Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Some thoughts about Cultural Property

It seems like the battle over "cultural property" has become a circus act, much like life in general these days.  As one who has always had a serious interest in the past, and all that goes with that, it seems adversarial to me when someone says that I don't have a right to enjoy the past in the same way that someone with academic credentials does.  I earned a Masters Degree in a field related to the past, have written more than a dozen books and hundreds of articles about the past, have received numerous awards from prestigious organizations for the work that I have done in that field and even have a vibrant following on  To me, the fact that I have chosen not to follow the path of professional academia, within the confines of an institution, does not make me an "outsider" when it comes to research, education and appreciation of cultures here and abroad.  Some elements of the academic community see that in a different light and to their credit have amassed a propaganda machine that has rarely been equaled in the history that I love to study and learn from.  They have big money, big government, big egos and pretty much get what they want.

What they don't get, is the benefit of millions of equally intelligent people in the world who are very willing to share their interests and knowledge.  That is not just a sad day for "them", it is a sad day for all of society.  Soon to become an octagenarian, I have seen the world change in many ways.  Some of them have been amazing, some heartwarming, and some baffling.  I have been able to asorb and adapt to virtually all of them, but my mind is unable to grasp the logic that academia pursues these days in it's perceived battle for survival.  Nobody is willing to erase the role of academia, not even the most ardent cultural property internationalist.  But academia is no longer the friend of knowledge for knowledge sake.

I, for one, will not be around to see what the next century brings.  Maybe not to see what the next decade brings.  One thing that I have absolute surety about in my mind today is that this cultural property war can lead to nothing good for society.

There is a strong movement these days to repatriate all cultural property to the lands from which it came.  Since the UNESCO definition of cultural property includes virtually everything made by the hand of a civilization, this is a problematic ideology.  When someone from 19th century China sells a handmade object to buyers around the globe, does that mean that in our age all of those items should go back to China?  What about objects of the 18th century?  Is 250 years a realistic, though entirely arbitrary bar?  How long has legitimate commercial trade been sending objects helter-skelter around the globe?  Does every buyer of an object from beyond their own culture need to create a record of provenance for that item?  Who really owns the things in our homes that we look at and enjoy every day?  The scope of the problem is so vast that nobody has an answer and academia is trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.

The dialogue these days is unrealistic and will ultimately run its course as all bad ideas generally do.  Sadly, that may be too late to undo the damage that has already been wrought between society at large and the academic community.  I wish that weren't the case.

Sunday, April 28, 2019

True Journalism

Media in our day and age has a profound effect on the mood of our country and the path taken by citizens and legislators as well.  In recent years, some have questioned whether the Media has not become too active as an agent of specific points of view rather than a medium for dissemination of facts and events.  In the process of doing research for a local historical project, I came across a short but delightful comment in the Shelbina Democrat, the news medium for Shelby County Missouri in the 19th century.  In a gratious sense of fairness, the newspaper lauded a competitor, the Troy Free Press, for its openmindedness and adherence to a standard of fairness.  To the Shelbina staff, this was "True Journalism".  I would agree.

One might wish that the media of our own time was so magnanimous and the industry so dedicated to their purpose.

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Virtual CPAC Meeting on Algerian MOU Request and Honduran and Bulgarian Renewals

