Friday, November 11, 2011

Six Trade Organizations Submit Briefs to Appellate Court Over Illegal Coin Imports
by Paul Barford

Dugup ancient antiquity dealer Wayne Sayles, 'Organizations submit Amici Briefs to Appellate Court', fellow dugup dealer Dave Welsh ('Baltimore Test Case Amicus Brief Texts') and the coin dealers' lobbyist, lawyer Peter Tompa ('ACCG Gains Support for Appeal') report in unison that "Six prestigious organizations support ACCG appeal with formal legal briefs". Reportedly, here is the announcement as presented on the ACCG website, sourced to Washington legal firm Bailey and Ehrenberg PLLC:

Several leading international numismatic organizations have petitioned the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit for leave to file an amicus curiae ("friend of the court") brief supporting ACCG's appeal of the Cyprus/China import restriction challenge. That case was recently dismissed in Circuit Court at Baltimore and is currently under appeal. Ironically, a concerted international response of this sort is mandated by the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) before import restrictions may be imposed. It has never materialized in that regard and is one of the very points challenged by ACCG in the suit being appealed. As a technical matter, the motion for leave is submitted along with the brief itself. Below are the organizations involved and copies of the motions and briefs filed on their behalf:

American Committee for Cultural Policy (ACCP) / International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) Motion -- Brief

International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN)/ American Numismatic Association (ANA) / Ancient Coins for Education (ACE) Motion -- Brief

Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG) Motion -- Brief

We learn from Tompa that the motions and briefs were submitted by Richard Rogers, Esq. (ACCP/ IADAA); Michael McCullough, Esq. (IAPN /ANA/ ACE) and those of the PNG by Armen Vartian, Esq. and that "each brief focuses on the failure of the District Court to apply the plain meaning of the CPIA's limitation on import restrictions to coins "first discovered within, and [ ] subject to the export control by" either Cyprus or China", when it seems to me that this was not the basis of the original court's ruling on the wide range of disparate topics raised by the case the ACCG's lawyers tried to bring.

Well (at least), two interesting things here. The first is surprise to see the ACCP raise its head again so long after we all had got the impression that it was dead. The secondly is surprise at the description of the coiney show-and-tell stunt which goes under the name "Ancient Coins for education" as a "prestigious" organization.

New York-based firm "Grebkesh and Runn, Purvoyors of Fine looted Coins to the Trade and Avid Collectors" have contacts with two family-run supply firms in the Balkans, the Moronovs and the Sleazyovs. the Moronovs, as their name suggests are a bit simple. they know the US has laws against importing looted stuff, but count on the border authorities being asleep most of the time, they've shipped packages of coins and dugup antiquities direct from Sofia through to their US contacts for years. Tonnes of it. So they carry on putting them in unmarked parcels and sending them through. The Sleazyovs are a little more canny, they 'launder' their goods by getting them smuggled in a lorry in hollowed-out pumpkins across the Turkish border and ship them to the US from there. While Turkey has no MOU with the US, the packages will not be checked, and even if they are, the coins come "from Turkey", not any country with which the US has any MOU.

It seems to me that, despite codes of ethics/practice/ professional standards, the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art, International Association of Professional Numismatists, American Numismatic Association, and Professional Numismatists Guild not to mention the ACCP and ACE are saying that as far as the US market is concerned, trading in looted coins with the Sleazyovs is and should be legal - even though the US has been "implementing" the 1970 UNESCO Convention on Illicit Antiquities since 1983. Would the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art, International Association of Professional Numismatists, American Numismatic Association, and Professional Numismatists Guild expel any of their members for handling artefacts that have been 'laundered' by escaping legal consequences by illegally moving them to another country (have they done so recently), or is that par for the course in the international antiquities trade these days?

So how is the US to police illicit exports coming into the US market if the dealers associations are all holding out for a system which tolerates 'laundering' of goods like this?



Confronted by this rabid blast of violently anticollecting sentiment, I am somewhat perplexed as to how to attempt to rationally characterize and discuss that which to me seems to be inherently irrational. First and foremost in such a perilous endeavor, it seems essential to begin with repeating an earlier and very pertinent observation that everyone who reads Mr. Barford's blog should give very serious thought to:

" It is extremely difficult in reading his [Mr. Barford's] blog to distinguish between what is actually the law, what Mr. Barford wishes the law to be, and what he is fantasizing about at the moment. Everything is blurred together in a manner that tends to be very confusing and unclear."

