Bulgaria and the US signed on January 14 a memorandum of understanding on the protection of cultural heritage, meant to prevent the illicit trade of Bulgarian cultural heritage items and allow the return to Bulgaria of such items smuggled into the US.
The agreement was signed by US ambassador to Bulgaria Marcie B. Ries and Bulgaria’s Culture Minister Petar Stoyanovich at the National History Museum in Boyana.
The agreement authorises the US department of homeland security to prevent the import into the United States of Bulgarian cultural heritage items without a licence issued by the Bulgarian government and commits the US government to publish a list of prohibited items, which are to be seized unless the importer presents such a license.
The import restrictions will apply to a broad range of archaeological and religious items, as set forth in a designated list, to be published in the US Federal Register in the coming days, Ries said.
In addition to the import restrictions, the memorandum promotes further cooperation and information sharing between US and Bulgarian law-enforcement agencies.
“Of course this agreement will not eliminate the problem overnight. We recognise that and we also recognise that we must continue to work creatively together to preserve what we all recognise to be an invaluable cultural heritage. This agreement is of importance for its substance but also because it means more cooperation on a daily basis in the area of culture which is of importance to both Bulgarians and Americans,” Ries said.(From: "US, Bulgaria Sign Cultural Heritage Protection Memorandum," The Sofia Globe, January 14, 2014)
Archaeologists, art historians, and academic numismatists had endorsed the MoU at the hearing of the Cultural Property Advisory Committee on 16 November 2011 (see here for a summary of comments). Commercial lobby groups in the United States and abroad have fought vigorously against the inclusion of ancient coins in Memoranda of Understanding. It is, therefore, notable that coins that primarily circulated in and are found in ancient Bulgaria are subject to protection.
7. Coins – In copper, bronze, silver and gold. Many of the listed coins with inscriptions in Greek can be found in B. Head, Historia Numorum: A Manual of Greek Numismatics (London, 1911) and C.M. Kraay, Archaic and Classical Greek Coins (London, 1976). Many of the Roman provincial mints in modern Bulgaria are covered in I. Varbanov, Greek Imperial Coins I: Dacia, Moesia Superior, Moesia Inferior (Bourgas, 2005), id., Greek Imperial Coins II: Thrace (from Abderato Pautalia) (Bourgas, 2005), id., Greek Imperial Coins III: Thrace (from Perinthus to Trajanopolis), Chersonesos Thraciae, Insula Thraciae, Macedonia (Bourgas 2007). A non-exclusive list of pre-Roman and Roman mints include Mesembria (modern Nesembar), Dionysopolis (Balchik), Marcianopolis (Devnya), Nicopolis ad Istrum (near Veliko Tarnovo), Odessus (Varna), Anchialus (Pomorie), Apollonia Pontica (Sozopol), Cabyle (Kabile), Deultum (Debelt), Nicopolis ad Nestum (Garmen), Pautalia (Kyustendil), Philippopolis (Plovdiv), Serdica (Sofia), and Augusta Traiana (Stara Zagora). Later coins may be found in A. Radushev and G. Zhekov, Catalogue of Bulgarian MedievalCoins IX-XV c. (Sofia 1999) and J.Youroukova and V. Penchev, Bulgarian Medieval Coins and Seals (Sofia 1990).a. Pre-monetary media of exchange including “arrow money,” bells, and bracelets. Approximate date: 13th century B.C. through 6th century B.C.b. Thracian and Hellenistic coins struck in gold, silver, and bronze by city-states and kingdoms that operated in the territory of the modern Bulgarian state. This designation includes official coinages of Greek-using city-states and kingdoms, Sycthian and Celtic coinage, and local imitations of official issues. Also included are Greek coins from nearby regions that are found in Bulgaria. Approximate date: 6th century BC through the 1st century B.C.c. Roman provincial coins – Locally produced coins usually struck in bronze or copper at mints in the territory of the modern state of Bulgaria. May also be silver, silver plate, or gold. Approximate date: 1st century BC through the 4th century A.D.d. Coinage of the First and Second Bulgarian Empires and Byzantine Empire – Struck in gold, silver, and bronze by Bulgarian and Byzantine emperors at mints within the modern state of Bulgaria. Approximate date: 4th century A.D. through A.D. 1396.e. Ottoman coins – Struck at mints within the modern state of Bulgaria. Approximate date: A.D. 1396 through A.D. 1750.
(From the designated list).
The MoU with Bulgaria is momentous. This is the first Memorandum to protect some post-Classical coins as coins of the First Bulgarian Empire and Ottoman Empire are subject to restrictions. Most importantly, Bulgaria is one of the primary source countries for illicitly traded metal artifacts and ancient coins. Smuggled finds are imported and sold in the United States by the tens of thousands; the problem has been written about and studied extensively since the 1990s.