By Peter K. Tompa
July 31, 2018
On July 31, 2018, the U.S. Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) held a “virtual” meeting where all speakers were linked via an internet based video platform.  According to my notes, at least the following CPAC members were in attendance at the State Department:  (1) Karol Wight (Museum); (2) Lothar von Falkenhausen (Archeology); (3) Nancy Wilkie (Archaeology); (4) Rosemary Joyce (Archaeology); (5) Dorit Straus (Trade); (6) Adele Chatfield-Taylor (Public); and (7) Jeremy Sabloff (Public-Chair).   Jim Willis (Trade) attended via videoconferencing. 
Cari Enav, who runs the Cultural Heritage Center, made introductions.  Andrew Cohen, who is the executive director for CPAC, provided the speakers with information about the 4 determinations CPAC was required to make before recommending a MOU or an extension.   Dr. Sabloff indicated speakers should take these requirements into account in their presentations. He then introduced the CPAC members before calling speakers for the Algerian MOU.
Algerian MOU
There were six (6) speakers:  (1) Kate FitzGibbon (Committee for Cultural Policy (CCP) and Global Heritage Alliance (GHA); (2) Peter Tompa (International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN)/Professional Numismatist’s Guild (PNG); (3) Gina Bublil-Waldman (Jews Indigenous to the Middle East and Africa (JIMENA); and (4) Carole Basri (Fordham Law School).  No speakers appeared to argue for the MOU.
Kate FitzGibbon- CPAC initially only recommended MOUs on a narrow range of artifacts from a limited number of poor countries.  Today, MOUs close off entire areas from collecting.  Even worse, the State Department has recognized the claims of nation states to property that has been expropriated from fleeing Jews and Christians.  Ms. FitzGibbon acknowledges that recent Libyan import restrictions have been rewritten to remove references to Jewish items, but states that most, if not all, would still be restricted under more general coverage for Ottoman items.  The only way to ensure that artifacts of repressed minorities will not be subject to seizure is with a specific exclusion.  The problem can also be avoided if the State Department adheres to the definition of ethnological objects in the Cultural Property Implementation Act.  Algerian Jewish artifacts are not the products of preindustrial or tribal cultures and should be beyond the scope of coverage under the CPIA. 
Peter Tompa- This is yet another troubling request from an authoritarian North African government which is all the more problematic because Algeria seeks recognition of its rights to objects associated with its displaced Christian and Jewish populations.  This issue potentially impacts unprovenanced coins now in French collections.  (Algeria’s French “Pied Noir” and Jewish populations mainly fled to France after Algeria gained its independence.)  There is a real question whether Algeria’s patrimony is in jeopardy as no information has been provided whether coins are being found with metal detectors.  If they are, they need to be regulated as a less drastic remedy than import restrictions.  The UK Treasure Act and Portable Antiquities Scheme is IAPN/PNG’s preferred model for regulation.  If restrictions are recommended for coins, such restrictions must be limited to those “first discovered within” and hence “subject to export control” of Algeria.  Here, while there is some room for debate as to whether “local currency” issued at Cirta, Icosium (Algiers), Hippo Regius and Iol-Caesaria is exclusively found within the confines of modern day Algeria, coins of the Numidian and Mauritanian kingdoms, and the Carthaginian, Roman, Byzantine and Islamic Empires circulated well beyond the boundaries of modern day Algeria.  One cannot simply assume such coins were actually found in Algeria and hence are subject to Algerian export controls. 
Gina Bubill-Waldman- Ms. Waldman was driven from her home in Libya as a child.  She believes that these MOUs are a cynical tactic created to deny North African and Middle Eastern Jews patrimony and assets which were stolen from Jewish people when they were brutally expelled. The Libyan MOU has set a very dangerous and unjust precedent for countries who erase Jewish heritage by claiming it as their own, when Jews, the people who actually created it, have been hunted and expelled. Because these MOUs were passed without specifically excluding Jewish items, Jewish patrimony can now become the patrimony of the same governments which have destroyed, looted and harassed their now extinct Jewish communities.  CPAC is charged with the important job of protecting patrimony of antiquities. But by passing this type of MOU, CPAC would in fact be endorsing the opposite of what its mission tries to achieve: preservation of historical property by its proper owners. This MOU seeks to make the American government unwittingly collude with the thieves who stole, destroyed and defaced the Jewish-Algerian patrimony in the first place.

