Monday, November 24, 2008

Leisurely Blogging, Laggardly Thinking

I have sometimes commented on the tenor of the "debate" between archaeologists/preservationists and their opponents, some of the most vocal of which are portable antiquities dealers.

While archaeologists have sought to shed light on the relationship between the demands of indiscriminate trade activities and systematic looting through empirical studies and research, naysayers - with some exceptions - have a tendency to respond simply with vague ideological premises, deceptive factoids, or even derisive personal attacks.

I and others have made observations before on the role of disinformation and personal attacks coming from certain members of the trade lobby:
Neil Brodie has commented on various deceptions and tactics used by such individuals before in his 2006 essay "Smoke and Mirrors," in E. Robson, L. Treadwell, and C. Gosden (eds.), Who Owns Objects? Oxford: Oxbow. 1-14. Brodie interprets such obfuscatory tactics as attempts to undermine any solution to the looting problem so that the status quo remains and all antiquities can be traded freely with little concern for law or ethics.

In recent years many archaeologists, preservationists, and government officials have been personally targeted by certain leaders of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), a lobby which opposes anything but a free-market in ancient coins and actively combats legislative measures designed to protect archaeological and cultural heritage when the unfettered trade in ancient coins might be hindered as a result of protective legislation. Among those that consistently have been the object of personal attacks launched by the ACCG's leaders is Maria Koroupas, the Executive Director of the U.S. State Department's Cultural Property Advisory Committee.

Maria Kouroupas has been vituperated by ACCG leaders a number of times since Cyprus' request for the inclusion of certain ancient coins of Cypriot type in the bilateral agreement on import restrictions was implemented in 2007, an event which angered ancient coin dealers in the U.S. Some of these dealers allege she worked in the shadows to undermine the "interests of collectors." Some of the most venomous attacks made against her include D. Welsh, "Stealth Unidroit: The State Department's War Against Collecting," Ancient Coins, 1 August 2007 and D. Welsh, "Maria's Fingerprints," Ancient Coins, 10 August 2007. In the latter Welsh quoted the late Steven Vincent, a journalist who was sympathetic to the American collector and dealer lobby, in calling Maria Kouroupas the "devil incarnate" to collectors and dealers. Dave Welsh is the chair of the ACCG's International Affairs Committee and an ancient coin dealer.

Today I read a post entitled "Leisure" on Wayne Sayles' blog. Sayles is the Executive Director and founder of the ACCG and also a long-time dealer in ancient coins. In the latest posting, "Leisure," Sayles directs vitriol again towards Maria Kouroupas:
"I just couldn't resist passing this one on. Condé Nast lists "Top Executive" profiles on their website and among the elite profiled there one will find Maria Kouroupas, Executive Director, Cultural Property Advisory Committee, Washington, DC. Condé Nast lists the Industry of Ms. Kouroupas as "Leisure".


Apparently Sayles finds amusement or irony in the fact that a website aggregating information on various executives lists Kouroupas' industry as "leisure." Had he done some more research on the site he might have also found that Phillipe de Montebello, who many dealers and collectors would no doubt count as an "ally," is also classified under the industry label of "leisure."

Jane Waldbaum, the former president of the Archaeological Institute of America, is recorded as being in the "professional services" industry.

Eric McFadden of the North American ancient coin auction house, CNG, is listed as a retailer. Robert and Tory Freeman and David R. Sear of the auction house Freeman & Sear are also listed as working in "retail."'s industry headings are certainly limited and inaccurate. It would appear anyone involved with cultural affairs is filed under "leisure" - I guess there is no "culture" industry. The label provides for the operators of CNG and Freeman & Sear would seem to imply their work relates to slapping stickers on cans of vegetables, but I am well aware their work goes well beyond that sort of activity. To say the least, the descriptions of "industries" covered by this online list are narrow and imprecise.

Mr. Sayles merely took the opportunity to launch another gratuitous and baseless insult. Is not such behavior rather childish and unbecoming of someone of certain age and alleged repute, and especially of one who is supposed to be the leading representative of ancient coin collector and dealer interests - the ACCG's Executive Director - an office which one might expect to necessitate a certain level of dignity and decorum?

Although I fully expect this critique to be countered with a further caustic personal attack on me, I ask once again: where is the erudition, intellectualism, and moderation in the discussion of these issues? Is the "other side" able to offer more than chicanery and insults? I know there are some out there who want to go beyond that, so why can we not discuss the issues in an adult manner?



Dear Mr. Elkins,

Starting from the bottom up:

Point 1. I'm not supposed to be erudite and intellectual, I'm just a collector/dealer, remember? If you have forgotten, I could refresh your memory with lots of quotes pointing that out. Would you criticize a leopard for having spots?

Point 2. I have never launched a gratuitous insult. Every one of them was well earned by the recipient.

Point 3. I think it's hilarious that Maria Kouroupas is listed in the "Leisure" industry by Conde Nast. I suspect that she would think so too. Sorry that you don't have any sense of humor.

Point 4. I am only one in a long chain of people who have objected to the activities of Ms. Kouroupas in her official capacity, including the most recent Chairman of CPAC who publicly criticized the way she orchestrates affairs at the committee. Sooner or later, the wall of secrecy that she has erected at ECA will tumble and I will hardly need to justify any of my comments. I don't believe that I have ever made any personally disparaging comments about MK, only about her official actions as an instrument of government—which I deplore. I don't see that quite the same as "personally targeting" her. What shall I do, refer to her anonymously as one of "those people in Foggy Bottom?" If I ever became overly zealous and got too personal in her case, I do apologize.

