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The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild has become a driving force in the ongoing effort to protect coin collectors and museums in which coins are stored from being forced to give up these items to foreign governments under the premise the coins are the cultural patrimony of the claimant nation. — Richard Giedroyc, World Coin News April 26, 2010

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Book Review: Stealing History. Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World

The following review by Dr. Alan Walker provides a counterpoint to the controversial assertions by Roger Atwood that have been highly touted and vigorously publicized by members of the archaeological community. Dr. Walker's training in the field of classical archaeology (PhD, University of Pennsylvania) and his widely recognized expertise and experience as a professional numismatist bring to the table a unique understanding of the issues from differing perspectives. Dr. Walker is a member of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild.

By Dr. Alan Walker |
March 31, 2005

Stealing History. Tomb Raiders, Smugglers, and the Looting of the Ancient World. By Roger Atwood. New York, 2004. 337 pp., frontispiece, map, 27 photos. Clothbound with dust jacket. (ISBN 0-312-32406-5) $25.95.

This is a fascinating, disturbing, well-written and very pernicious book that beautifully blends true facts with skewed and, often, very biased reasoning to produce a perfect example of the politically correct anti-collector, anti-museum and anti-art trade propaganda we hear all the time from radical archaeologists and their allies. I think this book has received a tremendous amount of hype and will have a great deal of influence, so it is important that all collectors, especially including coin collectors, know what’s in it and know how to react when and if they are challenged, or even attacked, because of their collecting interests.

RA’s basic focus is on two areas in which he has more than a little expertise, Peru, where there has long been widespread looting of tombs for objects in precious metal, terracotta figural pottery and fabrics, and in Iraq, where there has been widespread looting of virtually everything. Extrapolating worldwide, he firmly believes that unless something is done, all accessible archaeological sites will be totally destroyed by looters by 2050. Needless to say, what he thinks needs to be done is to basically ban the collecting, whether by public or private institutions or by individuals, of anything without a full provenance (and what he means by provenance is a secure chain of ownership going back to a licensed excavation; with, in addition, proof that the object legally left the country in which it was found – this means that lots of material properly excavated and then taken out of countries in the 19th century falls under a cloud because, officially, it shouldn’t have left). In addition, he also insists on making the assumption (in common with the radical archaeologists) that anything lacking a provenance simply has to have come out of the ground very recently. Another brilliant idea he has is to slap "an indefinite worldwide moratorium on trade in undocumented antiquities made of gold, silver, and other precious metals" (p. 244). This, he thinks, would be a terrific help in the fight against looting because he believes that looters mostly search for gold objects, tossing out or destroying other things they find as worthless. Of course, it actually shows how out of touch with reality RA is: for thousands of years looters only searched for precious objects, which were, in fact, invariably melted down (the spectacular Brescello Hoard of 1714, which contained ca. 80,000 late Republican aurei – the latest being Crawford 534 of 38 BC – was, after the rarities were sorted out and a relatively small number of other pieces went off to collectors, almost entirely used to make ducats!). While looters may well throw out pots in Peru (they have apparently found so many that there is no market), they don’t anywhere else, so all RA’s idea would do is ensure that all precious metal objects would be treated as they used to be: melted into convenient and anonymous bars.

Trying to argue in favor of collecting, whether public or private, is very difficult because radical archaeologists have done a very good job of occupying the moral high ground. To them, and to the vocal supporters of the UNESCO accord of 1970, virtually all private ownership of cultural objects is an anathema; thus, it is easy for them to condemn all their opponents as heartless, greedy, elitists who profit from the destruction of mankind’s past. Yet there are a lot of facts that RA and others of his ilk are very good at selectively ignoring: some that they don’t like, and some that they think might, perhaps, confuse the issue.

For example, why is it that the looting problem in England is so much less drastic than in other areas of the world? The answer probably is that the essential fairness of the British system makes it very likely that honest finders will report anything they discover because they know they will be treated properly. If the state lays claim to what they have found they get a very fair reward (usually equal to the effective market value), otherwise they get to do whatever they wish with their discovery. When builders run into archaeological remains during the course of construction projects, rescue excavations are carried out, but the builders are given full recompense for the time lost. In addition, landowners never have to worry about having their lands expropriated by the state for archaeological reasons with minimal compensation. As in the US, the state can utilize its powers of eminent domain, but the owner must receive the land’s full market value.

