by the number of names of obvious Balkan , Bulgarian and Serbian most likely, origin in certain areas of the US (and UK) ancient coin and artefact trade. Some of these people are able to supply (and have been supplying) the market with huge quantities of coins to their clients - who often in turn sell them on to other dealers after sorting through them. One wonders about the nature of the contacts between these individuals and their own suppliers, purely business, family? From whom, and by what route are these kilogrammes of dugup artefacts coming onto the market?

Mr Welsh has changed the wording describing the bulk lots of coins on his website since I first discussed them on this blog . Nevertheless they are still on sale (they are the same coins, aren't they?). Where did they come from? How did they leave the source country, and how does that square with the high corruption index of all the countries now occupying the regions ("Moesia and Thrace" in the original more candid description) where coins like this circulated and were buried? If Mr Welsh is - as his blog post enthusiastically makes clear - so aware of this corruption, why is he buying and handling coins precisely from these regions of Europe?

Also, despite the high index of respectability given Mr Welsh's country by 'Transparency International', not all of us would see the 'holier than thou' US as a country completely free of corruption, not least citizens of that country [here too, but Googling "US corruption" brings an unedifying mass of material to light]. Mr Welsh himself as well as Peter Tompa accuse the State Department of corruption. On the day Tompa's blog article was published, it was announced that several US policemen had been arrested for corrupt practices, not involving antiquities like the Bulgarian cases mentioned gleefully by Tompa, but guns. Then we have believable reports of corruption in the US Customs service, apparently involving financial rewards and sexual services for turning a blind eye. I'd also question a system where 12 Congressmen and a New York senator can be induced (somehow) to lending their names to antiquity dealers' attempts to challenge the Administration's efforts to clean up part, at least of the antiquities market. That may be called "lobbying" in the US and perfectly acceptable, but it looks pretty corrupt to this European.

I think if US collectors are at all concerned about corruption, they should beware of transactions that may involve supporting corrupt practices. What evidence (export licences for example) does each have that their favourite dealer is taking active steps to avoid this?

Finally, through whose hands did Dave Welsh's "specials" from "Moesia and Thrace" actually pass?

PS. Let us note that two potential source countries of lots of illicit coins (Turkey and Makedonia) have corruption indices not much removed from that of the country where I write this. Both however have a severe looting problem. Poland has a looting problem though I myself (pace my local colleagues) would not describe it as 'severe'.

Are Coin Collectors Getting a "Fair Hearing" in the US?

Californian dugup ancient coin dealer Dave Welsh ("Classical coins") has published his "letter to Congress" online. In it he moans about how coin dealers and collectors like him are ill-served by the administration, and that the legislative intent of a group of philistine 1980s lawmakers is being thwarted to the detriment of the no-questions-asked US trade in dugup artefacts from other countries. He suggests that:
[the] rights of concerned citizens interested in ancient artifacts are ignored [...] Everyone on every side of the antiquities collecting issue ought to be able to agree that collectors are entitled to a fair hearing. We are obviously not getting it, [...].
Is that true? That rather depends how one interprets that word "we".

The ACCG claim that there are 50 000 collectors of dugup ancient coins in the US. When there is an MOU request in the pipeline they have been able (by fallacious insinuation, outright lies and misdirection it is true) to get at the most about 2000 of them to comment - all saying "no". What about the other 48 000 who choose not to comment?

If we break down the CCPIA and the 'MOU process' to its fundamental element, it is about illicitly exported cultural property from a member-state of the 1970 Convention. If an importer has an export licence from the source country, the object asses through US borders and into a coin dealer's shop without a hitch. If the object was dug up in that source country and exported to another country and then somebody in the States buys it, a declaration (as far as I can see as far as the CCPIA is concerned could be handwritten in blue crayon on the back of a envelope) is needed that it was exported before the MOU came into force. Basically nothing could be simpler. Especially since EVERY country which becomes a state party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention by doing so accepts Article 3, any transaction not involving the proper export procedure (which is what the whole convention is about) is ILLICIT. Since the US accepted the document in Septemeber 1983, every transaction involving smuggled artefacts from Bulgaria (ie objects that left Bulgaria illegally without following the export licencing procedures) has been illicit, and (since that is the type of vesting legislation Bulgaria had for most of that period) involved property stolen from the bulgarian state and Bulgarian people.

Everybody who sends a comment saying "no" to the proposal (even if they restrict it "just" to coins) is basically saying that they want the trade in objects with no documentation of legal export from the source country to continue. Put simply, they are saying that they want to be able to (continue to buy) artefacts smuggled into the US from Bulgaria. (Let us bear in mind that Bulgaria is one of the clearest examples where this smuggling is in the hands of organized criminal gangs, and that US dealers doing business with them and their middlemen are obviously putting US money into the hands of these criminals.)

