Thursday 8 December 2011

US Discusses Renewal of Cyprus and Peru Cultural Property Agreements

There will be a further session in Washington of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee January 17-20, 2012 to continue its review of a new cultural property request from the Government of the Republic of Belize seeking import restrictions on Pre-Columbian and Spanish Colonial archaeological material. Also to be discussed are the proposals to extend the existing cultural property memoranda of understanding with Peru and Cyprus.

Needless to say, the US coiney fraternity is planning to kick up a fuss (only) about the third of these, with Cyprus. They do not like the idea of the US applying import restrictions to artefacts without documentation of legal export as stipulated by the CCPIA, but only because the Cyprus MOU involves the ancient dugup coins US dealers want to buy and sell without the bother of documentation of the transactions. It is interesting that this MOU is now approaching renewal, as the coiney lobbyists have been trying unsuccessfully to bring a court case against the US Gubn'mint challenging the right of the US to impose such import restrictions on its citizens in the interests of helping curb the illicit trade in Cypriot antiquities and items looted from churches. So far, they've spent lots of time and money on this but it has not got very far.

The coiney tub-thumping lobbyists have started their campaign ('Comment Fatigue or Not Collector Voices Need to Be Heard Once Again!'). What is interesting is that (so far) this campaign has diverged from the previous ones, in that the coineys are being told (more or less - note the missing words) what the MOU actually does:
Those restrictions currently bar entry into the United States of [artefacts] unless they are accompanied with documentation establishing that they were out of Cyprus as of the date of the restrictions, July 16, 2007.
None of the exaggerated hyperbole about the sky falling this time, which is an improvement. US coin DEALERS are asking coin COLLECTORS not to remain silent (as if they ever would) as this would allow:
the State Department bureaucrats and their allies in the archaeological establishment to claim that collectors have acquiesced to broad restrictions on their ability to import common ancient coins that are widely available worldwide. [...] Under the circumstances, please take 5 minutes and tell CPAC, the State Department bureaucrats and the archaeologists what you think.
{think that uis about the inability of dealers and collectors to import fresh coins onto the US market that have not the ocumentation of lawful export defined by the CCPIA]But the coiney rabble-rousers then spoil the effect by adding the wholly unjustified alarmist caveat
: And, of course, acquiescence is all that may be needed to justify going back and imposing import restrictions on the Roman Imperial coins that are still exempt from these regulations.
It is nice to see that the coineys (who past experience shows to be incapable of reading it for themselves and merely accept what they are told it says) being are reminded this time of the actual wording of the CCPIA (19 U.S.C. § 2602 (a). They are urged to let the CPAC know that "over time, import restrictions will certainly impact the American public’s ability to study and preserve historical coins and maintain people to people contacts with collectors abroad. Yet, foreign collectors—including collectors in Cyprus—will be able to import coins as before". It is not explained why collectors cannot maintain connections with foreign collectors by Internet rather than by buying illicitly exported coins (when it seems more likely that the only people they will be "contacting" are culture-criminals). Are legally exported coins (or the many thousands of such coins already in the USA) not amenable to 'preservation' for some intrinsic reason?

Then the discredited 'Witschonke premise':
One can also remind CPAC that less drastic remedies, like regulating metal detectors or instituting reporting programs akin to the Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme, must be tried first.
"Must be tried"? That is not what the wording of the CCPIA actually says though, is it? Is the use of metal detectors for searching for collectable metal artefacts not already 'regulated' in Cyprus? Are metal detecting rallies on the sites of classical antiquity often openly organized in Cyprus by their "metal detecting" (artefact hunting) clubs? If so, then yes, the use of metal detectors for looting sites should indeed be regulated more strongly. Mattocks and spades too.

Heritage protection involves a little more than setting up a scheme to "report" the damage. Introducing a lax and highly selective vesting legislation like the pathetically inadequate for archaeological purposes Treasure Act of England and Wales really is not the solution to the problem of the looting in Cyprus of tombs and churches for example [If there were such an act, it would probably list the sort of material covered in the US 'designated' list anyway].

