Monthly Archives: September 2007
Coins, contexts and collecting
I recently read Nathan Elkins’ paper “Why Coins Matter: Trafficking in Undocumented and Illegally Exported Ancient Coins” and have been following the discussion it evoked on several websites and blogs ever since. As an archaeologist and numismatist, involved in research and teaching at a Dutch university, with no affiliations either to any coin collectors organization nor any lobby group in the USA, I felt the need to contribute to the ongoing discussion in what I hope is a positive way.
Let me first state that while reading Elkins’ paper I was constantly nodding to myself and uttering approval under my breath. I could not agree more with the conclusions of his paper. Given several reactions to his paper, there is no general consensus in this however.
Having been trained as an archaeologist (MA in Roman archaeology), but specializing afterwards in numismatics (PhD in Roman numismatics), I would like to confirm and enhance several of Elkins’ arguments regarding the problem of undocumented coins ...(MORE ...)
Blogging on SAFECORNER
Thank you very much for visiting and participating in our forum, we appreciate your posts, comments and responses. Our goal is to bring these issues and age-old debates into the public domain, so that we can all become aware of the damaging effects of looting and the black market trade of antiquities. And most of all, take part in the solutions.
The destruction of the world’s cultural heritage is everyone’s problem, not the archaeologist’s, the collector’s or the dealer’s alone. Whether you are an academic, professor, student, anyone is welcome to post a comment on SAFECORNER. Academic credentials are not required.
We, however, reserve the right to moderate comments and ask that all commentators observe our usage terms listed at the bottom of the page. At SAFE, we value a positive approach and favor suggestions or ideas that contribute to solving problems.
When adding a comment to a post, we also ask that before you hit the “publish” button, read and ...(MORE ...)
An ancient monument in Greece called the Diolkos is being worn away by erosion, industry and neglect. The Diolkos was the ancient pathway used by ships to travel overland on the Isthmus of Corinth, thus reaching Athens more quickly and avoiding the dangerous Peloponnese peninsula. The route was in use for hundreds of years and represents a unique engineering feat.
The Diolkos was excavated in the late 1950s but has been largely neglected since that time. In June the local government agreed to clean up the monument and continue some archaeological work but no further rescue efforts have been planned.
A number of concerned citizens are asking for petition signatures to convince the Greek government to protect and excavate this unique ancient monument.(MORE ...)
Coins, ethics and scheduled monuments
Appended to the rather brief list is this statement:
“The ACCG Board of Directors also agreed that the standards of conduct of museum professionals and archaeologists ought to include certain issues like conservation, publishing responsibilites, respect for private ownership and public access. These concerns will be communicated to the appropriate organizations or associations in the form of an ACCG petition for consideration.”
In the interest of dialogue, can I take the opportunity to give some feedback on ACCG point 1?
“Coin Collectors and Sellers will not knowingly purchase coins illegally removed from scheduled archaeological sites or stolen from museum or personal collections, and will comply with all cultural property laws of their own country.”
Elkins has already commented on the clause “comply with all cultural property laws of their ...(MORE ...)
Codes of Ethics vs. the Financial Interest
It is curious that some groups of antiquities dealers have adopted “Codes of Ethics,” which do not seem to be rigorously enforced or acknowledged in practice. One group of ancient coin dealers that claims to advocate for cultural preservation, while opposing any legislative efforts designed to curb looting and the trade in illicit antiquities that also affect the unregulated trade ancient coins (routinely found in archaeological contexts), has adopted such a code. The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) has adopted a “Code of Ethics” for its members, which states: “Coin Collectors and Sellers will not knowingly purchase coins illegally removed from scheduled archaeological sites or stolen from museum or personal collections, and will comply with all cultural property laws of their own country.” VCoins, an online “coin show” hosting multiple dealer inventories, also has a similar statement in its “Code of Ethics.” The careful wording of the ACCG “Code of Ethics” seemingly allows the dealer ...(MORE ...)
Yale to Return Machu Picchu Artifacts to Peru
Here’s the BBC’s coverage of the major repatriation effort between Yale University and Peru: the return of thousands of artifacts taken from the site of Machu Picchu by Yale professor Hiram Bingham nearly a century ago. I believe this a truly momentous event in the world of cultural heritage repatriation, for it involves both one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world, and one of the most-visited and most-loved archaeological (and now archaeological-tourist) sites in the world. Hopefully, Yale’s clout will inspire other major Western institutions holding objects of questionable provenience to follow suit.