Elsewhere, of course, especially in the major source countries, all objects found in the ground, whether on public or private land, ipso facto belong to the state, with no right of private ownership whatsoever (this is the case in Egypt, among many other places). Rewards, if given at all, are arbitrary in nature and usually have no relation to the object’s national or international market value. Farmers or builders who run into archaeological remains can find themselves in severe trouble: farming land can be expropriated at an arbitrarily low value, especially if the landowner lacks political connections (since archaeological remains preclude building or farming work, the land’s value is automatically downgraded to benefit the state), and building work can be held up for so long, with negligible compensation, that the contractor and the owner can suffer severe financial losses, if not bankruptcy (this does not happen, of course, with state projects). Therefore, it often seems better for builders to bulldoze ancient remains than to report them. The fact that landowners lack ownership rights in objects found within the soil means that there is absolutely no incentive for them to protect their land from looters (especially since looters occasionally pay the landowners a fee for ‘allowing’ them to dig, while reporting ancient remains to the authorities can lead to expropriations). It should be immediately obvious that draconian confiscatory laws that provide little or no fair compensation to honest finders or landowners simply have to be counter-productive: Italy has had laws like that for generations, and for generations people have ignored them because they were so blatantly unfair. After all, if a farm or an estate has been owned by a single family for generations, why should the state own everything found there and not the family?

Another fact, which is almost entirely ignored by RA and the archaeologists, is that people in most of the source countries are often rather impoverished. This clearly is a major reason why chance finds and looted material are sold rather than turned into the government. After all, the average annual per capita income in Peru is something like $5000 (but with most rural villagers making less than half of this amount) so selling a small object for $20 or $50 or a few $100 can make a real difference in the seller’s standard of living. This is true in virtually every source country (the per capita income in Turkey is about $6600 - much higher in the big cities and far lower in rural districts). Fair and prompt rewards, based on local circumstances (i.e., if an object is worth $50,000 on Madison Avenue, but the local runner will only pay $400 in Turkey, a reward of $550 will do perfectly), would end a great deal of destruction. A perfect example is the famous Dekadrachm Hoard found near Elmalı in Turkey. At the time it was found Turkish law apparently provided for rewards, but only up to a certain amount of money. No matter what a coin was, the maximum the finder could expect was the equivalent of $150 – if a group of coins was found, the maximum reward, regardless of what they might be or how many they were, was $6000. The villagers probably knew this and so took their coins to a middleman who paid them, according to court papers, the equivalent of $168,000 – twenty-eight times what the official reward would have been! As everyone knows, this hoard ultimately went for $4,000,000 (over 660 times the official reward!!) to an American consortium; then, after years of legal wrangling, it went back to Turkey. Can you imagine how much the Turks must have paid in legal fees? One European numismatist had an hour’s talk with Larry Kaye, the lead attorney for Turkey, and his assistant, a junior lawyer brought along to act as secretary: this probably cost the Turks $500 for the senior lawyer, $300 for the junior and $20 for the coffee! And this case must have consumed thousands of billing hours!

Obviously, had Elmalı been in England, the hoard probably would have been reported when it was found, would have been properly excavated with exploration of the surrounding area, would have ended up in the British Museum, and the proud finder and the land owner would have divided a multi-million £ reward (as actually happened with the famous late Roman Hoxne hoard, discovered in 1992). But, someone will say, Turkey doesn’t have that kind of money. True, but if those villagers would have been confident that they’d get a tax-free, legal, reward of $175,000 or $200,000, a fraction of what the hoard was worth internationally but more than they would have received selling on the black market (and a fraction of what Turkey must have paid in American legal fees), they’d have turned it in like a shot! Wouldn’t this have been better for archaeology?

Villagers are not stupid: if they feel that their own government is cheating them or, in fact, stealing from them, they will refuse to turn in the things they find. Is this the fault of collectors?

In fact, isn’t it clear that bad laws in the source countries are a major factor contributing to why finds go unreported, sites are damaged or destroyed, and smuggling is rampant? Why aren’t archaeologists clamoring for the source countries to change their laws into ones like those in England, where finders are treated so fairly that an ever increasing amount of often vital archaeological information has been gathered thanks to the enthusiastic cooperation of finders and landowners (for the astonishingly successful Portable Antiquities Scheme, see http://www.finds.org.uk/index.asp)?

Why, indeed?

