Saturday, November 19, 2011

Emperor Barford

Failure to Differentiate Looting and Smuggling
by Paul Barford

Dave Welsh shares his own (disturbing) vision of the future deserved by looters who "venture to feloniously dig up designated archaeological sites and other sites which might be so designated, in order to illicitly obtain valuable ceramics, statuary and the like" (note the coin dealer's omission of the words:"hoards of precious metal objects"). It seems to me from the frequency of the graphic violence with which this ACCG officer decorates his writings on cultural property issues that he needs to seek professional medical help. Welsh is not so clear about how to treat those who plunder archaeological sites with metal detectors to get collectable metal items like those he sells in his shop, he apparently thinks that their "putative, perhaps questionable misdeeds" are not in any way damaging because "they do not ever bring in heavy excavating machinery such as backhoes, bulldozers and the like to dig up their perhaps illicit findings, but instead rely upon far less destructive hand tools". So a 'perhaps illicit' hole is not a hole (or illicit) when it is hand-dug? He also skips the issue when he writes that "metal detectorists" allegedly have their activities "closely supervised [...] by their associations and clubs" and also by "the PAS which has done great good in educating amateur treasure-hunters". Two points, first he is extrapolating from the situation in England and Wales to the rest of the world these "associations and clubs" as well as the PAS of course have no remit over all metal detector users on the five continents. Secondly Welsh obviously has no idea what these British "associations" (such as the NCMD) actually do (most of the time kicking AGAINST the PAS) or of the ability (or will) of the PAS to influence the majority of the artefact hunters in the UK even, let alone anywhere else.

It seems the whole purpose of the text Welsh wrote is to assure everyone that his "Classical Coins is OK".

"I do hope that everyone very clearly understands my own personal code of ethics which is not for the most part required by US law, but which I have independently decided to be essential to my personal standards. I will not knowingly acquire any antiquity, including ancient coins, whose exportation from the nation of discovery appears to me to be in any way suspicious, and which (in the event that the exporting nation restricts exportation of antiquities) is not accompanied by a valid export permit satisfying the requirements of the 1970 UNESCO Convention."

While that is very comforting to hear, the logical fault line is obvious. An export licence cannot be a "not looted certificate". Artefacts exported from Israel with an Israeli export licence have most likely been looted in neighbouring countries and laundered through being sent out from a Jerusalem warehouse (I've discussed this problem here a number of times). An object may be legally exported from Dubai, which does not mean that it was not illegally excavated in another country and smuggled out of the source country to Dubai. All it means is the Dubai export procedure (apparently virtually 'none' in fact) is followed. The same goes for removal of artefacts from one European country (eg Bulgaria, Greece, Italy) to another. For example the Coiney Wunderland of Bavaria where all sorts of antiquities can be found being openly sold - like in Munich - and exported from that Land with the usual EU lack-of-formalities. This in NO way means that the artefact "surfaced" on that market licitly. A truly ethical approach to the trade in such items would not only look at whether the items has an export licence if it is needed (by local law of the country of export) but look beyond that to the mechanisms of supply being exploited by the market supplying the commodities. If the object is freshly surfaced and its origins cannot be determined, given the scale of looting we know is going on, it obviously should be treated by the responsible buyer as potentially looted and no responsible buyer would go anywhere near it.



The actual logical fault line in the above extremist screed is Mr. Barford's ridiculous, foolish presumption that based solely upon the virulently anticollecting opinions of himself and a few other equally divorced-from-reality present (and former denizens) of the ivory towers of academia, collectors of ancient coins and the dealers who supply them can somehow be "morally required" to do whatever is required to trace the origins of minor artifacts such as ancient coins to the point of modern discovery, regardless of whether or not such an endeavor would be possible [which it is not].

I don't know how to do that. No one in the trade does. It is, in reality, impossible. Mr. Barford's perspective on this subject is based upon an abysmal ignorance of the actual operations of the numismatic trade, which he could easily educate himself on if he were willing to take it seriously as a social institution to be respected and studied, and his inexcusable insistence upon the ridiculous and delusionary concept that he somehow possesses a sort of self-declared moral authority to pedantically lecture collectors and the dealers who supply them, regarding his own peculiar and deluded views as to their ethical obligations.

There was once another individual whose delusions of grandeur and self-declared authority actually became so entertaining and interesting to the public as to earn him a sort of enduring fame. I refer to Joshua Abraham Norton (1819-1880), self-proclaimed "Emperor of These United States and Protector of Mexico."

"At the pre-emptory request of a large majority of the citizens of these United States, I Joshua Norton, formerly of Algoa Bay, Cape of Good Hope, and now for the last nine years and ten months past of San Fransisco, California, declare and proclaim myself the Emperor of These United States." - September 17, 1859

Norton went on to "reign" in his capital, San Francisco, until January 8, 1880. During his 21 years as "Emperor" he issued his own currency which is now highly collectible, ordered the construction of the Golden Gate Bridge, prohibited usage of the "abdominal word 'Frisco,'" and abolished by imperial decree both the Democratic and Republican parties. He also called upon the other leaders of the world to join him in forming a League of Nations where disputes between nations could be resolved peacefully.