Are these the collectors Congress is "not giving a fair hearing to"?

Should Congress be giving a fair hearing to such people?

[Or should they be placed on a watch list and their future mail from abroad closely scrutinised for illegal items?]

What about the other 48 000 collectors who want no part in the ACCG's "Say no to an anti-smuggling MOU" campaign? What is the reason they are keeping out of the public comment process? Do they too want the US market full of smuggled goods flowing unchecked straight from the looter, criminal middlemen and straight onto the US market which we are told is probably the biggest in the world for this type of commodity? Or would they like to see the US market supplied with material of wholly licit origins? Are they afraid to express a contrary view to the ACCG lobbyists because of censure in the coiney community? That they'd end up being excluded from coiney forums? Are they afraid that defending their view against the loud and probably aggressive philistinism that it would provoke is not worth the trouble? Is this why they are keeping quiet?

What therefore we are seeing is a loud 4% of the estimated total (50 000 collectors) who are shouting their heads off that they do not want to see coin smuggling from Bulgaria stopped. They are invited to submit public comment so the CPAC can take their views into account in its deliberations (which are restricted in scope by the CCPIA).

When we analyse what they are saying however, most of them do not take the opportunity to do that, to inform the CPAC in a manner that the information can be used in their deliberations, but send a whole load of other comments. Some of them are based on a total misapprehension of what the MOU involves (some collectors see it as a total ban on ALL coins from Bulgaria, some are concerned that it requires the "provenances from auction houses" of the coins to be known). Others feel they must inform the CPAC that there are already "lots" of these coins in the US (totally irrelevant to the purpose of the CPAC, since it is asked to consider what to do about fresh imports, not the coins already on the market in the US). basically it becomes clear once you start reading through these comments that the people writing have not taken any time at all to find out just what it is they are commenting on, or pay any attention to the background (reasons for) and scope of the original request. Are these the people who are "not getting a fair hearing"?

It seems to me that every collector in the US with a computer and the ("no child left behind") ability to read has every opportunity to find out exactly what the whole MOU matter is about. No "books" involved, just a few mouse clicks. It seems to me totally clear that the percentage that have actually even attempted to do that in the United States of America is painfully low.

Are the rest the ones who are "not getting a fair hearing"? If they have not even gone to the bother of finding out what it is they are asked to comment upon, not even bothered to work out why, not even bothered to think of something on their own to say, but merely copy and paste what a dealers' lobbyist told them to, then what kind of a "fair hearing" do they want? Perhaps what should be accorded attention is that for some reason, if past trends are repeated, despite repeated pleas from dealers and their lobbyists, upwards of 48 000 US collectors of ancient coins will stay well out of the ACCG-run campaign which has the ultimate effect of portraying the whole milieu as bootleg coin buying, plank-ignorant, could-not-care-less philistines.

Vignette: What say the 48 000?

Monday, 24 October 2011

Saving Antiquities for Everyone: "Say YES to Bulgaria"

The US based voluntary heritage organization SAFE (Saving Antiquities for Everyone) urges: Say YES to Bulgaria. The government of the Republic of Bulgaria has requested a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United States of America to restrict imports of illicit archaeological and ethnological materials from Bulgaria. This request is a substantial step toward enabling the US government to help stop the looting of archaeological sites and cultural monuments in Bulgaria and the smuggling of the products to the international market.

Somebody at SAFE has been very busy and produced a very clear 'advocacy' page which I'd like sympathetic readers to make as well known as possible before the 2nd November. It sets out very clearly the major issues in relation to the "section 303(a)1" issues on which the public are invited to comment. In terms of making informed comments, that puts the White Hat Guys at an advantage over coineys and the suchlike who have only been fed inflammatory lies and misleading misdirection by the dealer's paid stooges.

The SAFE page has four main sections which make it easy to understand the whole issue and why we should be concerned about it:

What is at stake?

Bulgaria's cultural heritage endangered

The devastating effects of illegal excavations

A huge U.S. market for Bulgarian antiquities

What is Bulgaria doing to protect its cultural heritage?

This text includes a bibliography of just a few of the news items that have been coming out of the country in recent years about the successes of the Bulgarian authorities in apprehending smugglers and looters, and the sort of items that have been involved.

Please spread the word and draw people's attention to this page and get them to submit a public comment in good time to show the world that there are more voices in America than those of greedy and self-serving takers of history.

[I doubt it will do any good, but it would be only fair to also bring this page to the attention of the coin and antiquity collectors' discussion lists so they at least have a chance to see what some of the issues are as the preservationists see them].

