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All Posts Tagged With: "Cultural Property"

The Whole Cultural Record

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting

In the latest issue of Archaeology magazine (Nov-Dec 2010) AIA President Brian Rose proposes an intriguing professional goal, saying — “We must preserve the whole cultural record.” By “We”, I presume that he means archaeologists, since nobody else on the planet would dare to dream so big. We need not guess about what he means by the “whole” record. Dr. Rose decries a series of events from the Damnatio Memoriae of Nero to the anti-Saddam activities of president day Iraqis and views a panoply of destructive events in history as examples of “Iconoclasm”. He makes the interesting statement that “For me, as an archaeologist, there is no excuse for the destruction of cultural property…” he goes on to say “We may never be able to temper the passion for destruction, but we can at least situate those passions in historical perspective and ensure that today’s historical evidence will still be here tomorrow.”

The logic itself escapes me because the “iconoclastic” events mentioned were in themselves cultural acts and just as historical and important as the events they reacted to. Deplorable and despicable as their destruction may have been, are the empty niches of the Bamiyan Buddhas any less a cultural record than the statues that once stood there? His statement is all the more remarkable since some archaeologists have openly advocated destroying cultural property recovered from their excavations, rather than allowing it to fall into private collector hands—and who in fact followed through with the deed.

How, I have to wonder, could everything listed in the UNESCO resolution as “cultural property” be stewarded by archaeologists ad aeternum? Here is the laundry list of items so defined in that resolution—I’ve posted it before, but it’s worth another look:

(a) Rare collections and specimens of fauna, flora, minerals and anatomy, and objects of palaeontological interest;

(b) property relating to history, including the history of science and technology and military and social history, to the life of national leaders, thinkers, scientists and artist and to events of national importance;

(c) products of archaeological excavations (including regular and clandestine)
or of archaeological discoveries ;

(d) elements of artistic or historical monuments or archaeological sites which have been dismembered;

(e) antiquities more than one hundred years old, such as inscriptions, coins and engraved seals;

(f) objects of ethnological interest; (more…)

Ancient Coins: The Yin and Yang – A Smorgasbord of Views on Cultural Property

This week I was treated to a smorgasbord of views on cultural property from members of the archaeological and collecting communities.

On Tuesday morning, I listened with interest to the presentations of several archaeologists at the U.S. State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) in Washington, DC. This was my fifth appearance at a CPAC hearing in as many years. In every case, the general tenor of oral comments by public presenters has reflected a dichotomy of interests—those of collectors versus those of nationalist governments (defended mainly by the archaeological community). The dividing line has always been clear, and not just in the rhetoric that is entered into the public record at these events. Even the informal assemblage of speakers prior to the event (call them gaggles, if you will) is indicative of the diverse philosophical views. I suppose it’s only natural for like-minded people to congregate, but the atmosphere is and has very much been one of “us and them” . This is not to say that either camp is overtly unfriendly, in fact the opposite is true. I think both camps try very hard to be polite and cordial in a personal sense. But camps there are, and gaggle they do.

The Collector camp is comprised mainly of collector advocacy groups. Occasionally, individual collectors, dealers or concerned citizens have appeared or have been represented by counsel. However, the lion’s share of opposition to Memorandums of Understanding these days has come from the Ancient Coin Collecting community and the Art Museum community. The former is represented by advocacy groups, like the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) and the American Numismatic Association (ANA), along with representatives of the numismatic trade and other non-profit organizations like Ancient Coins for Education. The latter is represented primarily by the Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD).

The proponents of Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) are primarily the representatives of governments seeking import restrictions and the archaeological community, including its related museums—most of which are institutional. The advocacy group Saving Antiquities For Everyone (SAFE) has consistently supported import restrictions, but has not appeared before CPAC in the public sessions lately. A rather late attempt by SAFE to compile and introduce a petition in support of the MOU with Greece was apparently aborted when it failed to meet the State Department imposed deadline for public comment. (more…)

Turkish Numismatic Association Chairman Cem Mahruki Call for change in Ottoman Coin Law

Gold and silver coins from the Ottoman sultans are being melted down because traders are afraid of being charged with smuggling Lamenting rules making it illegal to have, purchase or sell such coins in Turkey, Mahruki says it is time for the government to reform the law

The following is from an Article from Hurriyet Daily News

“Turkey desperately needs to change its legal injunctions against the trading of Ottoman coins if it wants to preserve such heritage, according to the head of the country’s top coin-collecting association.