No one who ventures to read what Mr. Barford has to say in any forum should accept any of it without independently verifying that it is both reasonable and, where appropriate, factual. From my personal perspective (and I think I have come to know Mr. Barford much better than most of his adversaries, and perhaps better than many of his supporters) Paul Barford is an intensely frustrated, though sincere and well-meaning idealist on the subject of preserving the archaeological record, which he views as being threatened by misguided individuals who loot interred artifacts in the "source countries" where such objects are commonly found. I should add that "commonly" in such countries implies an extent of artifact profusion that those who are not residents of "source countries" cannot begin to imagine. In an attempt to convey some sense of the practical realities involved, I will cite two examples:

1) The Rome neighborhood named after the veritable mountain of discarded amphoras called Monte Testaccio. This is a mass of the broken fragments of ancient pottery vessels called amphoras, thought to have mostly been used to bring olive oil to Rome from Spain, whose surviving extent is 580,000 cubic metres (760,000 cubic yards). It seems reasonable to presume that the original extent of this enormous dump of commercially manufactured pottery fragments would have been on the order of a million cubic yards, or following the commonly accepted rule of thumb that everything buried has the same average density as soil, a million tons.

2) In Turkey there are actually roads paved with ancient pottery shards, one example of which is cited here:

Following Lord Renfrew, Mr. Barford blames all the evils of the disturbance of archaeological sites by looters upon the activities of individuals whom he believes to be motivated by the prospect of selling their ill-gotten gains into the Western antiquities market. In pursuing this oversimplistic line of argument Mr. Barford has (and still continues to) as I have previously observed, ignored a mountain of factual evidence rivaling the extent of the Monte Testaccio, whose clear and incontrovertible import is that the destructive activities of looters can be traced back to the days of the Pharaohs, and that no evidence that looting is caused by collecting has ever been published.

In short, there is no scientifically validated evidence supporting the contentions of Mr. Barford and other "radical archaeologists" who seek to persuade the credulous public that "collecting equals looting." There is however a great deal of very well established and incontrovertible evidence indicating that looting of ancient monuments, tombs and other archaeological sites has been a pervasive and utterly insoluble problem since the dawn of recorded history. It is worth mentioning that in those byegone days, individuals found to be involved in such looting were dealt with in a manner that would be regarded as being indescribably horrific and barbaric by present day standards. That did not deter such behavior then, and it seems reasonable to conclude that no feasible punitive measures can possibly deter looting now. If burning at the stake, the death of a thousand slices and drastic measures comparable to these cannot get the job done, what can? I have never believed that anything other than a firm conviction in the minds and hearts of those who do such things that looting is evil and an offense against humanity can possibly prevail. To me it seems self-evident that the whole concept that looting can ever be controlled by repressive measures is an intellectually bankrupt and utterly illogical policy. The only way to win this battle is to somehow convince the looters that looting is morally evil.

I would be willing to believe that a conviction that looting is morally evil could perhaps be developed in the minds and hearts of those who presently do such reprehensible things, if they did not have extremely well established grounds to believe that their national and/or local government officials are utterly corrupt and that their national laws prohibiting the private ownership of, and trading in, antiquities are motivated by the prospect of extorting bribes from those who discover and desire to sell antiquities.

Thus in the end we must, by any logical and analytical approach to the problem, inevitably return to the conclusion that the looting of archaeological sites has nothing whatsoever to do with the activities of modern-day Western collectors of antiquities, but instead has everything to do with the perceptions of "the locals," as elitist archaeologists are wont to sneeringly describe those who inhabit "source countries."

I have a very definite perspective on this subject. "The locals" are people for whom I have a great deal of instinctive sympathy and a sincere desire to do something to improve their lives. The archaeologists who so clearly despise them are in my view, for the most part (there are some praiseworthy exceptions) conversely academic elitists who so far as I can tell, care nothing whatsoever for the lives and essential human worth of "the locals," and whose perspective and activities I consider to be socially destructive. If I had to sum up my point of view it would be:

"They are a far better man than you, Gunga Din and his like."

If such an imperialistic white supremacist as Rudyard Kipling could reach such a conclusion as I believe that he sincerely did, it really puzzles me that such clearly lesser intellects as Paul Barford and his radical archaeologist fellows cannot see the glaringly obvious and inescapable corollary conclusion -- that the whole argument that Western collectors are somehow responsible for looting of antiquities in developing nations is nothing more than a despicable and intellectually bankrupt cop-out. This illogical and indefensible perspective inherently involves the premise that "Gunga Din" and his fellows will never be able to manage their affairs in an archaeologically responsible manner.

I have a very much different perspective. I believe that if Gunga Din and his 'local" fellows, regardless of the pervasive elitist Western prejudices regarding their education, coloration of their skins and their religious and cultural tenets, were put in charge of resolving the present situation, and if every Western archaeologist (and his or her elitist pretensions and academic/career interests) were scrupulously ignored for a few years, a sensible and rational solution to the present destructive standoff between the interests of archaeologists and collectors would very soon be found.

If you want to know, Paul Barford, who is the real enemy of archaeology and the real cause of looting -- just take a look in a mirror.


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