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CPAC Public Session on Egyptian MOU

by Peter Tompa

June 26, 2014 – CPAC Chair Prof. Patty Gerstenblith (PG, DePaul, Public Representative) began by thanking all speakers or those who had provided comments to CPAC. She also suggested that the speakers touch on one or more of the four determinations for regular restrictions. The following CPAC members were present: Katherine Reid (KR, Cleveland Museum (retired)-Museum); Nina Archabal (NA, Minn. Historical Society-Museum); Marta de la Torre (MT- Florida International University, Public); James Willis (JW, James Willis Tribal Art-Trade); Nancy Wilkie (NW-Carlton College, Archaeology); Barbara Bluhm Kaul (BK,Trustee, Art Institute of Chicago- Public); Jane Levine (JL, Sotheby’s Compliance Department (ex-prosecutor)- Trade); and Rosemary Joyce (RJ,U. Cal., Berkley-Anthropology); Lothar von Falkenhausen (LF, UCLA-Anthropology), and Thomas Murray (TM, Thomas Murray Arts-Trade). KR, NW and JW also served under the Bush Administration. The others are Obama Appointees though PG and MT also served the Clinton Administration. There was also staff present including CPAC Executive Director Maria Kouroupas and Committee archaeologists.

The following individuals spoke: (1) David O’Connor (DO, American Research Center in Egypt); (2) Laurel Bestock (LB, Brown University); (3) Douglas Boin (DB, Saint Louis University); (4) Elizabeth Varner (EV, Lawyer’s Committee for Cultural Heritage Preservation); (5) Peter Tompa (PT, International Association of Professional Numismatists and the Professional Numismatists Guild; (6) Wayne Sayles (WS, Ancient Coin Collectors’ Guild); (7) Carmen Arnold-Biucchi (CB, Harvard University); (8) Alan Safani (AS, International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art; (9) Monica Hanna (MA, Egyptologist and activist; (10) Sarah Parcak (SP, University of Alabama at Birmingham); and (11) Brian Daniels (BD, Penn Cultural Heritage Center).

DO- Looting was under control in Egypt before the Revolution. An MOU is necessary to address recent looting. Egyptian authorities are also facing reduced resources. The American Research Center has been active in Egypt since 1948. There has been a long and successful history of collaboration with Egyptian colleagues. The Center has trained hundreds in conservation. DO in response to a question from MT indicates that most who have trained still work in the public sector. In response to a question from JW, DO indicated the Center has paid for site guards. During the revolution, looter’s pits appeared at the group’s sites. The police were initially slow to respond, but now an armored vehicle protects the site. In response to a question from NW, DO indicates site security is an Egyptian responsibility under the terms of the Center’s excavation permits, but the Center is now funding guards. In response to a question from LF, DO indicated that stability and the economy need to improve before problems will end. DO further discusses conservation efforts in response to a question from MT. DO believes funding for conservators has had the greatest impact. In the past, the Center hired North American conservators, but that is no longer necessary. The Center pays the conservator’s salary when they are working on Center projects. These individuals are government employees seconded to the Center. NA asks about political instability. DO states despite the problems, he is optimistic about the future. JL observes that what Egypt really needs is dollars.

LB- Goes on 5 week excavation seasons. She goes with five staff and hires 100 locals. Extra site security is needed. LB found a cache of 300 Ptolemaic large bronzes. It seems to be a ritual deposit. They were helpful in dating the site. Egyptian authorities helped protect them from looting. Looters appeared at her site, but were driven off by locals. None were caught. TM asked about the coin hoard. They appear to all be minted in Egypt. They appear to be a votive deposit. The 300 coins weighed approximately 15 kg. TM wonders about educating the local people about protecting antiquities. He’s concerned that there have been calls within Egypt to destroy them as pagan idols. LB believes that hiring local workers helps encourage them to protect antiquities.

DB is concerned about the use of unprovenanced manuscripts by American papyroligists. He believes many are harvested from the inside of “paper mache” mummy masks. He specifically mentions the “Jesus Wife” and Sappho manuscripts. NW observes that the AIA has lobbied the American Society of Papyrology about its publication of manuscripts harvested from such sources.