Having said all that, I suppose that I have an obligation to provide a countervailing perspective which can intelligently be advanced as being both reasonable and logical. My perspective is that mankind is and must always be ruled by laws, whose purpose is to regulate our various activities sensibly and harmoniously. Different individuals have different and often clashing views regarding ethics and personal conduct, and it simply is not possible for humanity to attempt to simultaneously satisfy everyone's opinions as to how things ought to be done, as indeed the fabulist Aesop [620 -- 560 BCE] pointed out in his famous fable "The Man, the Boy, and the Donkey."

We need clear and understandable laws to instruct us as to what we are and are not allowed to do. When it comes to importing ancient artifacts such as ancient coins into the USA, our present laws instruct us that any shipment of coins accompanied by a valid export license from the state of legal origin may be imported, even if it contains items included in a Designated List. That is the law, it is clear, easily enforceable and easily understood.

Emperor Barford however, from his mystical throne in Wolkenkuckucksheim, has decreed that the law is not the final standard of social obligation, and that his own self-declared, all-embracing and untraceable moral authority entitles him to decree that anyone who imports an ancient artifact, which might somehow have been looted in some other nation and smuggled into the nation which legally becomes the state of legal origin and is lawfully entitled to issue a valid export permit, has transgressed moral law and does not follow "a truly ethical approach to the trade in such items, [which] would not only look at whether the items has an export licence if it is needed (by local law of the country of export) but look beyond that to the mechanisms of supply being exploited by the market supplying the commodities."

All of which is self-delusionary, utopian opinionating that completely ignores the utter impracticality of attempting to carry on a trade in that manner in the real world, from which Mr. Barford has so completely separated himself.

There are no laws which do not have imperfections and flaws. The world we live in is real and not ideal. If a law is not satisfactory then the remedy is to change the law, not to attempt to supersede it by such ridiculous and delusionary pretensions as those of Emperor Barford.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

CPAC Meeting Report

Public CPAC Meeting on Belizean and Bulgarian MOU's, Nov. 16, 2011
by Peter Tompa

CPAC Chair Prof. Patty Gerstenblith (PG, DePaul, Public Representative) began by thanking all speakers or those who had provided comments to CPAC. PG then asked all CPAC members to introduce themselves and mention their affiliations. They are: Katherine Reid (KR, Cleveland Museum (retired)-Museum); Nina Archabal (NA, Minn. Historical Society-Museum); Marta de la Torre (MT- Florida International University, Public); James Willis (JW, James Willis Tribal Art-Trade); Nancy Wilkie (NW-Carlton College, Archaeology); Barbara Bluhm Kaul (BK,Trustee, Art Institute of Chicago- Public); Jane Levine (JL, Sotheby’s Compliance Department (ex-prosecutor)- Trade); and Rosemary Joyce (RJ,U. Cal., Berkley-Anthropology). Two slots, one in archaeology and the other a trade representative, remain vacant. KR, NW and JW also served under the Bush Administration. The others are Obama Appointees though PG and MT also served the Clinton Administration. There was also staff present including CPAC Executive Director Maria Kouroupas, a Committee lawyer, and Committee archaeologists.


Belize was discussed first. The following individuals spoke: Josh Knerly (JK-AAMD); Elizabeth Gilgan (EG-SAFE, but there personally); Brian Daniels (BD-U. Penn Cultural Center); Christina Luke (CL-AIA); Patricia Mcinerny (PM-UNC, Chapel Hill).

JK stated the AAMD supports the conclusion of a MOU with Belize with the following provisos. First, CPAC must ensure that only material identifiable as being “first discovered in” Belize is restricted. Second, Belize needs to appoint one point of contact for museum loans and provide more material for loans. AAMD members had reported that Belize has only offered one piece for a loan that was made to the Peabody Museum.

NW asked whether Belize was a transit point for looted artifacts from other Central American countries. JK indicated that was possible. PG asked if import restrictions impacted the AAMD now that it had accepted a 1970 provenance rule. JK indicated no, but this made w museum loans more important than ever. KR asked about dealing with the bureaucracy of Belize. JK indicated that it was difficult, but expressed hopes this situation would improve. In so doing, he noted the Italian government has now provided a single contact point for such loans.

EG assisted Belize to apply for an MOU. She apparently undertook this work as part of her course of study while employed at the AIA. She began by training police in Belize. She was happy when newly trained officers caught twelve American environmental students that had tried to take artifacts out of the country. The night they spent in jail taught them a lesson. It was all very exciting. She next studied Sotheby’s catalogues for unprovenanced Pre-Columbian artifacts. EG could not identify the artifacts in the catalogues as coming from Belize. EG did not review any sources other than Sotheby’s catalogues.

BD disputed the AAMD’s statement that Belize had only loaned one object. He listed three travelling exhibits where Belize provided a total of 33 artifacts as evidence of Belize’s efforts. He also indicated that Belize offers long term loans of study artifacts to specific researchers like Richard Leventhal of the Penn Cultural Heritage Center. These loans are negotiated on an individual basis.

CL indicated that MOU’s can also be used for cultural exchanges of students and archaeologists. Belize has been a great host for archaeologists. Any MOU should also include Colonial Material. NW wondered if more could be done to assure regional cooperation on looting.