Not a single one of the Middle Eastern and North African countries from Morocco to Yemen, from Iraq to Egypt has earned the right to call thousands year old Jewish patrimony their own. Not after expelling their Jewish population, confiscating what was rightfully Jewish property, desecrating, looting, destroying synagogues and purposefully building skyscrapers on top the cemetery where Ms. Waldman’s grandparents are buried, like in Tripoli, Libya. 
Carole Basri- Ms. Basri is of Iraqi-Jewish heritage.  She authored a law review article about the harsh treatment of Iraqi Jews.  The property of Jews living in MENA countries was expropriated under color of law.  Such laws are against our own scruples as well as the UN Declaration on Human Rights.  There were originally 1 million Jews in Arab countries.  Jewish artifacts do not fit the definition of ethnological objects under the CPIA and should not be subject to detention and seizure. Jewish people were city dwellers and the cities where they lived were neither pre-Industrial nor tribal in nature.  The U.S. Government should not work with governments that have forcibly removed their Christians and Jews. 
Cari Enav interjects that new Libyan restrictions do not mention Jewish property so such property should be excluded from any import restrictions.  Kate FitzGibbon states that Jewish property is still included in the Libyan MOU because most Jewish property cannot be distinguished with what is otherwise described as Ottoman in the import restrictions.  That is why an explicit exemption is required.  All this could be avoided if the State Department followed the CPIA strictly and did not consider Jewish artifacts to be ethnological in nature. 
Honduran Renewal
There were three (3) speakers:  (1) Rocco Debitetto (Association of Art Museum Directors (AAMD)}; (2) Kate FitzGibbon (CCP and GHA); and (3) Peter Tompa (IAPN and PNG).   No speakers representing the archaeological community appeared.
Rocco  Debitetto- AAMD supports the renewal with reservations.  Honduras needs to be held to account in Article II.  There needs to be long term loans.  The designated list is too broad and needs to be reformed to ensure that only archaeological and ethnological material as defined in the CPIA are covered.
Kate FitzGibbon- CCP and GHA oppose renewal of the MOU.  Honduras has been given blanket restrictions for 15 years.  It has not used this time productively.  Most of the budget for cultural heritage preservation stays in the capital rather than being used to protect sites on a local level.  The US House of Representatives has asked for an accounting of self-help measures as part of its authorization of funds.  Too much archaeologically sensitive land is being illegally used for cattle farms with nothing being done about it.   No more than $600-$700 is spent on sites per year.  There is little or no market for Honduran artifacts in the US. 
Peter Tompa- This MOU renewal raises the same issues for coin collectors as the recent Ecuadorian request.  Honduran historical coins cannot be considered either archaeological or ethnological objects. They were produced in industrial processes not consistent with them being ethnological objects.  Such coins circulated along with other Spanish Colonial coins throughout the Americas and beyond including the United States.  They should not be subject to restrictions. 
Karol Wight asks about AAMD’s recommendations.  Mr. Debitetto indicates a major one is one point of contact for loans.
Jim Willis asks Kate FitzGibbon about illegal exports from Honduras. Ms. FitzGibbon states it is difficult to answer that question because there is a lack of information. 
Bulgarian Renewal
There were three (3) speakers:  (1) Kate FitzGibbon (CCP and GHA); (2) Josh Knerley (AAMD); and (3) Peter Tompa (IAPN and PNG).   No speakers representing the archaeological community appeared.
Kate FitzGibbon- The Bulgarian designated list is all-inclusive and needs to be reformed to comply with the CPIA.  It includes many repetitive items that are not of cultural significance like coins, necklaces and beads.  Bulgaria has sorely neglected its archaeological sites.   Substantial EU funds have been wasted in archaeologically unsound rebuilding projects.  Very few Bulgarian artifacts aside from coins are of interest to collectors.  Coins are mass produced and not of cultural significance under the CPIA.  Bulgaria has not satisfied Article II of the MOU’s requirement that export permits be issued.  There is a lack of rigorous police enforcement. 
Josh Knerly- There is a major problem with the designated list.  The designated list can only restrict items authorized under the MOU.  Here, the MOU only authorizes restrictions on ecclesiastical objects from 681 AD forward, but the designated list restricts ecclesiastical items dating from the 4th Century AD.  This highlights much greater problems in how designated lists are prepared. 
Peter Tompa- Tompa produces a ruler to make a point.  A ruler goes from one inch to 12 inches.  We can all agree that some things like murder would be “12” on a scale.  But what about looting?  Many people would consider it a “1” on a scale, akin to a traffic violation.  That certainly is the case in Bulgaria where there are large numbers of treasure hunters and where the authorities themselves have been involved in looting.  Given this reality, it makes no sense to continue the MOU which only denies American coin collectors access to the same sorts of coins available elsewhere including Bulgaria itself.   If CPAC nonetheless approves a renewal, it should reform the designated list to limit restrictions on coins.  Moreover, CPAC should recognize that EU countries like Bulgaria are bound by EU export controls.  CPAC should recognize legal exports from EU countries of coins on the Bulgarian designated list.


If this isn't indicative of a total breakdown in the legislative process, then the process is not assailable.  I find it painful to believe my own conclusion within the Democracy that I have spent the majority of my 75 years defending in the U.S. Military and in various civilian leadership positions.  What the situation has come down to is that opponents of MOUs on incidental items of cultural heritage, those who have read and support the current legisation (CCPIA) protecting those items, have been marginalized by bureaucratic manipulation in support of a vicious and monied advocate for cultural dominance.  Isn't it ironic that a law that defends private ownership and trade is used in an orchestrated attempt to destroy it?  All the good that has come from ancient coin collecting over the past 600 years and more is being slandered and dismissed by this Marxist academic coterie with a self serving agenda.  The fact that no academic members bothered to comment in this Virtual meeting, is simply confirmation that it isn't necessary.  Do they oppose? No, they support.  Why then do they not comment?  Because they know full well what the outcome will be and don't even want to waste the time expounding on their views.  They certainly, do not want to waste any time in a debate since they feel they have already won the day.  Isn't that the very height of arrogance?  It is not too far afield from the arrogance that German citizens experienced in the 1930s.  Ironic also, is the fact that supposed liberal idealogists could be so close in reality to the repressors of the past.  I have repeatedly called in public meeting at the State Department for the rule of law.  That call has been ignored.  When will Congress finally have enough of this and end the disaster in Foggy Bottom?

