Sunday, January 29, 2012

Comments on the Extension of the MOU with Cyprus

On January 18, the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) of the U.S. Department of State held a public hearing in Washington. The committee was receiving public comment on the requests for extensions of Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) with Peru and Cyprus; these MOUs are a vehicle to protect the cultural patrimony and archaeological resources of these nations from looting, trafficking, and smuggling. Speakers were asked to address any of the four determinations, upon which the committee makes their recommendations, in their written and oral comments. I attended this meeting and spoke in support of an extension with Cyprus. Below is a summary of my comments.

After introducing myself, I stated that my comments would be related to the first and second determinations. I discussed a January 2010 raid by police in Cyprus. It is one of the biggest antiquities busts in Cyprus' history. Members of the smuggling ring were arrested and 11 million euro ($15.5 million) in looted antiquities were confiscated. Among those objects were a miniature gold coffin, terracotta urns, limestone figures, and bronze and silver coins. This important seizure bears on the first and second determinations as 1) it shows that the cultural patrimony and archaeological resources of Cyprus are in jeopardy through pillage and 2) shows that the Republic of Cyprus is taking proactive measures within its own borders to combat plunder.

My primary area of expertise and research is Roman coinage. And, as many individuals who follow MOU hearings are well aware, the inclusion of coins in the designated list of objects protected through an MOU is a hotly contested issue as there is a flourishing trade in ancient coins and a great demand for new material. Therefore, I took the opportunity to point out to the committee the need to protect coins alongside other objects on the designated list, such as sculpture, ceramics, metalwork, etc. The above-mentioned seizure illustrates the fact that looters and smugglers often procure ancient coins and antiquities from the same sources, i.e. tombs and archaeological sites of various sorts.

After briefly discussing the international market for Cypriot material and providing some numbers, I countered one of the arguments that is most often used by opponents of the protection of coins. Essentially the argument goes like this: "coins circulated in antiquity and thus it is impossible to know in what nation they might have been found once they enter the North American marketplace; as a consequence of this, coins cannot be protected according to the framework of the Cultural Property Implementation Act." In response to this claim, I made the point that it is in fact true that coins circulated in antiquity. But coin circulation is actually a much more complex issue than is often presented to the committee by those opposed to the protection of coins. Some coins circulated more or less than others. One example I gave is the imperial gold and silver coinage, struck at Rome and Lugdunum (Lyons); this coinage circulated widely across the Roman Empire. But in contrast to this, some Greek coinages and the locally produced Roman provincial coinage circulated regionally or locally. Such locally produced and circulating coins are already protected in the current MOU with Cyprus.

One tradesman, who had submitted a letter in opposition to the inclusion of coins in the designated list, provided a list of hoards from outside of Cyprus that included Cypriot coins. In the letter it is claimed that the list provides "uncontestable (sic) evidence that these coins circulated in antiquity and since." Yes, coins circulated. But the letter in question did not examine the evidence in a critical way. After all, the hoard evidence from Cyprus itself was wholly omitted. As I pointed out in my letter and in my oral commentary, the hoard evidence, which deals primarily with the Cypriot coinage of the Hellenistic period, shows a remarkably greater proportion of Cypriot coins in Cypriot hoards in comparison with the foreign hoards. I cited eight hoards from Cyprus recorded in IGCH. In aggregate, coins of Cypriot type comprised 45% of the total of all hoards found in Cyprus. On the other hand, coins of Cypriot type, in aggregate, composed 9% of the foreign hoards mentioned in the other letter. That letter had a list of 33 hoards containing a total 3,662 coins, of which 313 are Cypriot. The much smaller number of eight hoards from Cyprus totaled 2,878 coins, 1,303 of which are Cypriot. The evidence indicates that Greek Cypriot coins are much more prominent in Cyprus than outside of Cyprus.

Finally, I addressed the Roman provincial coinage in Cyprus. The authoritative study on this series is D. Parks, The Roman Coinage of Cyprus (Nicosia, 2005). One chapter, "Circulation of Cypriot and Imported Coinage in Cyprus" (pp. 137-162), examines Cypriot coins from a number of sources and provides ample evidence that Roman coins of Cypriot type circulated abundantly on the island and less frequently outside of it. The current designated list only includes coins until c. AD 235. As there are also Cypriot coins of Byzantine and Venetian type, it was suggested that these be added to any renewal.

Two other numismatists, distinguished in their areas of expertise, provided testimony in support of the extension of the MOU and the continued protection of coins.

I expect that a summary of the public hearing will soon be posted on the website of the Archaeological Institute of America by someone who attended the meeting. Summaries of the public hearings in November on Belize and Bulgaria can be found here.



Thanks for posting this.


Interesting account, I really do wonder about that "coins circulated widely" argument - especially as so many of the coins on the market have not a shred of information about where they were found. How many up to date distribution maps of overall coin finds (not just published hoards) of individual types actually exist? [Like for example the Cherronesos hemidrachms which are so common in collections]

It is notable that the examples so often cited by the ACCG coin lobbyists in another context - Britain's pre-Roman coinages have on the whole very RESTRICTED ranges, allowing "tribal" areas to be mapped on their basis.



The best inventories of individual finds, some of which also count hoards, are from Germany, Austria, Slovenia. Other countries such as Croatia, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Poland have inventories or have started inventories. These, of course, cover Roman coin finds and, to a lesser degree, Iron Age coins.

Coin circulation is indeed a complex issue and the "coins circulated" argument is overly simplified. In fact, studies show that bronze circulation is localized. Even the 'international' Roman imperial bronze, struck at Rome and Lugdunum, show that they circulated locally once they were consigned to a region; while they were struck at the center, they largely circulated locally in the regions where the supply was consigned. Kemmers, Duncan-Jones, and D. Walker among others have studied the movement of imperial bronze coinage in the western Empire. Imperial gold and silver was highly mobile (Duncan-Jones is a chief source on this).

As far as the locally circulating provincial coinage, an article by T.B. Jones in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Association in 1963 expounded the 'rule of locality' in their circulation. Numerous excavation reports could be cited as well. Even Butcher's well-known introductory book on the Roman Provincial Coinage discusses the rule of locality of provincial bronze coinage.

I'm not a specialist in Greek coinage, but I do know that one must rely more heavily on hoard evidence when it comes to Greek coins. There are, however, a growing number publications of coin finds in the past couple of decades from Greek sites.