Curtailing the loss of cultural patrimony by curtailing demand

Three years ago, we made this appeal to the trade: [U]ntil order is restored, we believe that if the demand for Egyptian antiquities is curtailed, if not stopped, the loss of Egypt’s cultural patrimony during this tumultuous time would be curbed. We then conducted a poll on the question: “Should market countries stop buying antiquities from Egypt until order is restored?” Seventy-six percent responded “Yes”; and thirty-six percent went further by responding “Yes. Antiquities trade should stop, period.” What this informal poll shows is unequivocal.

Should market countries stop buying antiquities from Egypt survey results

The US remains a leading market for antiquities. A quick search for “Egyptian antiquities” on the eBay site at the time of this writing yielded more than 180 results, ranging from an “ancient silver pendant” selling for $5 to a “wooden sarcophagus” in a three-day auction with an opening price of $12,665.00, marked down from $14,000, available within 5 miles from midtown Manhattan zip code 10019. It is therefore welcome news to see that, according to this report in the Cairo Times, the world’s largest online auction site eBay has agreed with the US Egyptian Embassy to stop the sale of Egyptian antiquities. While it is unclear from the Cairo Times article if this agreement only applies to eBay in the US (what about eBay in Germany, Japan, etc.?) or when the sales ban will take effect, this is a significant move.

It is encouraging to see Egyptian authorities recognize that putting heat on major market players such as eBay is one way to curtail the loss of the world’s most precious nonrenewable resource.

SAFECORNER has addressed the concern regarding online auctions of antiquities for some time. We therefore applaud eBay for setting aside profit-making and joining the effort to save Egypt’s cultural patrimony, and our shared cultural heritage. We can only hope that eBay affiliates outside the U.S. will follow suit, e.g., by limiting or banning the sale of Cypriot artifacts on eBay Cyprus.

Remembering Donny George: A Tribute from SAFE

All those concerned about preserving our ancient past felt a chill down the spine upon hearing the news of Donny George’s sudden passing. Whether or not they knew him in person, a sense of loss was palpable within the community. On March 11, 2011, we lost a colleague and a friend. We also lost an eloquent advocate and a powerful—if gentle—warrior in the fight against the destruction of cultural heritage.

I met Donny for the first time at the 2005 AIA Annual Meeting in Boston. (Six years later this past January, Donny emailed from this year’s Meeting in San Antonio to tell me he was disappointed that there was no SAFE booth there.) In between attending sessions, Donny found respite at the SAFE booth. There, we chatted about how best to accomplish our mission. At our first major event at the booth, Donny offered his encouragement: “The work that SAFE is doing is critical, not only for Iraq’s cultural heritage, but also for the heritage of all mankind. All those who enjoy the benefits of democracy have a duty to stand up and support those actions that will stop the destruction of history.” These words will stay with me forever.

Months later, SAFE was invited to spend a day in New York City with Donny and two of his colleagues from the Iraq Museum. We visited the New York Public Library and looked at some of their Ancient Near Eastern holdings, and shared an intimate dinner at one of our members’ apartment. At the end of the evening, Donny spoke about the dangers he faced, just to go to work. Every day, he said, his car had to take a different route to the Museum. As he expressed a sad uncertainty about the future, he invited us to visit Iraq one day. Donny had become a part of SAFE.

It was with great relief and joy that we welcomed Donny and his wife Najat to the US.,in a gathering of friends in 2007. That same day, Donny and Najat heard that his children, who were still in Damascus, would be joining them soon. The family had been separated in exile.

Donny’s interest in SAFE was not only in theory; he embraced our ideas with his time and action, and became a true partner. It was in this collaborative spirit that the Global Candlelight Vigil for the Iraq Museum was born. Since 2007, individuals and organizations around the world listened when Donny called on us to light a candle to memorialize the looting of the Iraq Museum: “Let’s gather together and see what we can do, so people will not forget what happened.” Donny also personally led vigils in New York and Chicago, and invited the staff of the Iraq Museum to join the campaign in 2007 and 2008.

Donny also participated in SAFE’s programs with a podcast interview, and two very special SAFE Tours in the halls of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago. Donny moved audiences at the Bancroft School and the Trinity Lutheran Church in Worcester, Massachusetts. In 2008, we were fortunate to have honored Donny with a SAFE Beacon Award.

He was genuinely interested in our work. One of the most special moments, was when Donny took a train from Stony Brook to attend a SAFE meeting in New York City, and sat with us—academics, professionals and students alike—chatting, and plotting our next strategies and programs. No matter how mundane the topic being discussed was, Donny was engaged and offered to help. He was one of the earliest members on our Facebook group, and served as an Advisor.

Donny was concerned about Iraq’s cultural heritage, he also advocated publicly for the cultural heritage of other nations. On behalf of Cyprus, he wrote a letter in support of the inclusion of coins in the US/Cyprus bilateral agreement in 2007. Two years later, he added his name to a Statement of Concern and Appeal for International Cooperation to Save Ancient Kashgar.

One of Donny’s greatest concerns was to prevent what happened to the Iraq Museum from happening to any other museums, anywhere else. Just this February, Donny spoke to me about the Cairo Museum: “Yes it was so painful, renewing every moment of those days in Iraq Museum. I sent an e-mail to Dr Zahi Hawass, showing my solidarity, and offering any help they need through his blog.”

We will miss working with Donny, but we are thankful that the work that we did together and his message will always stay with us. We heard you.

Cindy Ho
SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone

More False Claims about Lobbying on Antiquities Issues

David Gill has recently addressed claims made by Peter Tompa that appear to have little basis in fact. Tompa is a lobbyist who represents commercial trade interests. He has alleged that the Cyprus American Archaeological Research Institute (CAARI) “was involved in behind-the-scenes lobbying on behalf of the Cypriot Department of Antiquities, the Cypriot government body that issues excavation permits that allow CAARI affiliated archaeologists to excavate on the Island.” The assertions are not substantiated further.

Ellen Herscher, the vice president of CAARI and an independent scholar, responded to Tompa’s claims after they were posted to the Museum Security Network. She stated:

CAARI’s Director and several trustees publicly submitted statements in support of the agreement. This position is in accordance with CAARI’s Code of Ethics, which states that the organization “is dedicated to the protection and preservation of archaeological sites in Cyprus and the information they contain.” There was no “behind-the-scenes lobbying” involved.

Secondly, “CAARI-affiliation” has nothing to do with the granting of excavation permits in Cyprus. Permits are the sole responsibility of the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus.

It is unfortunate that the ACCG continues to publish these erroneous statements, despite the fact that CAARI has responded and refuted them in the past.

Gill asks the question:

Are “false claims” being deliberately planted by some of the North American coin-collecting community as part of the background to the test case over the coins seized in Baltimore? (For some more discussion of the “test case”, see Gill’s “The Baltimore Coin Test Case“).

The question is a provocative one, especially in the context of other false claims recently made by one group Tompa is involved with, the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG).

On November 13, 2009 The Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) convened for an interim review of the bilateral agreement with Italy and asked for public comment to be restricted to Article II. Among other things under Article II, which covers Italy’s obligations, Italy would allow long-term loans to American institutions, access to scholars, and prosecute antiquities traffickers within its own borders. Evidently, the CPAC asked that public comment be confined to Article II due to the concerns of many members of the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD) who felt that Italy was favoring institutions that had returned objects to Italy and that more longer term loans ought to be made. Indeed, there were several AAMD members at the interim review who gave presentations to the CPAC (their written comments have been posted online).

Immediately after the interim review, Tompa insinuated that archaeologists departed from Article II and raised the specter of coins and their potential inclusion in the upcoming renewal with Italy (see Tompa’s “Interim Review of the Italian MOU“). He later claimed, innacurately, that Stefano De Caro, who spoke on behalf of Italy’s Culture Ministry, argued that all coins made within the borders of what is now modern Italy should belong to Italy (see Tompa’s “Is the Italian Cultural Bureaucracy the Best Steward for Coins?“). However, after being challenged, he conceded that he may have misunderstood.

The ACCG’s founder, who was not even present at the interim review, then authored a press release alleging that archaeologists opportunistically raised the issue of coins; he also portrayed the AIA representative’s comments as radical (see Sayles’ “Archaeologists Plead for Import Restrictions on Common Coins“; for a more balanced view, see the AIA representative’s reflections on the interim review). While Sayles pretended as if there is not near universal agreement among the archaeological community that looting and indiscriminate sourcing for the antiquities trade is detrimental to archaeology, he failed to note that many collectors have themselves voiced concerns that the status quo, which the ACCG seeks to protect, requires some internal reforms in the trade. Some have even gone so far as to observe that the ACCG is oriented more towards the concerns of commercial dealers rather than to collectors or the interests of preservation.

