Friday, July 3, 2015

Archaeological and Numismatic Book Seized from Islamic-State Militants Identified

In June it was reported that Kurdish fighters had seized some equipment from Turkish Islamic State Fighters in Syria and that among those items were archaeological and numismatic books.  One book showed images of Phoenician coins.  The photos of that book were blurry and it was difficult to identify the resource.

The mystery is now solved as Ute Wartenberg Kagan, Executive Director of the American Numismatic Society, recognized the open page in the photograph as from an essay in a book she had used before: M. Sartre, "La Syrie sous la domination achéménide," in W. Orthmann and J.-M. Dentzer, Archéologie et Histoire de la Syrie II (Saarbrücken, 1989).  Compare photographs of the book seized from the militants and the same example in the ANS library (see more images here).
'New documents unravel ISIS-Turkish state cooperation’
(c) Mehmet Nuri Ekinci, Ajansa Nûçeyan a Firatê (ANF), 3rd June 2015

The book in the ANS Library.

In discussing the identification of the book, she concludes:
"For people interested in a general overview of coins from Syria, this book is indeed helpful. Articles by Christian Augé on “La monnaie en Syrie à l’époque hellénistique et romaine” (pp. 149–190, with four plates illustrating 71 coins) and by Cécile Morrisson (who won the ANS Huntington Medal in 1995) on “La monnaie en Syrie byzantine” provide excellent and well-illustrated introductions to the coins of this region. Her article gives a considerable amount of detailed scholarly information on site finds of coins in Syria."
"So this is an extremely unlikely find—a scholarly, not exactly inexpensive, and heavy—book on the archaeology of Syria in the hands of ISIS fighters. If anyone doubts the multifaceted connections between looted antiquities and war in Syria, this discovery has to make one wonder." (emphasis added)



Good detective work, but a major logical jump to conclude from there because ISIS had a book that pictured coins that somehow suggests ancient coins are a major ISIS funding source. Don't you agree?


I don't think anyone is saying that ancient coins are a "major ISIS funding source." It is, however, clear that ISIS is condoning looting in its territories and profiting from organized looting operations. The book in question is not Gone with the Wind or A Song of Ice and Fire . It is a specialized archaeological and numismatic book, not exactly "pleasure reading." And it is not a "major logical jump" to suggest they have it because they are looking for coins and antiquities. They had it for a reason. The looting and sale of antiquities (including ancient coins) appears to be a funding source, major or not so major.


This seems to be another example of the intellectual dishonesty and misdirection of the lobby working for the coin dealers associations such as the IAPN. The lobbyist above notably fails to provide a reference to where a conclusion is drawn from the reported presence of this book in the baggage of an ISIL fighter that "ancient coins are a major ISIS funding source". Ute Wartenberg Kagan is quoted as saying: "If anyone doubts the multifaceted connections between looted antiquities and war in Syria, this discovery has to make one wonder". It seems other people in the numismatic stable have lost that intellectual curiosity and are hell-bent on denying everything, uninterested in the facts of the case and their context.


Of course, the other possibility is that the book was stolen from a local library, collector or museum and they kept it because they thought it may have had some inherent value even in a tattered state. Another collector noticed that this book or another captured from ISIS also had pictures of the pyramids in it. By the same logic, ISIS must also be selling the pyramids. In any event, very slim evidence of anything at all.


We are told coin collecting "brings people together"; that US coin collectors (and dealers' lobbyists) showed a cavalier lack of concern about whether that book was obtained at the cost of a bloody death of a fellow coin collector at the hands of ISIL was noted, Mr Tompa, a month ago You should keep up with others' observations.

Your facetious remark indicates that you have not "observed" it yet, but ISIL has been calling for/threatening to do serious damage to the Pyramids (tomb markers) and Sphinx (idolatrous) should the Islamists prevail in Egypt [among others:] so any information about their internal structure, dimensions, weak points etc will no doubt be being collected by them.


So if the book was stolen from a museum or collector, as you suggest, a possibility that cannot be ruled out, do you mean to suggest they're only stealing books from museums and collections, not looting artifacts to sell? It seems a stretch of logic that militants would go only target a museum's library in the process of raiding it.