Point 5. How many is "many"? I have over the past four years criticized several public officials or highly visible personalities who in my opinion deserved some criticism, but I would hardly call that a large group. Perhaps, since you have been included on occasion, it seems larger. Rest assured that there has been plenty of criticism flowing in this direction as well, and I'm sure you've heard the old expression about people who live in glass houses.

Point 6. I have been following cultural property issues for some time now and I have noticed that in the past several months there has been a genuine open-mindedness among people like David Meadows, Dorothy King, Chris Crawford, Derek Fincham and a few other archaeological discussion list members and bloggers. Several visible "anti-collector" personalities, including Lord Renfrew and David Gill (sort of), spoke out in defense of PAS during their funding debate. I do applaud that, and you won't hear me criticizing them now, will you? Unfortunately, those who are truly willing to discuss the issues open-mindedly, and think rationally, are often attacked by their own peers and find silence a preferable option.

Point 7. The current state of affairs did not come about because of rhetoric, or the "tenor" of the debate. It came about because of real and perceived threats to a venerable institution. The anti-archaeological rhetoric is merely a counter to the constant buzz of "collecting=looting", "collecting supports terrorism", "collectors are rich and greedy", "collectors lack training or intellectual capacity", etc. etc. etc. It continues even as we speak, with a parade of archaeological poster boys and girls trotting out this anti-collector message every week it seems. When they tone it down, I'll tone it down. Until then, try Maalox.




Dear Wayne,
I recall after you launched an unprovoked attack earlier this year against the academic session on the study of numismatics within archaeological contexts and interdisciplinary frameworks that I and a colleague were organizing, I posted a comment on your blog in response at which time you proudly stated you were the “blog dictator” on your website. Personally, I’ve never rejected a blog comment (save for one that was completely irrelevant to the post in question) and so I will not begin exercising “blog tyranny” now.

With that said, I welcome your comments and the opportunity to engage with them.

1) I understand you’re an ancient coin dealer, but I don’t see how that equates with free reign to engage in gratuitous name-calling and insults. You’ve told us many times how collectors and dealers are the “real scholars” and you’ve tapped your own achievements like a gold watch a number of times, so why not behave like a scholar? Why not temper discourses with restraint, moderation, and informed debate? You may speak for yourself, but I do not believe that collectors and dealers are born with a gene predisposing them to irrationality as you seem to imply they do.

2) Because they disagree with you, often not even referencing you or your organization, they deserve caustic insults? Certainly you are attempting levity here, because in seriousness agressively berating someone simply because of their beliefs/opinions could be construed as bigotry.

3) I have a sense of humor, but I try not make “jokes” at the expense of other people. It’s a basic rule I think most of us learned growing up. In any case it doesn’t appear you were trying to make a lighthearted joke given your and your colleague’s record of berating Ms. Kouroupas. If I’m going to direct a joke at someone I’ll do so only with people who I am friends with and who I know will not take it personally; directing jokes at people you have harshly criticized before can rightly be interpreted as mean-spirited.

4) It is not my place to address this. The point made was about the general lack of decorum in the public discussion of looting and cultural property issues.

5) You have criticized a number of people, I suppose I could name over a dozen in the past year in a half, but again that is not the point. The concern is the tone of those criticisms. Often times clarification, discussion, or debate, is not sought, but instead you have launched immediately into the most acerbic invectives and convoluted allegations of conspiracy theories. Do we honestly expect people to engage in an “open-minded fashion” with someone who has castigated them in such a vengefully deliberate manner? If you want to challenge their research why not do so in an informed way making use of real evidence? If all one can make is violent knee-jerk reactions to facts they find displeasing, it could indicate that there is a real and uncomfortable problem and there is no real refutation to it except for purely emotional reactions.

6) Your point here is unclear. Two of the “archaeological” commentators you mention are not even archaeologists. Regarding the PAS, are you trying to imply I don’t support the scheme? I do, I even signed the petition that David Gill circulated last year about PAS funding. I think the scheme is useful and a step in the right direction, but I certainly don’t think that the PAS is the “cure all” that you and others have portrayed it as. Certainly there are problems with the scheme and many areas in which it could be improved and I’m sure the two individuals you mention as supporting the scheme would agree. As long as collectors/dealers are willing to buy material without any recorded history there will be demand for freshly looted material. "Good faith" is not a substitute for rigorous due diligence. Certainly the dozens of wholesalers who operate in the U.S. importing material from source countries and who supply dealers with their higher quality finds and sell their more common earth-encrusted coins by the hundreds or thousands directly to collectors are not trading in material from “old collections.”

And let's be honest here, you have cast insults at the two individuals you claim not to have. In response to one of Gill’s most recent postings which you didn’t like you told him he needed to “get a life!” and presumed to "know what he wants," which is admittedly rather tame in the context of the normal tenor.

And now let us turn to the dialogue, which you always claim to want. Last year I
some sort of activity in which various archaeologists and collectors/dealers could get together for a moderated discussion and search for some sort of "meeting of the minds." You seemed receptive to this and I also suggested a hiatus on antagonistic blogging, etc. Just a few months after that, however, you attacked the academic panel that my colleague and I were organizing to discuss the methodological and theoretical value of detailed attention to archaeological contexts and interdisciplinary applications in numismatics. I would have thought you would have found value in such a colloquium since you have claimed that archaeologists know nothing about coins. The attack was unwarranted, unprovoked, and baseless. In any case,
our session
was accepted and promises to be quite interesting with 8 participants representing 6 nations.