Wetterstrom, president-elect of the ACCG and its representative at the interim review, then authored an editorial in the Celator (a collector magazine that he operates) claiming that archaeologists at the meeting received special treatment and were not limited in the length of their presentations. He also writes that he was cut off early while reading his written comments that the CPAC already had in front of them (Tompa has reproduced Wetterstrom’s text in his “Another Perspective on CPAC and the Interim Review of the Italian MOU“).

Sayles then solicited another online press release, prompted by Wetterstrom’s editorial (“Collectors Claim Bias Epitomizes State Department Committee Management“). Here, Sayles falsely reports that “Other speakers, who advocate import restrictions on coins, were reportedly allowed to exceed the published time limit with comments ranging up to 30 minutes.”

In spite of the repetition of the claims by ACCG leadership, they have no basis in fact.

1) Archaeologists (note the ACCG’s use of the plural) were not afforded any special treatment. All speakers were allowed only five minutes and were told to finish if they reached their time limit. Wetterstrom, like all other presenters, received a full five minutes and was cut off only after exhausting his time while reading his letter verbatim. All other speakers made “off-the-cuff” presentations. The only individual who made a longer presentation was Stefano De Caro who had traveled from Rome for the meeting, and who spoke approximately 20 minutes. Although it is implied he was improperly given excess time, the ACCG fails to note that foreign dignitaries are customarily not limited in the length of their presentation. This is proper since they represent the countries who have petitioned for an agreement with the U.S. government. As regular attendees of CPAC meetings, the ACCG is well aware of this fact.

2) Archaeologists did not raise the specter of coins. The order of presentation clearly demonstrates this since Tompa and Wetterstrom spoke before any archaeologist. Both individuals urged the committee not to consider coins any future renewal of the agreement and both made reference to the “test case.” Archaeologists and numismatists who addressed the issue of coins during their presentations were simply responding to arguments made by Tompa and Wetterstrom that coins were not worth protecting because they are “common” or “cheap” on the market. But if one requires further proof, compare the written comments of Kerry Wetterstrom and Wayne Sayles, submitted to the CPAC in advance of the interim review, with the letter submitted by Sebastian Heath, the AIA representative. It is clear from the letters that, contrary to the ACCG’s portrayal of events, the ACCG were focused on arguing that coins not be considered in the future. On the other hand, the AIA representative made no suggestion that coins be included in a renewal and instead had prepared to focus on Article II of the MOU as requested. It was only in oral comments that archaeologists and numismatists were forced to respond to issues beyond Article II that were raised by representatives of commercial interests.

Gill’s question about whether or not false claims are being deliberately fabricated is penetrating, especially in the context of the misrepresentation of events at CPAC’s interim review. Is it indeed hoped that the spin put on these events will construct a reality that is more conducive to their litigious activities? In this regard, it is worth noting that one of the points in the ACCG’s 37 page complaint about the seizure, which they staged, states that archaeologists argued that the agreement with Italy be extended to coins, while failing to note that they brought up the question of coins in the first place (pdf here, see point 80).

The ACCG "Benefit Auction"

I have critiqued the goals, motives, and tactics of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) several times (those unfamiliar with the ACCG are urged to consult a list of some relevant web-postings at the end of this discussion). For those who do not know, the ACCG is a 501 (c) 4 organization to which financial contributions are not normally tax deductible since up to 100% of its funds can be used for the purposes of political lobbying. According to its website, the goal of of the ACCG is to maintain a “free-market” in all coins. It has lobbied against legislative measures designed to protect archaeological and historical sites from destruction. A possible financial motive for its activities may be apparent in the fact that its founder and most of its officers are ancient coin dealers, and the majority of its financial contributors (especially the larger contributors) are ancient coin and antiquities dealers and auction houses.

In November of last year, the ACCG announced it was suing the U.S. Department of State under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) for more transparency on the process under which it decided to impose import restrictions, at the request of Cyprus, on certain ancient coins of Cypriot type. Many who are familiar with the “blogstorm” last fall about these issues will recall that several vocal ACCG members and dealers were alleging various conspiracies between archaeologists and State Department officials( links here and here to relevant posts, some of which reference dealer accusations). A “benefit auction” for which the ACCG has been soliciting donations, which it will auction on August 17, 2008, has now sparked my interest.

…Read the rest of the post at Numismatics and Archaeology: “The ‘ACCG Benefit Auction’ and Intrinsic Interests.”

The case for Cyprus

Department of Antiquities, Cyprus
Coin from the ancient City-Kingdom of Idalion (460-450 BC); Side 1: seated sphinx, a flower and greek letters; Side 2: lotus flower, an ivy leaf and a sheep/goat nucklebone

In light of the recent decision to include ancient coins on the list of import restrictions, Jessica Dietzler conducted the following interview with Dr. Pavlos Flourentzos, Director of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, about the significance of the decision and why it is important to safeguarding the cultural heritage of Cyprus.

The Government of Cyprus has ratified several international binding treaties in order to safeguard its cultural heritage. In 2002 (Federal Register Vol. 67; 139), the Governments of the United States and Cyprus entered into a bilateral agreement concerning Import Restrictions Imposed on Pre-Classical and Classical Archaeological Material Originating in Cyprus. As recently as July 16, 2007 (Federal Register Vol. 72; 134), the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) was extended another five years and includes an amendment for the addition of ancient coins to the list of import restrictions.

It should be noted that the inclusion of coins on the list is the first of its kind in the history of bilateral agreements between the United States and a foreign government. The State Department’s decision has met with heated reactions. Some leaders of the coin dealer lobby believe that it heralds the eventual end of dealing and collecting activities. Recently, the American Coin Collector’s Guild (ACCG) has filed suit against the US State Department.

For those who are interested in learning more about why coins are important in the archaeological record, please see Coins and Archaeology and a recent SAFE feature article by Nathan Elkins.

Jessica Dietzler
“Temple of Apollo Hylates” Kourion, Cyprus

JD: Dr. Flourentzos, thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to participate in this interview. The recent renewal of the MOU between the United States and Cyprus is a significant development for both countries. The inclusion of ancient coins figures prominently in the renewal, and has been the subject of intense debate. Clearly, coins occupy an important space in the corpus of scientific archaeological data. When scientifically excavated, they have the potential to help us reconstruct ancient political, economic and social environments. Why are Cypriot coins so important, to include them on the list of import restrictions? Is it because textual evidence regarding the island’s history is so rare, or are there other reasons?

PF: First of all, allow me to thank you warmly for the opportunity you are giving me to communicate with your readers. We deeply appreciate the decision of the Department of State to include ancient Cypriot coins in the MOU. This act shows sensitivity to the importance of preserving world cultural heritage, a principle highly esteemed by the international scientific community.

You have very rightly pointed out that coins are an essential part of the corpus of the archaeological data. Actually, there is no scientific reason to set coins apart from the rest of archaeological finds. And it is important to understand that there is no way of retrieving coins without destroying the stratigraphy of a site.

You would be surprised, but the truth is that coins are of much greater historical importance for Cyprus, than maybe other countries like Greece and Italy. The reason for this is that Cyprus lacks the abundance of rich ancient written sources other areas of the Mediterranean and the Near East enjoy. The plethora of texts of Classical Greece, for example, that have come down to us range from philosophy and science to everyday life problems. These are valuable sources for the history of this area. Cyprus is not that rich in such texts, so the Cypriot coins are especially important for the attempts of reconstructing the history of ancient Cyprus.

JD: Critics of the recent agreement with Cyprus contend that there is no substantive proof of significant looting of coins on the island. Have ancient coins been looted from Cyprus to any significant degree?

PF: Only a few days ago (first half of October 2007) the police of the Republic of Cyprus in collaboration with the Department of Antiquities managed to arrest a group of five smugglers who had a significant number of Cypriot antiquities in their possession, including several dozens of coins. According to the testimony police managed to gather, two of the smugglers were foreigners and they were planning to export and sell the antiquities outside the island.

The Department of Antiquities has collaborated with the police in quite a few cases in arresting people with metal detectors in archaeological sites, excavating for coins. I am referring to just a few cases of the recent years.

JD: Can you cite any specific instances of ancient Cypriot coins being looted and smuggled out of the island?

PF: On June 2002 in Italy the police managed to arrest a civilian who illegally had in her possession a hoard of 149 silver coins of the ancient Cypriot kingdom of Amathus, a city- state of the southwestern coast of the island of Cyprus. The Italian government returned these coins to the Republic of Cyprus. This case helped also the Italian police to trace an enormous amount of Roman coins excavated unlawfully in Italy.

JD: The collecting of ancient coins is a very popular hobby; ancient coins are also incredibly valuable, monetarily, in the worldwide antiquities market. Some supporters of coin collecting have proposed “responsible” collecting. Do you think it might be possible for coin collectors to collect ancient coins “responsibly” without contributing to the irreversible and destructive process of looting?

