Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Antiquity Looting: Costs Inestimable

Donna Yates ‏tweets:
There is no believable estimate for the global cost of trafficking in cultural objects. If anyone tries to give you a price, they are wrong.
how about, inestimable costs? However much it "costs" in financial terms, we must stop it.

These People Have no Shame, Really

Heritage activist Monica Hanna has been labelled a "grifter" by John Hooker of the ACCG. These  Philistines are totally incapable of any kind of appreciation for what Ms Hanna has done for the heritage and it is shameful to watch how they
attack her.

Egypt Officially Asks U.S. for MoU to Protect Cultural Heritage

At last. Egypt Officially Asks U.S. for MoU to Protect Cultural Heritage' (15 Apr 2014). Egypt has made a formal request to have restrictions on the  import into the US of endangered archaeological material without the paperwork proving legal export. On June 2, the CPAC will begin a review of Egypt's proposed Memorandum of Understanding (MoU - not emergency restrictions). Not before time.

I am sure that, as in the case of every other one of these MOUs involving material they want to collect, a certain group of Black Hat Guys will be fighting this one tooth and nail.  Let them, let the world see what Philistines they, and the collectors that fail to oppose them, are. Exposing the no-questions-trade for what it is is the only way to clean up the antiquities market.

Between now and  May 14, when public comments close, the nasties will be comment-bombing Docket No. DOS-2014-0008 on the Federal eRulemaking Portal with all their 'arguments' against entering such an agreement with the Egyptians. No doubt they will be trotting out their normal whinges, whines and demands, and there is the prospect that political and anti-Moslem prejudices will be well visible alongside the usual antiquitist loose-thinking.

I would like to urge any US collectors intending to buy looted artefacts reading this to go to the docket and make fools of yourselves by following your lobbyists' instructions and opposing the Gubn'mint in the way they tell you. Show us who you are. Go,on, off you go now.

I'd like the rest of us who feel it is worth making a comment (just for the principle of it) to read the "four determinations" laid out by the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act and think about them for themselves (something the collectors seem incapable of doing) and then write something from their heart and mind which stands apart from the Philistines.  Rick St Hilaire gives the four as "including":
(A) [whether] the cultural patrimony of the State Party is in jeopardy from the pillage of archaeological or ethnological materials of the State Party; 
(B) [whether] the State Party has taken measures consistent with the Convention to protect its cultural patrimony; 
(C) [whether] --(i) the application of the import restrictions . . . with respect to archaeological or ethnological material of the State Party, if applied in concert with similar restrictions implemented, or to be implemented within a reasonable period of time, by those nations (whether or not State Parties [to the 1970 UNESCO Convention]) individually having a significant import trade in such material, would be of substantial benefit in deterring a serious situation of pillage, and(ii) remedies less drastic than the application of the restrictions set forth in such section are not available; and 
(D) [whether] the application of the import restrictions . . . in the particular circumstances is consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.
As every time this happens, the Black Hat Guys will try to present this as a competition ("there were more of us than them, but the Gubn'mint did not listen to us"). It is not a competition of course, nor is it a vote. But let the comments reflect that there are not just exploitive selfish Black Hat Guys thinking about Egypt and its cultural heritage. Their comment-bombing campaigns have been getting progressively weaker and ill-focussed, I'd very much like to see them given a run for their money this time. Come on, we all care about ancient Egypt, surely.

Egypt Officially Asks U.S. for MoU to Protect Cultural Heritage

Oh, shock horror (Tompa-alert) a SECRET meeting!! The US Gubn'mint is talking things over with foreign governments and US citizens are going to have to buy licitly imported artefacts.  Eeeeeek.

Monica Hanna Grilled at Woodrow Wilson Centre

Peter Tompa's report of Monica Hanna's appearance at the Woodrow Wilson Centre ('Monica Hanna: The Arab Spring and the State of Egyptian Antiquities' CPO Tuesday, April 15, 2014) largely skips over the details of what the speaker said but concentrates on what the US questioners were drilling away at. His account of Washington hospitality is as uncharitable as his previous comments on her.  It is quite clear that Mr Tompa's aim is to exploit every opportunity provided to question the US introducing any additional controls on the import of paperless Egyptian antiquities.
1) "The first questioner [who appeared to be associated with the Wilson Center] asked about government involvement in looting, but Hanna did not answer that question".
2) "The first questioner again asked Hanna if the authorities were involved [and] pressed Hanna about any involvement by the current government".
3) "Another questioner asked about whether there was a “concerted international response” to looting". 4) "Another questioner asked Hanna about the MOU with the United States".
5) "Another individual indicated he had a State Department contract with a company that planned to assist Egypt create a database of artifacts in State Museum stores. He wanted it to be known that two consecutive US Ambassadors had tried to get the Egyptian government to cooperate with the project, but the Mubarak Government stymied it".
6) "In response to another question, Hanna indicated that she does not approve of private collecting".
And that, according to Mr Tompa, is it. Three questions intended to entrap Ms Hanna over the MOU and one bloke whose contract was not approved by the Egyptian government came along to complain. Two of the reported public questions intended to entrap came from somebody from the inviting institution which is a crass breach of professional courtesy. In Tompa's account, there were no questions from the floor about Ms Hanna's work, there were no questions about what concerned Americans can do to help. The main thrust of the report seems to be that the presence of Ms Hanna in Washington was being exploited to gather facts with which to oppose the signing of any bilateral cultural property agreement. If this is what happened (and I look forward to seeing a report that indicates that Mr Tompa presented an untrue version) it's disgusting.

