Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Meso-American/South American Cache of Antiquities seized in Munich

News broke yesterday in Germany of a cache of antiquities from Central and South America seized by German authorities and through the efforts of Interpol. The large number of antiquities (cult objects, masks, etc.) were seized from a warehouse in Munich. The estimated market value of the recovered antiquities is approximately 100 million dollars. The cache is being claimed by a Costa Rican art collector. An audio interview (in German) with a police-reporter of the Federal Republic, hyperlinked to another version of the report here, gives us some more information: apparently the Costa Rican art collector also arranged for transport of the antiquities from the Americas to Germany via Spain. At present the reports are rather vague, but hopefully further coverage will reveal the details of this case. For example, was the cache meant for an auction or sale in Munich? Were other parties involved?

Often times we focus on the plunder of cultural objects from the classical world (at least in the blogs and academic journals I read most often, which are admittedly primarily devoted to that part of the world), but this event reminds that the plunder of cultural heritage is a global issue affecting everyone. There is also a thriving international demand for Pre-Columbian, Native American, and American historical artifacts as well, and the ethical concerns and "the material and intellectual consequences" are the same.

A New Resource for the Study of Applied Numismatics

The systematic and comprehensive study of coin finds from recorded material contexts can be (and has been) called by a myriad of names: "Fundnumismatik," "Coins in Context," "Contextual Numismatics," "Numismatic Archaeology/Archaeological Numismatics," "Applied Numismatics," etc. There are a relatively small, but growing, number of specialists in this field and most of them seem to be located in Britain and Germany. An important new resource for those specialists is certain to be the new the Applied Numismatics List. I received an announcement of the list today from a colleague. It has been organized by Kris Lockyear and some other numismatists to help bring various scholars working on related topics into closer contact. According the informal announcement I received, the purpose of the list will be to provide a forum "where we could swap information, reports, data, ask questions regarding databases, statistics and all that sort of thing." I urge anyone who has an active interest in the academic study of coin finds, economy, and other fields that make use of applied numismatics to join and contribute to this resource. Hopefully, it will serve as a important venue for the exchange of information, resources, and serve as a venue to discuss developing methodologies within the field.

Monday, April 28, 2008

The Illicit Antiquities Trade in Bulgaria

Anyone who studies the trade in classical antiquities knows that the Balkan countries supply much of the 'fresh' material on the market today. Last week, in preparation for a lecture, I was doing some more research on the coin trade and happened across this interesting publication on the internet, Organized Crime in Bulgaria: Markets and Trends, which was published by the Center for the Study of Democracy in 2007. At approximately 200 pages this document addresses many illicit trades in Bulgaria, but the last chapter (pp. 177ff.) addresses the antiquities trade and also comments on the ancient coin trade in particular. The chapter on the antiquities trade is available as an individual download as well, but one would have to check the first pages whole document for citation information. The chapter, as indeed does the entire document, makes occasional allusions to the involvement of some corrupt politicians in the antiquities trade and makes some interesting observations on trade networks and practices. In my opinion, it makes for a very interesting read and perhaps I'll have some more comments in the future.

While we're on the subject of the destruction of Bulgaria's cultural heritage to supply the inventories of European and American dealers, it is worth mentioning that Bulgaria also seems to attract tourists who travel to the country to treasure hunt while on holiday. A colleague provided me with a citation to a TZ-Online article (auf Deutsch), which talks about two German treasure hunters who were recently caught prospecting for antiquities in Bulgaria: "Zwei deutsche Schatzsucher festgenommen," TZ-Online, 24.04.08.

Article on the Coin Trade now Available on FeRA

Some readers will be familiar with my article, "Why Coins Matter," which was a SAFE Feature article last fall and other relevant discussions on SAFECORNER and Looting Matters. After receiving some positive feedback from various specialists, and also privately from several collectors, I'm pleased to report that a rather similar version of the SAFE Feature has been published in the electronic journal, Frankfurter elektronische Rundschau zur Altertumskunde (FeRA). The article is freely available online and the citation is: Elkins, N.T. 2008. "A Survey of the Material and Intellectual Consequences of Trading in Undocumented Ancient Coins: a Case Study on the North American Trade," FeRA 7: 1-13.

My research on the ancient coin trade continues and David Gill and I are planning to co-author a more substantial article on the issues.

FeRA is a scholarly online publication, which is particularly interested in receiving submissions from emerging and younger scholars; it regularly publishes articles in English, German, and Italian.