PF: There is no way for non-professionals to excavate coins at a site without destroying the archaeological context and the stratigraphy of the site. In the Antiquities Law of the Republic of Cyprus there is a special article for the protection of the stratigraphy of every archaeological site. In contemporary archaeology the ultimate value is context and not any isolated artifact. Thus, destroying stratigraphy to retrieve a coin is equal to destroying archaeology.

I am afraid that arguments about “responsible” collecting are based on the nineteenth century—and thus completely out of date—tradition when it was thought that archaeology is a pleasant pastime that anyone could “enjoy”. In the decades that have elapsed, the gradual transformation of archaeology from a pastime to a science has proved the essential difference between looting and scientific excavation.

JD: The UNESCO International Code of Ethics for Dealers in Cultural Property states in Article 1 that “Professional traders in cultural property will not import, export or transfer the ownership of this property when they have reasonable cause to believe it has been stolen, alienated, clandestinely excavated or illegally exported.” What if, let’s say, a dealer decides that there is no “reasonable cause” to believe a certain item is illegal. With all of the multilateral and bilateral ratified treaties in place to safeguard cultural heritage, should we still depend on the personal discretion of individual dealers, whose attentiveness may vary?

PF: Your remarks are of great importance. It is obvious that the international archaeological community in collaboration with political authorities should continue their efforts to create and enact multilateral and bilateral treaties so that the world’s cultural heritage is not left at the mercy of just anyone. In this sense, I would like to thank once again the Department of State which agreed that coins should be included in the MOU.

JD: Are dealers’ activities monitored? If not, should they be?

PF: In the Republic of Cyprus yes, the dealers´ activities are monitored. There is a special article in the Antiquities Law [see section 31.VII.26] about dealers. I should stress that during the last decades our policy is to grant no new license for antiquities dealing.

JD: Many coin dealers and collectors assert that they are the protagonists disseminating historical information to the public, claiming that the public needs to understand the importance of ancient history and artifacts through lively and colorful presentations that ‘narrow,’ ‘dead’ academics and archaeologists cannot provide. Another claim is that coin collectors offer the public the chance to experience ‘hands-on’ study of ancient history, a “cultural contribution” that museums cannot make. What is your opinion of this?

PF: It is true that there is a need for some museums to become more lively, more visitor-friendly. The “hands-on” learning method is part of the methodology of modern museology and it has been applied in many European museum programs. The dissemination of archaeological knowledge to the public is one of the main objectives of the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus and we try to do this with many ways and methods.   One should honestly admit that private collecting does not help bring historical information to a wide audience. Museums accessible to the general public are better at spreading historical and archaeological knowledge. So the real need is to transform museums to lively organizations. People who are really interested in contributing to the dissemination of knowledge could do this through support of museums.

I should add here that the Department of Antiquities of Cyprus, recognizing the need to monitor private antiquities collections, has granted the opportunity to collectors to declare their collections two times in the past, in 1973 and 1996. It should be stressed that the Cypriot Antiquities Law acknowledges possession but not ownership of antiquities.

JD: What sorts of problems does the occupation of northern Cyprus by the Turkish army since 1974 pose for the Department of Antiquities? Has the Department been able to exercise its authority in the northern occupied territory?

PF: The northern part of the island is illegally occupied by the Turkish army since 1974. This occupation is illegal according to all UN resolutions. The occupied part is still part of the Republic of Cyprus. When the Republic of Cyprus was accepted as a member state of the European Union in 2004, the northern part of the island was considered to be still part of Cyprus. The so-called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” is recognized only by Turkey, the invading and occupying force. The Republic of Cyprus is the only legal and internationally recognized entity on the island. Any archaeological action on the island should be under the authority of the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus. As of 1974, the Department of Antiquities cannot exercise its authority towards the preservation and protection of the cultural heritage in the northern part of the island. As a result of these conditions, any archaeological activity or intervention on cultural heritage monuments in the occupied area is illegal.

JD: Enkomi, Salamis and Soloi are only a few of some of the most important sites on the island that have suffered damage due to destructive pillaging by looters. Are there any other sites (in the North or South) that are still in great danger?

PF: In the part of the island that is under the control of the Turkish military forces, Christian churches, which are ancient monuments have been destroyed or transformed into mosques or abandoned and neglected to collapse in ruins. Other holy sites have undergone a change of use and become military camps, storerooms, animal shelters etc.

JD: What types of preventative measures (conservation, salvage and rescue excavations or otherwise) are being taken, if any, by the occupying regime to safeguard the cultural heritage of the island? Does anyone monitor the programs (if any)?

PF: The first thing to note is that whatever act concerning antiquities takes place in any part of the island should have the permission and monitoring of the Director of the Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus. Otherwise this act is illegal.

Only recently, a Neolithic site on the Cape of St. Andreas, which had been excavated before 1974, was destroyed by the Turkish military during leveling operations in order to install a pair of flag posts for the flags of Turkey and the so called “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus”. I think this incident is eloquent about the quality of the monitoring of cultural heritage, exercised by the authorities of the so-called ” Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus” and the Turkish army.

JD: What obstacles currently face the Republic as far as looting in the South is concerned?

PF: The greater danger for cultural heritage on the part of the island controlled by the Republic of Cyprus is the looting of tombs which takes place in remote rural areas. The recent incident I referred to above brought to our hands antiquities that had been looted in the rural areas of the southwestern part of the island.

JD: Does the pace of development and tourism on the island (both in the North and the South) present any challenges for the Department of Antiquities?

PF: Tourism in Cyprus poses of course the same problems and dangers for cultural heritage that all Mediterranean countries are facing. In this part of the world, the duty for protecting a rich archaeological heritage has to be balanced with a galloping development of tourism. The Antiquities Law is the main tool for the Department of Antiquities to implement a monitoring mechanism towards a viable development. We are trying to turn tourism to an ally, by highlighting how a sensible management of cultural heritage could result to a tourist product of higher quality. Towards this end, we are cooperating with the Cyprus Tourism Organization.The most recent product of this collaboration is the implementation of a cultural route about Aphrodite, which promotes the idea of cultural tourism. The Cyprus Tourism Organization included the improvement of the archaeological sites in its strategic plan for the next ten years.

JD: What, in your opinion, are the biggest problems currently facing academic archaeologists and scientists working in Cyprus?

PF: The most serious problem and obstacle against a healthy development of Cypriot archaeology is the occupation of the northern part of the island by the Turkish military forces. The archaeological investigation on the northern part of the island has been paused since 1974. The Department of Antiquities of the Republic of Cyprus right from its early days has kept an open policy towards foreign archaeological missions which wished to excavate on the island. After the invasion of 1974 the foreign missions which had been working on the north part of the island were forced to abandon their excavations. Many of them lost even their written archives and scientific notes. Since then, they have not been able to go back and resume their work because any archaeological work, on the occupied part of the island is illegal according to international law, treaties and scientific ethics. Greek Cypriot archaeologists cannot go and work in the north either. Turkish Cypriot archaeologists remain isolated from the international archaeological community for the same reasons.

JD: Are these problems also jeopardizing Cypriot cultural heritage? If so, how?

PF: The inability of the scientific community to intervene in the northern part of the island poses great dangers for the preservation of cultural heritage, especially nowadays that a galloping building development is taking place in the occupied northern part of the island.

JD: Besides the return of the Kanakaria Byzantine Mosaics, what are some of the other major repatriations that Cyprus has received (in general or recently)?

Department of Antiquities, Cyprus
Byzantine Silver Dish with Relief Decoration from the Lambousa Treasure: Scene depicts a male youth (messenger of Samuel?) coming to speak to seated male (David?) who holds a lyre

PF: We have managed to repatriate a considerable number of antiquities which had been illegally exported from the island, namely a part of the Chr. Hadjiprodromou collection. Part of it was looted and illegally exported from the island and found in auction houses in Europe. Moreover we succeeded to repatriate several Byzantine icons from Europe and USA.

JD: What are your hopes for the future of archaeology, either on the island or in general?

PF: My deepest hope is that the two communities of the island could soon reach a political agreement for the re-unification of the island. Cyprus is too small to be divided. The archaeologists who work on the history of this island know very well that the cultural history of the island has been one and the same for its inhabitants throughout the millennia. In our days, when Europe is tending to unite under one entity, it would be a historical anachronism to have two separate states in Cyprus. Cypriot archaeology would be a major victim of such a development.

JD: Dr. Flourentzos, I would like to take this opportunity to thank you on behalf of SAFE and the international community, for answering these questions.

PF: Please accept my sincere thanks for the opportunity you have given me.