As for the guy who "had a State Department contract with a company that planned to assist Egypt create a database of artifacts in State Museum stores" supported by "two consecutive US Ambassadors", perhaps the problem is that in cultural property protection measures, the United States rather than offering help, seems awfully sure of its right to impose additional conditions on others. We see this all the time in the discussion of the MOUs. Funnily enough, not all of us 'welcome' excessive US interference in internal affairs. I would suggest that the reason why this firm could not fulfil its contract most likely is that the US was trying to impose something on the Egyptians to which they were not inclined to agree (for example if this was a firm from the US, would the proposed record have been in English or Arabic?). Certainly The Egyptian Museum Registrar Training Project, made possible through a grant from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), was running from January 2007, so it is not as if there was no willingness in Egypt to work with Americans in cataloguing objects.

Mafia Involvement in Egyptian Antiquities Trade

Peter Tompa is discomfited by Monica Hanna's statement ('Monica Hanna: The Arab Spring and the State of Egyptian Antiquities'), based on her own knowledge due to her work in heritage preservation in Egypt that:
20% of the looting [was due to] locals selling to antiquities dealers and 80% was attributable to “the Mafia.” [...] She said that the same networks that move drugs and guns move antiquities. [...] She also stated that there are direct channels to middle men in the United States.
After each of these statements, the "Cultural Property Observer" plaintively moans that she did not pass on her sources of information to him. Obviously, Mr Tompa wants to shut his own and everybody else's eyes and minds to such a possibility. Yet in his piclk-and-mix mental world, when it suits him, Mr Tompa is quite willing to accept and report that there are police chiefs in with the gangs who he does not want to believe are a significant force in antiquities smuggling. For Mr Tompa, ancient Egyptian antiquities are always "cleaner than clean". Like his shirts. Asked about private collecting, Hanna said she disapproves (as do most sensible and informed people who are not collectors) of private collectors who ignore the absence of proof that an object on sale has no documentation of collecting history defining their origins as licit. As Tompa puts it: "she does not think collectors should be able to “get away with” collecting unprovenanced artifacts. They are likely stolen". Mr Tompa cannot stomach that notion either:
CPO disagrees. Egyptian artifacts have been actively and legally collected since the 19th c. and Egypt itself has only had clear law vesting title in the State since 1983. Many Egyptian artifacts, particularly minor ones, have lost any information on how and where they were found over the years. CPO submits to assume they are “stolen” is both factually wrong and grossly unfair to law abiding collectors.
An assumption cannot be a 'fact' Mr Tompa, but then equally neither is an assumption that a paperless artefact is necessarily licit in origin a 'fact'. Given the uncertainty, and assuming a collector feels looting and financing smugglers (and thus probably organized crime) is the greater evil than a hopeful dealer can't get rid of an artefact he incautiously bought without properly verifying origins, a responsible collector will look beyond what he is merely constrained by the law to do and walk away from potentially dodgy goods. The mafia are no mafia if all they manage to get into the USA are three shabtis and a pocketful of scarabs. In order for organized crime to profit, they'll need to shift loads of stuff onto the international market, which means that loads of stuff on the international market must come from illicit sources. How can anyone "assume" (or even try to argue) other wise without looking utterly ridiculous?

There is nothing for it, Peter Tompa's going to have to go to Egypt, meet with Mr Kingsbury's "Mohammed" and the armed looters of Dashur and El Hibeh. In order to uphold his 'cleaner than clean' assumption, he obviously now needs to prove that there is no looting by a criminal element going on in Egypt today. Take a camera Mr Tompa. Ask some trade associations to put you in touch with some of the dealers who know who the "middlemen" are.

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

Mubarak Regime "Deeply Involved" in Antiquities Trafficking?

According to Peter Tompa ('Hanna: Mubarak Regime Involved in Antiquities Trafficking', CPO Tuesday, April 15, 2014) "In response to a question from the audience at yesterday's event at the Wilson Center, Dr. Monica Hanna stated unequivocally that the Mubarak Regime (her words) was deeply involved in antiquities trafficking":.
"Specifically, Hanna identified the former police chief of Cairo as a major smuggler". 
and who was buying these antiquities from the (reportedly) corrupt cop? Coins for example? Any ACCG dealers for example?

In his later account however a few more details imply that it was not so much the deposed regime itself involved, but officials appointed by it ('Monica Hanna: The Arab Spring and the State of Egyptian Antiquities' CPO Tuesday, April 15, 2014)  "she stated the Mubarak regime was certainly involved and that the Chief of Police for Cairo was arrested for running a smuggling ring". This may have been the bust in November 2003 in which a number of police officials were charged. In that case we know who in Europe and the USA had been buying those smuggled antiquities and facilitating the smuggling ring. 

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