• Court rules: Black Swan treasure is Spain’s "natural, legal patrimony"

    U.S. district judge Steven Merryday today ruled for the return of half-a-million coins and hundreds of gold objects to Spain. The artifacts, which had been recovered by the Odyssey Marine Exploration Inc. had been “illegally taken.” Spain’s cultural ministry said.

    According to an AFP report, Odyssey (the NASDAQ-traded corporation that specializes in salvaging shipwrecks) “had argued that even though the coins were Spanish, that did not mean they were found on a Spanish ship.” Also, “since the vessel’s mission at the time was commercial, and that most of the coins were owned by merchants ‘and were never owned by Spain.'” Odyssey plans to appeal. Read Odyssey’s press release on the ruling which it plans to appeal here.

    A year ago, in a workshop at the Joint AIA/APA Annual Meeting moderated by SAFE Board Member Eric Powell, leading authorities from the archaeological and legal worlds discussed the specifics of the Black Swan controversy and its broader implications for both cultural heritage policy and the practice of archaeology.

    Today’s decision should cause all commercial treasure hunters to admit the fundamental flaw in the Odyssey’s business model. Admiralty law matters. And the court has spoken.

    Image: Coinlink

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  • The New York Times and the Met: Too close for comfort (again)?

    In The New York Times December 16 article. Andrew Jacobs writes about a Chinese delegation’s recent visit to US museums to document objects that have been plundered from Yuanmingyuan (Beijing’s “Old Summer Palace”). In 1860, the imperial palace was looted and burnt to the ground by order of James Bruce Elgin, the son of Lord Elgin who took the famed Parthenon sculptures from Greece.

    Describing the delegation as a “treasure hunting team” whose effort is little more than a public relations show, the reporter characterizes the group as a bunch of bumbling bureaucrats barging into American museums in a noisy campaign to further its nationalistic agenda, stirring up popular sentiment against the West.

    Contrast it to a similar report by The Telegraph about the same delegation’s visit to the British Museum, which appeared on October ...

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  • Sebastian Heath’s account of CPAC Meeting

    On November 13, Vice-President for Professional Responsibilities of the AIA Sebastian Heath attended the public hearing in Washington DC to review Italy’s request that the bilateral agreement with the US to restrict importation of antiquities be renewed. His account of the hearing has just been posted on AIA’s web site.

    Such hearings [as well as bilateral agreements, or Memoranda of Understanding (MoU), Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC), Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) and the 1970 UNESCO Convention] have been the subject of much discussion and debate on SAFECORNER. Our organization SAFE advocates for import restrictions as an effective deterrent to looting; a detailed report of the China hearing can be found here.

    Thank you, Dr. Heath, for sharing your insights.

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