“All the news that’s fit to print”?

A few important omissions in Jeremy Kahn’s “Coin Dealers Sue State Dept. for Details on Import Bans” in the New York Times, on November 17, 2007 should be pointed out:

In the article, Mr. Kahn claimed, “It was the first time the government had barred trade in a broad category of ancient coins…” But this is not true. While the US/Cyprus bilateral agreement does represent the first time that ancient coins have been subject to temporary import restrictions under the Cultural Property Implementation Act, coins have been subject to government-mandated import restrictions for many years in other contexts. For example, Executive Order 12722, which prohibits the importation of ancient coins from Iraq, went into effect on August 2, 1990. This order has been renewed several times, e.g., see section 4 of the renewal dated July 29, 2004. This prohibition remains in effect. In addition, antiquities, coins and other artifacts of Iranian origin have also been subject to trade restrictions for a number of years; importing such items to the U.S. is currently prohibited, and the US Customs and/or the Department of Justice does confiscate such items. In addition, according to the US Customs and Border Protection’s website, “gold coins … originating in or brought from Cuba, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Serbia, and Sudan are prohibited entry” under regulations administered by the Office of Foreign Assets Control.

Mr. Kahn wrongly characterizes import restrictions on Cypriot coins as a sweeping ban. For example, the photo caption in the article reads: “Importing Cypriot coins like this one is now banned.” But according to the U.S. Federal Register, the coins restricted from entering the US under the bilateral agreement are quite specific and listed as:

Coins of Cypriot types made of gold, silver, and bronze including but not limited to:

1. Issues of the ancient kingdoms of Amathus, Kition, Kourion, Idalion, Lapethos, Marion, Paphos, Soli, and Salamis dating from the end of the 6th century B.C. to 332 B.C.

2. Issues of the Hellenistic period, such as those of Paphos, Salamis, and Kition from 332 B.C. to c. 30 B.C.

3. Provincial and local issues of the Roman period from c. 30 B.C. to 235 A.D. Often these have a bust or head on one side and the image of a temple (the Temple of Aphrodite at Palaipaphos) or statue (statue of Zeus Salaminios) on the other.

Coins minted in Cyprus outside of the categories specified are not affected. In addition, no import ban exists for these types of coins, or any coin of Cypriot type, if the coin is accompanied by a valid export permit from the Government of Cyprus. Any bona fide museum, university or organization with a need to access and study Cypriot coins, can apply to the Cyprus government for a long-term loan, as described in Section 27 (subsections 1 and 2) of the Cyprus Antiquities Law.

The State Department operates under the provisions of the Cultural Property Implementation Act, the enabling legislation passed on January 12, 1983 and amended December 22, 1987, which implements into US law the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (UNESCO 1970). As parties to the Convention, Cyprus and the US, as well as more than 100 countries, have agreed to abide by Article 1(e), which includes under the definition of Cultural Property subject to protection, “antiquities more than one hundred years old, such as inscriptions, coins and engraved seals”. Parties to the Convention have also agreed to abide by Article 9: “Any State Party to this Convention whose cultural patrimony is in jeopardy from pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials may call upon other States Parties … to participate in a concerted international effort to determine and to carry out the necessary concrete measures, including the control of exports and imports and international commerce in the specific materials concerned. Pending agreement each State concerned shall take provisional measures to the extent feasible to prevent irremediable injury to the cultural heritage of the requesting State.”

In other words, the US-Cyprus bilateral agreement is fully in keeping with an international legal mechanism that has been in place for decades.

To describe the import restrictions of ancient Cypriot coins without including the proper background information and circumstances does not serve the purpose of pursuing “greater disclosure”, reportedly the basis for bringing the lawsuit. Context does matter. We believe the public deserves better from The New York Times.

As for the lawsuit itself, the 15-page complaint speaks for itself. But consider this fact: it costs as little as $100/month to hire an archaeological site guard; an FOIA attorney in Washington, D.C. typically receives $400 per hour, or more, to sue the federal government.

Archaeologists don’t care about ancient coins?

The notion that classical archaeologists do not care about ancient coins, or are ignorant of the utility of their study, is a myth repeatedly perpetuated by vocal members of the coin dealer lobby. One evident example is on the FAQ page of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG):

“Aren’t archaeologists good custodians of ancient coins?

While a few dedicated archaeologist-numismatists do care about coins and have used them to make important contributions to the study of numismatics, many, if not most, archaeologists view coins as just one means to date archaeological sites. Most well preserved specimens that numismatists prize do not even originate from archaeological sites. That is because most large hoards rarely come to light at archaeological sites; the ancients typically sought to hide their savings away from the prying eyes of neighbors. Instead of large hoards of well preserved coins, archaeologists typically find large numbers of ancient “small change” that was lost over time. Such coins are often so corroded by direct exposure to the soil as to be deemed uncollectible. Archaeologists tend not to treat such coins as important historical objects in themselves. Instead, after they serve a limited purpose as but one means to date archaeological sites, coins are all too often dumped into plastic bags and left to deteriorate in storage that usually lacks proper environmental controls.”

While there are some small grains of truth in aspects of this statement (e.g. some archaeologists and numismatists are slow to publish and make finds available for study), the claim that is made (essentially that archaeologists are not competent enough to study coins) is unsubstantiated and false; furthermore, the absolute contrary is demonstrable (see, for example, “Why Coins Matter,” “Misunderstanding the Portable Antiquities Scheme.” The Intellectual Consequences of Collecting Classical Coins,” “It’s All the Same: the Looting of ‘High Art’ vs. the Looting of the Minor Arts,” “Coins, Contexts and Collecting,” and “Can Cultural Property Legislation Kill an Academic Discipline?“).

The falsehood that archaeologists are too incompetent to advocate for the the protection of ancient coins from archaeological sites, even though they are important archaeological objects routinely found at archaeological sites, is evidently perpetuated by vocal members of the dealer lobby in order to present themselves as more appropriate custodians of ancient coins, in an attempt to lend credence to their arguments that ancient coins should be freely traded without a concern for the circumstances concerning their origin and journey to the market and to protect “trade secrets.” The latest unsubstantiated assertion of this idea was posted yesterday by one of the lobby’s top leaders, Wayne Sayles, who is the founder and Executive Director of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG). In the blog entry “Intrinsic Interests,” he attempts to contextualize the interest of the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) in cultural property issues relating to ancient coins as “sudden” and as an assault on private collectors, referencing the AIA’s post on Archaeology Watch about “Coins and Archaeology”. Mr. Sayles has routinely criticized classical archaeology in general terms and the AIA more specifically for its concerns relating to the protection of cultural heritage and archaeological sites (see for example “Hijacked by Zealots” and “Archaeology: a Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing?“).

In his latest post, Mr. Sayles disparages the AIA and classical archaeologists in general by saying:

“The more that archaeologists learn about coins from antiquity, the more they will realize that the context within which they are found is merely one aspect, and a small one at that, of the tremendous historical resource that coins present.”

He continues:

“Unfortunately, the AIA’s motives for this blossoming interest are suspect. Having virtually ignored coins for scores of years, why is the AIA disposed now to highlight the value of coins to archaeology? The answer is really quite basic. The numismatic community, comprised primarily of independent scholars, has argued effectively that archaeologists do not have a preeminent claim to the acquisition or study of ancient coins, much less to the dissemination of knowledge about them and about the past from whence they came. If the AIA were to acknowledge this simple fact, it would expose a chink in the armor of their perceived supremacy. So, be prepared to see a lot more ink spilled by the AIA and other archaeological support groups regarding the “importance” of coins. Oddly, collectors have always known that coins are important. This awakening by archaeologists is probably a good thing if they really consider the issues rather than just fill the web and print media with institutional propaganda.”