Why Coineys Don't Want the US to Help Bulgaria With Antiquity Smuggling

SAFE urges: Say YES to Bulgaria

One might legitimately wonder why the coin dealers and collectors of the United States of America are so anxious that the CPAC gives a negative opinion on the request of the government of the Republic of Bulgaria for a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the United States of America to restrict imports of illicit archaeological and ethnological materials from that country. The SAFE webpage on the request has some details which might help unravel the mystery of why people who claim they are "interested in history", "learning about the past", "preserving relics of the past" and are "all against looting" in fact do not want to see the smuggling of artefacts out of Bulgaria stopped - at least not when it comes to stuff going into the USA. Certainly other people who are "interested in history", "learning about the past", "preserving relics of the past" and are "all against looting" do want to see the smuggling of artefacts out of countries like Bulgaria stopped as soon as possible.

The SAFE text includes a bibliography of just a few of the news items that have been coming out of the country in recent years about the successes of the Bulgarian authorities in apprehending smugglers and looters, and the sort of items that have been involved. Here we read for example:
The United States continues to be a major market for antiquities, especially those from the Greek and Roman world and particularly for coins. Quantifying the flow of goods in an illicit market is difficult; nonetheless, a handful of important recent studies show how the US market for antiquities which originate from Bulgaria remains strong.[...] looters in Bulgaria are eager to meet the international demand for antiquities with materials from their country. How much of this Bulgarian material do we know is bound for the United States? This is very difficult to say from the looting itself as often the looters on the ground do know the ultimate destination of the materials they find. Some recent border seizures, however, especially in the case of coins, have provided strong evidence for large quantities of fresh Bulgarian antiquities entering the United States for sale.
Of course if the US border authorities had been more vigilant (since 1983 the US has been a state party of the UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Cultural Property) and caught a larger proportion of those smuggling illicit artefacts into the the US and those importing illicit artefacts, we'd have a better idea of the US involvement in this trade. Despite huge numbers of 'erdefrisch' artefacts and coins being sold (sometimes sold in bulk by the kilogramme like potatoes) by dealers based in the US to US and foreign collectors, very few shipments have so far been challenged by the US authorities, and it would seem, none of the dealers handling this stuff been investigated.

As we can see it is US coin collectors and dealers who are most concerned that US does not pay more attention (through the issue of fresh regulations confirming US resolve to honour the obligations due to a fellow member state under the 1970 UNESCO Convention) to who imports what from Bulgaria and whether it is accompanied by the requisite export documentation. They claim that "coins are not cultural property" in the terms of the 1970 UNESCO Convention (which merely show they've not actually read the document) and curbing the imports of coins freshly smuggled from a foreign source country like Bulgaria would "destroy the hobby" and prevent collectors from getting their hands on ancient coins.
In an important study of the material and intellectual consequences of the trade in unprovenienced coins, it is reported that in 2002 one individual shipped approximately one ton of coins (approximately 340,000) from Bulgaria, through Frankfurt bound for the US (pg. 4). The same study points out another seizure which occurred in 2006, when the Bulgarian police unit for Combating Organized Crime intercepted a smuggling shipment of approximately 14,000 coins on a train from Sofia to Vienna, with the ultimate destination being the US (pg. 2). These reports point to two facts. One, that there are well-travelled illegal shipping routes which bring archaeological materials from Bulgaria for sale in the US. The second fact is that coins constitute a substantial proportion of this trade.
THIS would appear to be why US coin dealers are so concerned that their clients bombard the CPAC with negative opinions about curbing the trade in smuggled artefacts, or at least exclude smuggled coins from the list of items scrutinised at the US border for legality of origin.

