Skip to main content

Happy Thanksgiving - and a look back

First, I would like to wish all my North American readers a Happy Thanksgiving.

Second, I thought it would be a good idea to review the last year and to see what has been happening. We have seen significant returns of antiquities from the J. Paul Getty Museum, Princeton, and even a dealer. However it is important to remember that in virtually every case (perhaps excepting the objects stolen from museum collections) the archaeological contexts have been lost and they can nver be recovered. There has been recognition for the destruction of archaeological sites on Cyprus and US import restrictions have been extended to include coins. But there is also an active lobby apparently seeking to liberalise the market and reverse this decision.

There are still issues to address because looted archaeological sites represent a loss of scientific knowledge.

Comments

Peter Tompa said…
David-

Happy Thanksgiving to you too. Now that I have some time myself, here are some points in response to your recent posts about the FOIA lawsuit brought by the ACCG, IAPN and PNG aimed at discovering the truth behind how the unprecedented decision to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type was made.

1. I don't understand why you think we stand for "liberalizing" the trade when what we advocated before CPAC was a continuation of the status quo -- no import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type (or any other types of ancient coins). Perhaps, there is a fundamental misunderstanding of our concerns on your part. Our major concern is based on restrictions on types of coins. While we do have some qualms philosophically about repatriation of coins traced back to specific countries (when the laws in those countries view all artifacts found in the ground to be state property and treat those that find them unfairly), those are minor in comparison and that is not the issue here. The problem as we see it with these restrictions is that they create a presumption based on a coin's type that the coin is "illicit." As a practical matter, rebutting that presumption will probably be impossible or impractical to do for most coins.

2. The New York Times article was accurate when it stated that "it was the first time the government had barred trade in a broad category of ancient coins...." I do not believe that the other restrictions relate to broad categories of ancient coins. Rather, they relate generally to goods traced back to a specific country. I believe the same holds true for the restrictions on the gold coins mentioned. Also, I believe these relate to modern coins.

3. The comparison of the costs of a site guard and the costs of a FOIA lawyer (greatly exaggerated in the SAFE post) begs the question why Cyprus does not spend more on such self help measures. You would think Cyprus-- as a developed country that is a member of the EU-- would have monies available for such a purpose.

In that regard, I should also note that the National Journal 8/4/07 reported that the Republic of Cyprus had "dangled" a lobbying contract worth $1.4 million a year to lobbying heavyweights like Patton Boggs, Qorvis Communications, Clark and Weinstock, and the Washington Group. The report noted that "Cyprus, which was invaded by Turkey in 1974 and has poor relations with its neighbor since then, is hoping to strengthen its influence in Washington, partly to counter Turkey's long-standing clout in the capital."

Obviously, the $1.4 million spent for this purpose could pay for many guards at archaeological sites in Cyprus. It should also be noted that the cost of administering the Treasure Trove program in the UK runs about $1.4 million UK pounds per year. Presumably, such costs would be much less in a small country like Cyprus.

4. You obviously expend much time and effort questioning the provenance of various artifacts found in museums and in the trade. All the FOIA lawsuit is designed to do is to determine the "provenance" of the controversial decision to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot type as well as other aspects of the decision making process at the State Department. If you read the Complaint, it should be evident that filing suit was done as a last resort. I would ask you and other member of SAFE to sympathize with our efforts to ensure that the State Department complied with the law before enacting the Cypriot import restrictions. After all, public acceptance of such a decision will depend on it.

Sincerely,

Peter Tompa

Popular posts from this blog

Codename: Ainsbrook

I have been watching (UK) Channel 4's Time Team this evening. The programme looked at an undisclosed field (under a potato crop) where a Viking burial had been found. The location in Yorkshire was so sensitive that it was given a codename: Ainsbrook. Here is the summary:
In late 2003 two metal detectorists were working in a field in Yorkshire. They found 'treasure' buried just beneath the surface – a collection of Viking material next to a body. Although they had been detecting on the site for a number of years, during which time they had made large numbers of finds, nothing they had uncovered previously compared with this. They decided to share their discovery with archaeologists.The programme explored the tension between metal-detectorists and the English Heritage sponsored archaeologists putting six trenches into the field based on a geo-physical survey. Finds made by the metal-detectorists did not easily map onto the archaeological features.

Part of the programme had an …

The scale of the returns to Italy

I have been busy working on an overview, "Returning Archaeological Objects to Italy". The scale of the returns to Italy from North American collections and galleries is staggering: in excess of 350 objects. This is clearly the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the material that has surfaced on the market without a history that can be traced back to the period before 1970. 

I will provide more information in due course, but the researcher is a reminder that we need to take due diligence seriously when it comes to making acquisitions.

Stele returns to Greece

The Hellenic Ministry of Culture has announced (Saturday 8 September 2018) that a stele that had been due to be auctioned at Sotheby's in London in June 2017 has been returned to Greece (Friday 7 September 2018). The identification had been made by Cambridge-based forensic archaeologist Dr Christos Tsirogiannis.

It appeared that the stele had been supplied with a falsified history as its presence with Becchina until 1990 contradicted the published sale catalogue entry. It then moved into the hands of George Ortiz.

A year ago it was suggested that Sotheby's should contact the Greek authorities. Those negotiations appear to have concluded successfully.

The 4th century BC stele fragment, with the personal name, Hestiaios, will be displayed in the Epigraphic Museum in Athens. It appears to have come from a cemetery in Attica.