The problem here though is that the CCPIA of the US does not (and cannot) legislate how foreign sovereign nations legislate the activities of its citizens. Cypriot citizens have their rights and freedoms established by Cypriot law and it is unreasonable for Americans to urge the CPAC (presumably through the US State Department) to impose their ideas and value judgements of civil behaviour upon them. That is imperialism. Likewise telling them to "never mind the looting, wotta-lotta artefacts you could get recorded by going into partnership with the artefact hunters" is not only insulting (insulting stupidity - just because the Brits do it does not make it right) but totally ignores the focus of the 1970 UNESCO Convention which is ALL the CCPIA "implements" (I use the term loosely). Let us recall the title and therefore scope of the Convention: Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. It is not a convention on looting, it is a convention on the international trade of artefacts. It is the US involvement in the curbing of the illicit trade, and nothing else, that the CCPIA regulates. It does not seem like rocket science to me, but the dealers' lobbyists seem all too easily able to confuse the coineys.

They are urged:
Be forceful, but polite. We can and should disagree with what the State Department bureaucrats and their allies in the archaeological establishment are doing to our hobby, but we should endeavor to do so in an upstanding manner.
Why not add the word "informed"?

Let us also note that of course coins are not the only artefact type on the designated list ranging in date from ancient times to the 15th century A.D. But what is worthy of note is the US collectors of the other types of artefacts, terracottas, decorated ceramics, icons etc are not kicking up a fuss about regulations which mean that they can legally buy only items which have CCPIA-compliant documentation of legal export or are already on the US market and where there has been responsible and proper curation of enough of the information of the collecting history to verify that. Presumably as ethical and responsible collectors they accept that such hygiene is the only way for the antiquities market to remain legitimate in the 21st century and the items they collect to retain their full value. It is time for the dugup ancient coin collectors and dealers of the United States of America to abandon their neo-colonialist nineteenth century attitudes and join the rest of the responsible collectors and dealers of antiquities who are not making an exhibition of themselves with anti-preservationist philistinism worn on their sleeves.


Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Cyprus Concerning the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Pre-Classical and Classical Archaeological Objects and Byzantine Period Ecclesiastical and Ritual Ethnological Material [Docket No. DOS-2011-0135]

Memorandum of Understanding Between the Government of the United States of America and the Government of the Republic of Peru Concerning the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Material From Pre-Hispanic Cultures and Certain Ethnological Material From the Colonial Period of Peru [Docket No. DOS-2011-0136].

Vignette: Kanakara church interior, who will join the coineys in their fight to stop the US government from trying to help cut down the trade in LOOTED AND SMUGGLED ARTEFACTS?


Cartouche1953 said...

The problem needs to be dealt with at source and in a non prejudical manner. Only then will the trade in these objects be curtailed to acceptable and sustainable levels and on a more egalitarian basis for all concerned but with emphasis on protection.

Paul Barford said...

What do you mean by "at source"? Locking up the smugglers? Fine, but you have to catch them first, and stopping their shipments on their way to their destination and tracing them back to the sender is the best way I can think of to do that. I am not sure what could be "prejudicial" in doing that.

As I keep saying, the aim is not to "curtail the trade", but curtail the illicit trade. That is (despite what the coineys say) the aim of the convention and the US legislation "implementing" it.

So there is nothing non-egalitarian in it, the object has documentation of legal export according to the criteria of the CCPIA, or it has not.

The dealer (exporter and importer) is a responsible one ensuring that his business deals with 'kosher' objects, or is a cowboy operation that does not and sacrifices ethics for profitability. How can you treat the two equally, when one of them is not willing to play fair within the legitimate market?

It is in support of the later that collectors are being asked to mail the CPAC with their complaints of 'victimisation'.

Alexis said...

The cyprus Goverment last inventoried private collections of antiquities in 1996. All antiquities inventoried including coins cannot be exported in any way since the owners are required by law to report any movement or change of ownership.
Just resticting the use of metal detectors willnot solve the problem.
Only a new immediate coprehensive inventory of new collections in Cyprus will ensure that the items remain in Cyprus and not exported if not to the US to all other countries (Europe) that have no restrictions.
Alexis Costeas

Paul Barford said...

In the light of the following:
etc.., I am not sure where you see these "new" collections coming from.

Certainly I'd welcome an inventorying of private collections in order to stop the circulation of recently "surfaced" material masquerading as "from old collections". Cyprus has made a start, well ahead of the US in that regard. Yes, let's see current private holdings accounted for.

I am not sure your sources for saying that EU has no regulations on such objects. I personally would not fancy trying to lug a suitcase full of Cypriot antiquities through customs without any paperwork.

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