Friday, June 26, 2009

"Why are ancient coins from Cyprus featured in a suit against the US Department of State?"

The systematic destruction of historical sites, and the knowledge that is lost with it, is a growing global problem that few would deny. In recent years there have been positive developments; for example, many museums have adopted more stringent acquisitions policies to diminish the role that their institutions play in this destructive process by purchasing recently surfaced antiquities. There are, however, a minority of vociferous naysayers - outside of the museum or archaeological community - who pretend looting is not a problem and assert that trade members (i.e. dealers or collectors) should not be held to or practice any due diligence standards. It goes without saying that this mentality maintains a detrimental status quo.

In 2007 in response to the bilateral agreement on import restrictions with Cyprus and the United States in which undocumented ancient coins of certain Cypriot type were included, the International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN), the Professional Numismatists Guild (PNG), and the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) sued the United States Department of State under the Freedom of Information Act, alleging a lack of transparency in the decision to include coins. The IAPN, which caters to an international constituency, and the PNG are both dealer groups. On the other hand, the ACCG claims to be a collector's advocacy group, although its biggest financial contributors appear to be dealerships and auction houses. Furthermore, all of the ACCG's leading officers listed on its website are also dealers or former dealers, save one lobbyist who has also received money from the IAPN and PNG to lobby on behalf of dealer interests. Recently, the ACCG staged the import and seizure of restricted coins (without documentation) in order to force a legal battle as part of a coordinated strategy to undermine and overthrow import restrictions, which negatively affect the interests of its constituencies.

In light of the changing attitudes with regards to personal responsibility in looting issues, one naturally asks the question of why certain attitudes are not changing. Could it be that for certain people, their own commercial and self interests override a genuine concern for ethical practice, international law, and the incomprehensible loss of knowledge that takes place as a consequence of their own activities which actively encourage a market for loot?

Today the PR Newswire is carrying an article ("Why are ancient coins from Cyprus featured in a suit against the US Department of State?") by David Gill, an archaeologist and authority on looting issues, in which he considers the impetus for the ACCG's aggressive legal action. It reads:
Swansea, Wales, UK, June 25 2009 – David Gill, archaeologist, considers the recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) suit on the US Department of State.

The FOIA suit was served in November 2007 by three numismatic organizations; one of the three is based in Brussels, Belgium. The alliance objected to the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) restricting the import of ancient coins minted in Cyprus as part of a wider memorandum of understanding (MOU). CPAC was responding to concerns by the Government of Cyprus that the illicit searching for ancient objects (including coins) was destroying the archaeological heritage of the Mediterranean island. CPAC states, "The MOU 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."

Coin collectors were also concerned about the 2009 MOU with China. This agreement also restricted the import of certain categories of coins.

As a result, one of the three numismatic organizations decided to test the resolve of the US Department of State in April 2009 by attempting to import a small number of coins from Cyprus and China in defiance of the newly established laws. These items were detained when their flight from London touched down in Baltimore.

Are these aggressive legal tactics really for the benefit of collectors, or are there other factors at work?

I strongly recommend reading David Gill's full discussion at Looting Matters: "Antiquities, ancient coins and changing attitudes in North America."

(Photo from A large shipment of freshly looted coins from Bulgaria destined for German market, an important transit country for the international market in looted antiquities)



Look like many places a starting to restricted the import of certain categories of coins.
Thanks for giving this valuable information.
See you around.