Ratcheting Down the Antiquities (and Drug) Wars

The NYT has an article suggesting President Obama’s choice for “drug czar” (the head of the Office of National Drug Control Policy) could substantially alter federal drug policy in positive ways (my emphasis):

The anticipated selection of Chief Kerlikowske has given hope to those who want national drug policy to shift from an emphasis on arrest and prosecution to methods more like those employed in Seattle: intervention, treatment and a reduction of problems drug use can cause, a tactic known as harm reduction. Chief Kerlikowske is not necessarily regarded as having forcefully led those efforts, but he has not gotten in the way of them.

Under John P. Walters, the drug czar during most of the administration of President George W. Bush, the drug office focused on tough enforcement of drug laws, including emphases on marijuana and drug use among youths. The agency pointed to reductions in the use of certain kinds of drugs, but it was criticized by some local law enforcement officials who said its priorities did not reflect local concerns, from the rise of methamphetamine to the fight against drug smuggling at the Mexican border.

 There has never been a “war” on antiquities looting which could approach the America’s often wrong-headed illegal drug policy.  But it’s hard not to notice the parallels between the potential shift in American policy on drugs and the efforts of the Portable Antiquities Scheme, which has achieved some notable policy successes by taking a pragmatic approach, aimed at similar kinds of “harm reduction”.  
One of the weaknesses with prohibitionism is it restricts supply, without taking account of the potential demand.  This makes the targeted trade — whether it’s drugs or guns or antiquities — this makes the illegal trade  more profitable, allowing better more sophisticated tactics to evade law enforcement.  There’s a good argument I think that some prohibition helps create and incentivize large-scale criminal operations and organized crime networks. 
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"it’s got great historical significance and ought to be returned.”

So says Patty Gerstenblith, quoted in today’s New York Times article detailing the efforts of China to prevent the sale of two bronzes taken during the burning of the imperial Summer Palace in 1860:

Liu Yang, a Beijing lawyer who is helping to organize the lawsuit threatened in France, said he had located a descendant of China’s royal family to serve as plaintiff in the case.


“The Old Summer Palace, which was plundered and burnt down by Anglo-French allied forces during the Second Opium War in 1860, is our nation’s unhealed scar, still bleeding and aching,” Mr. Lui said. “That Christie’s and Pierre Bergé would put them up for auction and refuse to return them to China deeply hurts our nation’s feelings.”


Mr. Liu also asserted that the sale would violate a 1995 United Nations convention governing the repatriation of stolen or illegally exported cultural relics.


But Patty Gerstenblith, a professor of law at DePaul University in Chicago who specializes in cultural-property issues, said that France never ratified the convention and that even if it had, the agreement does not apply retroactively to objects looted decades or centuries ago.


“My view is this was looted, but it would be difficult to get that legally back,” she said in a telephone interview on Monday. “But it’s got great historical significance and ought to be returned.”


Professor Gerstenblith suggested that one solution might be for the Yves Saint Laurent and Pierre Bergé Foundation to negotiate with China and offer it at a reasonable price. “It would probably be in the best interest of everybody if they made a deal privately with China,” she said.

Previous posts on this dispute here and here.  

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Nighthawking Report Published: Illegal Metal Detecting Has Decreased

The long-awaited report upon the impact of illegal metal detecting (“nighthawking”) conducted by Oxford Archaeology on behalf of English Heritage, is now available from  the Historic Environment Local Management website.  It appears that illegal metal detecting in England has declined since 1995, the point at which soon after, in 1997, the Portable Antiquities Scheme first began its efforts.

Ownership declaration is an important legal strategy undergirding the protection of heritage; but this declaration in isolation does not necessarily create the best cultural heritage policy. Effectively guarding every archaeological site is impossible given limited resources. The looting of corresponding sites elsewhere in the World, particularly in North and South America is a travesty and presents a foudational problem with heritage policy. One potential solution is a policy framework and network of PAS-style liason officers. That’s not to say that these states should encourage metal-detecting, but the efforts of the PAS have appeared to substantially decreased looting and illegal activity.  Education and outreach, even if it means compromise, are essential. Outreach and education is badly needed.

The PAS works in conjunction with the law, which was of course a compromise postion between heritage advocates and landowners. A very strong legal regime may in a perfect world be the best policy. But what good are they if they aren’t meaningfully enforced? In the heritage context, the PAS and metal detectorists are producing contextual information. It’s a different kind of information, which we can characterize as shallow but extremely broad; rather than a thorough documentation of sites which might be narrow but very deep.

The most interesting revelation of the report is the suggestion that metal detecting has substantially decreased since the PAS began.  In 1995, 188 scheduled monuments were reported damaged; in 2008, that number was 70.  In 1995, 74% of archaeological units reported their sites had been molested; in 2008 that number is 28%.  I take that as pretty strong support for the proposition I argued for in my recent piece on the Portable Antiquities Scheme, A Coordinated Legal and Policy Approach to Undiscovered Antiquities: Adapting the Cultural Heritage Policy of England and Wales to Other Nations of Origin, IJCP (2008).