These comments reflect either a lack of knowledge regarding both classical archaeology and academic contributions to numismatics or a desire to gloss over them. Instead of responding to sweeping generalizations and unsubstantiated assertions with the same, I shall respond with some facts:

Fact 1. Contrary to the assertions, classical archaeologists have always cared about ancient coins and DO study them (the Archaeology Watch webpage in question addressed the value of coins in archaeology); additionally, numismatists regularly participate in AIA activities and are an integral part of that organization. Please do not take my word for it, but take the evidence into account. A keyword search of “coins” from the online abstract archive for the 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 AIA meetings returned 57 papers directly addressing or relating to numismatic topics; I include the full list of results:

Abstracts from the 2007 Meeting

-The Philaïd Coinage of the Thracian Chersonesus, Sarah Bolmarcich, University of Michigan

-Symbolic Rivalry on the Imperial Coinage of the Island of Lesbos, Matthew F. Notarian, University at Buffalo-SUNY

-Icaria: History and Coins, Evangelia Georgiou, University of Ioannina

-Political Ideology and Roman Architectural Coin Types of the Republic and Empire, Nathan T. Elkins, University of Missouri-Columbia

-Roman War and Republican Coin Types, Rosemarie Trentinella, New York University

-Cistophori and Identity in Roman Asia Minor, Marsha B. McCoy, Austin College

-Research at the Castle of Marko in the Republic of Macedonia, Michael Fuller and Neathery Batsell Fuller, St. Louis Community College

-Excavations at Sarhoyok-Dorylaion in Phrygia Epictetos/Turkey, Taciser Tufekci Sivas, Anadolu Universitesi

-Discovery of the Roman Forum of Buthrotum (Butrint): Current Excavations, David R. Hernandez, University of Cincinnati

-Spectator Galleries on Honorary Arches: An Overlooked Function of Roman State Architecture, Martin Beckmann, Wilfrid Laurier University

-Maxentius and the Temple of Roma, Elisha Ann Dumser, Ursuline College

-Hellenistic and Roman Coins from Gordion: A Case for Monetization, Kenneth Harl, Tulane University

-Traces of Hellenistic Petra: Excavations on the Temenos of the Qasr al-Bint, Petra, Jordan, Andreas J.M. Kropp, University of Nottingham

Abstracts from the 2006 Meeting

-Starry Heroes in Late Ancient Rome, Dennis Trout, University of Missouri-Columbia

-Dharma or Diplomacy? A Reassessment of Cultural Policy in the Indo-Greek Kingdom, Jed M. Thorn, University of Cincinnati

-The Heroon at Messene: New Observations on Order, Style, and Date, Pieter B. F. J. Broucke, Middlebury College

-New Glass Finds from Cyprus: Evidence for Ritual, Dating, and Trade, Danielle A. Parks, Brock University

-Images of the Illustrious and the Reconstruction of the Past on Titus’s Restored Coins, Sarah E. Cox, Columbia University

-Monumental Messages: The Meaning of Changes in the Representation of Architecture on Roman Coins in the Early Empire, Martin Beckmann, University of Heidelberg

-Determining the Function of the So-Called Temple of Romulus in Rome, Elisha Dumser, University of Pennsylvania

-The Intensive Urban Survey Project at Kastro Kallithea, Greece: First Results, Margriet J. Haagsma and Sean Gouglas, University of Alberta, Athanasios Tziafalias and Sophia Karapanou, 15th Ephorate of Prehistoric and Classical Antiquities

-The Last of the Scythians, Nancy T. de Grummond, Florida State University

-Presenting the King: Herod the Great and Political Self-Presentation, Adam Kolman Marshak, Yale University, and Rebecca Donahue, Boston Society of the AIA

-Italian Bronze Age Pottery and Twenty-First-Century Scholarly Communication, Susan S. Lukesh, Hofstra University, and R. Ross Holloway, Brown University

-Harboring Fantasies in Roman Crete, George W. M. Harrison, AIA Member at Large

-Numismatic Paronomasia and the Case of Caesar’s Elephant, Edward Zarrow, Yale University

-Augustus’s Altar-ed State: The Altars of the Lares Augusti on Augustan Quadrantes, Lea Cline, The University of Texas at Austin

-The Origins of the Commemoration of Women on Roman Coinage, Tracene Harvey, University of Alberta, Edmonton

-The Function and Distribution of the Flavian Colosseum Sestertii: Currency or Largess? (Results of a Die Study), Nathan T. Elkins, University of Missouri-Columbia

Abstracts from the 2005 Meeting

-The “Numismatic Habit”? Roman Coins and Roman Inscriptions from Augustus, Edward Zarrow, Yale University

-Stone Offering Boxes (Thesauroi) in the Ritual and Administration of Greek Sanctuaries, Isabelle Pafford, UC Berkeley

-The Bust-Crown, the Panhellenion, and Eleusis: A New Portrait from the Athenian Agora, Lee Ann Riccardi, The College of New Jersey

-The “Skyphos Sanctuary” on the North Slope of the Acropolis, Kevin T. Glowacki, Indiana University, and Susan I. Rotroff, Washington University in St. Louis

-Imperial Cult in the Colosseum, Nathan T. Elkins, The University of Missouri, Columbia

-The Use of Die Studies as a Corrective to Late Seleucid History, Oliver D. Hoover, The American Numismatic Society

-Royal Women in Nabataea: The Case of Rabbel and Shuqailat, Bjorn Anderson, University of Michigan

-Conceptions of Rome: The Meta Sudans on Roman Imperial and Provincial Coinage, Brenda Longfellow, University of Michigan

-Under the Gaze of the Empress: Succession and Political Participation in Severan Coinage, Julie Langford-Johnson, Indiana University, Bloomington

-Communicating Royal Power in the Bosporan Kingdom, Patric-Alexander Kreuz, Freie Universität Berlin

-Keeping Up with the Seleucids and the Ptolemies, Olga Palagia, University of Athens

-Hellenistic Geronthrai: Archaeological Evidence for the Changing Life of a Perioikic Community at the Foot of the Parnon, Mieke Prent and Joost H. Crouwel, University of Amsterdam, and Elizabeth Langridge-Noti, The American College of Greece

-The Origins of Pompeian Domestic Architecture: New Evidence from the House of the Surgeon, Rick Jones and Damian Robinson, University of Bradford, and Steven J.R. Ellis, The University of Sydney

Abstracts from the 2004 Meeting

-False Fronts: Separating the Imperial Cult from the Aediculated Facade in the Roman Near East, Barbara Burrell, University of Cincinnati

-A Late Roman Settlement “Explosion”? The Continuity and Reuse of Sites in the Eastern Corinthia, David K. Pettegrew, The Ohio State University

-A Sample of Bullae from Zeugma, Sharon Herbert, University of Michigan

-Embellishing the Garden: A Glimpse of Private Life in Julio-Claudian Cosa, Jacquelyn Collins-Clinton, Cornell University

-The Apadana Coin Hoards, Darius I, and the West, Antigoni Zournatzi, The National Hellenic Research Foundation, Athens

-Ponēra Khalkia: Towards the Contextualization of Archaic/Classical Plated Coinage, Peter van Alfen, American Numismatic Society

-Regional Economy and Reconstruction: The Stymphalos Hoard of 1999, Robert G.A. Weir, University of Windsor

-Beyond Payment: Alternate Uses of Coins in the Ancient World, Sebastian Heath, American Numismatic Society

-Excavations in the Athenian Agora, John McK. Camp II, American School of Classical Studies at Athens and Randolph-Macon College

-Preliminary Report on the Hellenistic Material from the Dutch Excavations at Geraki (Geronthrai) in Laconia, Elizabeth Langridge-Noti, American College of Greece, and Mieke Prent, University of Amsterdam

-The Emperor, the Sun, and the Son: The Arch and the Colossus in Constantine’s Rome, Elizabeth Marlowe, Columbia University and American Academy in Rome

The 2008 meeting’s preliminary program is also online and includes several papers and panels directly addressing numismatics.

Fact 2. In addition to scholarly numismatic journals, such as the Numismatic Chronicle or the American Journal of Numismatics, other journals frequently host articles on numismatic topics, especially archaeological journals. Since July 2005, the American Journal of Archaeology(AJA), a publication of the AIA, has hosted at least four articles that address numismatic topics:

The Date of the Sardis Synagogue in Light of the Numismatic Evidence
Author: Jodi Magness
Volume: 109.3, Pages: 443-475

New Archaic Coin Finds at Sardis
Author: Nicholas Cahill and John H. Kroll
Volume: 109.4, Pages: 589-

Archaeology of Empire: Athens and Crete in the Fifth Century B.C.
Author: Brice Erickson
Volume: 109.4, Pages: 619-

Visualizing Ceremony: The Design and Audience of the Ludi Saeculares Coinage of Domitian
Author: Melanie Grunow Sobocinski
Volume: 110.4, Pages: 581-602

The AJA is a quarterly academic journal, which typically hosts between 3 and 5 articles per journal; and thus, numismatic topics can comprise a rather significant part of intrinsically related disciplines represented in the journal (e.g. ceramics, numismatics, topography, etc.), considering the journal addresses classical archaeology as a whole. For our readers that have JSTOR access or live in proximity to a good library, one can see that back issues of the AJA contain a plethora of numismatic articles and that the AJA is an important resource for numismatic research (more specifically see Sebastian Heath’s recent comments, on Sayles’ blog entry, about the history of the AJA and its long association with numismatists and numismatic publication). Other archaeological journals, which may be unfamiliar to many collectors and dealers, such as the Journal of Roman Archaeology, frequently host numismatic topics.

