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  • Summary of Oct. 27, 2020 CPAC Meeting to Accept Public Comments on Proposed MOU with Nigeria and Proposed Renewals with Bolivia and Greece

Summary of Oct. 27, 2020 CPAC Meeting to Accept Public Comments on Proposed MOU with Nigeria and Proposed Renewals with Bolivia and Greece

October 29, 2020 5:35 PM | Peter Tompa (Administrator)

On October 27, 2020, the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (“CPAC”) met to consider a proposed MOU with Nigeria and proposed renewals with Bolivia and Greece. The following members were present:  (1) Stefan Passantino (Chairman- Public); (2) Steven Bledsoe (Public); (3) Karol Wight (Museums); (4) J.D. Demming (Public); (5) Ricardo St. Hilaire (Archaeology); (6) Joan Connelly (Archaeology) and (7) Anthony Wisniewski (Collector-Sale of International Cultural Property).  Allison Davis, CPAC’s State Department Executive Director, and Catherine Foster, a Cultural Heritage Center staffer, were also present.

In advance of this meeting, there was a major shake-up on CPAC.  The following Obama appointees were removed or resigned:  (1) Adele Chatfield-Taylor (Public); (2) James Reep (Public); and (3) Lothar Von Falkenhausen (Archaeology).  At the last CPAC public session to discuss a renewal the MOU with Italy, von Falkenhausen told ancient coin collectors (who were represented at the meeting) that he believed that they should take up another hobby.  It is unclear if this comment had anything to do with his departure.  President Trump appointed Messrs. Bledsoe and Demming to replace Ms. Chatfield-Taylor and Mr. Reep.  One archaeological slot remains unfilled.

Chairman Passantino welcomed the speakers.  He indicated that the Committee had read all the comments, and that given the large number of speakers, each would only be allowed 3 minutes to focus on points most important to them.  Chairman Passantino called on speakers who had put in papers on Nigeria first, then speakers who had written about Bolivia, and finally Greece.  There was some overlap because some speakers put in papers on more than one topic.  He deferred questions to the end to be assured everyone who registered to speak would be heard.

The following individuals provided public comments:  (1) Tess Davis (Antiquities Coalition); (2) Brian Daniels (Archaeological Institute of America); (3) Kathleen Bickford (Northwestern University); (4) Leslye Amede Obiora (Institute for Research on African Women, Children and Culture); (5) Kate FitzGibbon (Committee for Cultural Policy); (6) Donna Yates (Maastricht University); (7) Maria Bruno (Dickinson College); (8) Kris Lane (Tulane University); (9) Daniel Sedwick (International Association of Professional Numismatists); (10) Peter Tompa (Global Heritage Alliance); (11)  Christos Tsirogiannis (University of Aarhus, Denmark); (12) Kim Shelton (Berkley); (13) Nathan Elkins (Baylor University); (14) Ute Wartenberg-Kagan (Columbia University); (15) Morag Kersel (DePaul University); (16) Dmitry Narkesis (Columbia University); (17) Rocco Dibenedetto (Hahn Loeser- Association of Art Museum Directors); (18) Douglas Mudd (American Numismatic Association); and (19) Randolph Myers (Ancient Coin Collectors Guild).

Tess Davis (TD) indicates that the Antiquities Coalition works with partners in the art market, the U.S. Government and Foreign Governments.  She believes import restrictions help protect the legitimate market.  She denies that import restrictions act as embargoes because they allow listed material into the country that has been documented as being outside the country for which restrictions were provided before those restrictions went into place.  She also believes that U.S. customs should not accept export certificates from other EU governments where objects have been listed for specific EU countries like Greece.  She notes certain EU countries do require export permits within the EU despite the general free circulation of goods within the EU.

The Antiquities Coalition’s written comments can be found here: (Bolivia) (Greece) (Nigeria)

Brian Daniels (BD) focuses on the Fourth Determination under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”), regarding the international exchange of cultural patrimony.  He notes that Nigeria has sent several exhibits to the United States.  Most recently, the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University (Greater Chicago) hosted the 2019 exhibition, Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture, and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa, which displayed the scope of Saharan trade and the shared history of West Africa, the Middle East, North Africa, and Europe from the eighth to sixteenth centuries. This exhibition involved significant loans from Nigeria. It was slated to travel to the National Museum of African Art, Smithsonian Institution (Washington, D.C.) in 2020, but its opening has been postponed due to COVID-19.  He indicates that both Bolivia and Greece have been similarly generous in sending exhibitions to the United States.

The Archaeological Institute of America’s written comments can be found here:

Kathleen Bickford (KB) discusses her role as curator for the Caravans of Gold exhibit for the Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University.  She states Nigeria's request meets all criteria for determinations in favor of cultural property protections. Important cultural patrimony, ranging from fragments to complete objects, continue to emerge from archaeological sites within the country, while objects of more recent date remain within communities and at royal courts, as well as in homes, shrines, and storehouses. These objects are under severe threat from pillage and theft. Despite efforts to curtail the international market for archaeological and traditional objects from Nigeria, including tighter requirements on provenance among North American museums and accelerating debates about the restitution of African objects from the colonial period, there continues to be a high demand in the international art market for cultural heritage objects from Nigeria.  She also indicates there are many fakes on the market.  Finally, she notes that there is much violence in Nigeria and that cultural heritage is a unifying force.

