Sunday, April 14, 2013

Minnesotan Charged with Attempted Smuggling of Ancient Coins out of Macedonia

The Macedonian International News Agency reports today that an American resident of Minnesota who was on a "humanitarian mission" in Macedonia was charged by authorities there with "exporting national and cultural treasures protected by the state" when he was caught trying to cross into Bulgaria (where he had temporary residence) with 48 coins from the 2nd century BCE to the 17th century.

It is reported that authorities searched him as he became visibly agitated and seemed in a hurry to depart from Macedonia.  He told authorities that he purchased the coins from a contact in Shtip.  The photograph of the coins, which are covered in earth, and the chronological breadth of the collection suggest they were found at multiple archaeological sites and from mixed assemblages.  Such groups of coins are the fruits of looting and are regularly exported from Balkan in astonishing quantities to supply European and North American demand.

There have been several instances of Americans and others smuggling coins and antiquities out of Macedonia in the press in recent months (see for example P. Barford, "Two Americans Caught Smuggling Macedonian Antiquities").

A short bibliography provides further references on the issue of mass export of coins and portable antiquities from Balkan countries.

Center for the Study of Democracy. 2007. Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends. Sofia: Center for the Study of Democracy. (

Dietrich, R. 2002. "Cultural Property on the Move - Legally, Illegally," International Journal of Cultural Property 11: 294-303.

Elkins, N.T. 2009. "Treasuring Hunting 101 in America's Classrooms," Journal of Field Archaeology 34.4: 482-489.

id. 2012. "The Trade in Fresh Supplies of Ancient Coins: Scale, Organization, and Politics," in P.K. Lazrus and A.W. Barker (eds.), All the King's Horses: Essays on the Impact of Looting and the Antiquities Trade on Our Knowledge of the Past. Washington, D.C.: Society for American Archaeology Press. 91-107.



Before anyone casts any stones, I'd like to know it such coins are still openly available for sale in Macedonia (I've heard such items are) and whether there are any postings for foreigners about Macedonian export laws. I'd note that UNESCO apparently thinks this is a problem as they are pushing an advertising campaign to warn tourists about illegal exports.


I don't think anyone is casting stones. It is in the hands of the Macedonian justice system which apparently perceives there was intent based on agitated behavior prior to the customs check.

Intent aside, the fact remains that this was looted material and the widespread lack of ethical concern in trade practice exacerbates the looting problem and destroys historical information.