UPDATE 24.10.11: In what must be, surely, the absolute peak of the stupidity of the arguments used by the dealers' lobbyists to justify the continuance of a bootleg trade in smuggled coins in the US, we now learn that one of them thinks (though whether sincerely is difficult to ascertain) that SAFE's advocacy of the US reinforcing its commitment to honouring its existing obligations under the 1970 UNESCO Convention is in reality a conspiracy to support corruption.
But, what will SAFE's campaign (and that of the AIA) for "no questions asked" import restrictions really do for Bulgaria and the protection of its cultural patrimony, but help support the corrupt status quo?
Tompa draws on a report on the involvement of organized crime in Bulgaria in the illicit antiquities and illicit drug trade and human trafficking (among other ) to suggest that "before" US dealers are required by their government to import only licit dugup artefacts, the Bulgarians should adopt the measures set out in this report. Oddly - though he gives page references to the places in the report supporting his case for the wholesale corruption the trade involves - he fails to do that for those recommendations. Probably this is because they included regulating the market (including a mention of the importance of the 1970 convention in this) page 188-9 and two sections on regulating the market in antiquities (pp 189-197). The measures which Tompa mentions are only part of the recommendations of the report as a whole. I presume Tompa is relying on the fact that coineys are not going to actually check for themselves whether his summary is a fair one of what it says or not. His blog however is not read only by shallow coineys. The rest of us will find that, on looking at the text to which Tompa refers, he covers up the fact that near the top of the list is this (page 196):
Improve international coordination to prevent the sale of contraband antiquities from Bulgaria at auction houses in Western Europe. This would probably deter attempts to traffic local cultural goods across the Bulgarian border.
Well, equally improving international coordination to prevent the sale of contraband antiquities from Bulgaria by dealers in the even bigger market in the United States of America would be an effective deterrent of attempts to traffic local cultural goods across the Bulgarian border. So sending a request to the US government asking for an MOU - which the Bulgarians have just done - is entirely within the scope of the recommendations of this report.

Tompa concludes that:
Under the circumstances, the US could best help Bulgaria(sic) by tabling any talk of import restrictions to allow Bulgaria time to act on the CSD report's recommendations. Though any looting of Bulgarian archaeological sites is regrettable, it is best addressed in Bulgaria itself through the regulation of metal detectors and serious consideration of CSD's other suggestions before import restrictions are imposed.
In the meanwhile US dealers can carry on buying coins and other antiquities from the market which Tompa has described in detail in his blog post. Some readers with a better grasp on reality than a ranting lobbyist may feel that Bulgaria can better be helped by could-not-care-less Americans being prevented from financing the illicit international deals of Bulgarian criminal groups.

On the basis of that text Tompa presumably would advocate the same about the other problems raised in the same report on transnational organized criminal activity, that the Bulgarians should be left to deal with their own drug, human trafficking and stolen vehicle problems by themselves and the American authorities should not lift a finger to stop these criminal gangs move their commodities across US borders. After all why punish consumers ("see what Prohibition did") and American free enterprise and small businesses when there is money to be made and obviously the sole fault anyway is those corrupt ex-commies over in Europe?

Vignette: Bulk lots of dugup ancient coins from the Balkans and Danubian regions are sold like potatoes in the US.

Photo: Bulgarian "tirówka" (roadside prostitute) a few years ago in Poland. Polish police fortunately do not follow the Peter Tompa "let the Bulgarians sort out their own problems with criminal gangs and not expect us to do anything at our end" school of thought, and a drive along the more notorious routes is now less colourful for lonely long-distance drivers.

"Ancient Coins" Blog Rejects my Comment

A blogger who purports to be writing about "Ancient Coins" wrote a(nother) text about me (I am not an ancient coin, nor an ancient coin collector). In reply sent him a comment:
why not give your readers a LINK to where on my blog I say this "misleading" thing? Or are you afraid that they will read what I actually say and check it out? There are some questions to you there now, too, just what kind of section 2606 "MOU" does what Nevine El-Aref who you cite here as an authority says?

Well, it of course did not get posted (can't have links to my blog over on a coiney blog can we?). This is the reason given:
Paul, This is in my view mere propaganda as presently written, and I won't accept anything in that vein for appearance in my blog. If you rewrite it to focus on specific issues, such as I believe you have with what Nevine El-Aref said in her article, I will reconsider this decision.
Well, it is not "propaganda" at all to suggest when talking about my blog, he gives a link to it so people can see what was actually written. Note that when somebody refers to the El-Aref article as "proof" that I am wrong about the nature of the announced document, but then finding himself unable to answer the question about whether what El-Aref says can be squared in any way with what he claims, he refuses to post the comment. What a surprise. Typical coiney intellectual shallowness.

Anyway that is a laugh, he won't accept anything of "that nature" (alleged "propaganda") on his "ancient coins" blog, when it is full of anti-archaeologist, or anti-Barford, or anti-State Department, and anti-gubn'mint-bureaucracy propaganda, (together with "string them up on the lampost along Constitution Avenue" calls to arms). In fact everything BUT the titular ancient coins.

UPDATE 26th Oct 2011: The State Department has clarified the nature of the proposed document, as I pointed out the information that was being received was clear that it is not the "type of MOU made under Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention for import restrictions on certain categories of cultural materials". The DoS clarifies that "if the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt requests an agreement pursuant to Article 9 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention, the Department of State would announce receipt of such a request in the Federal Register. This procedure is the only means currently available to a country wishing U.S. import restrictions on its cultural property".

PAS to the Rescue?