Since then you have decided to renew your personal attacks and have proudly proclaimed multiple times you would not participate in any such meeting that I had proposed. However, your colleague, Peter Tompa, and I plan on investigating the possibilities further for a moderated meeting/conference after the New Year and I look forward to working with him and proceeding with or without you. Your activity indicates to me that you are the one who really does not want to sit down and participate in a moderated and “open minded” dialogue.

7) Am I understanding you correctly – archaeologists don’t want to play ball your way and so you have no choice but to go negative? I think I’ve heard something similar to this before (e.g.
). Moderate discussion works both ways. Archaeologists have produced empirical research tracing looted items to an indiscriminate market many times. Whether you like or not or choose to bury your head in the sand, collector and dealer demand does fuel looting to various degrees. Calls have been made multiple times for discussion, but simply getting angry about the scrutiny solves nothing – the question is what we can all do limit and discourage that kind of destruction. Rabble rousing and shouting down the "other side" does nothing and certainly does not foster rational dialogue. If you truly want to have a conversation and constructive outcome, I hope that you will change your approach – I can’t see how the current behavior aids the average collector concerned about looting and who wants some resolution and, in my opinion, I think it does them a disservice.


Dear Nathan;

Thank you for allowing my post and for not contributing to "Blog Tyranny" as you call it. I do remain, nonetheless, the "Dictator" on my own blog. In my very first blog in 2006, I wrote: "The venerable hobby of ancient coin collecting is clearly under attack and there needs to be a place on the world wide web where the relentless condemnations of anti-collecting forces are examined under the penetrating light of truth. That is what this blog is all about. This is a place where I get to express my own views without censorship or editorial approval." If you feel that my blog comments have not been truthful, I will certainly provide the basis for my comments. I welcome rational, germane, posts that do not necessarily agree with my opinion. I do not welcome ideological polemics and will block them mercilessly.

In order to keep this current exchange from becoming a "goat rope" as us hill people might say, I will respond point by point as you have done.

1. You have characterized "scholars" as people who temper their discourse with "restraint, moderation, and informed debate."
That is an interesting observation. Following the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Dr. Donny George stated that looters (his own countrymen) should be shot when caught. These same words were echoed at the time by a prominent Western archaeologist. I did not hear any restraint, moderation or informed debate in those words, even though they came from supposed scholars. When I challenged the archaeological community's treatment of Donny George as a knight in shining armor, it created an uproar of indignation that was anything but civil and restrained. Are scholars (by your definition) really "above" the level of discourse that has evolved? You really ought to read some of your own writings and especially some by your friend and colleague Mr. Barford. The truth needs no tempering nor moderation. Why don't we just talk truths?

2. I detect a little tongue in cheek levity of your own here. Surely you do not deny that calling someone a sponsor of terrorism, pillager of the past or greedy and avaricious culture thief is a caustic insult. So, what shall we do? Let's just talk truths.

3. Have I "berated" Ms. Kouroupas? I don't believe that I have. I believe that as a taxpayer in the United States of America I have a right to comment on the way that I think she is doing the job that she gets paid to do. I've seen plenty of "berating" of people in Washington and what I have said about Maria Kouroupas falls considerably short of that definition. Would you care to discuss the truth about the activities of Maria Kouroupas as Executive Director of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee? Probably not.

4. Since you feel it is not "your place" to discuss this, we will not discuss it.

5. I'll accept your assessment that I have criticized a dozen or so people in the past year and a half. "Tone" is subjective, not a truth. If you wish to discuss specific issues (less than seven at one time) I will attempt to use pleasant and cordial terms to present the harsh reality of truth.

6. Did I say they were archaeologists? I alluded generally to some archaeologists (unnamed) on lists like Britarch, who have moderate views. Is it not possible for people who are generally friendly to archaeology to voice their opinions? There are only a handful of archaeologists in the world (even less than ancient coin collectors), and the cultural property debate affects everyone in one sense or another. Did I ever say PAS was a "cure-all"? Not even Roger Bland would call PAS a cure-all and I can say that from having had lengthy discussions with him about it. I will be pleased to discuss my views of PAS as a separate topic. Would you be so kind as to quote me accurately and not turn your perception of my words into an utterance of truth? By the way, David Gill does not need any interlocutor to defend him against my comments, he is quite capable. My position on negotiation over cultural property issues is clear. No negotiation can exist until parties with a recognized constituency and legitimized voice are at the table. If the AIA appoints you as their spokesperson, I will be the first one to grab a chair and I'm sure that Peter Tompa will be there as well. Your cited discussions with Peter are in an entirely different context and have mainly, I think, reflected his concern as a Trustee of the ANS. Peter does wear more than one hat. My concern about your "panel" was that from the very start you implied that the previous scholarship of 600 years was somehow substandard. Rather than building on that considerable base, you opted to disparage it. My criticism was not a personal attack, it was simply a defense of one substantial truth - collectors have led the way in numismatic scholarship for centuries and still do. You can wish otherwise, but that does not make it fact.

7. Whether I do a disservice to the collector community or not is a matter for collectors to decide - not for you - but thank you for your opinion nonetheless. Instead of wasting all this space berating my behavior, why don't we get down to some real truths?

Who owns the past?


Dear Wayne,

1. I am not familiar with George’s statement though I think I have heard you make reference before to someone else who “echoed” it. Did George actually say that they “should be shot” or that before the invasion looters “were shot”? Certainly there is a profound difference in these two statements and in recent work I’ve only read it mentioned that before the invasion and destabilization of Iraq, the punishment of the crime was severe (i.e. “were shot” not “should be shot”) and thus looting did not occur to the same degree that followed after the invasion. The point that is often made is that the Pentagon did not take adequate measures to secure the museum or archaeological sites when it decided to invade.