Now we come to the very important part that political correctness has to play in the debate over antiquities. As everyone knows it has become very fashionable to blame the rich western European powers, and by extension the Americans, for most of the world’s ills. Among left-wing academics it is normal to view white males of western European origin as being responsible for colonialism, racism, sexism, capitalism, class divisions, slavery, all manner of oppressions, and, of course, for the pillage of wealth, artifacts and works of art from lesser developed and Third World states (it should be noted that ALL source countries consider themselves to be part of this general class of countries). Thus, suggesting that such countries enact rational laws in emulation of Great Britain is a complete non-starter: after all, didn’t Britain colonize vast areas of the world; weren’t treasures from Greece, Italy, Turkey, India, China, the Middle East, Nigeria, Egypt, et al., taken by British travelers, bought by English lords, or looted by British armies, all to adorn museums in Great Britain? In many ways the irrational nature of many source country cultural heritage laws is simply a reaction against the events of the past: "Those clever Europeans tricked us by taking so many artifacts from our country at a time when we couldn’t resist them {and, to be honest, at a time when we actually didn’t want any of it since we thought it was valueless and that the foreigners were crazy!}, so now we are going to keep everything!" Thus, there are museum store rooms in the source countries that are positively jam packed with objects, most of which will never be on display and many of which have never been published (the store rooms of the archaeological museum of Naples are notorious in this regard): if some of this material was sold, after being recorded, there would be more than enough money to publish, inventory, conserve and display all the rest.

But why don’t all those American and western European archaeologists, who are such vehement defenders of ancient sites in the source countries, try to get those ineffective laws changed, rather than just attacking collectors, museums and dealers in their own countries? The simple reason is that it is against their interest to do so.

Any foreign archaeologist who wants to excavate a site or study museum material in a source country has to get an official permit from that country’s ministry of culture to do so. Such permits are not just given out to anyone who asks: usually foreign scholars have to go through their own country’s institute in the source country (like the American, Australian, Austrian, British, Canadian, French, German, Italian, Swedish, Swiss, etc. institutes in Athens), and they have to meet certain standards. One absolutely sure way of NOT getting a permit is to say or do something that source country officials don’t approve of; like, for example, suggesting that the country’s laws ought to be changed because they don’t work and are counter-productive. No American archaeologist working, or wanting to work, in Turkey would ever be crazy enough to publicly criticize Turkish laws, since that would result in a rather rapid career-change once the Turkish authorities heard of it (just for fun, if you really want to get a foreign archaeologist working in Turkey really upset, try getting him or her to express a public opinion on who was responsible for the genocidal massacres of the Armenians that took place in Asia Minor in the late 19th century and during World War I – you may be amazed to find that a distinguished professor, highly knowledgable about ancient and medieval history, just so happens to know nothing at all about modern history). In a well-known case that resulted in an American dealer returning a group of Mycenaean jewelry to Greece, it is said that one of the reasons why he decided to settle and not fight it out in court is that he could get no recognized expert in Mycenaean art to testify on his behalf: specifically that Mycenaean objects could be found in many places in the eastern Mediterranean (Italy, Cyprus, the Levant and Egypt) rather than just in Greece, as the Greek government maintained. The obvious reason why they wouldn’t is that if they did so they would be banned from working in Greece for life.

The converse is true when an American archaeologist attacks collectors, dealers or museums in the US for having material that he believes was looted from the source country where he excavates: he becomes a hero! This is how it works. The American professor makes an impassioned speech, demanding that some item or other be returned to Italy from the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This speech gets reported in a number of Italian papers, the professor is given an award by an Italian heritage group, he gets accolades from Italian archaeologists, and his excavation permit is speedily renewed. Back in the US, the Metropolitan issues a dry statement about legal ownership but otherwise ignores our professor (to be sure, they probably won’t give him a grant). There are no reprisals and his stature will be enhanced among his peers. The same thing would be true if he attacks American private collectors – he looks good and nothing bad happens to him (of course, if a junior faculty member launched a violent diatribe against a collector, not knowing that the collector was an alumnus of the university in which he teaches and that the collector had up to that point intended on donating $50 million for a new gymnasium, our young professor’s chances for tenure might evaporate – but then he’d become a martyr for academic freedom and advance his career).