PM indicated there is current looting in Belize. She recently saw looting of rock shelters. Belize has a good history of cultural interchange with the British Commonwealth (Belize is a former Crown Colony), with the United States and with Canada. RJ asked PM if she could identify material as coming from Belize. She indicated that it was possible to identify such material on stylistic grounds, based on identifiable inscriptions or its composition. However, it often travelled outside of modern day Belize. PM cited as an example a ceremonial drinking cup which was evidently gifted to a minor lord in what is today Guatemala.


The following individuals spoke: Josh Knerly (JK-AAMD); Peter Tompa (PT-IAPN, PNG); Kerry Wetterstrom (KW-ACCG); Nathan Elkins (NE-Baylor); Christina Luke (CL-AIA); Brian Daniels (BD-U. Penn Cultural Center); Kevin Clinton (KC-American Research Center in Sofia).

JK indicated that AAMD supports an MOU with Bulgaria subject to certain provisos. First, it is again important to take care with any designated list given the cross-currents between Thracian and Greek culture. Second, there is a real question whether Bulgaria is taking any of the self-help measures required under the CPIA. A 2007 Center for the Study of Democracy (CSD) Report suggested that Bulgarian cultural officials were corrupt and their efforts to protect Bulgaria’s cultural patrimony were minimal. JK had no statistics about loans of Bulgarian material but indicated they would be desirable. PG wondered whether the 2007 report was up to date. JK suggested that CPAC should require the DOS to research whether the situation on the ground has improved since the 2007 CSD Report. BK asked about loans. JK indicated that that Bulgarian law apparently allowed for two year loans. KR asked about the optimum loan period. JK indicated that a long term loan should be 10 years to make it financially viable for the receiving museum. JK also noted that currently Italy is providing 4 year loans with the possibility of renewal, but the uncertainty makes such loans less palatable to AAMD members. KR also asked whether Bulgarian material can freely enter the EU. JK indicated that was the case as there are no local controls. JK agreed and also indicated that it is difficult to “fit” the Bulgarian situation into the framework of the CPIA.

PT indicated that most people would agree that some crimes—like murder—were wrong. However, looting would be considered much less seriously by most people, perhaps no worse than a traffic violation. Such seems to be the case in Bulgaria. The CSD Report indicates that some 250,000 individuals are involved in treasure hunting and that the Bulgarian police and cultural authorities are heavily involved in looting, theft and smuggling of cultural goods. The 2009 Bulgarian cultural heritage law was rammed through by ex-communists only with input from archaeologists. Major parts of it have been struck down and it is not effective. The law is honored mostly in its breech. Only 150-200 coin collectors have registered their collections though some 50,000 Bulgarians are members of organized numismatic groups. Bulgarian issues no export licenses, except for temporary exhibitions, but smuggling has become easy given the EU’s open borders. Restrictions would only discriminate against American collectors. CPAC should give heed to the 71% of the public comments on the website opposed to import restrictions on coins. CPAC should follow prior Committee precedent, and recommend against import restrictions on coins, particularly any restrictions based on a coin’s type rather than its find spot. Alternatively, CPAC should table Bulgaria’s request to give the country time to get its own house in order and undertake the self-help measures the CPIA contemplates. Specifically, CPAC should recommend that Bulgaria clamp down on metal detectors rather than collectors, that Bulgaria freely issue export certificates for common artifacts like most ancient coins, and that Bulgaria pass a new antiquities law that takes into account the concerns of collectors and dealers as well as the views of the archaeological community.

MT asked if Bulgarian coins were a glut on the market. PT indicated that there were certainly a lot of Roman issues available, but did not use the word, glut. He also indicated that you could not really generalize on this topic. Coins from the Greek city states located in Bulgaria would be collected as part of the Greek series and the coins of the Bulgarian czars were mainly collected by specialists and Bulgarian Americans. PG and JL suggested that it was not all that hard to import restricted coins. PT disagreed, noting that the compliance costs would exceed the value of many coins, and that in any case US Customs in NY will not allow any artifact on a designated list into the US unless it is pictured in a catalogue that predates the restrictions. This is significant because perhaps only 1 in 10,000 coins is significant enough to be published in an auction catalogue.

KW indicated that Bulgaria should adopt a law akin to the UK’s Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme. He further indicated that it used to be that finders shared details about their finds with scholars and dealers but that is no longer the case due to concerns about legal liability. MT asked about Bulgarian coins being a glut on the market. KW indicated huge amounts of coins came out of Bulgaria in the 1990’s with the fall of Communism. Some issues—like the Roman provincial coins that were struck in Bulgaria—remain a glut on the market. In response to a question from PG, KW indicated that it is reasonable for a dealer to keep information about who he bought coins from and the price, but they typically will not know the earlier history of the coins they purchase.

NE describes himself as an academic with a research focus on the numismatic trade. He has written extensively on the subject. It is clear there had been pillage of Bulgarian cultural patrimony of coins. In 1999, 20,000 coins were seized. Other incidents are set forth in the CSD Report. There have been recent seizures, including of a 63 year old pensioner who used a metal detector. Colonia Ulpia Trajana has been damaged by metal detectorists. Other material is found with coins, including Byzantine crosses and the like. This is often referred to junk in the trade. The best coins are auctioned off, the remainder end up on eBay. The flood of material began in the 1990’s and is still continuing.

CL is representing the AIA. There is evidence of recent looting in Bulgaria. A Bulgarian colleague has indicated Thracian tombs are at particular risk. Bulgaria hosts archaeologists. They have made efforts to update their laws. They are making their best efforts.

