"The archaeological community's obsession with context puzzles numismatists"
Who are the authors?
The statement is written by two lawyers:
a. Peter K. Tompa
Tompa "is a partner in Dillingham & Murphy LLP in Washington, D.C., focusing on cultural property as well as environmental insurance matters. ... He is a fellow and trustee of the American Numismatic Society, a board member [now president] of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild, a life member of the American Numismatic Association, and a member of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washnigton, D.C."Tompa's legal website describes among his activities:
"Cultural Property Lobbying and Advice - conducts lobbying activities before U.S. Congress and Executive Branch Agencies regarding issues related to import restrictions on cultural artifacts, and advises clients on legal issues related to the trade in such items."
b. Ann M. Brose
Brose "is an associate in the Intellectual Property Department at McDermott, Will, and Emery, Washington, D.C. Ms. Brose worked in the Rights and Reproductions departments for both the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Smithsonian American Art Museum."
What are the assertions?
Tompa and Brose assert that "the archaeological establishment" - not defined - "is not sympathetic" to collecting and "advocates restrictions on the collection of all ancient artifacts, including items as common as coins".
There are no supporting references for this sweeping and generalised statement.
The Tompa and Brose fallacy
Tompa and Brose comment:
"Numismatists believe that all coins carry useful information about the political, military and economic situation at the time they were issued. Indeed, numismatists derive their own context from the study of design devices used on coins, the number and chronology of dies used to strike given series, and the metallurgical content of various issues. For that reason, numismatists categorically reject the claim that coins lose value as historical objects if the circumstances of their discovery are not preserved."The issue of defining a "numismatist" has been discussed elsewhere.
Tompa and Brose use the same language as George Ortiz in defence of his private collection of antiquities displayed at the Royal Academy in London. (The collection is discussed in detail in the American Journal of Archaeology). Ortiz also suggested that careful scholarship can restore the context to objects.
Such views are misleading and wrong-headed. They ignore the intellectual consequences of looting. Tompa and Brose fail to address this issue for classical coins.
The aims of Tompa and Brose
There was a sub-text to their research. In the conclusion to their paper they state:
"Coins are different from many other ancient artifacts. To date, such differences have helped convince the US government to decline to impose import restrictions on ancient coins based on separate requests from the Republic of Cyprus and from Italy."Their tactics failed to convince the US government. Restrictions on coins from Cyprus have been imposed.
Tompa, P. K., and A. M. Brose. 2005. "A modern challenge to an age-old pursuit. Can cultural patrimony claims and coin collecting coexist?" In Who owns the past? Cultural policy, cultural property, and the law, edited by K. Fitz Gibbon, pp. 205-16. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press / American Council for Cultural Policy.