Thursday 3 November 2011

AIA Leader Found "thinking" Coineyly

Wayne Sayles gives: "Kudos to a thinking AIA leader". He represents a CPAC comment from an AIA "leader" from Washington DC, a "blinding flash of light". Why? because he'd cut and pasted some of Peter Tompa's coiney nonsenses into this comment. According to Sayles this was
one AIA member who spoke clearly with an enlightened understanding of the situation on the ground and an obvious concern for truth. This gentleman, Gerard Casale, is a current member of the Board of Directors of the Washington DC Society (George Washington University) of the Archaeological Institute of America.
Because it contains so many Tompaisms, Sayles calls Dr Casale's account:
a very nice summary of the points that the ACCG and Numismatic Trade have made regarding not only coins from Bulgaria but from virtually all source countries that produced coins in antiquity.
It is indeed a very typical coiney text. I am unaware of the field Dr Casale specialises in, Google scholar is no help. I would not mind betting he collects coins.

Mr. Casale considers that since "coins from mints in what is now Bulgaria are both common and usually very inexpensive" this does not mean that they are looted on a massive scale. Even though there are already "tens or hundreds of thousands of these coins existing in collections around the world", he sees no reason to stop fresh imports of illegally exported (for that is what the 1970 UNESCO Convention and the CCPIA are about) into the US. The numbers of coins there already are "not enough' for him.

Furthermore, Casale adds they: "have never have been through an auction or other transaction where precise provenance has been recorded". Whoops, slight deviation from the Tompa prepared text. But Mr Casale WHERE in the CCPIA is any mention whatsoever mentioned of "provenance"? Where is an importer required to document "provenance"?

The hapless AIA "leader" goes on "Nor is it vital to the interests of scholarship inside Bulgaria that such provenance be demanded now". Eh? Who is demanding "provenance" for the "benefit of Bulgarian scholarship"? Has Mr Casale ANY idea what we are discussing here? This is an AIA "leader"?

More Tompaism still:
Regulations at 26 USC Section 2601 (2). provided that for an artifact to be restricted under the CPIA, it must be of both archaeological interest and cultural significance. These coins exist in many multiples, already well represented in Bulgarian state collections and are therefore not of cultural significance within the meaning of the rule.
If the AIA "leader" would read the Act (and let's give the proper reference, "Section 2601(32)(C)(1)(I)" with a little bit of understanding, he'd see it is talking about something else. Excavations produce many types of material which are of "archaeological interest", such as snail shells, pollen, charcoal samples and pig bone fragments. These are very interesting for an archaeologist, helping to reconstruct environment, diet etc. They are however excluded from the CCPIA by the above-mentioned Section 2601(32)(C)(1)(I) because they are not what would be termed "material culture". That's what that section means. Mr Casale can import as many Roman pig and horse bone fragments and charcoal samples as he likes bought on the black market and derived from looted Bulgarian, Greek, Italian and Cypriot sites for his studies. They are not covered by the CCPIA. That is what Section 2601(32)(C)(1)(I) does, likethe Art. 1 of the 1970 Convention, so badly misrepresented in US collecting circles ("the Article one lie").

Coins are indeed of "cultural significance", as it is one of the staples of the coiney argument that by their study one can learn so much about ancient cultures (this is the core of the coiney's "cultural property internationalism" arguments - that the study of other cultures is being prevented by "retentionism"). As archaeological evidence they too carry much cultural information - look at the mapping of celtic coins in the UK, the mapping of coins beyond the Roman frontiers in Scotland (or within them in Wales), or in eastern European barbaricum, the flow of Islamic silver and Merovingian gold in the Early Medieval period. It beats me how any INFORMED archaeologist could say that coins are not material culture, are not of cultural significance. That their removal from the archaeological record has no consequences for our understanding of the past and its cultures. I wonder what Mr Casale's field is, lithics?

