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Cyprus and Coins: further developments

The US Government has had a long-standing commitment to the protection of the archaeological heritage of the Republic of Cyprus. Back in April 1999 the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee made a recommendation that led to "an emergency restriction on Byzantine ecclesiastical objects and ritual ethnological material from Cyprus". This agreement was extended in August 2003.

The 1999 agreement quickly came under fire (Nina Teicholz, "You Can't Bring Those Antiquities In Here!", The Washington Post, December 24, 2000). The attack was nationalistic in tone:
A little known State Department body, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC), is working to prevent Americans--and only Americans--from buying antiquities.
Indeed it was claimed:
But like a parent who loves so much that the child is smothered, the archaeologists at CPAC are advocating policies that harm the very objects they seek to protect.
In spite of opposition, the agreement with Cyprus was strengthened and broadened in July 2002 when it was decided to expand it to include Pre-Classical and Classical material. This was to include:
ceramic vessels, sculpture, and inscriptions; stone vessels, sculpture, architectural elements, seals, amulets, inscriptions, stelae, and mosaics; metal vessels, stands, sculpture, and personal objects dating from approximately the 8th millennium B.C. to approximately 330 A.D.
There is a long history of documented pillage of archaeological sites in Cyprus, including evidence of current pillage; such activity jeopardizes the ability of archaeologists and historians to reconstruct Cypriot culture. The MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] offers the opportunity for the U.S. and Cyprus to cooperate in reducing the incentive for further pillage, thereby protecting the context of intact sites for scientific study.
These agreements were extended in July 2007. Essentially there are two main categories of material (and full lists are available from the CPAC website):
Pre-Classical and Clasical objects dating "from approximately the 8th millennium B.C. to 330 A.D." The categories include "objects of ceramic, stone, and metal, including vessels, sculpture, coins, mosaics, inscriptions, architectural elements, and jewelry".

Byzantine "ritual and ecclesiastical ethnological material" ranging in date from "approximately the 4th century A.D. through approximately the 15th century A.D." These "include objects of metal, wood, ivory and bone, textiles, stone (mosaics), and frescos (wall paintings)".
Earlier this year there was clearly a strong anti-CPAC feeling being circulated (Jeremy Kahn, "Is the U.S. Protecting Foreign Artifacts? Don't Ask", The New York Times, April 8, 2007). It was reported:
Kate Fitz Gibbon, a dealer of Asian art in Santa Fe, N.M., and a former member of the committee, said some members of it now seem to have a full-blown ''prejudice against collecting'': so much so, she argued in an e-mail message, that they seek to bend the law to ''meet a perceived need to end the trade.''
One of the issues that was raising the temperature was:
Cyprus is asking that an existing ban on imports of Classical and Byzantine material be expanded to include ancient coins, a category of artifacts that has not been included in other import restrictions.
It is clear that the critics of the restrictions tried to argue a special case for archaeological material such as coins:
James Fitzpatrick, a lawyer who has represented dealers and collectors before the committee, agrees. ''There is no attempt by C.P.A.C. today to differentiate between items of great significance and those that are produced in the hundreds or multiple hundreds of items,'' he said.
The agreement to cover coins was quickly presented as making "it difficult [for coin collectors] to pursue their passion".

The reason for extending the restriction to include coins was given by Cyprus' ambassador to the US (Jeremy Kahn, "U.S. Imposes Restrictions On Importing Cypriot Coins", The New York Times, July 18, 2007):
Coins constitute an inseparable part of our own cultural heritage, and the pillage they are subjected to is the same as other archaeological material.
But is Cyprus seen as a test case by coin collectors?
The collectors also expressed concern that the agreement would encourage other countries, including Italy, home to troves of Roman-era coins, to ask for similar restrictions. If such limits ''were applied to Italy, for example, that could be quite devastating to numismatists, particularly ancient-coin collectors,'' said Jay Beeton, a spokesman for the American Numismatic Association.
Among the opponents of the restrictions is Peter Tompa:
This decision shows that the Department of State is putting the narrow interests of the cultural bureaucracies of foreign states and the archaeological community over those of ordinary Americans who believe that collecting increases appreciation of the past and helps preserve artifacts.
Tompa had earlier published his views on restrictions on coins from Cyprus ("The archaeological community's obsession with context"; see also comment added to "Coins and Cyprus: Action on the Ground").

And now today it is announced that a Freedom of Information Act suit has been filed against the US Department of State. Tompa, president of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), explains:
The reason for this lawsuit is that the State Department has refused to provide meaningful information. We seek transparency and fairness of the process by which decisions affecting the American people are made.
The quote recalls Jay Kislak, the chair of CPAC (Jeremy Kahn, "Is the U.S. Protecting Foreign Artifacts? Don't Ask", The New York Times, April 8, 2007):
In my opinion the restrictions, regulations and lack of transparency under which we are asked to operate in pursuing our duties at C.P.A.C. are to say the least unusual, and in many cases they are unbearable, immoral and maybe either extra-legal or in contradiction [of the law].
Wayne Sayles, the Executive Director of ACCG, adds:
This is an unprecedented action, but it has become necessary because of unprecedented threats to ancient coin collecting. Hopefully, this suit will open the window to an atmosphere of trust and cooperation that will serve all of society's needs and interests.
It will be interesting to see how this action develops. Hopefully the rich archaeological heritage of the island of Cyprus will not become a victim.


Paul Barford said…
Its difficult to understand what the fuss is about. All the US MOA "restricts" is the import of coins without valid export licences.

The answer is for US dealers to only import legally-exported coins, but then have not US dealers been doing this all along?

I'd like the American public and policy makers to consider deeply what type of "rights" they are being urged by the ACCG to support.

Paul Barford

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