BD again represents the Penn Cultural Heritage Center. Despite the issues of corruption outlined in the CSD Report, the number of recent seizures shows Bulgaria is interested in protecting its cultural patrimony. Although there has been a problem with the Bulgarian Constitutional Court, courts strike down legislation in this country too.

KC indicates there are four active US excavations in Bulgaria, and unprecedented number. There is active looting in Bulgaria. It is understandable because it is one of the poorest countries in Europe. Prior to 2008, the State Prosecutor was not interested in crimes against cultural patrimony. The current State Prosecutor is more active. Bulgaria’s Deputy Minister of Culture, Todor Chobanov, was instrumental in pressing for the 2009 law. Chobanov is an archaeologist by training. The successor to the Bulgarian Communist Party passed the law. Initially, old-school Bulgarian archaeologists did not want to cooperate with Americans, but younger archaeologists have been more willing to do so. MT asked KC to comment about the use of metal detectors. KC is aware they are used, but has not researched the subject. There is tourism at sites on the Black Sea. The situation has improved dramatically in recent years. Previously, even important sites were not marked. There is a domestic trade in cultural artifacts. There are quite a few private collections, many of which include looted material. Some private collections are displayed in local museums or even the National Museum.

Barford isn't a Nazi

Ethics in the Antiquities Trade, "Nazi" Cloud Cuckoo Land?
by Paul Barford

Pointing out that a useful code of ethics for coin collectors could contain elements that confront the issue of the presence of illicit coins on the market instead of weasel-wording around the issue, I was accused by one dealer of living in "Cloud Cuckoo Land". He deliberately used the German term and he received the Godwinian reward he was looking for; summoning up all the intellect one might expect from the US dugup coin-collecting community, on one of Welsh's discussion lists, ebay coin dealer "Tim3rexes" retorts:

Wolkenkuckucksheim land? I've always pictured Barford as imagining that he lived in Berlin in 1938 or 1939 and that he was a valued member of the party.

So now ethical trade in coins is linked with the Nazi Party. What new surprises can the coiney intellect come up with on this issue?

Vignette: Google search has a lot on a person calling himself "Tim3rexes", 50 years old from Georgia. Is this the guy who fantasises about Nazis on coiney discussion lists? If so, he'd probably prefer me not to say where I found the photo.



Anyone who is not a resident of Wolkenkuckucksheim would simply have ignored this comment of Tim's. Mr. Barford is obviously oversensitive regarding any suggestion that his views may align with those of the NSDAP.

He has characteristically misrepresented the import of Tim's comments, which actually implied that Mr. Barford himself (and certainly not coin collectors) hold views that align with those of the NSDAP.

Looters and Ethics

Metal Detectorists, Non-Reporting Artefact Finders are "Looters" Says Tompa
by Paul Barford

In Washington today, at a CPAC hearing, Washington cultural property lawyer cited official figures suggesting that there were "up to 250 000 looters" in Bulgaria, the actual reference was not given, but this seems to refer to a passage on page 179 of the report Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends (Center for Study of Democracy 2007): "Estimates about active looters range between 100,000 to 250,000. Despite the striking figure most of these people are either amateur treasure hunters, or incidental finders. The professionals among them do not exceed several thousands". This indicates that incidental finders and metal detectorists who are not reporting material to the authorities are considered "looters" by the standards of EU member-country Bulgaria, an opinion - it now seems - endorsed by Peter Tompa


I cannot speak for Peter Tompa nor for the ACCG. I only have authority to definitively and officially speak for myself. In that restricted capacity I now desire to make it clear that I am absolutely in agreement with what Paul Barford has thus far said, upon this particular report, regarding looters and those who should be classified as looters. No one should presume to assume that such agreement will automatically extend beyond the boundaries of this particular post -- but for the moment we are in complete, total agreement.

I believe it is appropriate for me to say a few words regarding how I think of looters. In my view looters are the absolute irredeemable nadir of human society. They are worse than scum, for as I understand ecology, scum actually provides a very useful ecological function in recycling surplus nutrients.

I intensely, and unreservedly hate looters. No archaeologist or archaeoblogger could possibly exceed that hatred. I would gladly labor in the mephitic dungeons of Hades, where looters in an ideal world and its hereafter might be subjected to well deserved and excruciating torments proportional to their offenses against society. Every red hot iron drawn along the ribcage of a looter, every excruciating session of the bastinado, every episode of being immersed in boiling oil, in such an ideal world would be merely the inconsequential prelude (and a very mild one at that), to what looters really deserve. Which, in my view, would be an eternity in Hell during which they would experience the ultimate in human, angelic and divine cruelty, without any respite or intermission to solace their well-deserved torments. There they might perhaps venture to reflect upon how Torquemada and his Dominican inquisitors came to think of the transient horrors of the auto da fe as a merciful alternative, whose brief extremities might induce repentance, avoiding an eternity in Hell.