Despite the overall decrease, the report still argues the criminal penalties remain insufficient, and the local enforcement officers and the Crown Prosecution Service need to do more to ensure individuals caught violating the law receive suitable punishment.  At present the maximum penalty is three months in prison and a £1,000 fine. 

The report provides a number of other key points:

  1. Provide clear guidance to the police, Crown Prosecution Service and Magistrates on the impact of Nighthawking, how to combat it, levels of evidence and possible penalties.
  2. Provide more information for landowners on identifying Nighthawking and what to do when they encounter it.
  3. Develop better ways to find out what is going on and establish and promote a central database of reported incidents of Nighthawking.
  4. Publicise the positive effects of responsible metal detecting and the negative effects of Nighthawking.
  5. Ensure the PAS is fully funded, so links between archaeologists and metal detectorists are further strengthened.
  6. Integrate metal detecting into the archaeological process, including development control briefs.
  7. Implement changes recently introduced in Europe which increase the obligation on sellers of antiquities to provide provenances and establish legal title, and urge eBay to introduce more stringent monitoring of antiquities with a UK origin offered for sale on their website.

Media Coverage:
Bloomberg, Telegraph, AFP, BBC, Guardian, Times


Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Iraq Museum to Reopen This Month

From Reuters,

Iraq will reopen later this month its renowned national museum, home to priceless artefacts plundered in the unchecked chaos following the 2003 U.S.-led invasion, an Iraqi minister said.


The long-awaited reopening marks a milestone in the government’s efforts to retrieve and preserve artefacts and archaeological sites from Iraq’s history after almost six years of theft, destruction and violence.

The country is said to be the site of the ‘cradle of civilisation’, the area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, and the looting of relics — some thousands of years old — was seen as a tragedy for Iraq and for the world.

Qahtan al-Jibouri, Iraq’s minister of state for tourism and antiquities, said the government had been renovating the museum in central Baghdad for several months and planned to open its doors to the public before the end of February.

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334 Antiquities Returned to Peru… but what result?

U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection have released a statement announcing the return of 334 objects to the Peruvian government.

Of particular interest is how the objects were seized:

On March 1, 2007, a CBP officer at Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport referred Lanas-Ugaz, who had just arrived from Lima, Peru, for a secondary examination. During CBP’s inspection of Lanas-Ugaz’s luggage, officers noted several items in bubble wrap, including a clay figurine of a man in a chair and clay bowls. CBP officers held the five items as possible pre-Columbian Peruvian artifacts, which are protected under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act. CBP contacted ICE, which had the artifacts evaluated by archeologists from the American Museum of Natural History. Museum archaeologists confirmed that the items are authentic pre-Columbian and have significant cultural value.
Four days later, ICE, CBP and Laredo Police Department officers executed a federal search warrant at Lanas-Ugaz’s home in Laredo. They discovered many additional authentic artifacts, which included: textiles, ceramic figures, wood sculptures, and metal and stone art. All the items had been illegally exported from Peru into the United States. Lanas-Ugaz, a U.S. citizen, was arrested at his home without incident.

 Lanas-Ugaz reached a plea agreement:

Lanas-Ugaz pleaded guilty May 16, 2007, to one count of knowingly and fraudulently importing into the United States merchandise that is against the law to sell, and receiving stolen goods. On Sept. 13, 2007, he was sentenced to three years probation and a $2,000 fine; he also paid $100 to a crime victims’ fund.

That’s a pretty slight sentence for a crime which carries a maximum punishment of 5 years imprisonment and a $250,000 fine.   One thing the press release does not discuss is why the sentence was so slight, and if Lanas-Ugaz is continuing to trade in antiquities. 

According to the Department of Justice press release in 2007, Lanas-Ugaz operated a website, perularedo.com, which offers Pre-Columbian artifacts for sale.  A simple google search of “perularedo” reveals there is an ebay seller, by that name selling antiquities from Peru, the last sale appeared to be as recently as September 2008. 

One wonders if this antiquities dealer has decided to cooperate?  Has he left the antiquities trade for good?  Is he continuing to sell antiquities under a different name? 

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

German Court Rules for Nazi-era Poster Claimant

A German court has ruled that Peter Sachs’ is entitled to an entire poster collection seized from his father in 1938.  The elder Sachs received about $50,000 in compensation for the collection which was then believed to have been destroyed. 

From the AP:

The Berlin administrative court ruled that Hans Sachs never gave up ownership of the collection of 12,500 posters taken from his home on the orders of Nazi Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels.


Sachs, 71, sued in a test case for the return of two posters — a 1932 poster for “Die Blonde Venus” (“Blonde Venus”) starring Marlene Dietrich, and one for Simplicissimus, a satirical German weekly magazine, showing a red bulldog. The court ruled that it was unclear whether “Die Blonde Venus” was part of his father’s collection, but that there was no doubt about the Simplicissimus poster and that it must be returned to him.


The ruling means that the court has backed the claim of Peter Sachs of Sarasota on the surviving portion of his father’s collection — some 4,000 posters at the German Historical Museum in Berlin, said his attorney ,Matthias Druba.


