Monday, October 11, 2010

Private Property Rights

In a recent comment to this blog the writer says:

"Many collectors oppose the MOU because they feel not having them will somehow incent governments to adopt private property rights for antiquities found on private land."

You can't force a foreign government to change their laws to they way you think they should be. They enact the laws that they feel are in the best interest of their people, and that includes the protection of their cultural heritage. There are even laws right here in the US that will supercede "private property rights". For example, you can't hunt animals out of season, even on your own private property. Each community also has zoning laws that say what people can and cannot build or keep on their private property, and where. Those same zoning laws also say what I can use my property for (residential vs. commercial). Here in the US the government can even take your land from you if they consider it to be for the greater good of the public. You are paid what they consider fair compensation. Not so different from both Greek and Italian laws, where any antiquities found on your "private property" become property of the state, but the finder and/or owner of the property is compensated.

These laws are not so different from the "draconian laws" of other countries. You can own property in both Italy and Greece, just as you can in the US, but in certain instances, like here in the US, the government can tell you what you can and can't do with that property.

Greek law says:

Any person who finds or acquires possession of a movable ancient monument dating up to 1453 shall declare it without undue delay to the nearest archaeological, police or port authority and shall make it available to them. (2002 PACH, Art. 24 (1)) When possession of the antiquity passes to the State, reward shall be paid to the person who made the declaration in accordance with paragraph 1 [of this law]. (2002 PACH, Art. 24 (3))
By a decision of the Minister of Culture, following an opinion by the Council, a permit for possession of an ancient movable monument, the ownership of which belongs to the State, may be granted to a natural or legal person. (2002 PACH, Art. 23 (1))

In addition, Chapter 6 Art. 90 and 91 of Italian law also says that finders must report any finds, and they are paid a reward by the state, and reimbursed for any cost incurred for custody and removal should removal be necessary to ensure the safety of the item.

For links to these laws see here

The writer in the comment in questions also says that "Citizens need to be enticed to stand up to diggers and private ownership is the only proven enticement." Unfortunately, that's not true. Private landowners routinely allow diggers on their property, generally under the agreement to split the proceeds of whatever is found. In cases where the landowner refuses permission, digging often takes place anyway, this is known as "nighthawking".

There is a company in Texas that calls itself the "Texas Amateur Archaeological Association" that actively entices landowners to allow diggers on their land for a fee so they can "find their find of a lifetime". (Sometimes the digging is even done with a backhoe!!) How does private property rights help to deter diggers or protect historical sites?

The Grosby Garret helmet is a perfect case in point. If it was found where stated (and that is up for debate), it was found on private property with the permission of the landowner. The helmet was a rare specimen never found before in that area. The law allowed for it to put put up for sale as quickly as possible, but what could have been learned by further study of both the item and it's "find spot"? For one thing it could have put to rest one way or the other about whether or not that was the true findspot. No study was done. How did private property rights protect this artifact?

Not everyone is falling for the "private property rights" argument. Right now in Egypt there is a group that had filed a complaint with the attorney general and is calling for the cancellation of a television program after the preacher on that program issued a fatwa (religious edict) referring to the sale of antiquities saying that “If it is found on land that you own, or in your house, then it is yours by right and you are not doing anything wrong.” Not only is this contrary to Egyptian law, they argue that the fatwa poses a serious threat to Egyptian history and its national heritage. They consider the ruling as an affirmation of the looting and theft of Egyptian antiquities which are by extension, a part of the world’s heritage.

I agree that in most instances private property rights are a good thing, but in the case of cultural property the idea that "it's mine, I found it on my property, I can do whatever I want with it" is a very shortsighted and selfish position. Cultural remains, even those found on private land, can teach us more about the ancient civilizations that lived in those areas, and that benefits society as a whole. Just because something is found on private property doen't mean it shouldn't be recorded and studied before it is hastily put up for sale.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Why Do We Need An MOU?