“In our country, people who are seized with a copper coin from the Sultan Mahmud II that is not even worth a Turkish Lira are treated like smugglers,” said Turkish Numismatic Association Chairman Cem Mahruki, who added that the system was very different in Europe.

“In most of contemporary countries, especially in the European Union countries, old coins are freely purchased and sold over the Internet,” he said.

Speaking to the Anatolia news agency, Mahruki said the Code of Protection of Cultural and Natural Properties banned the purchase and sales of coins until the last six sultans and only granted permission for collection under very stringent conditions.

Many moneychangers and junk dealers obtain old gold and silver Ottoman coins made of valuable metals everyday, Mahruki said, but added that such people typically melt and turn the coins into bars of gold for fear of the law.

“In this way, hundreds of kilograms of historic Ottoman coins vanish because those having these coins are considered as smugglers,” he said.

Law encourages smuggling

In this, the law does not prevent smuggling but, on the contrary, encourages it, Mahruki said. “Old coins that cannot find buyers in the country are found by smugglers for cheap prices and taken abroad.”

Noting that the potential for coin collection is high in Turkey, Mahruki said: “If the law is amended, coins that collectors easily purchase and sell will remain in the country and moreover, the ones abroad will be brought back. We can see its example in paper coins that can easily be collected, and coins inherited from the period of the last six Ottoman periods.”

Complaining about the high prices Turkish collectors must pay at European auctions to bring Ottoman coins back to the country, Mahruki said, “If the goal is to prevent smuggling abroad, there should be heavier punishments and measures against smuggling of these coins to abroad. It should be free to own, purchase and sales the Ottoman and Turkish coins.”

Mahruki also said the current law violated the right to property and that many families had old coins from their ancestors. (more…)

Ancient Coin Importation Restrictions: Thoughts on becoming a target of the “cultural property” advocates.

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Collecting Blog

Some people crave attention and will do almost anything to draw a spotlight toward themselves, even if it is outrageous. I’m not one of those people by nature. I much prefer the serenity and seclusion of our pastoral environment here in the Ozarks to the hustle and bustle of the city or the glad-handing that people in the corporate and political world call “networking.”

In fact, my most precious moments have been on a sailboat ghosting along in a light breeze with nothing but sky and water to contemplate. I find an isolated mountain stream equally inviting if I have a rod in hand and a trout waiting to be tempted. Yet, I often find myself drawn to the city and sometimes into the spotlight as a matter of necessity. Why? Having endured all that I could stand of the outlandish criticisms and insults hurled by fanatical archaeologists at the antiquities market, and by extension at my lifelong passion of ancient coin collecting, I felt compelled to speak out.

That happened in 2004, and here I am six years later still speaking out against the same atrocious behavior. If anything, the situation has gotten worse since the antiquities trade and the museum world have essentially abdicated before a combination of foreign and home-grown nationalist attacks. The numismatic community seems to be the only roadblock these days to sweeping nationalist and institutional control of cultural property and thereby to absolute control of history and the record of the past. Is that bad? Only from the point of view of those who favor truth over revisionism or those who feel that culture is as much a personal as a national heritage, or believe in personal property rights and freedoms. Of course it is also bad for the numismatists who have suddenly been thrust into that unwelcome spotlight.

Personally, my career in numismatics dates back some 40+ years and I enjoyed that time in the comfort that the discipline, call it a hobby if you will, was genteel. The relationships between professional and amateur numismatists were not only friendly and cooperative, they were in most cases collegial. Respect flowed both ways. What a difference we see today! Understandably, I’ve become a focal point for criticism, along with others, by virtue of my active opposition to cultural nationalism. That, I expected.

What I did not expect and am sincerely saddened by is the depth of hatred and hostility that permeates the opposition today. Being the focus of an ideological polemic is one thing, but being personally villified and ridiculed by educated people, from a discipline that I once respected, is something entirely different. That sort of verbal barrage has now become a daily event in my life. Initially, I was offended.