On looking through the next batch of texts from US coineys opposed to smuggling-curb measures (gruesome), it strikes me that with the frequency that these people mention on an open access website which anyone anywhere can read the good ol' PAS over in England, it really behoves that organization as part of its outreach (even to the citizens of the good ol' United K.) to submit a comment. It COULD point out that what the PAS does has absolutely nothing to do with export controls (which is what the US' CCPIA is about). There really does seem an awful lot of misapprehension going around the international coin collecting community about that. If PAS wants to be a real "Friend of Numismatics", it should (I think) spend a few minutes for one member of outreach staff to try and correct that damaging misapprehension. Should it not?

So does the PAS think the US should apply import controls on dugup artefacts coming to the US borders with no documentation of legal import? Would it like to see the same measures applied to artefacts dug up in the UK and exported illegally without following the correct export licensing procedure? Or would it side with the ACCG over this?

Dr Bland was over in Dublin talking to CPAC Chair Patty Gerstenblith about this a week or so ago, a comment from him reminding her of the main points about the British position over export licensing might well be appreciated by the CPAC in their deliberations. It'd make a change from them having to plough through the irritating coiney whingeing.

More Coiney Befuddlement from the ACCG

It is a painful sight to see how the coin dealers lost in the wilderness thrashing around trying to justify their dealings, but do everything except actually sit down and read and learn about what they are criticising. It is therefore not me who is bringing "ridicule and discredit" on their desperate attempts to maintain what coin-dealer Dave Welsh calls the "longstanding and legitimate rights" of the collecting community to continue to buy large quantities of dugup coins exported from the source countries like Bulgaria without export licences.

I now find that this dealer now asserts on the blog of paid dealers' lobbyist lawyer Peter Tompa (who did not correct him) that:
the State Department (sic) is attempting to restrict topics upon which the public may comment to those which harmonize with their bureaucratic agenda, which clearly is to seize every opportunity to issue import restrictions on "archaeological artifacts," whether or not such artifacts actually come under the intentions of the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the 1983 CCPIA implementing that Convention in the USA. The S[t]ate Department, of course, has no legal right to control what members of the public may say in their comments.
This is just getting totally ridiculous. First of all it is not the "State Department" restricting anything, is it? The State Department currently provides the administrative and technical backup for the CPAC, a Presidential advisory committee set up to serve the needs of the CCPIA. The State Department facilitates any public submissions to the CPAC which the President or his designee thinks fit (CCPIA 19 U.S.C. 2605(h)). That's what the law says. The CPAC is convened to evaluate certain aspects of a request from one UNESCO 1970 Convention state party to another (the USA) and section 303 (19 U.S.C. 2602(a) 1) sets out what this should encompass. In seeking public comment on this (despite the fact that the interests of the public - and trade - are already represented in the statutory composition of the CPAC), it follows that comment is invited on those issues that the CPAC itself evaluates. It is not the "State Department" restricting who says what to the CPAC during its deliberations, but the CCPIA in directing (limiting) what precisely those deliberations shall consist of. If dealers like Mr Welsh are unhappy with that, then they need to force a change in the wording of the 1983 CCPIA - which would be no bad thing, as written it is damaging and anachronistic crap. That however does not absolve antiquity dealers like Mr Welsh knowing what it actually says. Why doesn't he?

I leave the veracity and possible import of the rest of the dealer's comment to the reader to assess.

Meg MoUs for Belize and Bulgaria; Let's all Mou for Belize and Bulgaria

Busy student Meg Lambert "I MoU, you MoU, we all MoU for Belize and Bulgaria" urges,
it's not often that we're ALL given the opportunity to lend our voices to the creation of these laws. Please, take some time to write a little something something to help save the world's history from disappearing completely.
It is nice to see that somebody spent a few hours actually reading up on the issues before deciding what to write - unlike the first hundred people that have sent some fuddled ill-thought-out kneejerk nonsense in support of keeping smuggled artefacts in circulation on the US market.

Sunday, 23 October 2011

Experiences with Customs Procedure

The public submissions to the CPAC deliberations over a cultural property MOU with Bulgaria continue to enlighten us about coiney mindsets and concerns. Two of them discuss attitudes to customs procedures. Charles Goergen is flat-out "against import restrictions on coins from any country". He says since coins "were designed as ancient methods of trade", trying to reclaim them is illegal seizure of property" (1933 double eagles come to mind). Not all coins (in the ancient world too) of course really were were "designed" for trade, or long-distance trade, many coins and collectable forms of 'primitive money' had a local circulation. Goergen's main gripe seems to be:
US Customs seized a $450 shipment to me from Spain without any notification. Just disappearing into the customs black hole. The country of origin claiming the cultural property should return the goods and services the coin originally purchased. That would be equitable.
Mr Goergan really wants 2000-year old wheat and salted pork? It would be interesting to know more about this shipment from Spain and why it was seized at the US borders if all the export paperwork was in order.

