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.