On Friday last week the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) met to review Article II of the MOU with Italy. This agreement relates to "the Imposition of Import Restrictions on Archaeological Material Representing the Pre-Classical, Classical and Imperial Roman Periods of Italy". The background to the MOU, which dates back to 2001, was the perceived problem of archaeological sites being pillaged to provide material for the antiquities market. The import restrictions were intended, in part, to check that archaeological material that was brought into North America had not surfaced recently (i.e. after the 1970 UNESCO Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property).
Police raids in the Geneva Freeport had drawn attention to the organised looting and redistribution of the antiquities from Italy (and elsewhere) . The evidence gathered from the raids led to the "Medici Conspiracy". One major auction-house effectively closed down its London antiquities department, and several high-profile North American museums have handed more than 100 antiquities back to Italy. One of the highlights was the Sarpedon krater from New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. These pieces have been joined by objects from a prominent New York collector.
Different groups gave presentations to CPAC. Museum Directors from the AAMD emphasised the need for more loans from Italy. Some loans have already been made. At the same time the Italian authorities have been generous in making loans to museums that appear to have minimal regard for ethics when making acquisitions. Back in the 1980s Maxwell Anderson understood the ethical issues and created EUMILOP that hosted a series of imaginative exhibitions of archaeological material from Italy.
At least two board members from the newly established Cultural Property Research Institute (CPRI) gave presentations. Its director, William Pearlstein, was concerned that Italy was identifying material pictured in the Geneva archive when it was being offered at auction in New York. Peter Tompa, the legal officer for the CPRI, also spoke on behalf of two numismatic trade bodies, the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) and the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG). Tompa asserted that "Italy has done a poor job taking care of the coins at state institutions and archaeological sites". It seems that the challenge to the MOU is in order to free up the trade in archaeological material between Italy and North America.
Representatives of the Archaeological Institute of America (Sebastian Heath) and the University of Pennsylvania (Richard Leventhal) are reported to have indicated that the MOU should extend its definition of archaeological material to include ancient coins. Stefano De Caro, of the Italian Ministry of Culture, appears to have suggested that Italy favours a revised MOU that will include coins as part of the agreement.
The MOU appears to be working to preserve the archaeological heritage of Italy - and indeed the rest of us - but needs to be revised in the light of the concerns of the Italian authorities.