Saturday 15 May 2010

Reiske's So-called "Taliban Hoards"

In reply to Tim Johnson's comments on Bactrian coins being more common on the US market as a result of the activities connected with the Soviet invasion and civil war, coin collecting archaeologist John Rieske writes on Moneta-L:

Not long after the Taliban's violent takeover of Afghanistan, two (at least) massive hoards were rumored to have been sold off by the Taliban. Rumors were that these Greek period coins weighed in the range of several tons each. (I heard two tons and five tons.) There soon followed a period where all Baktrian coins suffered a substantial reduction in value as a result. A question I have is this: Since these coins were sold by the then recognized government of Afghanistan by most nations at the time, why then would these coins be considered illicit?

His point is that these coins are currently "considered illegitimate by the US government and others", though does not specify under what law they "could conceivably be confiscated if a collector is found to be in possession of any in his/her collection".

Since the exact composition of these hoards are not known, this could conceivably result in any unprovenanced Baktrian coins being considered a part of these hoards. These unprovenanced Baktrian coins probably include many that were legitmately collected, but over time, and after a number of sales, the purchase records may, somewhere along the line, have become lost. So what would the rights of those who bought any of these in good faith be? This question may sound rhetorical, but the situation is already primed to come to pass.

It seems he is referring to the Mir Zakah hoards. They were discovered in 1992, and on the market in Peshawar (which is of course in Pakistan, not Afghanistan) by 1994. So this was during the period of the civil war between Mujahadin groups. The Taliban only began their rise to power 1996-8 and their international recognition was later still. Thus I do not see how it can be true that the coins were sold by the Taliban as "the recognized government of Afghanistan", if they were sold by the Taliban at this time it was when the latter were an insurgent group fighting against the Kabul government.

News reports at the time (for example an odd pro-collecting one by David Keys of April 1994 in the Independent) indicated the objects from these hoards were on the market illicitly, and the Kabul government had not sanctioned them leaving the country. Rieske claimed off-list that "the hoards were called the Taliban Hoards because they were the ones that were enriched by them", but I am not sure who was calling what "The Taliban Hoards", as a Google search of the term only reveals a heap of people that cannot distinguish the word "hoard" from "horde".
It is odd isn't it that collectors regard archaeologists who worked in Saddam's Iraq suspect, but feel its OK to put money into the coffers of the Taliban, for even in the 1990s there were numerous reports on their poor human rights record and oppression of citizens.

[In answer to my question "Do you have any of these coins?" he replies of course "I would not tell you if I did", which is perhaps an odd response if he genuinely thought any such coins had been acquired legitimately.]

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