My career as an officer in the U.S. military instilled in me a very strong sense of personal pride, integrity and responsibility. I founded the ACCG to create a voice for ancient coin collectors that was conspicuously absent in the face of a growing assault. The numismatic trade in this field had its advocacy groups, collectors had none. I’ve spent the past six years, as a volunteer, working for the interests of collectors. (more…)

Ruling in FOIA case condones DOS intransigence on ancient coin import restrictions

A long-awaited ruling fails to address serious issues within the U.S. State Department bureaucracy.

accg_cyp_chi_coinsUS District Court Judge Richard Leon—well known for his pro-government views—has issued a ruling upholding the State Department’s refusal to disclose information about the controversial decisions to impose import restrictions on coins of Cypriot and Chinese type. The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild and the other Plaintiffs in this suit remain committed to seeking transparency and accountability from the State Department (DOS) bureaucracy and are considering whether to appeal this ruling to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Despite the disappointing decision, this litigation was in many ways a win for the plaintiffs. The mere fact that ACCG and the other Plaintiffs brought this FOIA action forced the State Department to process all the Plaintiff’s FOIA requests–including some that had been ignored by DOS for as much as three years. As a result of this action, literally hundreds of pages of requested text were released and the State Department was prompted to produce documents implicating high level political interference as the reason for the Cypriot decision. Other information stemming from this litigation suggests that State Department personnel added coins to the Chinese request without a formal request from China for that inclusion. The decision rendered by Judge Leon dealt with those items still remaining on the plaintiff’s list that DOS had refused to release. While the plaintiffs obviously would have been happier with a summary judgment on their motion, the process was not without considerable rewards.

The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild still plans to pursue a test case regarding whether those import restrictions were promulgated in an arbitrary and capricious fashion. A copy of Judge Leon’s Memorandum Opinion can be found here.

Symbiosis Lost and Nuance in New York

By Wayne Sayles – Ancient Coin Blog

Ancient coins have existed since the 7th century BC. They attracted the interest of collectors shortly after that and have continued to inspire ordinary people around the world for going on three millennia.

coin_warsDuring the Italian Renaissance, the collecting of ancient coins became so popular that a sophisticated commercial market emerged and numismatic scholarship blossomed. Anyone with sufficient interest and erudition was able to study the past through its coins. The development of numismatics as a science is a result mainly of private collectors and their dedication to the pursuit of knowledge. When academia became aware of the value of coins as voices from the past, coin collectors and professional scholars found that they had much in common and worked closely together. Yes, that was a long time ago.

What we see today is a bitter turf war between private collectors, independent scholars, museums, nationalist governments and archaeologists. What happened to the symbiosis?

Deep within the collecting community, there is still a longing for cooperation and symbiotic support with those academics who dedicate their lives to study of the past. But, the mutual cooperation and respect of those halcyon days is all but gone. The only words that most private collectors hear from archaeologists these day are disparaging. And, in equal measure, the response is unfriendly.

As archaeological blog comments about the recent CPAC hearing on Italy reveal, the symbiosis is all but dead. It is unlikely ever to reappear to the extent that we saw in the 19th or 20th centuries. That is sad from a collector’s point of view, but is it equally sad from the academic archaeologist’s point of view? I am coming to doubt that it is. They have very little use for private collectors and are not reticent to say so. (more…)

Ancient Coin Collectors Challenge U.S. State Dept. Bureaucrats After Baltimore Seizure

A small packet of inexpensive Chinese and Cypriot coins imported from England by the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) have been seized by Customs in Baltimore, Maryland.

coin_import_banThe coins were imported to test the legitimacy of State Department (DOS) imposed import restrictions via two Memoranda of Understanding (MOU). ACCG maintains that actions of DOS relating to implementation of the Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA) have been secretive, arbitrary and capricious and will contest the seizure in the U.S. Federal District Court in Baltimore.

Information from another Freedom of Information Act lawsuit suggests that the DOS failed to follow the recommendations of its own experts on the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) in extending restrictions to Cypriot coins, and then misled Congress about this decision. Other information implicates DOS bureaucrats adding coins to the Chinese MOU even though Chinese officials never asked for their inclusion.

The Obama Administration has promised transparency and accountability in government. ACCG hopes its challenge to the ban on ancient Chinese and Cypriot coins will lead the Court also to address these and other concerns about the process for imposing import restrictions on cultural goods.

During a 2008 International Foundation for Art Research (IFAR) discussion, former CPAC Chairperson Jay Kislak (2003-2008) said, “I am not necessarily against any actions that were taken on any of the MOU’s which were recommended by the Committee and put into action. I am, however, opposed to the way it is done because I think it is absolutely, completely, un-American, and I don’t mind saying that. Not anywhere in our government do we do things this way, except with this group.”

Kislak also addressed government transparency by saying, “In every other branch of government, there is disclosure, and information is made public. We have a democracy, and it is government of the people, for the people, by the people, not by the bureaucrats over them.”
(more…)