While I do not presume to know anything about Donny George personally nor his value system, one should also keep in mind that he comes from a completely different culture than our own. We should not make the mistake of directing Western values with regard to law on those of a completely different culture. The punishments for a number of crimes tend to be more severe in the Middle Eastern world.

Yes, I have sharply criticized ACCG leaders before, but I do try to avoid the gratuitous personal attacks which have nothing to do with the issues – the subject of the present post. I also try to keep the emotionalism out of the language. We can “talk truths” without injecting emotionalism into it. This is where I think you are getting confused about talking about “behaving like scholars.” Scholars disagree and critique each others research, assumptions, and theories all the time, but there is an etiquette involved. One doesn’t start name calling like one did back in the schoolyard. When I criticize someone’s position or statements on the issues I do so by evaluating the evidence he or she presents (or fails to present). One of the big issues I had with your “review” of my SAFE Feature article was that you didn’t critique the content in any critical manner. It was all an emotive diatribe. It may provide a “feel good factor” to rail against it in such a way, but it simply reinforces my position; my arguments and the evidence presented were not critically challenged. Similar attacks are often made against archaeologists who make compelling supported arguments about looting and its relationship to market activities.

If you will also recall, when I first began speaking out on these issues (late summer 2007) the level of rhetoric coming from ACCG leaders was great and it was all highly alarmist and emotive. In any previous discussion I participated in on the Moneta-L list prior to that, it always resulted in some collector or dealer calling archaeologists a bunch fascists or Nazis. Yes I may have entered the debate skeptical of your position, but only after reading and following the “debate” for several months. From my perspective, reasoned supported evidence was coming from one side and simple demagoguery from the other.

2. I understand and sympathize that as a dealer you may well take such criticisms personally. But you must recognize that there is evidence that in certain parts of the world for a link between terrorist activities and looting. There is a clear link between the demand of an indiscriminate, no-questions-asked market and looting and so the demand of American dealers and collectors can, in some cases, provide assistance to terrorists. However, I do not think I have ever read any archaeologists say that collectors/dealers are willingly in bed with terrorists or that they conduct their activities knowing full well they are contributing to it. That would be something completely different and we would agree that would be wholly criminal and unethical.

Col. Matthew Bogdanos and some scholars have shown how certain insurgent groups are subsidizing their funds through the selling of loot they procure at archaeological sites in Iraq. I believe a similar situation has been outlined in Afghanistan, but I am less familiar with arguments made there. In addition to terrorist activity in some regions, there are clear associations between the trade in illicit antiquities and other organized criminal acts. I believe The Medici Conspiracy is probably one of the best general sources to refer to (My copy is in the U.S. and so I cannot point to specific examples at present). Often times organized crime leaders have used their dealings in illicit antiquities as method of laundering money and funds from their other illegal activities which would attract more attention from law enforcement, such as drug trafficking. We are all familiar with the famous Elmali hoard which was smuggled out of Turkey and eventually made it to the United States. It was later repatriated. The two individuals who arranged for the smuggling of the Elmali hoard have been linked to mafia activities and drug trafficking. As we all know, Balkan nations presently supply much of the fresh material on the ancient coin and antiquities market. A number of “importers” or “wholesalers” of Bulgarian origin have been linked to government corruption and mafia activities there. In general terms, you could refer to the report on Organized Crime in Bulgaria that I have referenced on this blog a few times.

I understand this is an unpleasant and inconvenient truth, but it is a truth nonetheless. As moral and ethical citizens, scholars, collectors, and dealers, I think we have a duty to be responsible consumers whether that means buying American-made clothing so that we can be sure we aren’t buying goods manufactured by Asian children in sweatshops or whether it means exercising stringent due diligence to ensure that we are not purchasing antiquities that were recently looted. There is an ethical concern about buying recently looted items because of the loss of knowledge which results from unscientific excavation, but in some cases it also supports other types of organized crime and terrorist activities and this is a fact we need to recognize and work to change. That is a truth. This does not mean dealers and collectors want to support these activities, but I don't think it means we can pretend that link does not exist in some well documented cases.

3. I have no firsthand knowledge of her activities and neither do you and so I do not see how we can discuss the “truths of her activities;” this is what I meant when I referred to “convoluted conspiracy” theories.

4. I need to get some other work done today, glad we can skip one.

5. I appreciate the effort. Whenever I criticize your position or that of your colleagues, I do try to do so without gratuitous name calling and personal attacks and try to stick to the issues. I and many others find the emotionalism and personal attacks a major distraction. I understand it can be very difficult to keep our feelings out of the discourse and if I have ever let my own come through I apologize. I would be delighted if we could stick to issues and evidence rather than letting discourse degenerate into gratuitous personal attacks and insults.