Fact 3. Contrary to what some members of the dealer lobby would have the general public and their constituents believe, the AIA has a strong relationship with numismatists. For example, the current AIA president is an alumnus of the American Numismatic Society graduate seminar on Greek and Roman numismatics, has taught graduate seminars on numismatics, and also has published books and articles that incorporate numismatic evidence. There is also a numismatist currently on the AIA’s Board of Academic Trustees. Additionally, one of the AIA’s largest “interest groups” is the “Friends of Numismatics,” which is comprised of alumni of the American Numismatic Society graduate seminar and other numismatists; the Friends of Numismatics meet annually at the AIA meeting. (Note: the “Friends of Numismatics,” associated with the AIA, should not be confused with the ACCG’s “Friend of Numismatics” award, which the lobby uses to honor individuals who “advance” or “protect” ancient coin collecting).

Fact 4. Unlike the AIA, the ACCG is a new organization, founded within the past few years, which arose in response to cultural property advocacy efforts that conflict with the interests of ancient coin collectors and especially dealers, who comprise most of the organization’s officers, all of its “benefactors,” and the majority of its “patrons.” The ACCG’s goals are highlighted on its “objectives” page. One of the ACCG’s primary aims is “to fight for the continued existence of a free market for all collector coins.”

Mr. Sayles pretends as if archaeologists know nothing about coins, objects which are commonly excavated at classical archaeological sites, and attempts to portray advocacy efforts to protect the contextual study of ancient coins and archaeological sites as misguided, since (in his mind) archaeologists should know nothing about coins. In my view, the AIA’s Archaeology Watch page, which Mr. Sayles rails against, reflects a concern many archaeologists have had for decades about looting and the role of the antiquities trade – which includes the trade in ancient coins – in the destruction of archaeological sites and historical information.

Why was the Archaeology Watch page on “Coins and Archaeology” posted this year? Anyone who has been following the discussions on ancient coins and cultural property (for example, on Looting Matters, SAFECORNER, or elsewhere) knows that Cyprus’ request for import restrictions on ancient coins and the U.S. State Department’s subsequent recognition of that request has caused an outcry from the coin dealer lobby, a lobby that attempts to thwart any legislation or protective measures designed to protect archaeological sites and cultural heritage should that legislation include anything that may hinder a completely unregulated and “free market” in ancient coins. Although I am not privy to the immediate circumstances regarding the AIA’s decision to post the “Coins and Archaeology” page, I suspect the ACCG’s outspoken activities, its unceasing assaults against the AIA and classical archaeology in general, and its gross oversimplification of the issues might have contributed to it.

The unregulated trade in ancient coins is responsible for some systematic looting and is forever destroying an important avenue into critical historical inquiry. These issues have already been examined in “Why Coins Matter” and a more substantial work is in preparation. The dealer lobby consistently downplays the value of context and asserts that collectors and dealers are the only people able to produce “scholarship” on ancient coins (see “Can Cultural Property Legislation Kill an Academic Discipline?”). Indeed, context is not the only aspect of numismatic or scholarly inquiry, but it is an important one and one that is essential to serious economic, circulation, and even iconographic studies. Context is an highly important aspect of any archaeological object or historical document and this aspect of an object should not be destroyed or ignored if at all possible. What if the Reka Devnia hoard had been found by a looter or metal detectorist and sold on the market with no record of its find spot or context? (The Reka Devnia hoard is one of the largest, if not the largest, ancient coin hoards ever discovered and contained c. 350 kg of silver Roman coins; it was excavated at Marcianopolis (see David Gill’s blog entry “Misunderstanding the Portable Antiquities Scheme” and comments there)).

In his newest blog post, Mr. Sayles betrays his misunderstanding of archaeology and has again drawn a distinction between “collectible” coins and “worthless” coins that are on the market. Another numismatist has commented that what Mr. Sayles has egregiously labeled “junk” and “trash” are invaluable historical sources. To an archaeologist and field numismatist, all coins are essential to understanding our history and the conditions under which our ancestors lived.

It is constantly claimed by vocal members of the ancient coin dealer lobby that classical archaeologists and cultural property advocates are driving a wedge between numismatists and the academic community. The facts do not support this spurious claim; as was related above, the AIA, for example, is an organization that embraces numismatists and numismatic research. In fact, it is the ancient coin dealer lobby painting a picture of discord, perhaps to rouse action from collectors and lawmakers in Washington to protect their ability to import and trade in “fresh” material indiscriminately, regardless of that material’s origin or the conditions regarding its acquisition (see again “Why Coins Matter” on the source of much of the new material presently on the market; also cf. Hall, J.L. 2007. “The Fig and the Spade: Countering the Deceptions of Treasure Hunters.” Archaeology Watch. 15 Aug., on how groups with a financial interest in trading in antiquities attempt to win public approval by portraying themselves as practicing serious scientific and scholarly activities). If ACCG leaders seriously want a “constructive dialogue,” let us stick to the facts and avoid the reactionary emotional responses and unsubstantiated generalizations and assertions that lack veracity.

*Since I am responding to criticisms leveled against the AIA specifically, but also classical archaeology as a whole, I should note that although I am a member of the AIA, the views presented here do not necessarily reflect the individual views of the AIA’s leadership, the general membership, or its institutional stances. Instead, I respond here in my capacity as a classical archaeologist and a numismatist sensitive to issues relating to looting and the widespread destruction of archaeological and historical information, and as an individual concerned about the future our ability to critically examine and understand humanity’s past – the forbearers of modern civilization – through disciplines that incorporate the study of material culture via the application of a scientific methodology.

It’s All the Same: the Looting of ‘High Art’ vs. the Looting of the Minor Arts

When ancient objects are studied from recorded contexts, usually through scientific excavation, they are invaluable historical sources. In archaeological excavations, all classes of objects are systematically recorded and studied by specialists. Archaeology has evolved from its origins in treasure-hunting and the indiscriminate antiquarian accumulation of objects into a scientific discipline, which treats each object as an historical source, the usefulness of which often revolves around the find’s context. Despite archaeology’s place as an academic discipline, which makes little aesthetic distinction between the ability of different archaeological objects to inform us about ancient society, media coverage of looting activities, detrimental to archaeology, frequently revolve around ‘high art’ objects – large statues, signed Greek vases, etc.(1) News stories devoted to cultural property issues frequently reference some unique statue or vase returning from X or Y museum to its home-country or the theft of ‘high art’ objects from museums or archaeological sites. It is clear, however, that the majority of trafficking in illicitly excavated and exported antiquities revolves not around these ‘monumental’ aesthetic objects, but the minor arts: coins, brooches, buckles, small ceramic and metal vessels, glass, oil lamps, Byzantine crosses, etc. Objects such as these are easily available on the Internet and sold in large numbers on eBay (all sites), VCoins, and through other websites and auction houses. Curiously, advocacy efforts to educate the public about looting regarding these classes of objects are increasingly opposed by lobbies and special interest groups that cater to a dealer interest. Is there a difference between the trade in unprovenanced examples of ‘high art’ and that in unprovenanced examples of the minor arts?

According to recent news articles, five or six smugglers in Cyprus were arrested and their cache of antiquities, which they had allegedly intended to export illegally, was seized (for two versions of the news article see the International Herald Tribune and the Cyprus Mail). David Gill has already commented on this report in “Coins and Cyprus: action on the ground.” The first article in IHT stated: “The antiquities, confiscated in the southern town of Limassol, include gold leaves and rings, two mediaeval gold coins and a bronze cross.” It continued: “Police said the suspects were trying to sell the finds for €280,000 ($395,000).” If the smugglers were trying to sell the artifacts for such a sum, we can be confident that a complete inventory of the cache was not supplied. The CM article provides a bit more detail:

“Around 100 items were found at the Kato Polemidia house, ranging from the Paleolithic to the Byzantine period. Confiscated items include hundreds of gold coins, bronze coins, statues, gold, bronze and metal antique jewelry, bronze seals, sheets of gold and albums with pictures of archaeological finds. Approximately 40 more items were confiscated from the Ypsonas garage. An officer of the Antiquities Department is currently assessing the value of the finds. ‘The confiscated items are of great archaeological value: they are a treasure. Only part of this collection would have been sold for 280,000 euro,’ said Latropoulos. The sale would have occurred yesterday morning, but was prevented by the police raids and arrests.”

Much of this material is ‘common’ on the market; nevertheless, it is clear that such materials come from archaeological sites. Some have argued that fresh supplies of ancient coins that reach the market in response to widespread collector and dealer demand only come from empty fields, devoid of any associated archaeological remains. However, this is a great misconception, which I rebutted, citing published records of the systematic looting of archaeological sites for coins and other metal objects, in the SAFE feature: “Why Coins Matter.” Clearly, in the Cyprus case, the other ‘minor art’ objects recovered are the sort that come only from historical sites or ancient tombs.