KB’s written comments can be found here:

 Leslye Amede Obiora (LAO) has been a Professor of Law in the United States since 1992.  She previously served as the Minister of Mines and Steel Development for the Federal Republic of Nigeria.  She states cultural heritage issues are human rights issues. LAO indicates there is a cabal of powerful people involved in looting in Nigeria. She believes a MOU will help bolster civil society, and she wonders why it has taken so long for the United States to offer one to Nigeria.

Kate FitzGibbon (KFG) indicates that the Committee for Cultural Policy and Global Heritage Alliance applaud efforts to help Nigeria address looting, but question whether sufficient evidence has been submitted to support entering into a MOU.  There are many Nigerian materials on the market and in private and museum collections, but the vast majority of these materials left Nigeria decades ago.  Most of this material was removed during the colonial era.  Material produced after 1945 is considered touristic in nature.  There is little in the record about Nigerian self-help measures.  KG is concerned that this request is about closing the barn door after the horses have already left.

The CCP’s and GHA’s written comments on the Nigerian MOU may be found here:

The CCP’s written comments about the Greek MOU can be found here:

Donna Yates (DY) indicates that she has tracked illicit Colonial and Republican era Bolivian artifacts. She indicates that while there appears to be less thefts from churches now, it takes years for this material to surface on the market. DY also indicates there is absolutely no social, educational, or scientific benefit to allowing a market for illegally obtained Bolivian cultural objects to exist in the United States. The destruction of the original contexts of these objects in the looting process annihilates our ability to conduct any meaningful archaeological analysis on them. The violent removal of sacred art from churches tears the very fabric that has held small and indigenous communities together for centuries, reducing cultural diversity and survival.

DY’s written comments can be found here:

Maria Bruno (MB) states that Bolivian patrimony remains in jeopardy from pillage through the illicit excavation of archaeological sites with the purpose of selling desired objects. Bolivian governmental and volunteer organizations work tirelessly to protect archaeological sites from destruction and to educate the public on the value of preserving their ancient past.  Local communities also work together to protect their local patrimony from destruction as the revenue generated from tourism to the site provides jobs and contributes to the local pride.

MB’s written comments can be found here:

Kris Lane (KL) shares the archaeologists’ concerns about looting, but thinks coins should be treated differently than other objects, like historic records.  While archives should not be removed from their place of origin, items like coins were not state property and were intended to circulate far from where they were made.  This is certainly the case for coins struck in Bolivia.  The Bolivian gold escudo and silver peso were international currencies.  They were even legal tender in the United States before the Civil War. 

Dan Sedwick (DS) indicates that IAPN supports Bolivian efforts to restore the Potosi mint.  DS provides some history.  Bolivian coins are very common.  DS has always had some in inventory.  Minting in Bolivia begins with hand-struck silver coins in 1573-4 under Spanish dominion and continues through early Republic times starting in 1825 to present day. Throughout these four-and-a-half centuries of minting, most of the coins were the property of rich men back in Spain, not the people of Bolivia, and these coins traveled far from the current boundaries of Bolivia, in fact to all the continents of the earth except Antarctica. DS also notes that IAPN’s submission shows that current Bolivian laws do not explicitly treat coins as cultural heritage.  As for Greece, DS states this renewal should not be an excuse to expand current import restrictions to trade coins that circulated around the ancient world.

The International Association of Professional Numismatists’ and the Professional Numismatists Guild’s written comments can be found here: (Bolivia) (Greece)

Peter Tompa (PT) discusses both the Greek and Bolivian MOUs.  First, as to the proposed renewal of the Greek MOU, he states that this renewal is no excuse to expand current import restrictions.  Those restrictions purport to only apply to coin types that circulated locally in Greece in order to comply with the statutory requirements found in 19 U.S.C. § 2601.  That provision requires that such coins were “first discovered within” and are therefore subject to Greek export controls.  Under no circumstances should CPAC recommend expanding those restrictions to widely circulating trade coins which can be found most anywhere.  Second, CPAC should recognize the obvious ramifications of Greece’s membership in the European Union (“E.U.”). Coins on the current designated list may be traded outside the E.U. with or without an export license according to the local law of Greece’s sister E.U. members. CPAC, the State Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (“CBP”) should honor these E.U. export controls, which, after all, are also binding on Greece as an E.U. member.  Finally, he urges that archaeologists be asked to do their own part too.  CPAC should ensure archaeological missions pay diggers a fair living wage and that they be required to file site security plans which take advantage of modern electronic surveillance technology.  

