Monday, January 28, 2008

Cyprus and Coins: a metal-detectorist speaks out

The Cyprus Mail provides an interview with "Achilleas", an active metal-detectorist on Cyprus (Jill Campbell Mackay, "Tomb raider opens crypt on why he’s breaking the law", Cyprus Mail, Sunday, January 28, 2008). He is critical of the present laws restricting unauthorised excavations: "This law is sheer nonsense".

He provides some insights into the way the trade in illicit antiquities works:
One man I know uses an unreported tomb as a sort of bank. He has found all sorts of treasures in there and visits whenever he wants cash.

He keeps everything secret as many will happily report him to the authorities for a cash reward and he would then certainly go to prison.
"Achilleas" is critical of the Cypriot authorities and suggests that there is no storage space for archaeological finds.
The antiquities department knows where most of the tombs are, but many have been filled in after they have been excavated. There are just so many treasures here that there aren’t enough archaeologists to work all those sites. There also isn’t enough space in our museums to cater for all the pieces that are found.

We almost have too much stuff, with museums running out of space and being forced to store artefacts outside and uncared for. They don’t know what to do with it all.
"Achilleas" believes that Cyprus needs a scheme like the Portable Antiquities Scheme for England and Wales (though the scheme itself is not named).

In his view coins are being protected if they are removed from their contexts:
Coins can become worthless in the hands of the inexperienced and most have already suffered from the damage caused by farmers’ fertilisers.
And as I read this report I felt that I had heard it all before - but from North American collectors. "Achilleas" is, of course, an alias.

Can this be part of the propaganda war to remove the restrictions on the import of antiquities from Cyprus imposed by the US Government in 2007?

7 comments:

BAZ said...

....indeed it is propaganda.

There is no reason to disturb these rare sites for the most part. What little we know as scientists will surely improve as years go by. Sites with ancient artifacts that are undisturbed will become even more important. Their desecration is a sign of our own ignorance, pitiful excuses such as this prove that plunder is the raison d'etre of such individuals.

thank-you for your article, they are always interesting and informative.

David Gill said...

Baz
It is not clear what you mean by "disturb".

By "nighthawks" who open tombs to sell the contents?
By metal-detectorists who disturb stratigraphy?
By archaeologists who record the finds and their inter-relationship?

Nathan T. Elkins said...

David,

Thank you for bringing this story to the attention of your readers; it indeed provides some firsthand insight into the illicit removal of ancient artifacts in Cyprus and their movement out of the country. In light of activities such as this and the sale of Cyprus' archaeological heritage to the highest bidder (usually in foreign countries), one can understand why the Cypriot government sought renewal and expansion of its bilateral agreement with the United States. In another article in the Cyprus Mail by Leo Leonidou, "All Antiquities Belong to the State, and that's that," Dr. Pavlos Flourentzos (Director of Cyprus' Antiquities Department) responds to the story.

Peter Tompa said...

David-

I'm not sure why you think the Cyprus Mail is complicit in a "propaganda war" against the controversial decision to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot types. If the Cyprus Mail was as complicit as you suggest, presumably the Cyprus Mail would have already published IAPN’s letter to the editor about the issue: http://accg.us/issues/news/iapn-comments-on-foia-law-suit, but it has not to my knowledge.

Perhaps a more reasonable suggestion is that there are people in Cyprus who honestly believe the preservation and appreciation of the remains of Cyprus’ culture would be better served by adopting system akin to the PAS and Treasure Trove law rather than the “all antiquities belong to the state, and that is that” approach championed by Cyprus’ chief cultural bureaucrat, Dr. Pavlos Flourentzos. The call for a fair system is not just shared by law breakers like that described in the article, but has also been supported by members of such organizations the Cyprus Numismatic Society in the past.

That Director Florentzos presides over a system that the President of the Association of Cypriot Archaeologists has characterized as a “mess” should give pause to those who think that Flrorentzos’ model works well in practice: http://www.cyprus-mail.com/news/main.php?id=23075&archive=1

Finally, it is unclear to me why you think PAS is a good idea in England, but not a good idea in Cyprus. Certainly, Cyprus is a relatively wealthy EU member which could find the funding to put in place such a relatively cheap program such as PAS if there were a will to do so.

For more about the PAS and the Treasure Act see http://accg.us/issues/news/bland?searchterm=Bland

Sincerely,

Peter Tompa

David Gill said...

Peter
It struck me that "Achilleas" (identity unknown) was repeating some familiar points, see for example the discussion in http://lootingmatters.blogspot.com/2007/09/portable-antiquities-scheme.html.

For collectors talking about agricultural chemicals see, e.g.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Unidroit-L/message/2557.

Best wishes
David

David Gill said...

Peter asked if PAS would be suitable for Cyprus. See http://illicit-cultural-property.blogspot.com/2008/01/pas.html.

Peter Tompa said...

David-

With respect to whether Cyprus could afford putting in place its own version of the Treasure Act and PAS, I note that according to the Economist "Pocket World in Figures," 2007 Edition, Cyprus ranks No. 35 in the world in GDP per head ahead of Greece (37) but behind the UK (13) and Italy (24).

Sincerely,

Peter Tompa

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