In 2006, Greek authorities raided a villa on the island of Schinoussa occupied by the sister of Christos Mihailidis, former partner of London-based antiquities dealer Robyn Symes, whom Italian and Greek authorities suspect of being a major antiquities smuggler. The report stated: “The hundreds of relics discovered so far in and around the Papadimitriou villa include temple parts, statues and busts, ceramic vessels, coins and Byzantine-era icons.” Another article from the New York Times states: “Evidence retrieved in the raid indicated that many of the items had been bought at Christie’s or Sotheby’s between 2001 and 2005, although none had been declared to the Greek authorities before entering the country, as required by law.” Clearly, these smugglers made no distinction between trading in parts of a temple and selling coins – both are profitable on the market.

In 2005 in Egypt, one smuggling ring is known to have illegally exported around 57,000 objects from the country. These individuals dealt in all classes of objects; the article states:

“Officials estimated the smuggling gang exported some 57,000 pieces worth about $55m, including human and animal mummies, coins, statues and wooden sarcophagi. The authorities intercepted some of the antiquities at Cairo airport, but others were smuggled all over the world, including some that were found in Australia for sale on the internet. They have been returned to Egypt.”

It is curious that some (whose professions are outside of archaeology and field archaeology) have tried to argue a special case that coins should not be considered archaeologically significant objects, despite the fact they come from the same places as other objects: historically significant sites with associated archaeological remains (see “Why Coins Matter”). Are not these caches further evidence that looters are not just detecting in empty fields for coins but are also systematically looting tombs and other archaeological and historical sites for material, taking everything that will fetch money on the market?

In the SAFE feature, I commented on the significant problem of looting in Balkan countries, which supplies much of the fresh material on the coin market. Yesterday, I read an article, on the MSN list, discussing the problem of looting in Romania and efforts to recover looted material. Apparently, ‘minor objects’ such as coins and jewelry are not exempt from being repatriated when their illicit export can be traced:

“Selon une statistique de l’IGP, en 2006, environ 17 000 biens archéologiques
étaient recherchés hors des frontières de Roumanie, la plupart étant des
pièces de monnaies : des pièces romaines en argent (12 000 pièces), des
pièces d’or de Chersonèse taurique (2 440 pièces) et des monnaies d’or de
Lysimarque (2 700 pièces).”

And for our readers who do not read French, here is my rough translation:

“According to statistics of the IGP [L’Inspection général de la Police roumaine], in 2006, around 17,000 archaeological goods were recovered from outside the borders of Romania, most were coins: Roman silver coins (12,000 pieces), gold coins from Tauric Chersonese [essentially the Crimea] (2,440 pieces) and gold coins of Lysimachos (2,700 pieces).”

The well-known case of the dekadrachm hoard, illicitly excavated and exported from Turkey, illustrates that foreign governments have a legal basis to sue for their return, when they can track the sale of illicitly excavated and exported material.

The Medici Conspiracy tells the story of Giacomo Medici’s distribution and exportation of illicitly excavated antiquities (primarily ‘high art’ objects) and how authorities used his own records to track down the loot. Although ‘high art’ gets more press and museums with indiscriminate acquisition policies frequently pay the price, the minor arts of antiquity are equally important to our knowledge of past societies – especially when they can be studied from recorded excavated contexts – and they are, and have been, liable to litigation should their illicit sale be traced.

As the market in ‘minor antiquities’ flourishes and continues to grow, there can be no doubt we will likely witness future court battles involving the plunder of the minor arts. Should the records of some smuggler or some unscrupulous dealer be seized by law enforcement in the future, the sale of some coins and other small objects could potentially be traced and be subject to possible litigation. Unfortunately, an unsuspecting collector may well pay the financial price. There is a multitude of evidence demonstrating that such objects are entering the market in very large quantities, supplied by organized rings of smugglers and looters. Is it enough that a dealer can say “I acquired this legally, in good faith, but I can’t tell you anything about the previous owner or where I got it – I have to protect my sources!” Should this be enough to assure the collector that the object was not recently looted? Is this due diligence? (for due diligence see: David Gill’s “Cultural Property Advice” and also keyword ‘due diligence).’

(1.) Ironically, many contemporary collectors and art galleries regard Greek painted vases as ‘high art’ objects, but there is a scholarly debate concerning how highly Greek painted vases were regarded by the Greeks themselves. In general, see: Vickers, M. and D. Gill. 1994. Artful Crafts: Ancient Greek Silverware and Pottery. (Oxford); and also: Vickers, M. 1985. “Artful Crafts: the Influence of Metalwork on Athenian Painted Pottery,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 15; Vickers, M., O. Impey, and J. Allan. 1986. Silver to Ceramic. (Oxford); Vickers, M. 1986. “Silver, Copper and Ceramics in Ancient Athens,” in M. Vickers (ed.) Pots and Pans (Oxford). These works, and others, suggest that Greek painted vases imitated more valuable gold, silver, and other metal vessels, which would have been more routinely used by aristocratic classes and that painted vases were a more economical substitute.

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 lobby and its members to skirt the actual problem of provenance by stating that they will not trade in coins that come from “scheduled archaeological sites.” Does this mean they can feel free to trade in coins robbed from historical sites that are not currently being excavated?

The vast majority of ancient coins imported by dealers and subsequently sold have no recorded find spot or an old pedigree, so where do they come from anyway? Who knows! Additionally, the statement that the ACCG “will comply with all cultural property laws of their own country,” along with the relative lack of enforcement, allows for the potential to import illegally excavated and exported material with a clean conscience since the U.S. does not have import restrictions on ancient coins with many foreign nations (except Iraq and, recently, Cyprus), although it is illegal prospect for or to export coins from most source countries without a permit – especially important source countries like those in the Balkans.

Generally, among the North American ancient coin dealing community, there appears to be a “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy in effect regarding their participation in the trade of undocumented and potentially illegally excavated/exported material: import and sell the material, just “don’t ask and don’t tell” where it came from (for example see some dealer suggestions to circumvent legal issues with illicitly imported coins in David Gill’s blog entry, “Cyprus, eBay and the Coin Lobby”). Should American citizens and coin collectors expect or even accept such unscrupulous activity from sellers? It is documented that similar practices amongst dealers of other sorts of antiquities exist (see Cook 1991, 533-534; cf. Karich 2006). Dealers of uncleaned ancient coins have also adopted a “Code of Ethics,” which deals only with selling practices and does not make any presumption to prohibit the import of coins that were illegally exported or excavated.

A number of the ACCG’s donating ‘patrons’ actively import ancient coins in bulk and often sell them in bulk without any record of provenance. In fact, one ancient coin dealer and patron of the ACCG is also, curiously, the president of a customs clearing company in New York and is one of the more important suppliers of bulk lots of uncleaned coins in the U.S. This individual also deals in other types of antiquities, many of which appear to be of Balkan origin and has online storefronts on VCoins.

Despite the rhetoric and token “Codes of Ethics” subscribed to by some groups of antiquities dealers, it is clear that antiquities and ancient coins are being systematically looted from historical and archaeological sites at an alarming rate in order to supply for market demand. This activity is destroying valuable contextual and historical information in the process, harming not only archaeological and historical inquiry, but also – in the case of ancient coins – the “science of numismatics” (for further discussion see the article “Why Coins Matter…,” which should be made available on the SAFE website within a week).


Cook, B.F. 1991. “The Archaeologist and the Art Market: Policies and Practice,” Antiquity 65.248: 533-537.

Karich, S. 2006. “Der Bundesverband Deutscher Kunstversteigerer hat einen neuen Verhaltenskodex für seine Mitglieder aufgestellt. Transparenz ist bisher nicht immer vorhande,” Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung 180 (05 Aug.): 47.

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 academic discipline?

In short, my point of view is the quite contrary; ancient coins must be considered by cultural preservationists no differently than any other ancient object and that protective efforts can only preserve valuable numismatic information (for the value of coins studied in context and the need for greater awareness of and attention to the unregulated trade see, in general, Beckmann 1998, von Kaenel 1994; 1995; 2007). When ancient coins are found in archaeological contexts they provide a wealth of information that does not come with undocumented coins that appear on the market, lacking any context or provenance. Additionally, the majority of ancient coins enter the market the same way that most antiquities enter the market – through suspect means (see Kersel 2006 for one of the most recent discussions of the way ancient objects make it to the antiquities market – she discusses ancient coins in particular). Archaeological sites throughout Europe and the Middle East are systematically looted in order to provide ancient coins for the market, which are frequently smuggled in large quantities to destination countries. One published account records the interception of approximately 20,000 ancient coins (originating from Bulgaria) at Frankfurt airport, a shipment bound to the U.S.; customs officials determined this one shipment comprised just one of many others which had previously gone through the airport recently and the total smuggled out was in the area of a ton (c. 340,000 ancient coins; see Dietrich 2002). This quantity represented only the actions of a single smuggler in a relatively short period of time.

