Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The American Numismatic Society Collection Moves

It has been reported that the American Numismatic Society's coin collection - one of the largest and most important in the world - has been moved to the vault at its new location. An interesting story about the logistics of the collection's move can be found in the New York Times (G. Collins, "A Treasure Travels, Inconspicuously" NYT, 16 June 2008).

The conclusion of the NYT article reads:
Finally, after the massive doors and gates of the vault slammed shut, Dr. Wartenberg Kagan expressed gratitude to the police and the heroic efforts of her staff, and gave the order for the alarm to be armed. “To say I’m relieved,” she said after the lockdown, “is putting it mildly.”
I was at the ANS' Graduate Seminar in 2004, in the midst of the ANS' last move, and so I can appreciate how hectic and stressful moving the collection was for them, having witnessed it then. I'm glad to hear the collection arrived safely at its new home and wish everyone at the ANS the best at their new location. I look forward to seeing the new place next time I am in New York.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Harrison Ford and the AIA

Several weeks ago, I reported on the Archaeological Institute of America's (AIA) appointment of Harrison Ford to its Board of Directors (Numismatics and Archaeology: "'That Belongs in a Museum!'" 21 May 2008). Harrison Ford is popularly known for his role as the dashing, adventurous archaeologist, Henry "Indiana" Jones, Jr., in the Indiana Jones films. Since Harrison Ford's appointment to the AIA Board of Directors, there has been some controversy over the appointment (there are some links to these discussion in the comments section of my previous post).

SAFECORNER recently posted a reaction by Oscar Muscarella, a well-known scholar and advocate against the illicit trade in antiquities and an active AIA member ("'Indiana Jones is a Plunderer.' What do you Think?" 5 June 2008). SAFECORNER has asked for public comment on the controversy and has received a dozen comments so far.

In the AIA article announcing Ford's appointment to the Board, the AIA President, Brian Rose, stated: "Harrison Ford has played a significant role in stimulating the public's interest in archaeological exploration." Surely, this is an accurate statement and the films have cult status among many young archaeologists. As an undergraduate studying archaeology and classical studies, I was a member of my university's "Archaeology Club," which organized trips to local archaeological sites, "pot parties" (not what you are thinking - these consisted of purchasing cheap Wal-Mart ceramics, smashing them and then gluing them back together again), and other social gatherings. One of the most popular events were the regular Indiana Jones movie marathons. I recall several students in archaeology that I went to college with said that the Indiana Jones films were partly responsible for their desire to study archaeology. As archaeologists, we are fully aware of the differences in archaeological practice and ethics used by the fictional Indiana Jones and archaeologists working in the real world. But what about the general public?

The controversy does not seem to be so much a question of whether or not the Indiana Jones films will inspire someone to loot an archaeological site, but what message the AIA is sending by putting the actor behind Jones' character on its Board of Directors. The AIA has adopted a bold stance on archaeological ethics and has supported research on and legislative measures against the illicit trade in antiquities. Does the appointment of "Indiana Jones" to the AIA Board then exacerbate public perception that artifacts are there for the taking by anyone who comes across them? This seems to be the question at the heart of the controversy and is a question well worth asking. For example, when I tell people I am an archaeologist, I am always asked at least one of two questions, "So you're into dinosaurs?" or "Do you get to keep what you find?" Muscarella's concerns are justified.

I wonder, however, if it may be too early to assess the capacity in which Ford will work with the AIA. Indeed, the first line of the AIA article reads: "'Indiana Jones" shows his commitment to real archaeology.'" Ford himself stated, "Knowledge is power, and understanding the past can only help us in dealing with the present and the future." It has been reported that Harrison Ford has lent his star-power to advocacy against wildlife trafficking in conjunction with the U.S. Department of State and WildAid. Will Mr. Ford also use his celebrity status and his Indiana Jones stardom to help raise public awareness on the problem of plunder and the illicit antiquities trade in his new role at the AIA? I hope so.

Already, some from the collecting and trade community seem concerned about Harrison Ford's new role at the AIA. Two prominent members of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), a lobby of ancient coin dealers and collectors that I and others have discussed elsewhere (relevant posts at SAFECORNER and Looting Matters), have expressed fear that Ford will help raise public awareness on looting and the trade in antiquities. Jim McGarigle, an ancient coin dealer who lobbied Republican Congressmen in Wisconsin, on behalf of the ACCG, to put "collectors rights" on the state's Republican party platform, apparently with no concern regarding the source or nature of collected material, recently stated on the Unidroit List:

"I predicted something like this would occur over a year ago [Ford's appointment]. Be ready for the AIA to pull out the big guns on collecting with an easy celebrity reference where they can put on the 'White Fedora' and try to place the black one atop the heads of ancient and world coin collectors.


Maybe it's time to start writing scripts about a heroic ancient numismatist [dealer/collector] who beats up the bad guys, saves the world and gets the girl or an antiquity collector who solves a murder every week."

Peter Tompa, the ACCG's current president, recently blogged about Ford's support of the State Department and WildAid against wildlife trafficking and expressed concern that he would also help the AIA in its efforts to raise awareness on antiquities trafficking:

"I also have to wonder if Harrison Ford and the State Department are also working on PSAs that will expose the evils of collecting 'illicit cultural property' now that Ford has joined the AIA board."