The details of this agreement show that repatriation can be mutually beneficial for both the home nation and the outside institutions where these objects often end up; there will be a scholarly exchange between Yale-based American and Peruvian academics, as well as a traveling exhibit of the pieces to bring the pieces to an even wider audience than they have encountered by being at the school.
Some might say that keeping objects such as these in American and European museums is more beneficial than sending them home, because it inspires Westerners who see them on display to want to visit the places where they originally came from. In this case, given that Machu Picchu is one of the most famous ancient sites in the world, and has such a strong hold in popular imagination, I can’t imagine that many people need the prompting of a few artifacts in a museum to want to go to Peru and see it for themselves!(MORE ...)
The Rape of Europa: A Continuing Saga
[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tK55VI23uXs] Pillage and destruction of cultural property has always been a by-product of armed conflict. Yet no military power in history has equaled the Third Reich in its ability to use culture not merely as a trophy of war, but as a weapon of war: a means to dominate, demoralize and control the nations that it sought to conquer by stripping them of their cultural and spiritual identity.
Only through the systematic confiscation, theft, concealment, forced sale and destruction of millions of artistic, religious and historical works and monuments would Europe, in Hitler’s mind, become a suitable home for a tausend jahre reich with Berlin as its capital. Pulling the plug on this diabolical plan is one of the great stories of modern time, brilliantly recounted by Lynn Nicholas in her 1994 book The Rape of Europa, which has been updated and adapted for the screen with remarkable never-before-seen footage by the writer-director-producer team of Bonni Cohen, ...(MORE ...)
Can Cultural Property Legislation Kill an Academic Discipline?
To those of us who advocate for cultural property protection, it is impossible to think that such efforts would have anything but positive effects on the preservation of information and cultural heritage. However, one lobby, the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), opposes such protective measures as they relate to the uncontrolled trade in ancient coins and assert that if cultural property legislation were to affect the trade in ancient coins it would kill numismatics (the study of coins) as a science. (This is a common theme, among others, in the blogs of ACCG officers and activists such as Wayne Sayles and Dave Welsh). In so doing, members of this lobby (the majority of its officers and leadership being dealers as well as all of its benefactors and most of its patrons) assert that they are protecting the interests of “numismatic scholarship.” Does this claim have any validity to it? Can cultural property legislation kill numismatics as an ...(MORE ...)
Pre-Columbian “art” and Christie’s
Roland Lloyd Parry has reported today (September 6, 2007) in The Art Newspaper that “Christie’s axes pre-Columbian sales”.
He quotes Christie’s spokeswoman Sara Fox, “Our decision was made out of pure business considerations, not as a reaction to lobbying by foreign governments”.
In spite of the announcement the Christie’s website continues to announce:
“Previously regularly held in Paris, Pre-Columbian Art auctions have returned to New York and will be held twice a year, in May and November.
Interest among worldwide buyers and collectors in Pre-Columbian art continues to grow steadily as is demonstrated by the world auction record prices Christie’s has achieved such as $1.1 million for a Pre-Columbian work with a Mayan Jade Plaque (New York, 2004); $332,050 for a Mayan Codex Plate (Paris, 2004); and $124,679 for a Chimu Silver Figure (Paris, 2003).
The department is pleased to answer any inquiries about the market conditions and arrange insurance and estate valuations.”
But not for much longer.(MORE ...)
Heritage Watch Petition
Heritage Watch is an organization committed to preserving Cambodia’s cultural heritage in the face of wide scale looting and damage to archaeological sites and monuments. Founded in 2003, the organization has a number of projects ranging from education, responsible tourism and advocacy.
They are currently seeking signatures for an online petition to convince the governments of Singapore and Thailand to become signatories to the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property. Both Singapore and Thailand are hubs for the trade in illicit antiquities from throughout Asia. They play a role similar to that of Switzerland in the past (The Swiss government signed the UNESCO 1970 Convention in 2003): a port of exchange where antiquities may be freely traded without laws and regulations to protect against illicitly acquired objects.(MORE ...)
Marble sculptures going home
Here is today’s New York Times article on two sculptural heads being returned to Sicily. Like the famous set of silver pieces that are in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, these heads are from the Morgantina site, the remains of an ancient Greek colony in Sicily:
It’s important to point out that these two pieces are not only going back to their place of origin, they are going into a museum there where they will be looked after. It’s not only American or British museums can properly care for and display archaeological treasures.(MORE ...)