Tuesday 13 December 2011

Focus on CCPIA: Montana Dreams of European Antiquities Free-for-All?

Warren Esty, "Professor, Montana State University" claims
"I am the greatest expert in Montana on the scholarly use of ancient coins and I have published numerous professional articles in the most prestigious journals".
In his public comment, he informs the CPAC that his "work could not have happened" if legislation restricting the import into the US of only those coins which had been legally exported from the source country "were on the books". This would, he says, have prevented US museums and collectors "who assemble the material for study" from being able to do so.
He says that [ancient] "coins have regularly been exempt from [...] legislation because they are not uniquely valuable to cultural heritage -- in fact they were produced in many millions and most types are available by the thousands". They are available in their thousands because hundreds thousands of them have been - and are being - dug out of archaeological sites and put on the collectors' market - that being the prime reason they are recovered. The digging out of these coins destroys information from the sites and assemblages they come from which is of unique value to cultural and historical heritage - that is why laws exist to prevent this type of exploitation of the archaeological resource. Coins of course are not exempt from the legislation of any of the source countries which controls their export - such as Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria or Cyprus. The 1970 UNESCO Convention (Art. 1, [c] and [e]) allows its member states to consider coins as falling in the scope of the items protected, and to which articles 3 and 6 therefore applies. The United States is a state party of that Convention, and has been since 1983 (so probably a large part of the period Prof. Esty has been collecting coins).

Professor Esty claims:
No other country restricts its own citizens from importing these types of coins. The entire EU does not.
Well, that is not at all true, all states which are party to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, by acceding to it indicate that they consider "illicit" (Art. 3) all transactions not in accord with the principles it lays down.

What an odd view they apparently have in the mountains of Montana about us 'backward' Yuropeans. A word of warning to Prof. Esty - next time he goes to Greece not to pack his suitcases with dugup antiquities if he plans to travel from there to another EU country instead of returning to his 'anything-goes- USA'. He may end up staying in that other EU country rather longer than he'd initially been planning, because unless he has the required export paperwork, he runs the risk of being arrested by the countries he claims do not control the movement of antiquities (both ways) across their borders.

How can anyone say that within Europe there is no requirement to pay any attention to export licences for antiquities (or anything else, maybe)? The newspapers and blogs are full of mentions of people who have run into trouble with alleged infringements of this legislation through the unauthorised movement of antiquities across international borders. Ayman Dikman arrested in Munich is an obvious example, then there is the reported case of Edip Telli ("Blind Edip"). One might mention the guy apparently arrested, or not, in Bulgaria a while back in connection with some Egyptian antiquities (you know who I mean), in the same context the arrest and trial in the UK of Jonathan Tokely-Parry, still in Great Britain the hapless Malcolm Hay (we never found out what happened in this case), then we have the Macedonians reportedly arrested in Greece earlier this year, the Bulgarians reportedly arrested last year, then there were the men arrested at Heathrow over an EidMar coin (which Prof. Esty should have known about, surely).

The truth is that, although few are caught, few arrests are made (fewer arrests than there are confiscations), these laws do exist, it is illegal to import illegally exported goods of all kinds across borders within the EU. It is not at all true for a mathematician in far-off Montana to tell the CPAC that despite international cultural conventions and EU ones too there is an unlicensed antiquities free-for-all in the EU (with the implied implication that there 'should be' in the US too?). I guess there might be more than one American who thinks that "Yurope is a [single] country".

According to Prof. Esty's online bibliography, "numerous professional articles" on numismatics is 16 (mostly on the statistics of die-linkage). I wonder whether his other (more numerous) papers are based on data which he would have to admit publicly could not have been compiled if certain legislation had been "on the books" at the time he was gathering them? What would we call the kind of scholarship which obtains data from illicit sources? Now this legislation is "on the books", will Prof. Esty still be boasting about this research and his data gathering methods?

The guy sells dugup coins - including a group of barb rads "from England" I am sure it is just due to a lack of space that he does not mention the PAS numbers or details of the UK export licence he has for them ($189).

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