Having said that there are, in my view, definite degrees of offensiveness amongst looters. Immersion in boiling pitch, being poked into its excruciating and tormenting depths at brief intervals by the pangs of demonic pitchforks, may perhaps be the theologically just fate of those who actually venture to feloniously dig up designated archaeological sites and other sites which might be so designated, in order to illicitly obtain valuable ceramics, statuary and the like. Such miscreants undoubtedly deserve the full and unreserved wrath of society and its divine inspirations. A dilapidated tramp who conversely ventures to pick up an old stogie along the road might in a putatively very extreme interpretation of preserving cultural heritage perhaps be considered to have somehow infringed upon the archaeological or cultural heritage record. Old stogies are by definition human artifacts, they have to be rolled and then smoked to assume their characteristic forms and odors, and they do perhaps have a certain cultural relevance, anyone doubting which might benefit from consulting the works of Roger Miller. Such perhaps socially marginal individuals in my view do not really deserve the pangs of immersion in boiling oil, however they might instead benefit from immersion into hot soapy water followed by a good rinse and a thorough toweling-off, followed by consumption of a nutritious meal, which so far as I am aware has not yet been recognized as torture despite the rather decided aversion some such individuals seem to have developed toward bathing.

Intermediate between these extremes we have the putative, perhaps questionable misdeeds of metal detectorists, who to the best of my understanding do not ever bring in heavy excavating machinery such as backhoes, bulldozers and the like to dig up their perhaps illicit findings, but instead rely upon far less destructive hand tools. Suffice it to say that metal detectorists in the opinion of this observer have for the most part apparently been converted to archaeologically responsible practices in the UK, where their detecting activities tend to be closely supervised, in the first instance by their associations and clubs, and beyond that by the PAS which has done great good in educating amateur treasure-hunters, whose activities have in many respects revitalized British archaeology and have resulted in many very important new discoveries.

Getting back to Mr. Barford's relevant views, the incidental finders and metal detectorists who are not reporting discovered material to the authorities in Bulgaria, or in other nations requiring such disclosure (which is normally followed by confiscation) are considered "looters" not only by him and those who share his views, but also by me and all who share my views. So far as I am concerned they, and their socially irresponsible like can all go to hell, and the faster they arrive there, the better I will like it.

I do hope that everyone very clearly understands my own personal code of ethics which is not for the most part required by US law, but which I have independently decided to be essential to my personal standards. I will not knowingly acquire any antiquity, including ancient coins, whose exportation from the nation of discovery appears to me to be in any way suspicious, and which (in the event that the exporting nation restricts exportation of antiquities) is not accompanied by a valid export permit satisfying the requirements of the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Bredon Hill Hoard

Coroner rules on Roman coin hoard found at Bredon Hill

Metal detector enthusiasts Jethro Carpenter, 43, and Mark Gilmore, 47, discovered the hoard at Bredon Hill, near Evesham, on 18 June. About 3,800 coins, dating back to the 3rd Century, were found in a clay pot.

They will now be valued by the Treasure Valuation Committee, but Mr Carpenter and Mr Gilmore can expect to receive a percentage. The county's deputy coroner Marguerite Elcock made the ruling at an inquest in Stourport-on-Severn, on Wednesday. Under the 1996 Treasure Act, items more than 300 years old and containing precious metals have to be declared.

The coins are mainly bronze, with some silver content, and feature 16 different emperors, spanning 38 years. Analysis suggests they were buried about 100 years later, in what experts have described as a turbulent time for Roman Britain. The hoard, including the clay pot, will now be officially seized by the Crown.

The coins are on display at Worcester City Art Gallery and Museum until 26 November, after which they will be taken to the British Museum for valuation. The museum said it hoped to buy the hoard after a price had been set.

Richard Henry, finds liaison officer for the Portable Antiquities Scheme, said: "The hoard is really exciting news for Worcestershire and we hope further investigations of the site will give us a better insight into this time period in the county."


CPAC Public Hearing on Bulgarian MOU

My CPAC Comments: Any Successful Cultural Policy Needs Public Buy-In
by Peter Tompa

Here the comments I presented at today's CPAC hearing on the Bulgarian MOU:

I’m speaking on behalf of IAPN and PNG, which represent the small businesses of the numismatic trade. Over the past decade, I’ve exhibited common ancient coins similar to ones available to collectors worldwide so that you would know exactly what coins are subject to possible restrictions. However, some of you might recall that for some unfathomable reason I was not allowed to show you any Greek coins when you met last year. So, I’ve left my Bulgarian coins at home, and instead, I’ve brought you this ruler.

Professor Gerstenblith will know I’ve borrowed this prop from Stuart Campbell, a Scottish archaeologist, but the point he made at a recent conference is just as apt here. We can all agree some things are wrong, like murder. That would be a “12” on this ruler. But what about illicit excavations? Campbell would submit—as would I—that most people would consider looting as a “1” on this scale —more like a traffic violation than anything else.

Most Bulgarians would also consider looting to be no worse than speeding. A Center for the Study of Democracy report estimates that up to 250,000 Bulgarian citizens engage in treasure hunting. It also depicts both law enforcement and the cultural establishment as being heavily involved in looting, theft and smuggling of Bulgarian cultural goods. So, a Bulgarian citizen might be forgiven if he or she also fails to take such things very seriously.

It is true that Bulgaria recently passed a cultural heritage law. You will no doubt hear it represents a sincere effort to reign in looting. But that law was apparently rammed through the Bulgarian legislature by ex-Communists solely based on input from archaeologists. It seeks to suppress looting through complicated registration procedures, but Bulgaria’s constitutional court has struck down some of its most important provisions.

