Skip to main content

Coins and Cyprus

There have been various unhelpful comments circulating about the decision to include coins in the agreement with Cyprus.

There was a public invitation to comment posted by the Archaeological Institute of America on January 28, 2007:

The Cultural Property Advisory Committee at the U.S. Department of State is asking for additional public comment on the inclusion of ancient coins in the Cypriot request for import restrictions


I was one of those who wrote to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (on January 31, 2007) concerning this issue. (For the AIA response.)

In the interest of transparency I include the core of my letter here:

I am writing to comment on the issue of whether ancient coins should be included as part of the agreement between the US and Cyprus. ...

It is clear that a considerable amount of newly surfaced archaeological material appearing in sale rooms and galleries (our research suggests a figure of some 85-90 per cent) has no previous history. Ancient coins, whether found in hoards or from stratified contexts on archaeological sites, hold key information about dating, trade and cultural contact. The breaking up of coin hoards prevents scholars from understanding the full range of coins which were buried together; it also needs to be said that a hoard which surfaces on the market lacks integrity. A coin removed in an unscientific way from a stratified deposit is no more than a collector’s item and its value as a chronological marker has been lost.

There is the suggestion that the finding of such coins is a random process. Although surface finds may be a small part of the story, the number of coins emerging on the market suggests that there may be a targeting of recorded and unrecorded archaeological sites to provide material for collectors and museums. On an island like Cyprus there is a finite archaeological resource. Failure to include coins in the proposed agreement could mean that archaeological sites were dug over, stratigraphy destroyed and knowledge lost for ever; hunting for coins has implications for the archaeological remains covered by the agreement.

I would urge you in the strongest possible terms to include coins as part of the agreement. Failure to do so could remove the protection from the other types of archaeological objects already covered.

Comments

Cindy Ho said…
I would also like to draw your attention to a list of letters sent to CPAC supporting the inclusion of coins on http://www.savingantiquities.org/Cyprusmou.php

Cindy Ho
SAFE/Saving Antiquities for Everyone

Popular posts from this blog

Marble bull's head from the temple of Eshmun

Excavations at the temple of Eshmun in Lebanon recovered a marble bull's head. It is now suggested that it was this head, apparently first published in 1967, that was placed on loan to New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art (Tom Mashberg, "Met Museum Turns Over Another Relic With Disputed Past to Prosecutors", New York Times August 1, 2017 ). The head is reported to have been handed over to the Manhattan district attorney after a request was received from the Lebanese authorities.

It is suggested that the head may have been looted from an archaeological storage area at Byblos in the 1980s during the Lebanese civil war. Mashberg has rehearsed the recent collecting history:
The owners of the bull’s head, Lynda and William Beierwaltes of Colorado, say they have clear title to the item and have sued Manhattan prosecutors for its return.  The Beierwaltes bought the head from a dealer in London in 1996 for more than $1 million and then sold it to another collector, Michael …

Sardinian warrior from "old Swiss collection"

One of the Sardinian bronzes of a warrior was seized from an as yet unnamed Manahattan gallery. It appears to be the one that passed through the Royal-Athena Gallery: Art of the Ancient World 23 (2012) no. 71. The collecting history for that warrior suggests that it was acquired in 1990 from a private collection in Geneva.

Other clues suggested that the warrior has resided in a New York private collection.

The identity of the private collection in Geneva will no doubt be telling.

The warrior also features in this news story: Jennifer Peltz, "Looted statues, pottery returned to Italy after probe in NYC", ABC News May 25 2017.

Attic amphora handed back to Italians

The research of Dr Christos Tsirogiannis has led to the return of an Attic red-figured amphora, attributed to the Harrow painter, to Italy (Tom Mashberg, "Stolen Etruscan Vessel to Be Returned to Italy", New York Times March 16, 2017).

The amphora is known to have passed through the hands of Swiss-based dealer Gianfranco Becchina in 1993, and then through a New York gallery around 2000 (although its movements between those dates are as yet undisclosed).

During the ceremony, Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., the District Attorney stated:
“When looters overrun historic sites, mine sacred spaces for prized relics, and peddle stolen property for top dollar, they do so with the implicit endorsement of all those who knowingly trade in stolen antiquities” More research clearly needs to be conducted on how material handled by Becchina passed into the North American market and into the hands of private and public collectors.