Thus, it ought to be obvious that every time one of the radical archaeologists attacks collectors and the antiquity trade in America and in Western Europe for being the primary cause of looting, he may be sincere, but he is neither unbiased nor honest. Rather, by focusing solely on the trade, he is, for political reasons, deliberately ignoring all the contributing factors caused by unfair and impractical laws in the source countries (that would be "blaming the victim"). The really radical even go so far as to object very strongly to rewards because they believe a) that since the state claims all objects discovered in the ground, it is the duty of every citizen to turn in anything found, thus making rewards unnecessary (in some countries even picking up something lying on the ground is against the law!); b) that basing rewards on market prices is highly improper because if the trade itself is illegal in the source country, basing rewards on the prices for items that reached foreign markets illicitly is absurd since those prices should be ignored; c) that most source countries are relatively impoverished so that the payment of rewards would be an unacceptable expense; and d) that since looting is clearly the fault of wealthy collectors in the West, eliminating the collectors would eliminate any need for rewards.

RA also goes on and on about how much valuable evidence is lost due to looting, and how many ‘priceless’ artifacts are lost to the source countries. In fact, this is a refrain constantly heard whenever the radical archaeologists attack collectors; but is it true? Yes, to some extent it is. A complete tomb complex can tell us a tremendous amount about the occupant and the society in which he lived, but when it’s looted, the finders will only be looking for salable objects (which are often dispersed so that their connections are lost) and will dig through and destroy organic remains and poorly preserved minor items that would have told archaeologists a great deal. This, of course, is not the case when something is professionally excavated, especially when it is published and made available for study (not always the case, alas): yet just because it is properly excavated does not necessarily mean that it is of any importance. After all, there are many things that are found, which are of types we already have, or provide evidence for things we already know. For example, one old-time classical archaeologist arranged for state-of-the-art water sieving and other evidence-retention methods to be used for an excavation of a Greek urban site. Aside from tiny fragments of wine and oil vessels, plates, cups and cheese strainers, and bones from meat animals such as goats, sheep, cattle and swine, among the items found, which otherwise might not have been, were grape and olive pits, remains of pulses and legumes, and fish bones. But, as he remarked later, "we already knew from ancient literature that the ancient Greeks, like the modern ones, ate olives, grapes, beans, lentils, various kinds of meat, fish and cheese, drank wine and used oil. Was spending all this money and effort to confirm what we already knew worth it?" The answer is, of course, probably not. In fact, while often not mentioned it is no secret that vast numbers of unimportant artifacts found in excavations are dumped after study (they tend to be used as fill for fully excavated ancient wells) since they tell us nothing and there is no need, or space, for their storage (for example, if excavators discover a room containing 25 complete and c. 100 fragmentary storage amphorae, all of the same type, they will probably retain all of the complete ones, but only a very small number of the fragments – perhaps destined for destructive analysis – with the rest being dumped).

The most extraordinary comment, now made constantly, is that the artifacts being looted are "priceless treasures of inestimable value", not only for the cultural heritage of the country involved, but on the market as well. For example, at the time of writing there has been a big hoo-haa about a Marine who bought eight cylinder seals from a trinket seller in Iraq for $200, and brought them back home with him. Curious about what they were, he went to the University Museum in Philadelphia and asked about them. Well, the curator there immediately recognized them as ‘priceless treasures’ [actually he is reported to have said they were worth $25,000!!!] that had to have come from ancient Mesopotamia (which was smart of him considering he was the curator of Near Eastern Art), and that they had to have been exported illegally from Iraq. He immediately contacted the FBI. The Marine was shocked and very properly and honestly turned them over to the FBI to be repatriated to Iraq (they are now temporarily on display in the University Museum; see, http://www.fbi.gov/page2/feb05/iraqstones022305.htm - you can find images of all eight on the web as well). The media went crazy about this wonderful return of these rare and exciting and oh so important and valuable objects. But, of course, no one has bothered to ask whether they are really valuable or important…and, sorry to tell you, they’re not. They are surely real, but all eight, to my untrained eye, are of known types (found in museum and private collections all over the world, including Iraq, and in dealers’ stocks); are of no particular artistic, historic or archaeological importance; and, altogether, might be worth $2000 (in a major Christie’s or Sotheby’s antiquity sale none would be worth selling as a single lot; in fact, all eight would be sold together). What’s going on?

The simple fact is that the VAST majority of objects that the radical archaeologists and their media friends term ‘priceless treasures of cultural heritage’ are neither priceless nor treasures. Since the archaeologists are not stupid, why do they make these claims? After all, they didn’t used to; quite the contrary.