There are many reasons why the opponents of the MOU say we shouldn't have one. I thought I'd discuss some of those reasons.

"We simply don't need it"

They all claim to do their due dilligence when they buy something, yet looting continues unabated in all parts of the world. Those looted items have to be going somewhere, and even a brief look at places like ebay tell us where. Despite their protests to the contrary, collectors continue to buy items with no questions asked.

"We should try programs such as the PAS first"

The problem here is that the PAS is totally voluntary. How many finds do you think are actually reported? My educated guess is only a fraction of the total finds. Again, a quick look at ebay gives us the answer. How many coins and other finds from the UK give a PAS database number? In any case whether or not there is a PAS makes no difference to the export procedure (which is what the MOU is about). All archaeological finds from Britain need an export licence to leave the country legally - just like Greece - and whether or not they have been reported to the PAS (or the Scottish Treasure Trove Unit etc.) is not any part of the export process. Also does having a PAS stop UK archaeological sites being dug over and disturbed in the search for collectable and saleable antiquities? In what way does the PAS actually protect sites?

"It's too expensive, time consuming, and would take up too much room to keep all the paperwork accociated with their coins. Time is a commodity".

Yes, time is money, but aren't there always higher costs associated with doing business the right way? If I hire an illegal immigrant to work for me it's cheaper, but then they don't have the same protections and responsibilities of a citizen or legal immigrant. But is it the right thing to do? Many companies go above and beyond the minimum of what the law allows. Not only because it's good for the corporate image, but because it's the right thing to do.

"Those countries are not doing their part to stop the looting at the source, they should focus on the looters instead of the buyers"

If you look at the source countries, many of them are impoverished, and simply don't have the funds to police the sheer volume of historical sites that literally cover their entire countries. Even those that are not considered "third world countries" like Italy, Greece, the UK, and even the US cannot possibly be everywhere at once to stop the illegal digging that is going on. So is it the fault of law enforcement, or the looters that are doing the digging?

We need MOUs because the antiquities market, including coins, has proven unwilling to police itself. Perhaps if that had happened, MOUs such as this wouldn't be necessary.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Greek Intimidation?

According to a post on Paul Barfords blog, Peter Tompa is discussing an email from a Dr. Zoe Kosmidou in which Dr. Kosmidou had the audacity to encourage US archaeologists to support the Greek MOU.

Mr. Tompa says:

"Some might find this troubling. Leaving aside the issue of whether a foreign power ginning up grassroots support for its position is meddling in our administrative processes for securing public comments, there also is the real issue of possible intimidation. It's no secret that U.S. archaeologists depend on the Greek government to issue excavation permits for their work. It's also true that the Greek government can easily monitor the website to determine who has written to support the MOU and who has not done so".


Greek cultural officials should be questioned closely about their lobbying efforts before CPAC takes up consideration of any MOU.

So let's see what happens when we flip that coin (so to speak)and turn this scenario around on Mr. Tompa...

Mr. Tompa is a lawyer licensed to practice law in New Jersey, District of Columbia, and New York. Just as the Greek government can, Peter Tompa has the ability to monitor the public submissions on the website.There is the very real possiblity of intimidation by Mr. Tompa in the form of bogus lawsuits against anyone in those states who would dare speak out in favor of the proposed MOU.

There is no indication that this is actually happening, but the possibility is there, so I think that Mr. Tompa should be formally questioned about this before the CPAC takes his views on the MOU into consideration.

Does that sound fair to you? It doesn't to me either, but it is exactly the same scenario that Tompa himself is suggesting should happen to someone else. Mr. Tompa wouldn't like his name being dragged through the mud on the POSSIBILITY that something COULD happen, but he seems to have no problem doing it to someone else to further his cause. I'm not suggesting that Peter Tompa is or would resort to this behavior, just wondering how he would feel if the tables were turned on him using his own tactics.

Maybe Mr. Tompa should check his own ethics before he questions someone else's.