Like many people, I am sure Harrison Ford has an interest in archaeology and ancient history and I am delighted he is so enthusiastic about it that he decided to become an active part of the leading professional organization for archaeologists. I am anxious to see in what capacity Mr. Ford will be working with the AIA and wish him the best in his exciting new position.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Revue Numismatique Available Online

I read a post on Ed Snible's blog indicating that the Revue Numismatique (1958-2003) is now available online at http://www.persee.fr. According to Ed's post, there are at present some problems with the plates. Nevertheless, it is great that this scholarly resource is now freely available online and perhaps the problem with the plates will be solved in the future.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Coins from Yotvata

I just returned from a week in Israel. Last year the new excavations at the Roman auxiliary fort at Yotvata came to end and so I returned to Israel for a week in order to process the remaining coin finds. The soil at Yotvata is particularly salty and corrosive and so it takes a year for our conservator to clean them chemically. I had to process coin finds from the 2006 and 2007 seasons at the same time since I canceled my flight last year upon hearing the coins from the 2006 season were not quite ready.

The fort at Yotvata was founded c. 297 AD, according to an inscription. Arie Kindler published the coin finds from the first series of excavations (Kindler 1989), conducted by Ze'ev Meshel in 1975-1976 (see Meshel 1989 for the final report). Thus far, the coins from the new excavations have been rather comparable to the sorts of coins published in Kindler's report (primarily early to mid 4th century), but at present we have a much larger sample of finds. None of the coins retrieved from the site are particularly rare or exciting in their own right, but they will provide us with valuable chronological information for the occupation of the site, which directly relates to important historical events pertaining to the site. Additionally, our finds are comparable to published finds from other sites in the region and the presence and absence of certain types can also be related to specific historical events. Since we are at a pre-publication stage, I cannot say much more now, but stay tuned for the final excavation report, on which work will soon begin and which will include a chapter listing and analyzing the numismatic finds. A short bibliography on Yotvata follows at the end of this post.

While I was in Jerusalem, I also met Donald Ariel, a numismatist at the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA), who let me examine the coin finds from the first excavations, which Kindler published (Kindler 1989). I was most interested in checking the ones he labeled 'unidentifiable,' but I also was able to pick up a couple of mint marks on some coins, which were not read originally. This, of course, is good for my examination of coin circulation at the site and will help pin down a more specific date for the coins.

Donald Ariel also showed me the IAA's coin vault with all the coin finds from excavations in Israel and a number of interesting hoards from excavations, which are currently being processed and studied. He also informed that the IAA has put all the identifiable coin finds from Israel (c. 130,000) into a database - a valuable resource that I will have to make use of in the future.

On a personal note, other than processing the coin finds, I did find some time to enjoy the country. I spent most of my time in Jerusalem, where I was staying, and took Bryan around the Old City. He had not been to Israel before. We also traveled with some colleagues down to the Dead Sea and the springs at En Gedi, and then in the heat of the moment we decided to go ahead and drive down to the beach at Eilat for the weekend for some relaxation and scuba diving in the Red Sea. I never learned to swim, and was assured that one need not know how to swim for diving. I really enjoyed it, but, unfortunately, I lost about ten minutes trying to get comfortable putting my head underwater and getting past the psychological angst of being a few meters below the water knowing that I couldn't swim! After that, however, I really enjoyed it and look forward to trying it again.


Avner, U., Davies, G. and Magness, J. 2004a. The Roman Fort at Yotvata, 2003. Israel Exploration Journal 54:256-261.

Avner, U., Davies, G. and Magness, J. 2004b. The Roman Fort at Yotvata: Interim Report (2003). Journal of Roman Archaeology 17:405-412.

Avner, U., Davies, G. and Magness, J. 2005a. The 2003-2004 Excavations at the Roman Fort at Yotvata. Jahrbuch des Deutschen Evangelischen Instituts fur Altertumswissenschaft des Heiligen Landes 9/10:198-199.

Avner, U., Davies, G. and Magness, J. 2005b. The Roman Fort at Yotvata, 2004. Israel Exploration Journal 55:227-230.

Davies, G. and Magness, J. 2005. Yotvata – 2004. Excavations and Surveys in Israel (Hadashot Arkheologiyot) 117. Online journal, available: http://www.hadashot-esi.org.il/report_detail_eng.asp

Davies, G. and Magness, J. 2006a. The Roman Fort at Yotvata, 2005. Israel Exploration Journal 56: 105-110.

Davies, G. and Magness, J. 2006b. Yotvata – 2005. Excavations and Surveys in Israel (Hadashot Arkheologiyot) 118. Online journal, available: http://www.hadashot-esi.org.il/report_detail_eng.asp

Davies, G. and Magness, J. 2007. Yotvata – 2007. Excavations and Surveys in Israel (Hadashot Arkheologiyot) 119. Online journal, available: http://www.hadashot-esi.org.il/report_detail_eng.asp

Eck, W. 1992. Alam Costia constituerunt. Klio 74:395-400.

Kindler, A. 1989. The Numismatic Finds from the Roman Fort at Yotvata. Israel Exploration Journal 39:261-66.

Meshel, Z. 1989. A Fort at Yotvata from the Time of Diocletian. Israel Exploration Journal 39:228-238.

Roll, I. 1989. A Latin Imperial Inscription from the Time of Diocletian Found at Yotvata. Israel Exploration Journal 39:239-260.

(Photo: me in Jerusalem's Old City - yes that's the stylish AIA polo I'm sporting)