Of quite a different order was a contribution from Germany. Dr Hubert Lanz is a big-time German coin dealer (Numismatik Lanz München) and President of FENAP - I've blogged about this mysterious organization before. He writes as follows:
Bulgaria is a member of the EU (European Union) therefore the EU regulation for export of cultural property is valid also for Bulgaria. Export licences from any other member state cultural agency are valid in all EU countries. An import restriction from any EU member state would break European legislation. Please read: EC regulations on the import and export of cultural objects Council Regulation (EC) No 116/2009 of 18 December 2008 on the export of cultural goods (previously Council Regulation (EEC) No 3911/92 of 9 December 1992 on the export of cultural goods) and Council Regulation (EC) No 1210/2003 of 7 July 2003 concerning certain specific restrictions on economic and financial relations with Iraq and repealing Regulation (EC) No 2465/96 govern the import and export of cultural objects into and out of the EU’s economic area. These regulations are intended to prevent the illegal import and export of cultural property. Imports and exports in trade with third countries Council Regulation (EC) No 116/2009 of 18 December 2008 on the export of cultural goods is intended to ban the illegal transfer of cultural property from the EU’s economic area to countries that are not EU member states (third countries). It contains provisions on the scope of the regulation, on the definition of protected cultural property, and on competences and procedures. So do not make any separate treaty or agreement with any single EU member state. Regards Dr. Hubert Lanz
Well, oddly enough the whole underlined passage of this text appears to be taken verbatim from this webpage. So basically had Dr Lanz of FENAP given a link to the source of the information, his contribution to the debate would have consisted merely of the statement:
An import restriction from any EU member state would break European legislation. ...So do not make any separate treaty or agreement with any single EU member state.
Now I am at a loss how a firm with as long traditions as the one which Dr Lanz runs can have been exporting coins - presumably worldwide - for such a long period without establishing what the EU legislation on this actually is. How is this possible? Could Dr Lanz please state for the benefit of us all exactly where in EU legislation (name of the act/regulation/ directive, article, paragraph) this is forbidden? While it is true that the EU is about free markets between state members, this does not exclude imposing regulations on certain categories of goods - including cultural property. It simply is not true that an EU state cannot issue its own export licences for cultural property. The UK reserves the right to ignore EU directives on this in the case of excavated archaeological objects (including coins) and there is nothing "illegal" [pace dr Lanz] in that. Indeed the text to which he himself refers (Council Regulation (EC) No 116/2009 of 18 December 2008 on the export of cultural goods) preamble point 4, articles 1 and 2 state quite clearly, "Such a system should require the presentation of a licence issued by the competent Member State prior to the export of cultural goods covered by this Regulation", and that competence is assigned to: "a competent authority of the Member State in whose territory the cultural object in question was lawfully and definitively located on 1 January 1993". This is (art. 2.4) "subject to the national law of the Member State of export". Penalties are also established by individual member states (art. 9). The regulations referring to Dr Lanz' own country areset out in English here: Guidelines for importing and exporting cultural property into and out of Germany A. National rules to protect cultural property against export where is there the evidence in any of this that EU legislation forbids any kind of agreement with Bulgaria concerning the import of cultural property such as archaeological material with or without a Bulgarian export licence?

Until Dr Lanz and his FENAP come up with the actual article of law which he implies exists, and in the absence of any evidence that such a thing exists, we may safely regard this as another of those numismopathetic pull-the-wool-over-everybody's-eyes red herrings.

But Dr Lanz is right, it would save everybody a LOT of time and money if the USA instead of fiddling around with individual member states of this European "common market", would sign a cultural property MOU with the whole of the EU, protecting the cultural property of all the member states from illicit import, export and transfer of ownership at the hands of greedy and unconcerned US dealers and collectors and those who profit from this greed and lack of concern.

