Friday 26 June 2009

"Why are ancient coins from Cyprus featured in a suit against the US Department of State?"


The destruction of archaeological sites and assemblages in the search for collectable artefacts, which is accompanied by a huge loss of knowledge is a global problem of increasing severity that few people aware of it would deny. In recent years there has been a move away from the nineteenth century collecting ethos which in effect lasted until the middle of the last century, now many public institutions like museums adopted effective ethical codes and together with them more stringent acquisitions policies. By this means they intend to reduce the role that their acquisitions of recently surfaced antiquities had been playing in this destructive process.

Unfortunately outside these circles there remain a minority (composed mainly of private collectors and especially dealers who make their money from comercialising decontextualised archaeological artefacts) who refuse to recognise the need to change the ethics of the way they handle archaeological materal. These naysayers pretend looting is not a problem and nothing to do with the antiquities trade. They assert that neither dealers or private collectors should not be held to or practice any due diligence standards. It goes without saying that this obstructive mentality is a stumbling block to any progress in reducing the damage done year in and year out by the digging for artefacts to supply the no-questions-asked market. In the maintenance of the detrimental status quo, dealers and collectors of the United States are especially vociferous, and there is clarly a massive drain of the global historical heritage to the hungry markets of that country.

In the past few years the United States has come to an agreement with a number of neighbouring countries that it will apply import controls on antiquities deriving from those countries. This means that import of such objects into the United States will only be considered lawful if they are accompanied by documentation which shows they had been legitmately exported from them.

One would have thought that collectors from that country would have welcomed such moves, after all, who would want to buy illicitly exported items? While these restrictions affected material like pre-Columbian ceramics and textiles, collected only by a minority of specialist US collectors, there was relative calm. Things changed dramatically in 2007 when one of these import restrictions affcted ancient coins. Collectors of ancient coins in the US for some reason do not regard the objects they covet as archaeological artefacts (the logic of this escapes everyone except coin dealers). They also regard themselves as some kind of cultural elite whic they represent as somehow spreading enlightenment in a world of declining standards by their altruistic collecting activities. These "benefits" are enough - they say - to counter all the arguments of the preservationists (who they accuse of ulterior motives, malevolence and incompetence).

So it is that US (and Belgian *) coin collectors decided to overturn the decision of the Bush government of the United States of America. they want a court to be caused to rule that it was "unlawful" to declare coins archaeological artefacts in the was that was done in the case of Cyprus and China.

David Gill has now produced a brief introduction to this topic which should reach a wider public than the blogs and other discussions we take part in over this issue. His post to the PR Newswire "Why are ancient coins from Cyprus featured in a suit against the US Department of State?" links to his cleverly-titled and informative blog"Looting Matters" from which the interested reader can explore the issue themselves. Of course the "coiney" lobby is unlikely to be best pleased by this. I think Dr Gill can expect some more of the name calling and unpleasantness which seems to be all that the US coin collecting lobby is capable of these days.
* who knows where they came into the equation, but how ironic it is in the light of a certain commentator's misgivings about "foreign organizations" allegedly interefering in the doings of the US no-questions-asked antiquities market.


Paul Barford said...

I see that the Washington lobbyist for coin dealers at Bailey and Ehrenburg is reiterating his conspiracy theories about "SAFE blogger" David Gill in light of the PR Newswire post.

Apparently Gill is "defending the U.S. State Department's lack of transparency and bias in favor of archaeologists and foreign cultural affairs bureaucracies". [sic]

According to Tompa " the costs associated with Gill's PR Newswire release raise their own unresolved questions about Gill's funding and what interests are actually behind this publicity effort".

Well, PR Newswire's London office is on Blackfiars Road, which is not far from Temple church, and we all know (for example from the Da Vinci Code) what role the Templars played in the movement of cultural "treasures" of various kinds across the borders of foreign countries. Its obvious that it is only a matter of time until Mr Tompa uncovers a Templar connection here. Blackfriars Bridge was also where Roberto Calvi's body was found in 1982. Food for thought if one is looking for secret business going on behind the scenes I would have thought.

Paul Barford said...

Now Missouri coin dealer Wayne Sayles has joined in with the attacks on David Gill, waxing philosophical about "truth".

Apparently: "To characterize this suit as commercially motivated is either ignorant of the facts or malevolent. Really? But it quite clearly is. Coin collectors want to legally buy legal coins from dealers - they really are not concerned about the nitty gritty of what papers the dealer has to provide to supply those coins. The requirement is not in any case particularly onerous. In fact we find that this suit is brought by one collectors' organization (currently dominated by dealers) and two dealers' organizations - oe of which is not even based in the US.

According to Sayles, Dr Gill should not be bothered about this since "it is a matter between American citizens and the U.S. Government and he is neither. but then neither is the IAPN which is based in Belgium. In truth the antics of US coin dealers which affect the global efforts to reduce looting of archaeological sites and illicit trade of antiquities ARE THE CONCERN OF US ALL.

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