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

This Day in History

It's been exactly one year since my last post here, both that one and this motivated by a singular event seventy-four years ago.  Of all the days that have come and gone in those intervening years, what would make this one stand out so boldly?  It has been a life-changing event for many people—both then and now.  

On this day in 1944, at a tiny bungalow in the suberbs of Waukesha, Wisconsin, I was a chubby-cheeked, curly-haired, lad barely learning to walk.  It was the day after Easter and winter was whispering farewell.  War was raging in Europe and the Pacific— not that anyone could tell by the idyllic simplicity of our lives.  It would be several years before I would see my first television and I only faintly remember the existence of a radio at that time.  One single light bulb hung by a twisted wire in the center of our small living room and our only source of water was a hand-pump in the yard outside.  I do remember, as a very small child, that we had a wringer-type washing machine and the rotation of the agitator fascinated me.  Equally fascinating was the weekly gathering of family members who played a variety of musical instruments.  It was a wonderful environment in which to grow.  Little did I know then, or for many years after that time, how many young men sacrificed their lives for me and those of my generation to enjoy that privilege.

William Edward Cramsie was one of those heroes.  He was endowed with exceptional talent, superb social skills, outstanding leadership qualities and boundless dedication.  Bill was good at everything he chose to undertake—graduating at the top of his High School class, top 8% of his West Point class of June 1943 and considered by many of his fellow pilots in the 416th Bomb Group to be the best formation flyer in the Group.  By his fourth combat mission, he had already been chosen to fly on the left wing of the formation leader.  That was a position of considerable honor and responsibility, not to mention danger.  German gunners preferred to target the leading aircraft in a formation.  That fourth mission, on April 10, 1944, was a disaster for Bill Cramsie and his crew.  Hit twice by flak from the German 88mm cannons, they lost an engine over France and began losing altitude as they headed back across the English Channel on one engine toward their base at Wethersfield.  Only a few miles from land, their A-20 Havoc could carry them no further.  They went down in Bradwell Bay and neither plane nor crew were ever found.

Each passing year the technological advances in underwater search make it more likely that these young men will be located and honored appropriately.  We long for that day and continue to honor their sacrifice by heralding their achievements and the service of all who flew or worked with them during those trying times.  The background and details of this sad but inspiring saga, are covered at and in the 416th web site at as well as the 416th Facebook page at .

 Note:  This entry was written for the Cramsie blog cited above,  but Google has seen fit to post it here on the Ancient Coin blog and I can't find a way to get it transferred.  So, if you are looking for coin comments -- sorry :-( 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

More Verification of Fake News

Several months ago I cited a 78-page  Dutch National Police Investigation report that criticized Fake News in the media.  In particular, this investigation debunked the outrageous claims of Cultural Property Nationalists, many of whom are American Institute of Archaeology members or colleagues, that the funding of ISIS is (or was) derived in large measure by the looting and sale of cultural artifacts.  As I stated earlier, this claim was not universally supported within the archaeological community, but it did garner the support and encouragement of some "big name" leaders in that field.  It was clearly a text book example of the "big lie" syndrome that was eagerly disseminated by the media without even rudimentary verification.

An indepth study by MIT scholars, recently reported in The Atlantic,  analyzed some 126,000 contested news stories that surfaced on Twitter.  Their finding has undeniably confirmed that the propensity to lie or grossly exaggerate in the media, and consequently online, has risen to alarming proportions.  I suppose that some Archaeologists might feel vindicated in that they were just following the Pack while creating and feeding on the fallout from those Fake News claims of ISIS marketing through the antiquities trade.  Of course the lies were not innocent little barbs, they were extremely destructive and irreversible.   This abdication of professional ethics is in itself a serious cause for concern and could well lead to a backlash that those guilty of supporting had not anticipated.

Friday, September 01, 2017

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire...

The Committee for Cultural Policy has pointed out on several past occasions that exaggerated media reports, of Islamic State (ISIS) income from the sale of looted antiquities to art and coin collecting communities, are and have from the start been unfounded.  The persistence of outright lies has cast a cloud over the credibility of several major media outlets and their academic "experts" who fed the flame for what is obviously an ideological anti-trade agenda.  In their August 2017 newsletter, the CCP presents a report on the findings of a Dutch National Police investigation that flatly debunks this supposed collusion.  In all fairness, similar findings have been reported by respectable archaeologists who value truth over public brainwashing—for what some believe to be the "greater good".  Sadly, these laudable professionals have rarely been quoted and certainly are not heralded by their more radical peers.  Who could ever have imagined that Cultural Property Nationalists would lead Archaeology down such a destructive path?