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The Committee, The Institute, The Guild and the Debate Over Coins

The ACCG issued a press release in the wake of the CPAC review of Article II of the MOU with Italy ([Wayne Sayles], "Archaeologists Plead for Import Restrictions on Common Coins", The Xpress Press News Service November 18, 2009). The review was an opportunity for CPAC to acknowledge all that Italy has done to combat the problem of looting (see my overview issued through PR Newswire). Sebastian Heath, speaking for the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA), seems to have caused concern when he is reported to have mentioned a particular type of archaeological evidence: ancient coins.

The ACCG ("a collector advocacy group") sees Heath's comments as "a wakeup call for thousands of private collectors, museums and independent scholars". The AIA position is described as "controversial, even among archaeologists, with some AIA activists suggesting that preventing trade would end site looting".

Is it "controversial" for archaeologists to be concerned when sites---a finite resource---are destroyed or "dug over" in order to provide material for the market? Is it "controversial" to expect our policy-makers to adopt an ethical approach over recently-surfaced archaeological material? Is it "controversial" to seek the end of looting?

The ACCG press release also attacks the AIA publication policy. The AIA's position can be found in N.J. Norman, "Editorial Policy on the Publication of Recently Acquired Antiquities," AJA 109 (2005), 135-36 [here]. The policy is summarised as follows:
The point is to remind us all of how much information and value is lost when an object is illegally removed from its archaeological context.
In other words, one of the central concerns relates to the intellectual consequences of looting, an issue long argued by Christopher Chippindale and myself.

The ACCG needs to work with archaeologists to preserve the archaeological record. Its present position seems to suggest that collecting is more important than the preservation of our cosmopolitan past.

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