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"Looted" coins found

Widely publicized looting of the Kabul Museum collection turns out to be one more case of disinformation.

December 03, 2004

In June of this year, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette announced the proposed introduction of legislation by U.S. Representative Phil English that would supposedly keep looted material from Afghanistan off of the U.S. market. The article quoted the following reponses from leaders of the Archaeological Institute of America. "This is a new bill that would do the same for Afghanistan as we hope they will do for Iraq," said Jane Waldbaum, president of AIA. "We've ignored the same kinds of things going on in Afghanistan." Patty Gerstenblith, a DePaul University law professor who advises AIA, said the legislation "sounds like a good idea. There is clearly a lot of looting of archaeological sites in Afghanistan going on."

Representative English made good on his promise and introduced H.R. 4641, the ‘‘Cultural Conservation of the Crossroads of Civilization Act’’ on June 22nd. In the background information, this bill states that "Most archaeological material excavated in Afghanistan during the 20th century was housed in the National Museum in Kabul or in regional museums." "...over 70 percent of the Kabul National Museum was burned and damaged and 100 percent of the objects were stolen or vandalized." For this reason, HR 4641 proposes to authorize emergency restrictions on importation of antiquities beyond the provisions already established and in place under the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act (CCPIA). Of particular interest to numismatists is the fact that the Kabul museum housed one of the most important collections of Bactrian and Indo-Greek coins in existence. The widely reported loss of this collection was a devastating blow to all serious students of numismatics, public or private.

A report on the National Geographic Society web site dated 17 November, 2004 negates the myth that these Kabul museum treasures are circulating in the Western market. According to the report, the "most magnificent objects" of the Kabul museum, including important ancient coins, were hidden by museum officials some 25 years ago. Many artifacts were recovered in 2003 and another large group were recovered earlier this year. A team of international experts that inventoried the items was funded by the National Geographic Society and the U.S. National Endowment for the Humanities. The list includes more than 22,000 items, including "exquisite ivory statues and 2,500 years' worth of gold and silver coins." The report states that nearly 2,000 individual coins of significance are included in the inventory.

This should be, and is, cause for great celebration. But, there is a disturbing element to the revelation as well. According to National Geographic's report, the UNESCO program specialist for Asia in the division of cultural heritage, Christian Manhart, said UNESCO opposed the opening of the treasure. "We knew it was there. There was quite a lot of discussion about whether it should be opened or not, because it might pave the way for treasure hunters." Two things about that statement are revealing. First, the attitude of UNESCO, and of the archaeological community in general, is that public access to items of cultural heritage is of secondary importance to their desire to control that resource. Secondly, knowledge of the existence and safe storage of the Kabul treasures was apparently withheld while the reported loss of these very items was used just this past June to justify draconian legislation that seriously threatens the freedoms of private collectors in the United States.

This news comes on the heels of the widely sensationalized and greatly overstated reports of looting at the Baghdad Museum. It is now admitted by virtually everyone, that the actual situation was something entirely different than originally stated by the archaeological community leaders who still embrace HR 1047 and HR 4641. The agenda of agencies like the Archaeological Institute of America, and of UNESCO, is certainly suspect, and their methods are clearly as suspect as their agenda.

In the case of both HR 1047, and of HR 4641, the impetus for legislation bypassing the fair and equitable system of import controls already authorized in the CCPIA was a sensationalized and erroneous report. It appears that neither report was properly investigated before reactionary remedies were sought. One has to ask whether there was simply a rush to judgment in these two cases, or was this part of a broader agenda targeting private collectors?


For further information, go to:
http://www.neh.gov/news/humanities/2004-11/goldenhoard.html

Tags:
aia
national geographic
ccpia
afghanistan
kabul museum
iraq
looting
unesco

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