EV believes that Egypt has satisfied the criteria for a MOU. There is serious looting. Egypt has demonstrated its commitment to preserving its patrimony. ICOM’s Red List was an early effort to help. Many countries have signed the UNESCO Convention and/or have interdicted looted Egyptian artifacts so the concerted international response is met. Looting cannot all be stopped at the source. NA acts about Egyptian self-help measures. EV believes Egypt is doing what it can.

PT’s oral statement can be found here. We should all be concerned that news reports suggest the MOU is a done deal. At most, CPAC should recommend restrictions on Pharaonic material of cultural significance and later site specific material. Coins should be excluded. It does not appear that metal detectors are in wide use so it’s unlikely many are being found. Ptolemaic coins circulated within an Empire that reached beyond Egypt. Roman Egyptian Tetradrachms also appear to have travelled given finds in the UK and in Eastern Europe. These coins should not be restricted because one cannot assume they are found in the confines of modern day Egypt. LF asks about how PT knows the MOU is a done deal. PT responds he only knows what he reads in the newspapers, and that Egyptian State media quoted a US Embassy official that seemed to suggest as much. LF believes that the fact that Egyptian coins are found outside of Egypt helps prove they are significant enough to restrict. JW counters that “speech” by noting the coin issue is a very difficult one. PG asks about Egyptian Tetradrachms. She wanted to know if they represented a relatively small number of PAS finds. PT agreed, but argued there were enough to suggest the coins regularly circulated outside of Egypt. RJ asked about documenting ancient coins. PT indicated the sheer numbers make that difficult to do. He also noted that the documentation requirements do not impact Europeans and that is where most coins are being imported from.

WS has been a coin dealer for some 50 years. The ACCG has not opposed MOUs per se. The ACCG does oppose import restrictions on coins. Coin collecting is an avocation. The ACCG has some 22 member clubs and represents the interests of about 50,000 ancient coin collectors. At WS’s last appearance before CPAC when the Greek restrictions were being discussed, WS reminded CPAC that if collectors are expected to follow the law, the State Department should too. MT asks WS about his written statement that Egypt is not adequately protecting archaeological sites. WS indicated that was his perception based upon what he has read. NW asks about coin circulation. WS indicates that the Ptolemaic closed currency system was a matter of keeping foreign coins “out” not Ptolemaic coins “in” the Empire. He also noted that Roman Egyptian Tetradachms had an equivalent silver content to one denarius so it makes sense that they circulated. RJ asked if you can know whether a coin is illicit from looking at it. WS indicated that would be difficult. She also asked about documentation. WS indicated this documentation was difficult to provide as a practical matter. RJ indicated she regularly records shards.

CB favors restrictions on all coins as long as they were first discovered in Egypt. CB acknowledged that other coins circulated in Egypt that were not struck in Egypt. Early coins circulated due to their intrinsic value. Coins are important because they are issued by governments. BK asked how customs officials will be able to tell them apart. CB indicates she has already consulted with Customs officials about coin seizures. She noted the Ptolemy’s also struck coins at other mints outside of Egypt. CB also indicated that more valuable coins are more likely to have a provenance. For lesser coins, this is more “difficult.” She indicated collectors need to be educated about the importance of retaining this information. It is wrong to assume a coin is found where it was struck. Sometimes, like with early coins from S. Italy, you can make such an assumption. You cannot make such an assumption with coins of Alexander the Great. Gold and silver coins tended to circulate; bronze stayed closer to home.

AS is a third generation dealer. His family originally came from the Middle East. IADAA have seen no increase in material available since 2011. Egypt’s most pressing problem is combatting religious extremists who see ancient artifacts as pagan material that should be destroyed. AS also questions Egypt’s self-help measures. Egypt only appears interested to the extent that tourist dollars are also involved. He also states that artifacts were legally sold within Egypt decades ago with no effective export controls. Issuance of export documents was “haphazard.” Any documentation that was provided contained only very basic descriptions of the artifact. AS is not surprised that such documentation would be lost or discarded over time as it would not be considered important. JL asks about the impact of the Shultz case on the market for Egyptian artifacts. AS indicated that this case prompted high end dealers to only deal in artifacts that can be traced back to 1983, the date of Egypt’s patrimony law. AS acknowledges the CPIA calls for a far more recent date. AS wonders why Egypt would “shoot itself in the foot” by asking for import restrictions. JW asks about orphan artifacts. AS believes the orphan artifact issue relates to the 1970 date. 1983 is the crucial date for Egyptian artifacts. One CPAC member noted MOUs may help educate Egyptians about their cultural patrimony. In discussing the issue further, JL observes that import restrictions will not impact Egypt’s patrimony law. AS does not think a MOU will make Egyptians more likely to take care of their own cultural patrimony. AS deals in high-end material. AS knows nothing about eBay and will not venture to guess about this type material.