6. a) In this first part, I think you are twisting my words a bit. Without checking you said something to the effect of archaeological bloggers, implying they were archaeologists. That is what I meant.

b) The quotation marks around “cure all” were because the word is colloquial and I used it as a summation of statements and implications that you and other ACCG laders have made. It was not a direct quote. In general terms they have stated that the PAS, if enacted in many source countries, would eliminate looting. This, in my view, is rather simplistic.

c) As you point out, David Gill certainly needs no interlocutor. I did bring up the incident because you had claimed you had not insulted/attacked Renfrew or Gill (as I read it because they had endorsed the PAS). I brought up your statement because you had recently insulted him contrary to your claim. I’ll also remind you that in many cases you have defended Mr. Tompa, Mr. Welsh, and people working with ACE from criticisms on their positions and arguments. I could equally ask the question: do they need you as an interlocutor? No they don’t, but we are mutually defensive of our colleagues and friends, are we not?

d) Regarding the panel. Your expounding of the “truth” certainly reads like a personal attack. Even the commentators on the blog “Curator & Collector“ on their post “Numismatic Carnival” (objective parties I assume) felt the attack was unwarranted and commented there seem to be something more going on behind the scenes. You have an M.A. in Art History and so you should be well aware that one of the things that academics try to do is improve on the methods, theories, and approaches in their discipline. We strive to leave a positive mark by improving it. This often entails critiquing or reworking what scholarship has come before us. This does not mean we are dismissing what came before us outright or calling them “bad scholars.” In fact my colleague (also a numismatist) and I never said anything negative about numismatics in the past 600 years.

The point we made was that although many ancillary fields which are intrinsically related to archaeology (material culture) had developed methodologies to take account of archaeological method and context. Numismatics has an interesting and colored history and number of obsessive specialists developed methodologies that are still valuable today such F. Imhoof-Blumer who developed the die study. Numismatics, however, as always had a tendency to be a very inward-looking discipline asking questions only about the coins themselves and I think most any specialist will agree with this. We can answer and address broader questions with broader indisciplinary approaches and the application of as many contexts to which we can relate it. Context is an important feature of any material object (inscriptions, ceramics, glass, papyri, architecture, tools, weapons, statuary, votive deposits, etc.) and so why should we excuse coins?

Numismatics is late in maturing in this aspect precisely because the people who had advanced it before were specialists working with texts (e.g. ancient historians) or collectors who were interested in the object in its own right. This does not mean their contributions are invaluable, only incomplete. Certainly archaeology can contribute much to numismatics and vice-a-versa. Even as late as 1994 in his article “Die antike Numismatik und ihr Material,” Prof. Dr. von Kaenel discusses how methodological development had stagnated in numismatics because it had not widely been incorporated into archaeological inquiry. One of the problems he cited was that numismatic specialists, who are most often employed at museums, were often trained in ancient history and therefore had little understanding or interest in archaeological context. Archaeologists who were not already specialists in coin finds would simply send the coins to the numismatist sitting at his desk in a museum and not knowing what to ask for would simply ask for dates from the coins. This is a highly limited and problematic application of the numismatic evidence. One of the reason the article called for me active participation by numismatists in the field. Field archaeologists could learn more about the potential of numismatic evidence and numismatists could provide better information on coin circulation, economy, trade, etc. by close attention to the stratigraphic layers the field archaeologist was working with. In the past 30 years or so there have been several numismatists (primarily on the continent) who have intensively studied coin finds from archaeological contexts. It is only within the past few years that the methodologies are starting to come together, however, and we are starting to realize the full potential of these approaches. Fleur Kemmers’ study of the coin finds from Nijmegen and Markus Peter’s study of the finds from Augst bring many of these methods together. It is essential that these approaches are incorporated into existing numismatic methodology so that we can squeeze as much information out of archaeologically recovered coins as possible. Their use as simple chronological indicators is no longer sufficient.

e) the meeting. Very well. I may not be an official representative of the AIA, but I expect that more than me and Mr. Tompa would attend such a meeting and I think we could be certain some ranking officers from the AIA would attend or participate. I know some of these people personally. I don’t know what more you could want? Do you want the AIA Executive Council itself to organize a meeting with you and your colleagues? This would be near impossible given their numerous responsibilities and the fact they are only together in one place a few days each year when they are working AIA business.

7. Truths. You ask “Who own’s the past.” In my opinion, thinking in terms of ownership is the wrong approach. Instead we should think of stewardship – there were some discussions about this earlier this year. We should all be responsible stewards and that means we should preserve as much of this information as possible. A parallel can be made with wildlife and endangered species. It is up to all of us to preserve and protect them - no one “owns them.” Archaeologists have the skills, education, and experience to excavate a site scientifically and preserve and analyze that information. Certainly metal detectorists digging 3 feet deep holes in the middle of the night aren’t carefully recording any information. Like the zoologist who closely studies wildlife, but does not own it, the archaeologist closely and scientifically studies the material past through controlled excavation, but does not own the objects – they are sent to museums or storehouses afterwards where they are made accessible to the public or preserved for future study.

I have no problem with a legitimate trade in ancient objects. I only ask how legitimate the current American trade in these objects is given the great number of recently surfaced objects on the market and the fact that so much of this material is coming from countries with restrictive laws on illicit excavation and export. If we are all interested in protecting our past and if we all abhor looting, then we should all take steps to protect it and be sure that we are not furthering this activity by buying anything and everything in “good faith” and we should practice due diligence. I support legislative measures, but I understand you do not. If you do not, but are concerned about the preservation of past, then let us work together to take proactive steps that the trade is not inadvertently contributing to the unscientific destruction of the past (looting) and any other illicit activities which smugglers of such objects might be involved in. One of the things I have suggested before is a sort of registry. There seems to be some consensus along these lines. In my view this would be an excellent self-policing measure. I understand that so much material is now on the market it would be impossible to demand a 1970 date for the history of ancient coin. The damage is also already done and there is little hope in repatriating a coin and so let’s come up with an alternative that will curb looting in the future. if we could develop a registry scheme and say that dealers and collectors should not trade in everything registered after 30 July 2009, for example, this should eliminate profitability of freshly looted material and discourage prospection for it. Naturally such a scheme could allow things to be registered after the cutoff date if there were clear proof it had been in the trade before (e.g. Auction catalogue) or if it were recorded in a lawful scheme such as the PAS or deaccessioned by a museum. Jim McGarigle and Ed Snible have discussed the feasibility of such schemes before.