PT’s full oral statement can be found here:

GHA’s written comments on the Greek MOU can be found here:

GHA’s and CCP’s written comments on the Bolivian MOU can be found here:

Christos Tsirogiannis (CT) has worked with law enforcement, including the DA in New York City and U.S. Homeland Security, to repatriate artifacts to Greece and other countries.  He is also working on a way to detect looted antiquities using new technology.  Recently, Greek police broke up a antiquities smuggling operation in Patras, Greece, that had coins and other artifacts. 

CT’s written comments can be found here:

Kim Shelton (KS) excavates at Nemea.  She has spent sleepless nights in fear of looters.  Economic austerity has made the problem worse.  Coin evidence is important to her work.

Nathan Elkins (NE) supports restrictions on all ancient coins that circulated in quantity in Greece, including trade coins like Athenian Tetradrachms, which currently are not restricted. Looting results in the loss of important contextual information.  Coins can be important dating tools.  They helped date the ruins of an ancient Synagogue he helped excavate in Israel.

NE’s written comments can be found here:

Ute Wartenberg-Kagan (UWK) supports restrictions on all ancient coins that circulated in quantity in Greece.  Coins are among the most frequently looted items. Once taken out of their archaeological context, some of the historical and economic meaning is often lost. Sadly, numismatists are used to working with coins that have no archaeological context, and the fact that there is a finite number of coins in the ground makes their protection all the more important. Unfortunately, the trend is going very much in the wrong direction, and here modern technology enables looting on a scale that has not been seen before. Ever more sophisticated and cheaper metal detectors allow more people to dig up coins. Online sales via eBay, vcoins, Amazon, or in Facebook groups, allow the sale of staggering numbers of coins. On any given day, over 100,000 ancient coins and coin lots are for sale on eBay. MOUs should be considered friends of collectors because they help keep looted material off the market.

UWK’s written comments can be found here:

Morag Kersel (MK) says she was interviewing a collector who had a Cyclodelic figurine which the collector said was worth $1 million.  He indicated now that ancient art is an investment.  MK indicates that the high prices for ancient art helps stimulate looting.

Dmitry Narkesis (DN) has witnessed looting at archaeological digs.  Looting is real problem that impacts archaeology.  It takes a lot of time and effort to try to fight it.

Rocco Dibenedetto (RD) states that the AAMD does not oppose the Greek MOU, but Greece should be held to account for its obligations under Art. II of the current agreement.  One of those undertakings is to facilitate loans of materials to U.S. museums.  Despite Greece’s promises to do so, that has not happened.  The designated list should also be scrutinized to ensure that it only covers archaeological objects over 250 years old. 

The AAMD’s written comments can be found here:

Douglas Mudd (DM) states that current import restrictions have hurt the ANA’s educational mission because foreign scholars have been unwilling to bring their collections to the United States for fear of them being seized by U.S. customs.  Despite import restrictions being renewed over and again, looting remains a problem which suggests they are not working.  DM states that a new paradigm needs to be considered given their failure, one based on Britain’s Portable Antiquities Scheme, which encourages people to report finds with the prospect of a cash award for any coins kept by the government.  While expense is an issue, perhaps aid from wealthy countries can help get these programs going.

The ANA’s written comments can be found here:

Randolph Myers (RM) states there can be no dispute ancient coins circulated in great numbers far from where they were found.  This is detailed in a report appended to the ACCG’s written comments.  This is significant because as recognized by a U.S. District Court import restrictions are only appropriate on archaeological objects both first discovered within and subject to the export control of a specific country. 

The ACCG’s written comments can be found here:

Question and Answer Period

Karol Wight asks LAO about the situation in Nigeria.  LAO states Nigeria is under siege, but that is no reason not to enter into a MOU on its behalf.  She again suggests a MOU is a human rights issue.

Anthony Wisniewski asks TD and DY if they receive foreign government money.  (The State Department recently issued a directive calling for the disclosure of such information.  See  TD states that the Antiquities Coalition does not receive such funding.  DY indicates she receives such funding from the European Union.  (She currently holds a €1.5 million European Research Council grant to study the illicit trafficking of cultural objects.)

Anthony Wisniewski asks UWK if it is unremarkable that Roman or Byzantine coins from the Thessalonica mint can be found in large numbers in today’s Turkey and Albania.  She agrees with this statement.  

Joan Connelly asks KS about what coins have been found at Nemea.  KS indicates that coins from many different Greek cities have been found there probably because it was the center for sacred games.  They also find many different coins at a Christian sanctuary on the site.

Karol Wight asks KB if she has had any other interaction with Nigerian scholars outside her work on exhibits.  KB says all her work has been on exhibits. 

J.D. Demming asks DM to elaborate on his ideas to disincentivize looting. DM states that the U.K.’s Portable Antiquities Scheme incentivizes people to report their finds.  Perhaps there can be a global antiquities scheme with funding from richer countries.

Ricardo St. Hilaire asks LAO about whether she saw any parallels between looting and illegal mining.  LAO says Nigeria recognized that it takes a thief to catch a thief so it invested resources to help illicit miners become clean.  She refers to DM’s statements about PAS and says there may be parallels.


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