Perhaps just behind pottery sherds, ancient coins are the most common archaeological finds. This is certainly the case at Yotvata, a remote auxiliary fortress on the Roman Empire’s borders, where I work as the site’s numismatist. In addition to dates, coins in archaeological contexts provide information that can help numismatists and archaeologists to understand the expansion and contraction of settlements, areas of importance and the movement of peoples within a specific settlement. Additionally, coins in context are invaluable to studies of the ancient economy and circulation studies. In fact, contextual study of ancient coins is an increasingly important aspect of serious numismatic and archaeological research. Entire research centers can be devoted the study of ancient coins in archaeological contexts as at Frankfurt University, where one department publishes the inventories of coin finds from archaeological contexts in Germany, Fundmünzen der römischen Zeit in Deutschland – a project which has inspired similar projects in other countries. Additionally, this department sponsors a very important numismatic monograph series that publishes contributions in English, French, Italian, and German that study ancient coins in archaeological contexts (Studien zu Fundmünzen der Antike). From October 25-27, this department is also hosting a three day conference on “Coins in Context.” (For additional information on the scientific value of coins in archaeological contexts, see the AIA’s page and my forthcoming article on the SAFE website).

One vocal lobby member and officer recently proclaimed:

“Numismatics is a much older science than archaeology, which has made many important contributions to the historical record and whose teachings (to which archaeology has contributed very little)are used by archaeologists as a stratigraphic dating tool. It is ironic that this venerable and beneficial field of study is now threatened by a discipline that could hardly be said to exist until the twentieth century, and really began to take shape only after the end of WWII. There are very few (if any) archaeologists who have any knowledge of numismatics, its accomplishments or its importance.”

In my view, the lobby’s rhetoric and assertions that archaeologists know nothing about numismatics are simple fabrications that have no basis in fact and are easily disproved. Dozens of archaeologists are also numismatic experts and some of the leading authorities on ancient coins are archaeologists employed by museums and universities (; for other lobby tactics see David Gill’s blog entries: “Coins, Cabals…and Huff and Puff,” and “Coins and Cyprus: Listening to the Coin Forum”). Familiarity with serious numismatic research also indicates the contrary. Numismatics contributes to archaeology and archaeology contributes to numismatics. One of the best examples of how contextual archaeological study has contributed to the study of ancient coins is from Morgantina, where stratigraphic excavation allowed archaeologists and numismatists to establish a date for the introduction of the Roman denarius.

I am well aware that coin collectors have often contributed to serious numismatic research, but is the continued “free market in ancient coins” necessary for good “numismatic scholarship” and is the fact that some collectors have contributed to such scholarship an excuse for indiscriminate collecting? Perhaps the question is best answered by framing the question in terms of other disciplines. Is it necessary for archaeologists to collect ancient objects to produce scholarship on archaeology? No, the vast majority of archaeologists today do not privately collect objects and view the practice as detrimental to scientific study. Is it necessary for anthropologists to collect arrowheads and old pots to study prehistoric and primitive civilizations and human society? No. Is it necessary for zoologists to trade in endangered species to study them? No. Ancient coins are no different. In fact, when coins enter the market through suspect means – without provenance, without archaeological context – all useful information regarding its find circumstances are lost and part of history is irrecoverably destroyed.

What is to be done? Currently the unchecked trade in undocumented ancient coins is a severe problem and requires increased activism on the part of cultural preservationists. However, direct dialogue with the dealer lobby seems unlikely given its inherent financial interest in maintaining a completely unregulated and unchecked trade and the willingness of some of its members and officers to act irresponsibly and untruthfully in their writings no doubt engenders a great degree of distrust.

In my view, we can only hope to be successful in preserving the future of numismatic research by activism that specifically addresses the trade in ancient coins and public education. Without a doubt we share a passion with ancient coin collectors about ancient history and the ancient world. I believe most ancient coin collectors are either unaware of the way in which ancient coins are procured and the damage that the demand for them causes, or buy into the lobby’s rhetoric since they are hearing only one distorted perspective (Lobby officers control the most popular ancient coin collecting magazine, the Celator, and sympathetic coin dealers own and moderate most every online ancient coin collecting discussion forum including the most popular one, Moneta-L). I, myself, actively collected ancient coins until I educated myself about the issues and the facts. It is the collector to whom we must reach out and educate.

Most ancient coin collectors in the U.S. enter that hobby by first collecting American coins and as a result make little distinction between the two forms of collecting, even though the sources of the objects are very different and are at the heart of the debate. We must highlight the differences between source of coins for collectors of U.S. coins (family collections, directly from circulation) and the source of coins for ancient coin collectors (the ground, very few on the market come from pre-UNESCO collections, most are looted, illicitly excavated and illicitly exported and are openly sold without documentation or appropriate pedigrees). Many excavations do not have academic numismatists in the field because many are employed at museums and many are overburdened with material. I recognize that many collectors have great expertise and capability in attributing ancient coins. It is my opinion that it would be useful to invite such competent individuals to participate in field excavations as site numismatists. The archaeologist would benefit from a specialist to provide dates for the coin finds and, with some training in contextual numismatic research, who could also prepare them for scholarly publication. The collector would benefit from seeing firsthand where ancient coins come from and how invaluable they are to archaeological and contextual research; the thrill of discovery would also be much greater and interesting than the simple acquisition of a coin from an auction or a batch of uncleaned coins. This is one simple suggestion and clearly further discussion on the complex issues currently dividing the academic and collecting community regarding ancient coins is needed. At this point, however, the opinion of the collector – not the dealer – is the most crucial.


Beckmann, M. 1998. “Numismatics and the Antiquities Trade,” The Celator (May): 25-28.

Dietrich, R. 2002. “Cultural Property on the Move – Legally, Illegally,” International Journal of Cultural Property 11.2: 294-304.

Kersel, M.M. 2006. “From the Ground to the Buyer: A Market Analysis of the Trade in Illegal Antiquities,” in N. Brodie, M.M. Kersel, C. Luke, and K.W. Tubb (eds.) Archaeology, Cultural Heritage, and the Antiquities Trade. Gainesville: University Press of Florida: 188-205.

von Kaenel, H.-M. 1994. “Die antike Numismatik und ihr Material,” SchMbll 44.173: 1-12.

von Kaenel, H-M. 1995. “La numismatica antica e il suo materiale,” Bollettino di Numismatica 13.1: 213-223.

von Kaenel, H-M. 2007. “Gauner, Gräber und Gelehrte. Antikenraub und Archäologie im Lichte der aktuelle Gesetzeslage,” Paper read at the symposium, Gauner, Gräber und Gelehrte at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe Universität, 4 May, Frankfurt am Main.

Cyprus, coins and the American interest

The recent renewal of the U.S.-Cyprus bilateral agreement to restrict importation of certain categories of antiquities into the U.S. could have taken place with little fanfare. In fact, similar agreements the U.S. had previously signed with Bolivia (extended in 2006), Colombia (initiated in 2006) and Nicaragua (extended in 2005) were hardly mentioned in the general media. The U.S. extension of the agreement with Peru, in June of this year, went practically unnoticed. One month later, however, the agreement with Cyprus was another story. Days after the announcement, the New York Times ran an article about it, and attacks on State Department personnel (responsible for administering bilateral agreements) appeared on the Internet. Among the heated polemics was the assertion that agreeing with Cyprus–a tiny country compared to the U.S.–does not serve the interests of the American public.

So what makes the Cyprus agreement so contentious? The inclusion of coins. For the first time, the U.S. will restrict the importation of specific ancient coins with Cyprus mint marks, concluding that “Coins constitute an inseparable part of the archaeological record of the island, and, like other archaeological objects, they are vulnerable to pillage and illicit export.” (See Federal Register)

Perhaps it is time we discuss the importance of ancient coins. Are they important beyond the money they fetch on the market? Since coin collecting is a popular hobby, is there a responsible way to collect without contributing to the destruction of the archaeological record? How do they compare to other ancient artifacts such as vases or statues? What can coins tell us aside from the date stamped on them? Should those of us who don’t collect coins care … and why?

The U.S. joined the international Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property (UNESCO 1970) more than two decades ago and passed implementing legislation that provides the mechanism by which bilateral agreements with other countries also party to the Convention are considered.

As citizens, we are expected to follow the law, and we expect our governments to honor treaties and agreements with other sovereign nations. We understand that not every single one of these laws will serve the interests of every single individual.

Is it time to question whether bilateral agreements truly serve American interests? Clearly not. It is instead time to accept the reality that unbridled destruction will no longer be ignored to serve the interest of a few.