CNN Coverage of Syria's Return of Iraqi Antiquities

Last Wednesday, David Gill reported on approximately 700 antiquities that were being returned to Iraq by Syria. According to the report ("Syria returns stolen antiquities to Iraq", AFP, April 23, 2008), gold coins and jewelery were among the objects that Syrian authorities confiscated from the smugglers. Today I saw on CNN's website that there was a short video on the return of antiquities. Several of the returned antiquities can be seen, some of which still have the inventory numbers from the Iraq Museum.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Human Race Near Extinction 70,000 Years Ago

According to some recently announced genetic research, the human race was near to extinction 70,000 years ago. The research has been covered in many international and local news outlets, but here I provide the link to CNN's coverage of it. Very interesting.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

New Weblog on Numismatics and Archaeology

Welcome to Numismatics and Archaeology - a new weblog I have launched that will feature discussions relevant to Classical Archaeology (probably mostly Roman archaeology), numismatics, cultural property issues, and perhaps a few other things from time to time. I expect many of the posts here will simply be links to archaeological or numismatic news or discussions relevant to my research, with occasional posting on cultural property issues, which have a tendency to be more controversial, especially when people who make money from selling antiquities read your blog! I have regularly blogged for SAFECORNER, a blog for Saving Antquities for Everyone (SAFE) and discussed some cultural property issues relating directly to coins there. When it comes to the more controversial material that may crop up, I'm happy to engage anyone with opposing viewpoints in civil discussion here and allow comments from people with opposing views on such issues, so long as it remains civil. Any readers who come across this blog should also find David Gill's Looting Matters of interest, if they have not come across it already.

I'm a doctoral candidate at the University of Missouri, working on a Ph.D. in Greek and Roman Art and Archaeology, with a minor emphasis on Roman History and Historians, and I'm writing a doctoral dissertation entitled "Architectural Coin Types: Reflections of Roman Society." Last year I was fortunate to receive a DAAD Research Grant to study at Frankfurt University and, having had a wonderful time there last year, I was invited by Prof. von Kaenel to return this year to work on the Martberg Project and identify coins for Fundmünzen der Antike. Where will I be next year? I don't know yet...such is the transient lifestyle of graduate students in the humanities!

Since I began studies at Frankfurt in 2006, an important center for the contextual study of coins, my research has been at the intersection of archaeology and numismatics. In my dissertation, for example, I am coupling traditional numismatic methods with the quantitative methods of Fundnumismatik. It is my hope that this site may at some point become a resource for this type of research. Fundnumismatik is a developing form of archaeological/numismatic inquiry, which is at present actively practiced by several Germanic scholars (such as the Frankfurt school of numismatics) and a circle of British scholars, and few others scattered throughout. Although I make use of archaeological contexts for my research, I am primarily concerned with the interpretation of images and understanding imperial Bildsprache on ancient Roman coins. If you're wondering how archaeological contexts and quantitative methods can help with that, I might discuss that in more detail in a later post, but for now if you wanted to read through Noreña, Carlos. 2001. "The Communication of the Emperor's Virtues," Journal of Roman Studies 91: 146-168 and the latter part of Kemmers, Fleur. 2006. Coins for a Legion: An Analysis of the Coin Finds from the Augustan Legionary Fortress and Flavian canabae legionis at Nijmegen. Mainz: von Zabern, SFMA 21, I think you would see where my research is coming from/going. The latter part of Kemmers' book is quite interesting and discusses the reverse types that are most frequently found at the fortress in contrast to finds from neighboring civilian settlements and Rome and indicates a deliberate communicative policy, as made evident by the coins recorded through archaeological excavation.

Intensive study of coins from archaeological sites can do so much more than provide dates or information about various economies and coin supply. For example, as the above paragraph implied, we are now learning that attention to the material in context allows us to bring imperial policy and the semantic use of the coins into clearer focus and identify populations to whom certain images were directed. This is one of the reasons I have been interested in the antiquities trade; looting, the destruction of historical sites, and the separation of a material object from its context - without any record - forever destroys history we will not be able to recover. The issue is not about "ownership" or any other ancillary concerns, it is about the destruction of history, to which we are all inheritors, and I am concerned because this is the systematic destruction of source material and the foundations of our scientific disciplines.

As a graduate student, with several on-going research projects and obligations (and let's not forget the dissertation!), I'm very busy and so I'm not sure how frequently I'll be able to post. I will, however, do my best to keep this site active and make regular posts on my research or what I might be thinking about certain issues relevant to it. One of the great thing about weblogs is that they can allow for a great deal of good feedback. Thanks for reading.