The Tompaisms continue: Since ancient coins circulated widely beyond the borders of modern Bulgaria, even in ancient times, one cannot assume that all coins of Bulgarian types, “were first discovered in” Bulgaria, as required by the CPIA. (26 USC Section 2601 (2) (c).)
Well, again, let us give the whole phrase: "was first discovered within, and is subject to export control by, the State Party". So, I assume that Dr Casale accepts (he does not say) that items dug up and illegally removed from Bulgaria (ie shipped directly to the US from a culture-criminal in Bulgaria) should be stopped by US customs under the CCPIA, yes or no? Certainly if he says "no" then he would be in clear opposition to AIA policy over the illicit antiquity trade.

What about antiquity 'laundering'? How does AIA "leader" Dr Casale and his fellow supporters of a no-questions-asked approach propose dealing with that? What Dr Casale is saying is if a Bulgarian looter can dig up some stuff and put it in a car boot and drive across to - say - Thessalonika, it should be perfectly legal and proper to import it into the US on the grounds that it "was not actually shipped from Bulgaria"? Even if the objects quite obviously came from Bulfgaria (like a tombstone with an inscription identifying the burial site?). What about artefacts which are found exclusively, almost exclusively, most frequently on sites with the borders of modern Bulgarian territory? (Like some of the coin [and 'primitive-money'] issues of the Greek colonies there which were for internal use, like some of the provincial issues of the Roman period). Should US authorities simply shrug their shoulders to the 'laundering' of antiquities through their illicit transfer on their way to the US markets? We've seen the use of Free Ports in this sort of antiquities laundering before, we've heard that some dealers may have been using a middleman in Dubai to cover the origins of material allegedly looted from Egypt (and one of those dealers was expelled from the ACCG before his case even came to court), we've heard that material looted in surrounding countries taken across the borders is laundered by being exported from Israel with an Israeli export licence. Metal detectorists claim that material being sold as "British antiquities" on eBay UK comes from other countries where metal detecting is illegal, and thus being "laundered" through the British system. Basically if Tedor Kradets the Bulgarian metal detectorist finds a hoard of solidi of Honorius in the ruins of the principia of a Danubian fortlet in Bulgaria, sticks it in a hollowed-out pumpkin and drives it in his little car to Herman Munzenwangler the notorious Munich fence who sends it to auction in New York, there is basically no way that the US barrier of bubbles which is its border control is going to spot its illegal export. If the hoard was of silver issues of a local despot of limited circulation primarily within the area of modern Bulgaria, then yes, the US border authorities should be stopping it and investigating what this freshly surfaced material is doing on its way to the US market. If it gets through the barrier of bubbles, it would be nice to think that somebody in the US would still be investigating freshly surfaced material on the open market (but they don't, do they?)

So, Dr Casale ends up by saying lamely:
"Less severe remedies must be considered before import restrictions are placed on Bulgarian coins."
Why? What about the arrowheads, encolpions, pendant crosses, finger rings, harness bosses, military fittings, earrings and all the rest of the Roman bric-a-brac metal detected on Bulgarian sites being sold at this moment [by the kilogramme some of it] by US sellers on ebay? What remedies can the US (the US) apply to deal with this? Why should the US NOT do something to resolve this scandalous discrepancy between what it says it will do (as a state party of the 1970 UNESCO Convention - see its article 3) and what it actually does?

I imagine we can all think of more severe remedies (involving questioning of dealers and collectors, detentions, arrests and seizing of computer hard discs and business records) that would certainly do more to resolve this problem. Most coin collectors seem happy to quote the report linking the trade in this material and organized crime networks, which seems sufficient reason why Homeland Security and the FBI should be looking very carefully at this trade which it seems they've virtually ignored (say it ain't so) for all these years.

It seems to me that US customs examining import documentation to check the proper export procedures have been followed is not exactly a measure that could be termed either "severe" or "drastic". Especially as all coin dealers say they are responsible and respectable businessmen who do everything they can to avoid dealing in smuggled and looted artefacts.

Sayles ends:
The statement of Mr. Casale is not only a ray of light, it is a very brave appeal for reason. I sincerely hope that it does not come back to haunt him.
Well, let us reason through it then. I invite his reply here.

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