MH hands out her presentation which shows pictures of the aftermath of looting. She maintains that organized gangs are responsible for looting. Coptic and even Islamic material is at risk. Looters look for all sorts of material including coins. Bedouins smuggle material through the Saini to Israel. Guards need better training. JL wonders whether the threat of criminal prosecution has kept material from the US market. MH maintains material on eBay is looted. The UAE is another place where looted material goes. MH is meeting with UAE officials to get this stopped. TM finds it hard to believe there is some grand conspiracy between looters in Egypt and dealers in the US. He wonders about all the US aid that has been given and whether some of that can be used to protect archaeological sites. He also thinks that archaeologists have an obligation to reach out to local communities. RJ asks MH if the entire market in Egyptian artifacts should be shut down. MH indicates she is only interested in shutting down the market in material that left Egypt after 1983. She believes the trade should be ended until the looting emergency gets under control. RJ also asks if MH if she is against encroachment of archaeological land by cemeteries because it damages the sites or it keeps them from being excavated by archaeologists. She indicates the latter. BK asks about the government. MH indicates she has spoken to both presidential candidates about the issue. The real need is security. BK notes that a MOU would not stop artifacts from leaving Egypt’s borders. MK says there are already 12,000 security guards. Heritage awareness needs to be raised. USAID needs more programs. She has met with UAE officials to stop artifacts from going there. BK asked who funds MK’s organization. MK indicates they are all volunteers. They use Social Media and Facebook.
 
SP discusses her work evaluating looting from satellite images. The Society for American Archaeology and National Geographic have funded her work. Remote sensing has been used to survey sites since satellite imagery became widely available in 1999. A comparison of that imagery from before the Arab Spring and after the Arab Spring shows that looting has increased dramatically. There are 100’s of new looter’s pits. High resolution satellite pictures dating from 2002 have allowed this work. Looting has worsened since 2011. The MOU is vital to address this problem. TM wonders if the archaeological community is being “melodramatic” about the looting, particularly about the estimates of the value of antiquities illegally removed from sites. He also wonders if this is undercutting otherwise useful work. SP explains her methodology further. She states that based on knowledge of the site, each site is given a percentage of high status and low status tombs and values assigned accordingly. She thinks they may be actually undercounting to a certain extent because there is more looting than what can be seen from counting holes. She is comfortable with a figure to the billions. She also believes the types of materials that are looted are the types of materials found on line. KR asks if the police were given her data. SP indicates that the Egyptian Antiquities Authority was provided with the data. SP does not have a direct channel to the Egyptian police. NA wonders whether the political situation will preclude protecting sites. SP thinks we need to be optimistic the Egyptians will get things under control.

BD believes information garnered from the media indicates the Egyptians are trying to protect their own archaeological sites. The Italian Caribinieri have provided some training. There are approximately 12,000 site guards, not an insignificant number. The guards make only $40 per month. They need better training. Professionalism also needs to be fostered. The emergence of groups (such as MH’s) is a positive development. MT wants to know where all this looted material is going. BD acknowledges it has not appeared in quantity yet, but thinks it will take 3-5 years to flow through the system. BD acknowledges we still have not seen much Iraqi material on the market. MT wonders if looting is done on commission. BD indicates he would not be surprised if there was some. TM wonders if it is going to the Gulf states and Russia. He also wonders if there is a chance such material does not exist. BD indicates there would be no reason for looting if it did not exist. NA hopes there will be efforts to educate the Egyptian populace. BD indicated he supports foreign archaeologists helping to pay for security. They should also make sure their reports are also translated into Arabic.

With that PG thanked everyone for their comments and called a recess to allow the speakers to leave the room.

If you are interested in cultural property issues don’t miss to check out Peter Tompa’s blog Cultural Property Observer.

This article was originally posted there on June 9, 2014.

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