Mr. Tompa, you owe Dr. Kosmidou an apology.

Friday, September 24, 2010

A New MOU, Same Misinformation

Like other source countries, Greece has now requested a bilateral agreement with the US requesting documentation to prove that items of Greek cultural heritage being brought into the US are not the products of recent looting. Like other MOUs before it, this has caused a flurry of discussion on collector's forums.

It's only logical that so called "source countries" would ask the US for this type of agreement. The US has one of the largest markets for antiquities. Unfortunately that also makes it one of the largest markets for illicit antiquities as well. For some reason, the majority of US collectors just cannot understand that by buying items using the "don't ask- don't tell" method, they are directly contributing to looting in the countries that these items come from.

The most vocal of these collectors seem to be the collectors/dealers of ancient dug up coins. Led by the ACCG, a dealers' lobby, they are fighting tooth and nail against any import restrictions that would include coins, no matter what country is asking, and whipping the collectors into a frenzy in the process.

How could we forget their ridiculous Baltimore coin stunt protesting the Chinese and Cyprus MOUs, how they loaded the collector's forums with misinformation (for more on this see here) and ran a fax campaign to bombard the DOS during the Italian MOU comment period?

This time around, the DOS is only accepting comments via a website they have set up, and those comments are available for all to see. A great deal of them are from the coineys spouting their usual stuff.

Most coins on the market were dug from hoards or are available from long-standing collections.

Greece has not tried systems akin the the UK Treasure Act before seeking restrictions.

Greece already has more coins in its State Collections than it can publish or properly curate

The mere removal of coins from the country does not damage the historical sites of Greece, nor does it remove historical artifacts from the country.

Another favorite that I read is how this MOU would somehow turn regular law abiding citizens into criminals because they own something of Greek origin. What an absurd idea!!

One that struck me as particularly interesting is this one, from a Jack Davis, American School of Classical Studies at Athens:

Even Greece, an EU country with an effective police force and well-organized archaeological service, lacks the means to control the looting of its archaeological sites by law enforcement alone. Every square kilometer in Greece is full of ancient remains that present targets for looters . Hundreds of unexcavated sites each year fall victim to pot hunting and coin hunting, in the course of which irreparable harm is done to Greece's heritage and aspects of its history are made irretrievable. It is the moral and ethical obligation of the United States to do all it can do to fight looting at the other end of the distribution chain, on the demand, rather than supply, side. By supporting Greece's request that the U.S. sign a proposed MOU endorsing the UNESCO agreement of 1970. Other archaeologists will no doubt emphasize the significance of knowing through digging where artifacts are found. The story doesn't stop there. Ancient objects found unburied, on the surface of the earth, also derive their historical importance from us knowing exactly where they come from. Coins, for example, in some periods and places did not circulate far from the places where they were minted. In other instances they did. Whether they did or they did not can be an important indication of the relative strength of an ancient economy. I myself have learned much by mapping patterns in the distribution of coins and other small artifacts over large areas, 50 or more square kilometers in scale. One hardly dispute the fact that holding an ancient coin in one's hand is exciting, even potentially educational. What is not so exciting, however, is being witness, as I have been, to the utter destruction of an ancient settlement inflicted by treasure hunters searching for antiquities. Even coins that can be sold for relatively little profit in flea markets or on the Internet. Whether a million dollar statue or a ten dollar coin is concerned, the same damage to the cultural patrimony of Greece.

Quite the opposite of what the coineys would like us to believe isn't it?

Should this MOU be granted by the US, the rules set forth in the CPIA would apply. This means that items would need either an export permit from Greece, or proof that it was already outside of Greece prior to the date the restriction takes effect. I've written here about what constitutes acceptable proof .

