Saturday 17 December 2011

Commentary on the Nov 16th Public Session of the CPAC

The Archaeological Institute of America has published on its website two first-hand accounts of the November 16th public session of the CPAC concerning the initial requests for Memoranda of Understanding (MoU) between the United States and Belize and between the United States and Bulgaria under the Convention for Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA). There are two of them, the second is by Nathan T. Elkins (Assistant Professor of Art History, Greek and Roman Art, Baylor University and member of the AIA’s Cultural Heritage Policy Committee.

He gives details of the presentation of several speakers, starting with Stephen J. Knerly ( an attorney who represented the Association of Art Museum Directors [AAMD]), then Peter Tompa (another attorney "and lobbyist representing the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) and the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG), two international trade organizations for dealers in ancient coins"). As such, he of course "opposed Bulgaria’s request outright and suggested that if a MoU is signed, the designated list ought not to include ancient coins. Mr. Tompa began by pulling out a wooden ruler...." [Uh-oh...]. He apparently "insisted that looting [...] is no worse than a traffic violation" [ever seen a kid knocked off his bike by a speeding car Mr Tompa?].
Mr. Tompa [...] believes that recent cultural heritage legislation in Bulgaria in 2009 should not be taken seriously by the committee as it was “rammed through by ex-communists only with input from archaeologists.” He stated that metal detectors should be targeted as as opposed to collectors. In his view, there is too much undocumented material in American collections and dealer inventories to force such a burden on American collectors and tradesmen.
[See article 10(a) of the UNESCO Convention - one of the many the US refuses to implement]

Kerry Wetterstrom, a former auction director for Classical Numismatic Group (CNG), offered comments on behalf of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), an organization governed by American dealers in ancient coins and with a broad base of collector membership. Mr. Wetterstrom made points similar to Tompa’s, although he added that it would be a better approach if Bulgaria were to adopt a scheme similar to the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme (PAS) in England and Wales. Under such a scheme, metal detectorists would be allowed to operate and would be encouraged to report their finds to the authorities, which may in turn record or remunerate them for their finds.

So Tompa says metal detectorists should be "regulated" (as if they are not in Bulgaria anyway) and another ACCG representative wants to see a liberalisation.

Elkins spoke next:

I indicated that Bulgaria is a primary source country for freshly discovered ancient coins and minor antiquities that enter the trade in the United States. In view of the precedents of Cyprus, China, and Italy, I suggested that a designated list include coins as there is great demand for fresh supplies of ancient coins in the United States and there is also a great deal of plunder in Bulgaria to feed the trade; I pointed to numerous seizures of ancient coins and metal artifacts that were smuggled from Bulgaria and destined for the U.S. as evidence. I also indicated that coins coming from Bulgaria are indeed the fruits of organized plunder and not casual or chance finds of isolated hoards as opponents of import restrictions have claimed in the past. This is illustrated by bulk lots or wholesale lots of ancient coins from Bulgaria that are advertised on dealer websites and eBay. I held up printouts of eBay auctions that were online at the time of the meeting; one dealer had numerous lots of earth-encrusted metal artifacts such as arrowheads, jewelry, and parcels of thousands of mixed Greek, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman coins. Such a mixture of objects from a diverse range of chronological periods represents multiple layers of archaeological sites, not isolated hoards or casual finds. In fact, the American eBay seller explicitly stated in many of his auctions that he received the material directly from “excavators” and metal detectorists in Vidin Province in Bulgaria. Vidin Province is an area that has historically been subject to a large degree of looting and which is also home to Colonia Ulpia Traiana Ratiaria, an important archaeological site that has been systematically targeted by looters. Restricting the flow of all other archaeological materials except coins would solve nothing as it is clear from the seizures and from wholesaler inventories in the United States that the material is derived from the same sources and from the same sorts of organized metal detecting activity.

Elkins then summarises what Christina Luke (Lecturer in Anthropology at Boston University and chairperson of the AIA’s Cultural Heritage Policy Committee), Brian Daniels (Fellow of the Penn Cultural Heritage Center of the University of Pennsylvania Museum), Kevin Clinton (Professor Emeritus of Classics at Cornell University and President of the Board of Trustees of the American Research Center in Sofia). All of these spoke in favour of the US helping Bulgaria stem the flow of unlawfully exported dugup antiquities and other cultural property from the country, which - despite efforts in Bulgaria being stepped up - was still a problem.

Elkins and his colleagues believe that:
those who support a MoU with Bulgaria made a compelling case for its enactment [...] proponents of the MoU better articulated their arguments with regard to the four determinations [of CCPIA art 2602[a](1) PMB] and the actual situation in Bulgaria. We trust that the CPAC will carefully weigh the substance of the commentary provided to the committee and will make a decision that will aid Bulgaria in the preservation of its cultural heritage.
It is quite remarkable that not only are the coineys quite incapable of addressing the actual directions of the CCPIA and CPAC about the nature of public comments required (something I have commented upon too, looking at the public records of their submissions), but that they cannot even agree among the members of the board of directors of their most active lobbying group the ACCG whether metal detectorists are to be encouraged and rewarded (the Wetterstrom-PAS approach) or punished (the Tompa-numismatic dealers approach). So what is teh ACCG's policy towards metal detecting, and the purchase of artefacts which derive from metal detecting?


Cultural Property Observer said...

For a more complete report, see

Paul Barford said...

I did actually mention what you'd said there earlier:

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