Monday, December 17, 2007

Coins and Cyprus: the ACCG responds

The ACCG triumvirate of Peter Tompa, Wayne Sayles and David Welsh have come together in another posting, "ACCG Queries Cypriot Director of Antiquities" (December 15, 2007), about the US restrictions on the import of coins from Cyprus.

Their implication is that the "best repositories" for these coins are the cabinets of ACCG members.

As usual they miss the archaeological point. This discussion is not about ownership. It is about the protection of archaeological sites and cultural information.

Tompa's lack of a grasp on archaeological methodology is made clear in his comments to one of my recent postings:
Suffice to state, only ancient coins from "secure contexts," i.e. under flooring have any real use for dating purposes. Even then, the long periods of circulation of ancient coins makes them of much less use for dating than other artifacts, notably pottery shards.
Are "floors" the only archaeological sites that can be considered to be "secure contexts"? Of course not.

Has he ever thought that "pottery shards" are often dated thanks to contexts in which coins have been found?

And has it struck the trio that the US Restrictions were about preservation?

4 comments:

Peter Tompa said...

David:

I never said secure contexts are "only" under flooring, but certainly "flooring" is an example of a secure context. In any event, as I mentioned in my original post, my intent was never to discuss in any depth this issue which has already been subject to so much debate elsewhere. For the latest on this point, please see Dave Welsh's blog. See: http://classicalcoins.blogspot.com/

Frankly, I would have ignored your posting, which, unfortunately like many of your posts, takes on the character of a personal attack, but for this statement at the end:

"And has it struck the trio that the US Restrictions were about preservation?"

This raises a basic question for me. Do you really believe after reading: (1) the full text of Dr. Flourentzos' interview; (2) the full transcript of Cyprus MOU signing ceremony (see http://www.accg.us/issues/editorials/pro/cypriot-ambassador-demeans-ancient-coin-collecting-while-dos-sings-the-chorus/); (3) about the obvious (to a numismatist at least) errors in the "image database" of coins prepared by the Flourentzos organization (see http://www.accg.us/issues/world/slapdash-effort-at-dos/), (4) the Cyprus Mail article appended in the most recent ACCG post, entitled "Too Much Digging is Damaging our Heritage; and (5) all the newspaper accounts about the ongoing "Cold War" between Cyprus (and by extension Greece) and Turkey, that the "US restrictions" are even primarily about "preservation" as you suggest?

If you still say, of course, they are, let me pose another question to you: If the restrictions solely aim to discourage the illicit removal of ancient coins from the ground in Cyprus in the interests of "preservation," why are the restrictions couched as restrictions on ancient coins of Cypriot types? Shouldn't they instead be couched as restrictions on any ancient coins shown to have been illicitly removed from the ground in Cyprus?

In short, don't restrictions on coins of Cypriot types twist the interests of archaeology into the service of Greek Cypriot nationalism? Under the circumstances, are the US restrictions really about "preservation" as you suggest, or something else?

Sincerely,

Peter Tompa

David Gill said...

Peter

As you know my research interests lie in the material and intellectual consequences of collecting.

As you also know I supported the restriction on the import of coins from Cyprus and have made my letter available on the web at:
http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com/2007/08/coins-and-cyprus.html

You draw attention to Dave Welsh's blog on "Preserving Numismatic Context from Destruction by Archaeologists" at:
http://classicalcoins.blogspot.com/2007/12/preserving-numismatic-context-from.html
I would have to disagree with his assessment - and your apparent endorsement - about archaeological contexts:
"Numismatic context, however, is not by any means the same thing as archaeological context. It is instead mostly concerned with the systematic study of dies and die-links, and also with the study of coin hoards and their dating. In studying coin hoards, numismatists are only interested in the location and contents of a hoard, and the accuracy to which it can be dated by non-numismatic evidence. Other aspects of archaeological context make very little or no contribution to numismatic knowledge."

The issue is simple. Does the illegal and unscientific removal of archaeological material - and I would include coins - from sites (recorded and previously unknown) damage knowledge? Scholarship cannot restore context lost in this way. (Christopher Chippindale and I have discussed this in detail in the American Journal of Archaeology so there is no need not rehearse it here as a comment to you.)

You try to move the discussion away from the destruction of archaeological sites. Archaeology can have a political dimension: read Suzanne Marchand's Down From Olympus. But that is not the issue that I am raising.

You raise the issue of "personal attacks". I suggest you reflect on the language used by your colleagues and the alarm it raises amongst your own collecting community. See my posting at:
http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com/2007/08/coins-and-cyprus-listening-to-coin.html

Finally, before this comment turns into a full blog posting, I observe that neither the IAPN nor the PNG websites carry press releases on the joint legal action against the US State Department. (I have just checked as I write this comment.) In fact the only comment from the IAPN is posted not on their website but on the pages of the ACCG.
(See http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com/2007/12/coins-and-cyprus-iapn-breaks-silence.html)
The evidence suggests that this action is very much in the hands of the ACCG and that the silence from your sister organisations hints at a lukewarmness.

Debate should be constructive - and I am sure that we will both come back to some of these issues in the New Year. However I would still like to wish you a Happy Christmas.

With best wishes

David

Peter Tompa said...

David- Thank you for your response. Speaking as a lawyer, when one is a plaintiff, you are either "in" or you are "out." "Lukewarm" is simply not an option. Also, keep in mind that both IAPN and PNG are trade associations while ACCG is an advocacy group. I suspect that explains the amount of information on the ACCG website compared with the dearth of such information on the IAPN and PNG websites and nothing more. I should also bring to your attention that PNG's attorney was interviewed about the litigation in an article in the Kansas City Star that can be found at: http://www.kansascity.com/105/story/394858.html


In any event, thank you for wishing me a Merry Christmas and may I wish the same to you as well.

Sincerely,

Peter Tompa

David Gill said...

Peter
The article, "For coin collector, it's all about change", does indeed say it all:

"Sayles, a south Missouri coin collector and dealer, is suing the Washington bureaucracy."

Not the ACCG.
Not the IAPN.
Not the PNG.

But Sayles.

I had read this - but thank you for reminding me of its significance.

Best wishes

David

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