First published Friday 23rd October 2009 but relevant today as we read US public submissions to the CPAC on the Bolivian and Greece MOU renewals. Just who do these people think they are? Just what do they think the 1970 Convention which they are "implementing"actually is for?
That was written seven years ago, but today remains much of its currency. In particular the point I made about the US using the convention (properly) to protect the cultural property coming from its own landmass (those kachina figures and Navajo masks they keep bellyaching about) is still 100% relevant and so blindingly obvious, it is a puzzle why nothing has changed in that time.
I was recently reading Article II of the US MOU with Italy over the importation of archaeological objects which will be under discussion with the CPAC in November. I was interested in looking at it in the light of recent discussions here and elsewhere on the scale of their own looting problem and the inadequate response in the USA.
As readers may recall, the US mechanism for enforcing the 1970 UNESCO Convention (the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act - in my opinion a distortion of Article 15 of the UNESCO convention) de facto makes a mockery of the idea behind the Convention itself, one wonders why the US bothered ratifying it. What the it means is they will only apply it properly to certain choice nations, the ones with which they actually currently have an MOU - which they only award if the country asks, and only then after a long period of evaluation. What a farce - made even more so by the farcical farsity of the dealers' lobbies currently questioning them at EVERY STAGE of the process, both before and after. I really do not know what sort of help this is to anyone - while tonnes (literally) of material looted in the Balkans pass into America to form the basis of the market in so-called "minor antiquities" present on the market from a number of cultures of the so-called "Classical World". Nobody will stop it there as the USA has no MOU with Bulgaria, Hungary or Bosnia or anywhere else in the region obliging them to actually uphold Article 8 of the 1970 UNESCO Convention. What hypocrites.
Anyway, the imposition on import restrictions on just certain categories of material is made conditional on the source country doing certain things for America. It is these conditions applied to Italy that are under discussion on November 13th. The dealers' lobby has been pointing out (such as it being a constant feature of the "Cultural Property Observer" blog) for many months preceding this that Italy cannot really be trusted to look after its own cultural heritage (so, the schoolyard argument goes, "why should we put ourselves out to help them when there is so much money to be made by not?").
I was reflecting on what in its present form Article II of the Italy MOU initially imposed in 2001 requires the Italians to do (quite apart from the ideas individuals like Peter Tompa have about what more it should be doing "Back in 2000, CPAC recommended that Italy consider a Treasure Trove program"). It struck me that the US government is asking a foreign government to do far more than it seems to me they themselves are doing to protect the archaeological heritage of their own country. So I wondered what the same agreement would look like if the boot was on the other foot, if America was the petitioner. What conditions would the other nation impose on the US? Let's have a look:
Agreement between the Government of the Republic of Ruritania and the Government of the United States of America Concerning the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Categories of Archaeological Material Representing the Various Periods of Prehistory and Multicultural Nature of the Rich Cultural Heritage of the United States of AmericaIn reaching the decision to recommend protection for the archaeological and cultural heritage of the United States of America , the Assistant Secretary of State for Educational and Cultural Affairs, Ruritanian Department of State, determined that, pursuant to the requirements of the Act, the cultural patrimony of the United States is in jeopardy from the pillage of archaeological materials which represent its multi-cultural heritage of prehistoric and historic periods, and that such pillage is widespread, definitive, systematic, on-going, and frequently associated with criminal activity. Dating from approximately 40 000 B.P. to approximately fifty years ago, the cultural heritage of America’s past includes many categories of artifacts including sculpture, vessels, ornaments, weapons, sacral objects and masks, decorated items. These materials are of cultural significance because they derive from cultures that developed autonomously in the region of the present day United States of America that attained a high degree of political, technological, economic, and artistic achievement. The pillage of these materials from their context has prevented the fullest possible understanding of the cultural history of the region by systematically destroying the archaeological record. Furthermore, the cultural patrimony represented by these materials is a source of identity and esteem for the modern American nation. […] Desiring to reduce the incentive for pillage of irreplaceable archaeological material representing the various periods of prehistory and multi-cultural nature of the rich archaeological heritage of the United States of America; Have agreed as follows: […]
B. Both Governments agree that in order for these measures to be fully successful in deterring pillage, the Government of the United States of America shall use its best efforts to increase scientific research and protection of archaeological patrimony and protective measures for archaeological excavations at known sites, particularly in areas at greatest risk from looters. We acknowledge the efforts of the Government of the United States of America in recent years to devote more public funds to guard archaeological sites and museums and to develop incentives for private support of legitimate excavation.
C. The Government of the United States of America shall reinforce, with respect to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, the protection of its cultural patrimony. In particular, they shall provide for:
1. instituting more severe penalties and prompt prosecution of looters,
2. regulating the use of metal detectors,
3. providing additional training for the special units for the protection of the cultural heritage of Federal law enforcement bodies and Federal land management agencies, and
4. intensifying the investigations by Federal authorities on the looting of archaeological sites and on the routes of the smugglers of these artifacts. […]
F. The Government of the United States of America is encouraged to review the laws concerning the ownership of archaeological artifacts and to improve the efficiency of the system verifying provenance of material which is on sale from excavations within the territory of the United States. The Government of the United States of America will continue to examine new ways to facilitate the export of archaeological items of Native American or other origins legitimately sold within the country. […]ARTICLE IIIThe obligations of both Governments and the activities carried out under this Memorandum of Understanding shall be subject to the laws and regulations of each Government, as applicable, including the availability of funds. [...].
And so on... well, the main reason one suspects that there will never be such a document is that the United States of America does not produce an awful lot of material which would be snapped up by European collectors as much as the material from various "source countries" so ravenously coveted by US collectors. The objects in dispute in the "Cerberus Action" bust in the Four Corners area for example included such things as menstrual pads, holed blankets from graves, baskets and worn-out sandals. Hardly "Red-figure krater, scarab of Tuthmosis III, Athenenian tetradrachm type" material.
US collectors have seriously suggested that the US should condition their agreement to do anything at all to help these countries stem the illicit trade only after they introduce a PAS-Treasure-Act type system modelled on Britain's laissez-faire legislation. This seems to be what Peter Tompa seems to be going to suggest to the CPAC they should (again) recommend to the US Government that they should ask the Italians to institute.
Let us first see the same US dealers and collectors getting a similar system working in the US before they urge the imposition of the legislation of one foreign county on another.
Let us see the US taking the same approach to the problem of looting within their own country before imposing on foreign governments their ideas of how they should be tackling the problem.
Let us see the US leading by example and not creating additional conditions for its foreign partners at the bidding of the US antiquity dealing community. Let us see the US properly applying the UNESCO convention to the dealings of its own citizens in the material illegally removed from archaeological sites and illegally removed from their countries of origin.
Let us see the Bulgarian coins and kilogramme lots of metal detected artefacts from sites like "Vidin" and other carbuncles on the image of the licit trade disappear from eBay US and VCoins.
Let us see an investigation of the holdings of all those involved in the attempted import through Baltimore of ancient coins without adequate documentation in defiance of the CPIA earlier this year - who knows what other missing documentation else Federal authorities may find.
Only then I would say could the government of the United States of America justify the moral right to dictate to other governments further measure which they should be applying before they will help - and not before. The very idea, just who do they think they are?