The law itself seems mainly to be honored in its breach. For example, Numismatic News reports that although 50,000 Bulgarians are members of organized numismatic groups, only 150-200 collections have been declared under this law. Moreover, though this law makes legal export of Bulgarian artifacts virtually impossible, such impediments will do nothing to stop anyone from just jumping into their car or onto an airplane and taking what they want out of the country now that border checks have been eliminated with Bulgaria’s entrance into the EU.

Let’s get real. All that restrictions would accomplish would be to greatly limit the ability of Americans to import the exact same “coins of Bulgarian type” that are freely available worldwide and indeed within Bulgaria itself. Under the circumstances, IAPN and PNG would request that CPAC give heed to the 71% of the public comments opposed to import restrictions on coins. CPAC should follow prior Committee precedent, and recommend against import restrictions on coins, particularly any restrictions based on a coin’s type rather than its find spot.

Alternatively, we would ask that CPAC table Bulgaria’s request to give the country time to get its own house in order and undertake the self-help measures the CPIA contemplates. Specifically, CPAC should recommend that Bulgaria clamp down on metal detectors rather than collectors, that Bulgaria freely issue export certificates for common artifacts like most ancient coins, and that Bulgaria pass a new antiquities law that takes into account the concerns of collectors and dealers as well as the views of the archaeological community.

Please keep in mind my ruler as you deliberate. Any successful cultural policy -- whether in Bulgaria or the US -- needs public buy-in to have any chance at success. CPAC has an important role to play in balancing all interests—including those of collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade -- to help ensure that fair and workable solutions to the complex problem of looting are found. ...


Peter Tompa has, in these well thought out remarks, presented a clear, factual and balanced picture of the actual situation in Bulgaria and what would happen if ancient coins are included in the forthcoming MOU.

The difficulty here is that there is every reason to believe that the "deliberations" of the CPAC will once again prove to be a mere sham, that the resulting recommendations will once again be a mere rubber-stamping of what has long ago been secretly negotiated between the Cultural Heritage Center staff, US archaeologists and Bulgaria, and that members of the CPAC will once again prove to be unwilling or unable to actually perform the impartial balancing of interests they are charged with providing.

It would be a pleasure to be proven wrong in these dismal expectations, but I am not optimistic. Public buy-in simply does not exist in Bulgaria, and it is becoming increasingly clear that there is also no reason for the American public to buy into the Cultural Heritage Center staff's maladministration of the US response to the 1970 UNESCO Convention. The truth regarding what is taking place behind closed doors will eventually come out, and when it does we will learn the full extent of the manner in which the 1983 CCPIA, contrary to the clearly expressed legislative intent of Congress, has been twisted into a legal weapon to be used against the legitimate interests of US citizens interested in collecting ancient artifacts, including ancient coins.

Cloud Cuckoo Land

Archaeoblogger Paul Barford seems not to comprehend the meaning of "living in Cloud Cuckoo Land," probably because he has himself dwelt there for so long. When one deals in unreality as the focus of one's everyday life, such distinctions do inevitably become blurred and the difference between reality and a wished-for idealistic unreality may become difficult or impossible to discern.

Reality for instance might be that one may actually drive a taxicab, or translate documents, for a living. Unreality might conversely be that one nevertheless thinks of oneself as being an archaeologist, despite not been gainfully employed in that field for decades and not having recently been active in it, apart from occasional unpaid volunteer work. Writing and blogging about archaeology (in Cloud Cuckoo Land) does apparently suffice to allow one to consider himself as being an archaeologist. That makes just about as much sense as considering someone who writes or blogs upon military subjects as being a soldier.

It's now quite clear that Mr. Barford simply does not get it on many essential levels. The first, of course, in this particular situation being the level of what is fair and reasonable to demand from collectors of such minor antiquities as ancient coins, and the dealers who supply them. So far as Mr. Barford is concerned, any ancient coin must be viewed as an "archaeological artifact" and no one anywhere in the world, regardless of the laws and customs prevailing in that jurisdiction, also regardless of relevant international agreements, may dare to collect or trade in unprovenanced archaeological artifacts. That is the law prevailing in Cloud Cuckoo Land, and in the cloudy depths of Mr. Barford's blog.

Now I do wonder how that particular ideological prejudgment can explain the reality that an "archaeological artifact" is by definition something that has at some point been buried in the earth, and the countervailing reality that there are provably a great many ancient coins in existing collections, and in the hands of merchants in many lands, which have never at any time been buried.

Coins are, and have always been thought of by rational people (other than presently practising and former archaeologists), as money. Money is by definition a medium of exchange. Since its invention in ancient Mesopotamia long before the development of coinage, money took various forms ranging from its origin as baked clay tokens, which at first were sealed up inside clay envelopes as scribal shorthand signifying deposition of valuable commodities such as grain, in official repositories -- for example temples and royal storehouses. After that sensible practice had gone on for many centuries it was eventually realized that the bulk commodities themselves did not have to be hauled around and laboriously weighed out to be traded, and that these officially created tokens representing them could instead be exchanged. It is much easier to carry around a small token than a large and heavy container of grain.