Not that long ago the radical, anti-collector archaeologists spent a great deal of effort trying to convince the world that ancient objects were, in fact, just junk of no real value, unworthy of being collected. The reason why people wanted them, or ‘esteemed them’ as the radicals would say, is that dealers hyped them up, in the same way that the ‘art’ of Damian Hirst and Jeff Koons has been. In their eyes, ancient objects were worthy of being in museums where they could be studied by real scholars (such as themselves), but private collectors were making fools out of themselves by collecting them. There are two absolutely iconic studies in this vein, both roughly contemporary. The first, by Michael Vickers and David Gill, is Artful Crafts: Ancient Greek Silverware and Pottery (Oxford 1994). Vickers is a very good scholar who likes shaking things up and is, perhaps, most familiar to numismatists from an article in NC 1985, entitled, Early Greek Coinage, a Reassessment (pp. 1-44) in which he tried to radically down-date the beginning of ancient Greek coinage. His well written and thought provoking theories were, three years later, totally demolished by Margaret C. Root’s wonderful article in NC 1988, Evidence from Persepolis for the dating of Persian and archaic Greek Coinage (pp. 1-12). In Artful Crafts he argued that all Greek painted pottery (Black Figure, Red Figure, White Ground, etc.) was designed to be a cheap imitation of the luxurious gold, silver and ivory vessels supposedly used by the rich, and was, in itself, of no importance. Thus, it had nothing to do with Greek painting, only with metal work, and all the years of research by art historians into ‘hands’ and named artists was mostly a waste of time. For him, Attic Red Figure was related to the true art of precious metal vases in the same way as Martha Stewart porcelain at Walmart was related to Royal Copenhagen: i.e., not at all! He even suggests that the history of the ‘esteem’ for ancient painted pottery goes back to the dealers who worked to sell Lord Hamilton’s large collection of ‘vases’ (the radicals prefer to call them pots because ‘vase’ has a connotation of class and value!) by convincing ‘gullible’ collectors that they represented the finest of Greek art, rather than as the Melmac that he would prefer to see them as! The underlying message was, "You stupid collectors, you’ve been fooled for 200 years into thinking this crap was art, even though it was made as a cheap imitation of no value. Boy, have you been swindled!!!"

As you might guess, this book caused an immediate uproar among the pot folk (or vase specialists), who promptly went to counterattack everything he had to say. In the end, of course, the pot people came out on top in the scholarly world, and collectors refused to stop collecting since they could see for themselves that many of the pots were true artistic masterpieces.

The second study is an article by David Gill and Christopher Chippendale: Material and Intellectual Consequences of Esteem for Cycladic Figures, AJA 97/3 (1993), pp. 602-673 (see also, http://www.mcdonald.cam.ac.uk/projects/chip/chip213.htm). This is another beautifully written and very convincing essay, which basically claims that the vast majority of Cycladic marble figurines in museums and private collections all over the world are all modern fakes because virtually none of them have any provenance! Not only that, they go to great lengths to ‘prove’ that the figurines are not art, in part by suggesting that the people who made them were merely simply farmers who had no concept of true art (as if they had whittled them for the kids whilst sitting on the back porch). This, of course, is an attack on those scholars who studied Cycladic figures and assigned them to varying ‘schools’ or, even, to specific ‘masters’ or ‘hands’, thus, in G & C’s opinion, making the objects more attractive for collectors. They also rail against the way the figures are displayed and viewed. Modern viewers have always been impressed by the smooth lines and sheer whiteness of the figures (they especially influenced famous modern artists like Brancussi and Picasso), thus making them seem contemporary in spirit, but G & C tell us that we shouldn’t look at them this way since they were originally garishly painted. In addition, we often display them incorrectly since the large tall figures that look so ethereal, even Christ-like, when mounted vertically, really were meant to be lying down. Thus, modern appreciation for these figures is based on false premises because we are not looking at them the way they were meant to be looked at when they were made (of course, if they’re all fake, G & C’s efforts to convince us that we’re viewing them incorrectly seem to be misplaced). Sad to say for G & C, the wide world of museums, scholars, collectors and art dealers have resolutely refused to be convinced by their brilliantly written dissertation – Greek archaeologists surely don’t believe them since they haven’t tried to prevent the Greek government from going to court in attempts, sometimes successful, at confiscating Cycladic material appearing in major auctions (somewhat astoundingly, especially if all this stuff is ‘fake’, the catalogue of the greatest collection of unprovenanced and illegally excavated Cycladic material in the world, that of the superb Goulandris Museum in Athens, was written by none other than that self-appointed scourge of collectors, Lord Colin Renfrew himself! If this isn’t world-class hypocrisy, what is?).