Vignette: Dr Hubert Lanz

ACCG International Affairs Chair on the Ball

The announcement that there is a US-Egyptian agreement on the cards to fight antiquities smuggling has received relatively wide coverage in the online media alerts. All of them without exception regard this as good news. The only place so far in which it has roused (extremely) negative coverage is within the dugup antiquities dealers' lobby group, the "Ancient Coin Collectors' Guild". As if those lobbying to keep smuggled coins coming onto the US market were not making fools of themselves enough, on the receipt of the news of announcement of a forthcoming emergency cultural property regulations agreement between the US and Egypt, the chair of the ACCG International Affairs Committee shows just how au fait he is in those international affairs:
Whether or not the reports emanating out of Egypt are true in every detail, the very fact that such a report could be made by an official of the stature of Zahi Hawass does prove these disturbing truths...
[UPDATE: He reposted it here] It seems Dave ("send a message to Congress") Welsh also does not recognise the procedural difference between emergency regulations and the MOUs envisaged in the CPIA. He urges antiquity collectors:
make your disgust with this dishonest charade known in the public record. Do this every time a MOU request is considered, until Congress finally realizes that the American people know that they are being lied to, and that their legitimate interests and rights are being trampled upon by the Cultural Heritage Center bureaucracy.
that's "legitimate interests and rights" to handle stolen and smuggled artefacts? What exactly are these ACCG folk campaigning against? Is protesting every measure intended to cut down illicit trade going to enamour them with Congress and the American people, or draw attention to the ills of the current system?

UPDATE 24th October 2011: I guess when you are a coin collector there are no real limits to how much stupidity you think you can get away with passing off as real discussion. Dave Welsh has posted a text, citing Nevine El-Aref as his authority, "putting the record straight" in which he telepathically determines that what is being proposed is not Emergency Import Restrictions after all, but a [CCPIA section 2606] "MOU" which he says is different. Nevertheless when the story first broke back in May this year, the ACCG were accepting that what was in the air were (as was reported from the Cairo meeting between a US delegation and the Minister of Antiquities) emergency import restrictions. - dealer's lobbyist Tompa specifically protesting at the time that there was "no emergency".

So, if this is going to be an MOU like Cyprus, China, Italy, Greece and (hopefully) Bulgaria, where Mr Welsh in section 2606 of the CCPIA is there an authority to "track and catch antiquities smugglers in the country [USA]? What does section 2606 (or 2608) of the CCPIA say about "all legal procedures to return illegally smuggled antiquities to Egypt"? Have the people smuggling coins through Baltimore to provoke a court case over the Cyprus and China MOUs been "tracked and caught"? Have the seized coins imported illegally by the ACCG now been returned to China and Cyprus? What are you talking about Mr Welsh?

Nevertheless my point was not what the document is called, but the comment made months after the guy went into retirement, that "an official of the stature of Zahi Hawass" is used to intimate that the reports are true (so "write to Congress to complain!") . As even a coiney should know, Dr Hawass is of course no longer in the Egyptian administration and made no such report this month.

Coineys are inordinately fond of saying things, as does coin-dealer-guy here, like "Mr. Barford is the one who does not correctly understand the situation and whose remarks have been misleading", but time and time again show that if I write a sentence more than eight words long, they get lost and cannot follow at all what it is I actually said.

Vignette: I guess the ACCG's International affairs committee did not send a letter congratulating the new SCA chief on his appointment and looking forward to fruitful co-operation in the future fighting looting and smuggling.

American-Egyptian Memorandum of Understanding on Antiquities Smuggling "to be Signed Soon"

An American-Egyptian memorandum of understanding making the Customs and National Security Department in the USA responsible for tracking and catching antiquities smugglers in the United States is to be signed soon reports Al Ahram and Al Masry Al Youm. Of course this is what becoming a state party to the 1970 UNESCO treaty obliges America to do anyway, so its good to see them formally confirming that they do intend honouring just a little bit more of those obligations, though 28 years later than one would have hoped. So it seems my map may well need another red area.

Dealers' paid lobbyist Tompa complains:
Such MOU's (sic) are only supposed to be decided after a formal request from a State Party to the State Department. CPAC is then supposed to make recommendations to the President's designee at the Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, who in turn is only supposed to agree to import restrictions if specific statutory criteria are met.[...] If the reports emanating out of Egypt are true, its just more evidence that the whole CPAC process is but a bad joke.
Yes, the way the United States of America "implements" the 1970 Convention is indeed a bad 1980s joke. A very bad and damaging joke, given the voracity of the US no-questions-asked market for antiquities. It's good to see some evidence that the US is at last changing its attitude to the cultural property rest of the world. Probably dealers like the ACCG have done their part in bringing home just how much damage can be done to international relations by continuing to ignore the problem.

In any case, Tompa is being misleading when he says that such measures always need CPAC input, emergency regulations do not, do they? Anyway, the Cultural Property Research Institute (sic) is already on the case.

Taking and Giving Credit

Washington lawyer Peter Tompa finds my blogged comments on what goes on in the world of collecting and dealing in archaeological artefacts "obnoxious" and on that basis suggests that in some way I am "No Credit to the Archaeological Community". In particular he objects to my commenting upon the views of collectors who have been "forced by the State Department's "green initiative" to post their comments about the Bulgarian MOU on line" on what he says are the "State Department's and the AIA's efforts to suppress ancient coin collecting in this country".