Before coins were invented, tokens of various sorts, including metal rings, bulk metal in the form of cut-up scraps of jewelry and cast ingots, and many other embodiments of valuation were used in everyday trade. One might perhaps wish to buy a bullock, and before the invention of coinage that bullock had to be be paid for in some recognized medium of exchange. Barter was, long before the dawn of recorded history, found to be an inconvenient and impractical means of exchanging values, because the exchange rate for cattle, swine, poultry, and the like did not divide neatly into units of animals or standard bulk containers of grain, olive oil and other valued commodities. Hauling animals or heavy containers of commodities around for trade was very much more difficult than carrying small tokens.

In Rome, before coinage was adopted in the third century b.c., the medium of exchange was bronze. Originally bronze was weighed out as chunks of bulk metal, today described as aes rude. Bronze ingots weighing one to five Roman pounds, bearing visual devices (the aes signatum) were later traded for a variety of things of value, and ingots bearing the image of a bullock are among the many examples of aes signati that have been discovered. Clearly one such ingot was worth a bullock. Other ingots bearing other devices, such as an image of a cock, have been discovered and it is clear that long before the invention of coinage, mankind had arrived at a practical system of exchanging universally valued things such as food and animals for portable objects that functioned as money.

The world got along very well for a long time using money in its various forms and eventually, extending that use to collecting antique money as something intrinsically worth studying, until the nineteenth century development of archaeology, which today ranks as one of the most recent and least developed disciplines of scholarly study.

Now the very immature discipline of archaeology, in the persons of Mr. Barford and other deluded denizens of Cloud Cuckoo Land, for example the archaeology-oriented bureaucrats who inhabit the US State Department's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, presumes to instruct society as to what may or may not be done with antique money -- upon the indefensible assumption that every specimen of such must be regarded as having at some point been buried in the earth, thereby being transformed by that assumption into an "archaeological artifact."

Those who systematically study the development of society and its institutions find much to instruct them in the bazaars and souks of North Africa, the Middle East and central and southern Asia. Almost anything can be found there, including numerous specimens of antique money, which according to the 1970 UNESCO Convention may be classified as "cultural property." Some antique monetary specimens have doubtless dwelt in treasuries and the trays of money-changers and bazaar-vendors ever since they were created many centuries ago.

Bedouin brides today seek out antique monetary specimens to assemble into dowry-belts, and there is every reason to think of this as one surviving instance of a very ancient practice. There are for example large numbers of British gold sovereigns and silver Maria Theresa thalers displayed in almost any Middle Eastern bazaar. Maria Theresa thalers were first minted in Austria in 1741, however since 1780 the coin has always been dated 1780. According to Krause, there have been an estimated 800 million Maria Theresa thalers restruck since 1780. They trade today as bullion.

One well-known and documented example of such long term above-ground sequestration surfaced after the First World War when the Ottoman Empire was compelled, under the terms of the Treaty of Sevres, to make specie payments to redeem its obligations to the victorious powers. Lacking the time and technical means to strike coinage for that purpose, the vast treasury of the Sultans was brusquely emptied out and exchanged as bulk metal to make these payments. Many millions of Byzantine gold coins, amounting in all to several thousand tons, which had originally been paid into that treasury from the tenth to fourteenth centuries as tribute from the declining Byzantine Empire, were thereby exchanged.

Most of these ancient coins were ultimately melted down during the 1920s, and their metallic remains still reside in the ingots stored in Fort Knox. Enough however survived as numismatic specimens to make Byzantine gold coins by far the most common and reasonably priced series of ancient gold coinage. There is no real justification for arbitrarily assuming that any individual Byzantine gold coin was ever buried, despite the artificial constructions made upon this subject by archaeologists and the bureaucrats who serve their interests.

Moving from that very clear example to silver and electrum coinage, it is also clearly demonstrable from the punch marks made by ancient money-changers that many ancient electrum and silver coins must have resided in the trays of money-changers (who were the bankers of their day) for centuries. In those days coins did not circulate very widely nor were they accepted everywhere. They were recognized as a medium of exchange within the polity which issued them, and beyond that only a few very well known types, such as the "owls" of Athens and the "turtles" of Aegina, were universally accepted. Everything else had to be dealt with by the money-changers who would weigh a coin, test its metallic purity (often by making a chisel cut which would expose examples of falsification) and stamp a symbol on these tested coins recording their validation.

One example of such symbolic validation can be seen here:

This particular electrum trite (one third of a Lydian electrum stater) received no fewer than nine such stamped symbols, which are numismatically described as banker's marks. Such stamped symbols have been noted on many different types of ancient coins, ranging from gold and electrum issues struck prior to the time of the Alexandrine empire, to silver denarii of the Roman Republic. These records of the activities of ancient money-changers make it clear that in those days coins were kept sequestered for very long periods of time in treasuries and other respected repositories such as temple storehouses, or in the trays of money-changers, and that burial in the earth was very far from being the normal approach toward keeping coins not needed for everyday transactions.

Burial of coins instead seems to have been an indication of something extraordinary, an emergency for instance. There seems to have been no shortage of such emergencies in ancient times, judging from the evidence of discovered coin hoards. The fall of the Roman Empire resulted in a great many such hoards. Burial in a pot, wooden box or leather bag became a very widespread practice in situations where one would not wish to carry around a mass of coins which might be an encumbrance, or might be an incentive to robbery.