These two extraordinary works were part of a trend that attacked collecting and the trade in antiquities by shrilly objecting that modern people were appreciating ancient objects for the wrong reasons, were placing outrageously high monetary values on them, were viewing them in ways they weren’t originally meant to be viewed, and were displaying them out of their original contexts or far from where they were originally made. This last point was particularly bizarre since it meant that in their view the only way anyone can truly understand any art is to see it where it was made and under the conditions that obtained at the time it was created. Using this logic Cycladic art can only be understood if it is seen on Naxos, perhaps while drinking an ouzaki and munching on a piece of grilled octopus, rather than in Athens or Boston or London; and Andy Warhol’s works can only be fully appreciated in New York City, and only by multi-sexual users of recreational drugs, rather than in museums and private homes all over the world. It also had the curious result that the old rallying cry of the radical archaeologists, that antiquities were the "common heritage of all mankind", had to be dropped. After all, if Cycladic figures were the common heritage of all humankind, it would make sense for them to be in museums, and even private collections, all over the world, rather than only being the property of the source country where they were found as the radicals wished.

Well, as we know, all these arguments have not been very successful, simply because their logic was absurd to begin with, and people weren’t impressed by them. So what did our radicals do? They made a 180° turn and now claim that all ancient objects are inestimable, priceless treasures, of supreme value for the cultural heritage of the country in which they are found. That’s right, everything is priceless: from Palaeolithic stone tools, ordinary Neolithic through the Byzantine household pottery, common cylinder seals and Roman bronze fibulae, to worn small AE folles of the House of Constantine! And since nowadays people all over the world are particularly impressed by monetary value ("priceless!", "treasure!"), the radical archaeologists have finally hit on a way to impress the media and politicians into believing that a virtual shut down of the world’s art trade, and the demonization, if not criminalization, of collectors is the only way to stop the looting of archaeological sites.

Unfortunately, this strategy seems to be working. In the press, on television, and in books like RA’s, the antiquities trade, and by extension the trade in ancient coins, is under attack as never before; with collectors being reviled as the major cause of looting. This is being done by highly articulate people who can be quite sincere, but whose unquestioning acceptance of the radical archaeologists’ programs produce biased, one-sided and politically correct reporting.

How can we fight back? Collectors have to start writing protest letters to their political representatives to make their opinions heard. We also have to make sure the right questions are asked and investigated. Like,

Why is it that in England, where laws are fair, such a huge amount of archaeological finds are reported by the public, often in such timely fashion that they can be excavated professionally? Is the fact that finders receive prompt and fair rewards for anything wanted by the state, while those items not wanted are returned to the finder, a major factor behind the widespread acceptance of English heritage laws?

Why do large numbers of people in the source countries not obey their countries’ antiquity laws? Is the state’s declaration of ownership of everything found under the ground, on public or private land, one of the direct causes of the black market because rewards for compliance are too low to be attractive? Is another cause the fact that rewards are less than the amount that local dealers are willing to pay?

When someone speaks about how important an ancient object is for cultural history, or what a ‘priceless treasure’ it is, ask him or her why. Why is an ancient pot/bronze figurine/marble sculpture/coin, similar or even the same as many others previously known vital for a country’s heritage?

The United States is a country built by immigrants, unlike the more homogenous states of Europe. At one point Chicago is said to have been the second-largest Greek city in the world after Athens, and it is well known that millions and millions of Americans have some Italian ancestry. Do these people have no right to objects pertaining to their heritage? There are surely Greek-Americans and Italian-Americans living in the US today whose distant ancestors actually made some of the pots, or used some of the coins, found in Greece or Italy today – why should these people be excluded from owning such items? If an American wants to move to Italy and bring his entire collection with him, he is free to do so, but if an Italian wants to move to the USA with his paintings, coins and vases, many of his possessions will not be allowed out – is this right?

The radical archaeologists have managed to claim the moral high ground in the debate over the trade in coins and antiquities. It is about time we push them off it.

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