Well, first of all the manner in which the common archaeological heritage is treated should indeed be an open, inclusive and public debate with the potential involvement of all stakeholders. Having it online is an entirely laudable thing, it is a shame that collectors feel they are being "forced" to openly say what they think. We all know that dugup artefact collectors ("metal detectorists" and coineys in particular) prefer closed forums and discussion groups where normal people who may question what they see there cannot see what they do or say. They are not kiddie-porn collectors and surely doing nothing that needs shielding from public view, the public who are the major stakeholder in the heritage.

Once again we spot the attempted sleight-of-hand alarmist phrase: "efforts to suppress ancient coin collecting in this country". The State Department is doing nothing other than looking after US interests abroad (the cynics among us will see that if there were no US interests in doing any of this, we may all be sure the US government would not be lifting a finger). I have already dealt with what the AIA's policy on collecting actually is, it is a shame (but wholly typical of the milieu) that Tompa can't be bothered to read it. What anyone with more than half a braincell can see is that the measures under discussion are intended to do is curb smuggling of artefacts. Note that it is the dealers' lobbyist here whose Freudian slip is in effect warning here that if we were to succeed in cutting out the smuggled artefacts, the US antiquities market - one of the biggest in the world - would collapse. He said it, not me.

The lawyer asserts:
"Barford seems to suggest that coin collectors are failing to specifically comment on these provisions of the CPIA" [followed by a cut-and-paste of section 303(a)1 of the CCPIA - I think actually the first time he has ever presented it on his blog]
No, there is no "seems to suggest" about it. I state it outright. Members of the public are specifically and clearly asked only to comment on section 303(a)1 of the CCPIA. I note that if we look, we find that in the submitted online comments, they on the whole talk about anything BUT section 303(a)1 of the CCPIA. I do not "suggest" it, I state it as an incontrovertible fact, and back it up with links to and quotes of what they actually do say. That is what we call discussion Mr Tompa. The next bit of Tompa's text is extraordinary:
But how would most collectors be in any position at all to comment intelligently on most of this legalese?
"Legalese"? What in that fragment of text (just 219 words) is so difficult for anyone of an average intelligence to understand? But surely if lawyer Tompa wants to help coineys make an intelligent contribution to the debate, it would be easy for lawyer Tompa to sit down and write a text translating this alleged "legalese" into simple English to help them understand what the issues are. I've done this for the benefit of any of my readers who might need it, and it really is not so complicated (I also invited coineys do do not understand Washingtonese to look at my exegesis to aid them formulating a comment). If Tompa cannot be bothered to acknowledge that his coiney supporters might have difficulty comprehending what is involved, he could provide a link to my post to save him having to do it. Yet he does neither.

What is extraordinary is the admission that in his 'call to arms' to oppose this proposal (currently being put out by several major coin dealers), he is asking coin collectors to publicly comment on what he now admits he knows they are in no position at all to comment intelligently upon. So this suggests that as far as he is concerned, just any old unintelligent comment is for the sake of coiney propaganda better than none - in this brand of US democracy, quantity takes priority over quality?

So is Tompa himself saying that his coiney mates are too unintelligent to actually find out a bit about the background before making a public comment? In what way is that different to my pointing out that - in the context of what had been requested - the whole series I looked at were singularly unintelligent comments? Surely both lines of argument lead to the same conclusion?

Tompa suggests that instead of the questions posed in section 303(a)1, the President might
instead consider - through his advisory committee - whether American collectors are being discriminated against (not mentioned in section 303 - and I'll address that comment in the blog post below this one) and whether import restrictions go directly to the "use of ancient coins as educational tools" (for the latter see my earlier comments). Tompa concludes by suggesting:
In any event, it certainly does no credit to other members of the archaeological community that one of their number is in effect seeking to suppress the First Amendment rights of American collectors as well as the views of collectors outside the US with his obnoxious ridicule of those forced to comment publicly on the website.
I am not suppressing ANYONE's so-called "First Amendment rights" (a much-abused term in the US it seems to me). Are the words and deeds of collectors and dealer somehow sacrosanct and immune to analysis? Or don't I too have my own right to say what I think about what they dealers say and do? I do not consider that those rights are in any way being "suppressed" by lawyer Tompa saying he does not agree with me or like (or thinks other archaeologists would like) the way I am saying what I say. It is called discussion Mr Tompa.

Let the archaeologists who Tompa suggests consider I do them (sic) no credit come onto my blog and tell me why they think smuggling dugup artefacts out of Bulgaria and into the US is a jolly good thing for archaeology, and why we should be extra-specially nice to all those who want a part in the process.

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