Roman soldiers very often buried their purses of coins before a battle, with the intention of digging them up afterward in the event that they survived. Many did not, and now their buried purses are sought by metal detectorists who comb ancient battlefields looking for coins, arrowheads and other metal artifacts associated with the soldiers of those days. Whilst numismatists have a clear understanding of this practice and the unusual circumstances under which coin hoards were buried, it seems clear that archaeologists and cultural ministry bureaucrats either ignorantly lack such an understanding, or are not willing (on ideological grounds) to admit to having it.

Thus those who are interested in collecting and studying ancient coins, and those who supply these collectors with coins, find themselves in a seemingly eternal, silly and unresolvable confrontation with the self-deluded denizens of Cloud Cuckoo Land. No one is winning this battle. While it is certainly a great inconvenience and distraction to the collecting community, it does seem to this observer that the real losers in this conflict are archaeologists, who have senselessly alienated collectors to such an extent that they are no longer interested in supporting archaeology or willing to educate their children to become archaeologists.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New Numismatic Discussion List

I have relaunched a dormant closed list as a new, open discussion list for Ancient Coins. It is similar to the existing Moneta-L list, however the listrules have been modified to include discussions regarding political, regulatory or legal developments affecting collecting of and trading in ancient coins, and to allow dealers up to two sale listings per month. The list archive is open, and may be read by anyone.

I have always believed that political, regulatory or legal developments affecting collecting ancient coins are as important to those interested in collecting ancient coins as any other aspect of this avocation. Without our longstanding, historical but now endangered right to freely collect, trade in and transport ancient coins across national boundaries, collecting ancient coins would soon become impossible.

Everyone reading this message is invited to visit and join this new list. Once you have done that, please introduce yourself in a message indicating your interests and topics you would like to discuss.

It isn't necessary to have a pro-collecting viewpoint to participate in this list. Those whose interests focus upon preserving the archaeological record are welcome to contribute their views. They should however realize that most listmembers will be collectors who are unlikely to welcome opinions to the effect that collecting ancient coins should be restricted or outlawed.

Which is not to say that those who hold such opinions should be deterred from presenting their views in this new forum. If one really believes in a principle then in my view, one ought to be willing to publicly stand up for it, even if that isn't popular. I believe that I can claim to have done so and to have resolutely stood up for the right of my opponents to publicly present their views, even though that was then extremely unpopular amongst the pro-collecting community.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Packing the CPAC

By Peter Tompa

The State Department Cultural Heritage Center Website has announced that Marta de la Torre has taken over a public CPAC slot and that Jane Levine has assumed a trade slot.


President Obama's Administration earlier announced their appointment here:

While both are certainly knowledgeable about the legal issues before CPAC, one can legitimately question whether they really reflect the interests of the stakeholders they were supposedly appointed to represent.

Ms. de la Torre's association with ICOM is more in line with an appointment to represent the museum or archaeological communities rather than the general public. Moreover, though Ms. Levine currently works for Sotheby's (she previously was a prosecutor associated with the FBI's art crime team), the CPIA's legislative history makes clear that the "trade slot" was actually meant for a dealer that has "hands on experience" in the types of artifacts that are subject to possible restriction.

This is just more evidence that the Obama State Department has ensured CPAC is "packed" with members much less likely to "rock the boat" and question the status quo than the likes of Jay Kislak, Bob Korver or Robert O'Brien.

But doesn't this just do more to confirm the widespread view that President Obama is pro-regulation and anti-business? And is the Administration really served if CPAC does not offer a real balance of opinion to the Executive on the often difficult issues before it?

Consensus is only meaningful if it is built from a diversity of views representing all the stakeholders in the process.


Comment by Wayne Sayles:

This "stacking" of CPAC is a sad commentary, but certainly nothing new. It must be a considerable source of embarrassment to ECA that in spite of the stacking of appointees in recent years toward the ideological views of the archaeological establishment CPAC has still recommended that coins be exempt from import restrictions. I guess that embarrassment has now been precluded unless it turns out that the new appointees actually take their responsibilities seriously and are willing to act independently and apply the mandates of CPIA that the law requires.


For the past fifteen years, the CPAC -- originally a balanced and objective panel of experts, as Congress intended in authorizing its formation -- has been carefully and systematically packed with those whose ideological views regarding the international antiquities trade and private collecting of antiquities harmonize with the anticollecting and antitrade views of Maria Papageorge Kouroupas, AKA "Stealth Fighter," presently Cultural Property Staff Executive Director in the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs of the US State Department. These appointments appear to be a continuation of that process.

This transformation of the CPAC panel has changed it from a balanced and objective panel of experts into a compliant tool of Kouroupas, which she can rely upon to rubber-stamp agreements that have already been negotiated with foreign governments, to prohibit importation of ancient artifacts into the USA, including ancient coins.

Until the CPAC once again becomes a truly independent, balanced and objective panel of experts, which is not controlled or unduly influenced by any bureaucrat, and which is able to impartially carry out the intent of Congress in administering the 1983 CCPIA implementing US accession to the 1970 UNESCO Convention, ideologically motivated bureaucrats of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs will continue to work toward suppression of the international antiquities trade and private collecting of antiquities, including ancient coins. It is difficult to imagine such a transformation occurring while Maria Kouroupas is in charge of that organization.