I should also note that much hype is thrown around about the sale of archaeological finds from excavations and museums. The argument usually goes something along the lines of “if archaeologists would sell their stuff, then we wouldn’t have to buy loot.” The argument is flawed for a number of reasons. First of all, archaeologists can’t choose to sell it because it goes to museums or storehouses belonging to the State. The archaeologist is not the owner and cannot make the decision to sell it. Secondly, the stuff is preserved in public archives for future study. And finally, it would not be pragmatic to substitute archaeological finds for looted objects given the current demand for ancient objects. I provide some examples: Based on antiquities sales in one year in Israel, Orly Blum calculated that if the Israel Antiquity Authority warehouses sold all opened their stores and sold everything they had from excavations, it would all be gone within a period of two to three months! This is stuff which had been procured through excavations since the foundation of the State of Israel! In Germany, the Fundmünzen der Antike project – a project working fulltime since the publication of its first corpus in 1960 – has catalogued between 300,000-350,000 ancient coins from old and new excavations and hoards in the area of modern Germany. One Bulgarian smuggler moved this much material into the U.S. in a period of two or three months in 1999, an equivalent mass of material that has been recorded from scientific excavation in Germany in the past 50 years! The largest museum collections in the world do not exceed about 350,000 ancient coins in their cabinets and many are closer to 200,000 or below. Once you get below the “top 5” museums, numismatic holdings are significantly smaller. In Israel 110,000 ancient coins have been archived from excavations since 1960.

According to my own estimates and calculations, more than 1,000,000 freshly looted and recently surfaced ancient coins enter the North American marketplace each year. This is exponentially higher than archaeologically recovered finds that have been catalogued or archive over decades. The truth is that the looter with his/her shovels, metal detectors, and bull dozers moves a lot faster than the archaeologist with his/her trowel and brushes. Archaeology is not about treasure hunting or finding stuff (though its nice to find stuff). There is already so much more material in the hands of dealers and collectors than in museums and archaeological stores and it is a mistake to think that a cure would be for these stores and museums to be depleted. This is why I think that “closing the market” to any future looted material would be a much more pragmatic and effective approach to stopping looting. If we can curb the demand for recently looted material, we solve much of the problem.

I understand this is a long reply and congratulate you if you have taken the time to read all of it. Excuse the typos, I’m not going to take the time to proofread this having already killed the morning. I hope you understand the points I’m trying to make and that we can start talking about issues and solutions rather than exchanging barbs.

All the best,



I will try to be brief for the moment as we are packing for a holiday trip this morning.

1. According to the Telegraph -
"Professor calls for looters to be shot", By Will Bennett, Art Sales Correspondent, 08 Jul 2003:

"I would like to see helicopters flying over there shooting bullets so that people know there is a real price to looting this stuff," said Prof [Elizabeth] Stone, of Stony Brook University, New York. "You have got to kill some people to stop this." By the way, Professor Stone was reportedly upset that U.S. troops would not kill these "looters".

I don't have the quote from Donny George right at hand, but I do have it and can extract it given some time. His quote is essentially the same. My point is not to drag up old news, but to point out that your own characterization of what separates my discourse from that of a true scholar is a bit flawed. If George Bush, for example, had said what Elizabeth Stone reportedly said, it would have earned him epithets that would make "fascist" seem mild.

2. Your logic escapes me Nathan. Archaeologists have clearly and loudly said that collectors are "willingly in bed with" (to use your characterization) looters. I don't think I need to post the list of quotes. You claim, as "truth" the charge that looting supports terrorism and organized crime. By my logic, that says "collectors support terrorism and crime." You can nuance it any way that you like, collectors will always interpret the link as intentional, direct and obnoxious. Doctors have murdered people, Priests have molested children, Lawyers have covered up crime. Should we condemn the practices of medicine, religion and law? No, we should weigh the injury against the benefit. A few cases, even if aggregious, do not make a case for wholesale condemnation. While you personally have not, to my knowledge, made such wholesale condemnations, others that you call colleague and peer have. Publicly rejecting the blatant accusation that collecting=looting would be a good start toward establishing a useful dialogue.

3. You have no idea what I know about Maria Kouroupas' activities, so your comment about my lack of knowledge is inaccurate and presumptuous. You will undoubtedly find out in due course. Truth does tend to come out in litigation and the ACCG, as you know, is involved in ongoing litigation against the U.S. State Department - all of which will become public record.

4. Agreed.

5. OK

6. And what I meant is that there seems to be a surge of open-mindedness among people friendly to archaeology that was not so evident a couple years ago. That, as I said, is encouraging.

b. Agreed. PAS worldwide would not stop looting entirely. No program, including the absolute prohibition of collecting would stop looting. Not even shooting looters will stop looting.

c. Read my comments again and try responding to what I said, not to what you contrived from that.

d. No need to belabor the point. We disagree.

e. The AIA has been silent. You tell me what they will accept as a basis for discussion that involves them and then you will have done something positive.

7. I disagree. Somebody or some entity owns everything. That why we have laws governing ownership, theft and property rights. The rest of your point 7 is polemic. The debate is not about what we think, it is about law and rights.

I suppose point seven is a good place to start. Who owns the past?

a. somebody
b. anybody
c. everybody
d. nobody

Happy Thanksgiving to those who celebrate it. My sympathy to those who don't!



Dear Wayne,

I hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving holiday.