Nothing already in US borders will be affected, no one will automatically become a criminal because they own something Greek, and anything coming into the US will only have to be shown that it was outside of Greece prior to the restrictions (even if it was looted before that). What they are trying to do is curb the looting that is taking place every single day in Greece by making it more difficult for those items to enter the market. Perhaps if people were more concerned with how the antiquities they buy were obtained, and asked those questions of the sellers, MOUs such as this wouldn't be necessary.

For more information on the Greek MOU, see here.

For more information on MOUs in general, see here

The cultural heritage of the Greek people is at stake, and they are trying to protect it from disappearing a piece at a time into the collections of those who don't seem to care how those pieces were obtained. It's time that the US to say that we are not going to allow US citizens to profit, monetarily or otherwise, from what is illegal activity in another country.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Scientific Proof

In a post on Dave Welsh's Ancient Coins blog he states:

"No one has ever advanced scientifically valid evidence demonstrating that private collecting of antiquities actually causes looting. If Mr. Barford desires to establish that point, he would be well advised to adopt an approach that demonstrates that his views are sustained by evidence conforming to the scientific method and by arguments conforming to the rules of logic."

Well, I'm not Paul Barford, but here's some scientific proof for you:

According to the article "Five pre-Columbian artifacts are back in Peru after U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement found the stolen artifacts were being sold on eBay."

Who does Mr. Welsh think was going to buy those stolen artifacts if not collectors? The fact that Mr. Welsh continues to deny that looting is fueled by irresponsible private collecting, despite all logical evidence to the contrary, doesn't mean that it's not happening.

The article goes on to say "The artifacts we have recovered are a significant part of the cultural history of Peru and no one should profit from smuggled antiquities,”. I agree completely! No one, whether in the US or anywhere else should profit from what is illegal activity in another country.

What the article didn't say, and I would very much like to know is what were the legal consequences faced by the owner of the ebay account that had those items listed for sale. Was that person given a slap on the wrist, as has been the case with the Blanding UT defendants so far? Or were they given a harsher sentence that would make others think before they decide to follow the same path?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Back to Reality

Now that we've seen some of the misinformation and scare tactics used by coin collectors and dealers in regard to the Italian MOU, I thought it would be a good time to bring some reality back to the discussion.

First of all, as I said in my earlier post, nothing is being banned, as people would like you to believe. What would be required by the CPIA if this MOU is extended is EITHER an export permit OR proof that the item was exported from Italy prior to the date the restriction goes into effect. In the event that coins are added to the list of items, they would only have to be shown to be out of Italy before the date that restriction goes into effect, and that hasn't even happened yet.

So in the absence of an export permit, what would constitute proof that an item is out of Italy before the date of restriction? Not much really. Here are the requirements copied from this website:

(c) DEFINITION OF SATISFACTORY EVIDENCE.-The term "satisfactory evidence" means-
(1) for purposes of subsection (b)(2)(A)-
(A) one or more declarations under oath by the importer, or the person for whose account the material is imported, stating that, to the best of his knowledge-
(i) the material was exported from the State Party not less than ten years before the date of entry into the United States, and
(ii) neither such importer or person (or any related person contracted for or acquired an interest, directly or indirectly, in such material more than one year before the date of entry of the material; and
(B) a statement provided by the consignor, or person who sold the material to the importer, which states the date, or, if not known, his belief, that the material was exported from the State Party notless than ten years before the date of entry into the United States,and the reasons on which the statement is based; and
(2) for purposes of subsection (b)(2)(B)-
(A) one or more declarations under oath by the importer or the person for whose account the material is to be imported, stating that, to the best of his knowledge, the material was exported from the State Party on or before the date such material was designated under section 305, and
(B) a statement by the consignor or person who sold the material to the importer which states the date, or if not known, his belief, that the material was exported from the State Party on or before the date such material was designated under section 305, and the reasons on which the statement is based.

So what it says is you need is a sworn statement by either the importer or the exporter that the coins were out of Italy prior to the date of restriction, and why they believe that to be true. Boy, sounds darn near impossible, right?

