Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Cultural Property Observatory Confusion

In his post 'What Do Dated Police Investigations Involving Coins Actually Tell Us?', Peter Tompa really gets himself confused. He mentions the case of the Eid Mar denarius apparently illegally excported from Greece and seized from the London office of CNG discussed recently by David Gill in the context of the request of the Greek government to the US to take steps to curb imports of antiquities which have been illegally exported from Greece. Tompa asserts (my emphasis), without giving any authority for the statement:

Those who support import restrictions claim such coins should be treated as presumptively Italian and not presumptively Greek.

Eh? Likewise the coin which I discussed recently in a related context was a Thracian type which apparently had been previously on sale within Greece, but Tompa says:
Thrace encompassed the borders of present day Greece, Bulgaria and Turkey. It would be interesting to learn whether Gill, Barford and friends believe Thacian coins should therefore be considered presumptively Greek, presumptively Bulgarian or presumptively Turkish.
An American-made car stolen from Hamburg and being sold in Burnham obviously should go back to the person from whom it had been stolen and not the factory in Detroit. "Barford believes" that Thracian coins are Thracian coins, but ("coins travelled widely in the ancient world" as they say) if found in a hoard in Komotini in Greece, were stolen from the archaeological record of Komotini Greece. That really stands to reason.

Likewise the suggestion that the Italians have asked the United States of America to consider anything of Roman type or origin to be Italian cultural heritage wherever it was found is pure fantasy. In fact I am on record here suggesting it is ACCG mendacity, but perhaps (now we see the ACCG's Washington lawyer stating it as fact) it is shown to be sheer ACCG stupidity.

UPDATE 2.09.10. There really must be something in the corrosion products of old dugup coins that clogs the synapses.

Washington lawyer Peter Tompa returns (A Question of Presumptions) to the matter of the CNG Eid Mar denarius with a stubborness which should be reserved for more worthy matters. That is because he gets it completely round his neck. This is the beginning of what he wrote:

There were several responses to my last post that suggest that the AIA and archaeologists do not support treating Roman Denarii as presumptively Italian, but at the same time it was also suggested that it is okay to presume that an unprovenanced Roman denarius is indeed presumptively Italian because, not surprisingly, such coins can be found in Italy.

Well, there are two things to note here, now he's given up giving the link to these "several responses", one of them is the post above. Secondly who on earth said that the Eid Mar coin was "Italian" cultural property? This is a totally invented argument. CNG is a close pal with the ACCG and Mr Tompa (being a "Cultural property Observer") surely knows the story. As reported by Leo Worden in COINage magazine Vol. 42, No. 11 (November 2006, so not that long ago), and as I wrote quite clearly, the coin was returned to Greece.

In any case, unlike many Republican denarii, these were not struck in Rome, but by Brutus' army on the march and it is believed that the mint for this group of denarii was precisely ... Greece (Drama and one other place I've forgotten). But the point is that this particular coin was offered to the London buyer by an anonymous Greek guy who it later turned out already had a record for trafficking ancient Greek artefacts (but the London dealer did not bother about checking that). Nobody even suggested in 2005 or later that this was an "Italian" object. I really cannot think where Tompa got that from.

But Mr Tompa's thought processes get even more difficult to follow when his pal PhDiva ventured her (rather wide of the mark) thoughts on the matter, Tompa declared solemly Hi Dorothy- Late Roman coins frequently do have mint marks, but not earlier denarii. Hmmm. The one we are discussing does not, but I have a big fat book about the Warsaw collection of republican denarii, and most of them have the letters R.O.M.A. in the exergue.
Perhaps Mr Tompa would like us to believe this does not indicate where these coins were issued, but it meant Radix Omnium MAlorum - or something like that?
* * *
Summing up, and compounding the confusion, Tompa suggests that "If, on the other hand, the AIA and other responsible archaeological bodies would abandon supporting such presumptions [that is the made-up ones it never crossed their minds to support] and instead limit their support for [to?] the repatriation of artifacts proven to be taken from illicit investigations, that would be a major step forward to bridging the gap between collectors and archaeologists.

Well, that is nonsense, but on the other hand: If responsible US dealers and collectors of archaeological material would abandon supporting the no-questions-asked trade [in particular stopped buying items which have no documentary proof of licit export from the source country] and instead showed their active support for the quashing of the trade in artefacts likely to have been recently derived from illicit exploitation of the archaeological record, that would be a major step forward to bridging the gap between collectors and archaeologists.
Photo: the Wikipedian image of an Eid Mar denarius (unprovenanced of course)

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