For sake of brevity I'll return only shortly to point 7. I do not see how my discussion can be characterized here as polemic.

Looting is fueled by market demand, perhaps not wholly, but certainly to a significant degree - market research has born this out many times.

My point about bringing up the argument about deaccessioning items from museums and archaeological stores is to highlight the fact that the demand for antiquities is simply so great that archaeology could not keep up with it like the looters and their fast and destructive methods can. The argument about needing to empty archaeological stores and museums resurfaces every month or so and so its important to point out the fundamental flaws in that argument - it simply wouldn't work given the high demand for antiquities and the relatively small amount of them in such stores compared to what is already in the market. The only way of fixing the problem is by decreasing demand. I understand this may not be desirable in free market mentality. Nevertheless, regulation usually works itself in from without if not from within. An example of course is the formation of the FDA in early 20th century when food producers were taking some very dangerous shortcuts in trying to maximize profits and cut costs.

We all agree that the past should be preserved and we all agree that looting and the destruction which results from it is deplorable. We do not want to contribute to looting and so my point is that I think the trade community could do a lot by being proactive in taking steps to avoid trading in any future looted objects. That is why I mention some of the recording schemes that some dealers and collectors have discussed. In my view, it would certainly help solve the problem and demonstrate the seriousness of the trade community to confront these issues in a positive way. For a long time most every archaeological group in America (not just the AIA)and the world have had ethical standard policies about looted objects and just this year we saw the new ethical standards policies impleted by the Association of American Museum Directors.

All the best,


Dear Nathan;

Thanksgiving was great, thanks.

For the third time, I will ask the question, "Who owns the past?"

I understand that you don't want to answer this question, and that you will do everything possible to turn the discussion in some other direction and comment on myriad other topics. You may feel that "thinking in terms of ownership is the wrong approach", but I don't agree and neither do the people who create and enforce the laws of society in every civilized country in the world. If ownership is not an issue, then theft or "looting" cannot be an issue either. One can't very well steal something that has no owner.

I fail to see why the question is so difficult for you to answer. You don't need 600 words, merely one word will do for a start. Simply make an unambiguous statement.




I did answer your question the first time you asked. Since the answer did not agree with you I'll try to be a bit more direct.

"The past" is an intangible thing and no one can own it. All of us, I think, have a responsibility to be good stewards of the past, which is why I make the point about collectors and dealers, museums, and archaeologists needing to take proactive steps to stop looting - the unscientific destruction of the material past through which knowledge is lost. Similarly, archaeologists who are entrusted with scientific excavation have the duty to excavate in a careful manner and publish timely - one of the reason many countries are now legislating the way excavation permits are handled.

Maybe you mean "Who owns artifacts?" Certainly there is no simple one word answer. If something was bought and sold legitimately, granted an export license from the source country, or comes from an old collection then I suppose we could say the collector/dealer/museum in question "owns" that artifact if you want to speak in terms of ownership. As you are well aware, many nations claim ownership of antiquities and forbid unlicensed and unscientific excavation. If the laws of that nation are broken and a recently looted/illegally exported artifact ends up the collection of John Doe, he may claim ownership of it having bought in "good faith," but he has received stolen goods and although he may hold possession of it, it would not make him the rightful owner of something stolen/looted. The same holds true if someone broke into my home and stole my collection (assuming it was itself acquired wholly legally, with old provenance and in accordance with laws of the source nation) and sold it to someone else - I'm the rightful owner even though someone else has taken possession of it illegally whether knowingly or unknowingly.

In different circumstances there can be different "owners" of artifacts. The question is the legitimacy of that ownership when the market often acts indiscriminately with little concern for the recent histories of the objects acquired and sold. As for owning the past, no one can own such a thing as "the past," but we are all have a part to play in the preservation of it, whether it be responsible historians, responsible scholars, responsible archaeologists, responsible museum directors, responsible dealers, or responsible collectors.




You DID NOT answer my question the first time that I asked it, nor the second time, but that's forgivable. I will accept the answer that you offer now and thank you for "being direct" as you say.

I did not ask "Who owns artifacts" and do not need any help framing a simple question, thank you.

Your answer to my question "Who owns the past" is that the past is intangible and that "no one" owns it. I understand that you have set "artifacts" aside from "the past" which is fine for the time being. We will certainly get to the artifacts in due course.

If "no one" owns the past, then I would presume that nobody can claim stewardship of the past. Note that I did not say stewardship of artifacts, that is by agreement another issue. If nobody is a steward of the past, then in my view everybody is by default free to study and enjoy the past with equal freedom. In other words, independent scholars have the same right to conduct scholarly studies as academic scholars do. They also should have the same right to present their scholarship to the world (understanding of course that publishing has its own standards and thresholds) and to seek feedback from and interaction with others who conduct similar scholarly studies. Whether others do actually cooperate with an independent scholar is a matter of personal preference, just as it is between academics. No authority governs the rights of scholarship.

Would you agree? Or, do you think that archaeologists (or academics in general) should be stewards of the past (in terms of scholarly pursuit), even though no one owns it?

Please skip the looting polemic and indulge me on this point.

Patiently yours,




Check again, I did address your point in the first reply after you posed the question. The reason I used stewardship is because "Who owns the past" is an inherently flawed question, as I stated in the last reply. There is no answer to a question as vague as "Who owns the past"; it's like asking "Who owns the present" or "Who owns the future." You can't make it an ABC simplistic multiple choice question and no one can "own" such a thing. We are all inheritors of the past, we are all responsible for the future, etc. but no one can claim "ownership" of such things. Why not speak plainly? This whole issue is about the commercial trade in ancient objects and the way that those things are sourced for commercial trade.