“We are definitely delighted,” Druba said . “It’s a shame that we didn’t get the Blonde Venus, but in the end what is more important is that the general question has been answered clearly in our favor: Peter is the rightful owner of the collection and he has a claim to get them back; we couldn’t want more.”


The posters include advertisements for exhibitions, cabarets, movies and consumer products, as well as political propaganda — all rare, with only small original print runs.
Only a handful of the posters on display at any given time at the German Historical Museum, but officials maintain they form an integral part of its 80,000-piece collection. The museum also points out that those in storage are regularly viewed by researchers.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

"It is time for the American arts community to confront its stunning political ineptitude"

So says the Chicago Tribune’s theater critic Chris Jones in an opinion piece yesterday on the shocking prohibition on funding for the arts in the stimulus:

It is time for the American arts community to confront its stunning political ineptitude. It has arrived at a place where there seems to be no one to make its case; no one, at least, free from the taint of self-interest.

After all, the argument that the labor-intensive arts are not job-creation engines is patently absurd; they just fuel different kinds of struggling workers, workers unaccustomed to bonuses. Their role in generating billions of dollars in ancillary economic activity for stores, restaurants and the travel business has been proven in bucketloads of surveys and analyses.

The contrast in priority with the last comparable American stimulus package is simply breathtaking. Funded by the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, FDR’s Works Progress Administration made the arts a priority. Federal Project Number One was, believe it or not, the largest of the WPA’s endeavors.

Its mission was to give more Americans the chance to experience what Roosevelt called “a fuller life.” Its legacy—from invigorating murals to landscape paintings to the careers of Arthur Miller or Orson Welles—is everywhere you look.

In less than 75 years, the arts have gone from the single largest priority in a government stimulus package to a toxic joke. It is a stunning turnaround.

I think this is a very timely, and very pointed criticism. Why must we view art in economic terms? Why does nearly every article or mention of a work of art also discuss it’s potential market price? Art has some powerful non-economic benefits which are not always easily measured, and the arts community needs to do a much better job making its case.

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

Settlement in Nazi-Era Dispute

One of the week’s big stories I haven’t had a chance to talk about was the decision by the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim foundation and the heirs of Paul and Elsa von Mendelssohn-Bartholdy to settle their ongoing claim.  The undisclosed settlement was announced earlier this week, just as jury selection was set to take place in U.S. District Court in New York. 

Unfortunately the settlement will not allow us to learn how these important works were acquired.  Both the claimants offered very different perspectives.  The issue would have likely been when the paintings were transferred — in 1927 before the Nazi rise to power, or in 1935 when Hitler had become Fuhrer.  Said Judge Rakoff, “I find it extraordinarily unfortunate that the public will be left without knowing what the truth is …  The public surely would want to know now and forever which of those diametrically different views was true, and the great crucible of a trial would have made that known”.

Boy Leading a Horse, Picasso, 1905-06/Museum of Modern Art

Le Moulin de la Galette, Picasso, 1900/Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
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UNESCO Wants HMS Victory Preserved

Yesterday UNESCO released a statement concerning the announced discovery of the wreck of the HMS Victory by Odyssey Marine:

“I am delighted that such an exceptional example of underwater heritage has been located. The cultural and scientific value of this artefact is considerable,” declared Koïchiro Matsuura, Director-General of UNESCO. “In the spirit of the Convention adopted by UNESCO in 2001, I trust that all parties concerned will take the necessary measures to ensure this important vestige of British naval history is safeguarded and given appropriate attention, not used for commercial gain.”

The statement stands in stark contrast to this week’s earlier interview by the company’s own Greg Stemm.  UNESCO and the relevant Underwater Heritage Convention both strongly disapprove of the use of underwater sites for commercial gain.  Few of the World’s major nations have signed on to this proposition.  The UK Government would seem to believe that scientific study can be accomplished with commercial exploitation, or at least that the commercial value may outweigh a more thorough study. 

Questions or Comments? Email me at derek.fincham@gmail.com

9 Arrested on Cyprus

Today’s Cyprus Mail reports on the arrest of 9 individuals attempting to smuggle a Syrian Orthodox bible from Turkey to the island for sale:

A TWO THOUSAND year-old Syrian Orthodox bible, believed to have been smuggled into the island from southeastern Turkey, has become the subject of major police operation in the north that has so far led to the arrest of nine suspects.

The bible, estimated to be worth around €2 million, was seized during a raid at the Famagusta bus terminal last Friday where smugglers were seeking to sell it to buyers in the north. It is thought Turkish Cypriot police had been tipped off about the impending sale.

Although the north’s ‘antiquities department’ refused yesterday to comment on the bible, because it was “the subject of an ongoing inquiry”, a statement from police said it was bound in deerskin, written in gold letters in the Syriac language, and believed to be around 2000 years old. The bible may have come from the heartland of the Syrian Orthodox community in southeastern Turkey, where a small community remains, despite often being caught in the crossfire between Kurdish rebels and the Turkish military.

“It is very likely to come from the Tur-Abdin area of Turkey, where there is still a Syriac speaking community,” Dr [Charlotte Roueche], professor of Late Antique and Byzantine Studies at King College, London told Reuters yesterday.
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