Saturday, May 17, 2014

The CCPIA and the Circulation of Coins and Other Ancient Objects

The dealer lobby is irritated that people who have expertise on ancient coins  have written in favor of a potential MOU with Egypt.  One commentator and dealer is outright resentful that any specialist should support an MOU and goes so far as pronounce that the protection of coins in the MOUs is "extralegal."

The Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA) mandates that protected objects be "first discovered in" the State Party.  From the point-of-view of the dealer lobby, coins should not be protected since they circulated.  They demand that it be proved beyond a doubt that each individual coin coming into the United States was found in a particular State Party, a task made nearly impossible when a coin is dug up, smuggled, cleaned, and sold by a dealer.   The act of looting and smuggling destroys this information.

The dealer lobby asserts that coins are a special case since they "circulated widely" and are "common."   But are they such an exception?  Some coins circulated very widely and some circulated on a more local or regional level.  Apart from static monuments, many ancient objects, in addition to coins, moved around to greater and lesser degrees.  Ceramics are a prime example; they could circulate widely and they are "common."  Even local wares are sometimes found far afield, although the majority are found locally.  These, like circulating coins, are a testament to trade, economic conditions, and the movement of peoples and populations.  The Etruscans were avid consumers of Greek painted pottery.  The MOU with Italy protects Attic and Corinthian painted ceramics since these are frequently found in Etruscan tombs, even though they were made in Greece and can be found in other countries as well. 

With Egyptian coins, the dealer lobby is reasserting the notion that coins "circulated widely" and should not be protected because they could be found anywhere.  Yes, there are examples of Egyptian coins found outside of Egypt, but Egyptian coins are found primarily in Egypt.  In contesting the potential protection of Egyptian coins, the desperation of their argument is apparent as they refuse to acknowledge long-standing scholarship on ancient Egyptian coins and Egypt's closed currency system, which caused Egypt to retain much of its currency in antiquity.

One commentator points to the Portable Antiquities Scheme database as evidence that Egyptian coins can be found as far away as England.  Interestingly, what he does not acknowledge is that the majority of these are late Roman bronze coins from the mint of Alexandria; late Roman bronze coins have not been included in any MOUs thus far as they circulated widely and certainly they were not the subject of any comments sent to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee by advocates for the protection of coins.  Again, that commentator refuses to acknowledge the closed currency system in Egypt and the fact that the majority of Egyptian coins will have been found in Egypt, just as a great many Attic and Corinthian ceramics will be found in Italy.

Finally, the protection of coins is extralegal only in the dealer lobby's opinion.  Thus far, the lobby has been unsuccessful in undermining import restrictions in the courts.  In fact, import restrictions on coins have been upheld by the courts as legal.  In fact, the federal district court wrote:
“[I]nterpreting the ‘first discovered in’ requirement to preclude the State Department from barring the importation of archaeological objects with unknown find spots would undermine the core purpose of the CPIA, namely to deter looting of cultural property. See 19 U.S.C. § 2602(a)(1)(A)” (p. 35)."
 The court further notes that the “ACCG’s argument, if taken to its logical conclusion, could bring into question the import restrictions on every, or almost every, item on the designated lists" (p. 36).

Indeed, it would.  And business as usual in the antiquities trade seems to be the intent behind the strategy.

Update, 517/2014:  One lobbyist now insists that scholarly evidence cannot be produced that Egyptian coins are found in Egypt.  I do look forward to a book from the lawyer/lobbyist that subverts decades of archaeological and numismatic understanding Egypt's closed currency system.

And apparently lobbyists/lawyers can declare what is legal and what is not - forget the courts.  But I do not remember it working that way in civics class in grade school...