Foreign countries ask the US to enter into a cultural property MOU in an attempt to protect their cultural heritage from the damage done by illegal digging. This is without a doubt fueled by "don't ask-don't tell" collecting. It's not some sinister plot to keep coins out of American collectors' hands. When the US agrees to enter these MOUs we are simply saying "We will do our part to help you protect your cultural heritage by not allowing items that can't be shown to be legally acquired to enter our borders." I don't see anything wrong with that, and it certainly won't mean "the end of collecting if it gets through". There are many MOUs with other countries currently in effect, yet collecting still continues. That will still be the case if the Italian MOU is extended, even if it's amended to include ancient coins.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Scare Tactics and Misinformation

Scare tactics and misinformation seem to be the norm these days in discussion groups all over. A few of my favorite tidbits:

"The Untied States government is about to decide whether cultural property of Italian origin should be restricted from entry into the U.S. unless accompanied by Italian export permits." (

This is false! The will be subject to the same restrictions outlined in the CPIA. You need EITHER an export permit from that country OR proof that the item was out of the country before the date of the restriction.

NOW!!!!" (Dave Welsh)(

Really?? Does anyone other than him actually believe this?? Adding coins to the existing MOU will end coin collecting? The MOU has already been in effect covering other antiquities for a while now, there hasn't been an end to the trade in any other antiquity. This is just a scare tactic to prompt coin collectors who can't be bothered to research what is really going on to quickly send a fax in support of the ACCG.


The only things being banned are coins that either don't have an export permit or can't be proven to be out of Italy before the date the restriction takes effect(and that date hasn't even come yet!)

"Unless you can prove your coins were exported from Italy before 1970 or you have an export permit from the Italian government, your coins could be confiscated and "returned" to Italy."(In an email from Forum Ancient Coins that has circulated the internet)

False again, you would have to prove that the coins were exported from Italy before the date of the restriction.

"We must tell our government that we should not be denied the opportunity to buy ancient coins just because we are American. We must tell our government that our children should not be deprived of learning the learning experience ancient coins provide just because they are American." (Same email from Forum Ancient Coins)

We're not being deprived of anything "because we're American". America does happen to have one of the largest collecting communities, so why wouldn't it be logical for Italy to ask us to help protect their cultural heritage from looting by imposing import restrictions on undocumented items entering our borders?

Thankfully not everyone is buying the hype. Here are 2 comments left by someone on Forum Ancient Coins:

"Now, the argument for import restrictions is precisely that they might help prevent looting by making illegally dug coins and similar portable antiquities much harder to sell. It’s meant to discourage the bad guys. It’s not some vindictive attack on coin collectors nor is it a devious government plot to take away our liberties." (Bill R. Forum Ancient coins)

"Thanks, Alfred, for posting the Sayles blog extract, though I have to say I found it very strange. The idea that there is some vast conspiracy involving the academic archaeological community and ‘nationalist governments’ (whatever they are) is, frankly, bizarre."(Bill R. Forum Ancient Coins)

He was subsequently chastised by the owner of the group, Joseph Sermarini:

"The idea of banning the import of Roman coins into America while continuing to permit trade within the EU is bizarre and anti-American. The restrictions don't apply to the UK. You don't live in America, so the restrictions don't apply to you. We are not discussing banning imports to the UK. You are under the mistaken impression that this is an appropriate place for discussion and debate of this issue. You are under the mistaken impression that it is OK for you, who does not live in the U.S., to express your support here for this bizarre MOU, which does not impact you. It is not." (Joseph Sermarini- owner Forum Ancient Coins)

So much for the open discussion that coin dealers and collectors are always complaining they wish would happen. And if it doesn't impact anyone except those in the US so they are not allowed to express their thoughts, why in the world are members of the ACCG asking everyone from every country to voice their opinion the the US State Dept?

I urge collectors everywhere to do their own research into what the MOU on cultural property with Italy (or any other country) really means and make an informed decision.