It seems you are arguing in circles. You are trying to imply archaeologists are concerned about the destruction of the past and looting because they want to "control" or "own" scholarship on the past and this is simply absurd. Scholarly journals (archaeological, art historical, phiological, numismatic, etc.) are peer reviewed and the review process is anonymous. This means all submissions are on an even grounding and published based solely on the merits of the article and the research. I would be in no better position to publish an article in a peer reviewed journal than you would be, assuming the research and argumentation was equally thorough. There is nothing to stop independent scholars from publishing in peer reviewed journals as long as they are writing quality material.

Regarding numismatics, anyone can gain access to most any numismatic collection in the world with a letter of inquiry in advance (institutionally affiliated scholar or collector). Access is essentially the same. Members of the general public can usually access University research libraries for a modest yearly fee. Contrary to your insinuations, there is no formal structure keeping anyone from participating in scholarly discourses.

Are you implying that one has to have ownership of an object to study it? 90% or more of an archaeologist's work is done in a library, not in the field. Even then, we do not have to have archaeological finds in curio cabinets in order to then study and publish them.

Admittedly, someone with years of academic training, a thorough knowledge of the scholarly literature and experience with the material, and the time to devote to research will have an edge in producing scholarship, but this is because they have chosen that as a career path. Are they to be resented for that? Is someone to be denounced for devoting their professional career to the study of the past, whether it be through archaeology, literature, art history, etc.?

Nevertheless, members of the general public who have the knowledge and ability to produce quality and detailed scholarship are able to do so and are able to publish it peer reviewed journals. If you flip through some of these you will find submissions by unaffiliated scholars.

As I have said
, you are trying to make a simplistic and sweeping equation of the same sort that you have denounced some archaeologists for; you imply the act of collecting or dealing equates with scholarship, which is not the case.

Since you claim that an archaeologist's concern about looting and the resulting destruction of information is really a veiled attempt at controlling scholarship, would you equally argue that because environmental scientists are worried about climate change or because zoologists are worried about the extinction of certain species and poaching that they simply want to own environmental science and animals respectively? It sounds very silly to me, but that is essentially what you are saying about archaeology and its concern about the looting issues.


Dear Nathan;

I think you may have a false perception of the facts. You wrote:

" There is nothing to stop independent scholars from publishing in peer reviewed journals as long as they are writing quality material."

Is it not true that neither the AIA nor any journal adhering to AIA policy will accept for publication articles or information based on unprovenanced objects in private collections? Since most coins in private collections never have had any recorded provenance, that effectively excludes private collectors (independent scholars) from participating in the exchange of information with archaeologists, even if their source material is perfectly legal and their analytical methods are absolutely sound. Fortunately, some archaeologists ignore the AIA ethics committee rule and cooperate with collectors anyway - they just keep it under the table.

You wrote: "Members of the general public can usually access University research libraries for a modest yearly fee. Contrary to your insinuations, there is no formal structure keeping anyone from participating in scholarly discourses."

That is actually not the case. Many university libraries restrict access to parts of their collections to faculty or PhD candidates. A perfect example of the exclusion of non-academically affiliated scholars is JSTOR, where the only way to get most academic journal articles online is to buy them one-by-one from the publisher at rather stiff rates. Institutional affiliation opens the door free of charge. Since independents cannot buy unlimited access, that is an obvious impediment to scholarship and is prejudicial to independents.

Another example of prejudice against independents is in the granting of permission to use copyrighted photos in books or articles. While academics are typically given a free ride for publishing images, independents are required to pay exorbitant fees to reproduce the same photos.

Some years ago I inquired about attending the ANS Summer Seminar and was told that I would need to be an active grad student to be accepted. Odd, I already had a graduate degree. It really wasn't about credentials or capabilities, it was about affiliations.

You wrote: "[you] imply archaeologists are concerned about the destruction of the past and looting because they want to "control" or "own" scholarship on the past and this is simply absurd."

I refer you to the Society for American Archaeology Bulletin, Vol. 11, no. 5, where archaeologists Jon L. Gibson and Joe Sanders wrote:
"Archaeologists must be more than just stewards of the past. They must serve as the public conscience. They must act on society's behalf even when society is insensitive or objects."

To me, that sounds like control with a capital C, and I think that is far more absurd than the implication that you perceived from my comments.

You wrote: "Regarding numismatics, anyone can gain access to most any numismatic collection in the world with a letter of inquiry in advance (institutionally affiliated scholar or collector). Access is essentially the same."

Now that is something that I know a little about, because I have visited most every museum that has numismatic holdings worth seeing. I challenge you to write to the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul as "Mr. Elkins" and ask to do research on their significant collection. In fact, give it a try at the Bibliotheque Nationale and see how far you get. Unless you are "connected" you won't get the time of day.

But anyway, I sense from your naive responses that you do think independent scholarship is legitimate and that independent scholars do have rights. If so, that is good and I'll put one mark in your Plus column.

So, nobody can own the past and we all do have an equal right to study the past and exchange our discoveries, theses and experience. Am I right in making this simple statement? In terms of scholarship alone, excluding the issue of ownership, there can be no moral or ethical superiority. Scholarship can be qualified and measured by standards, but nobody has a claim to stewardship of the past, because (as you have repeatedly said) it is intangible. In other words, there is no ivory tower. That should be easy enough for you to say.





We have moved significantly from the point of the original post and so I will be starting a new thread.

All best,


See now
Ulterior Motives in Discussion of Looting Issues?