September 15, 2010
by Sebastian Heath
Greece, a country in which many AIA members have worked or studied, has asked the United States to enter into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) that would require documentation for objects coming into the U.S. that may have been illegally exported from Greece. The US already has MoUs with countries such as China, Cyprus, and Italy as well as many nations in Central and South America. Adding an agreement with Greece will be a major step forward in enabling the U.S. Government to help reduce the looting of sites and the destruction of our shared archaeological heritage. The MoU faces substantial opposition from collectors and dealers, particularly those who buy and sell ancient coins. Indeed, the U.S. government site where people can comment on the proposed MoU (link) now makes public some very strongly held opinions:
“Dear Madam or Sir, I write in opposition to the cultural property request from the government of Greece. As a relatively low-budget collector, I believe that granting this request will increase the cost of my collecting. This, while doing absolutely nothing to protect the cultural heritage of Greece” (See full comment)
“Coin collectors, beneficiaries of the free flow of coins around the world, have preserved these small pieces of history, often advancing their understanding through research and analysis. In the absence of a vibrant coin collecting hobby, millions of coins would ultimately be lost to posterity, taking their historical information content with them.” (See full comment)
Archaeologists believe that ancient objects can make the greatest contribution to our understanding of the ancient world if information about their findspots is preserved and made public. The proposed MoU is one tool that will help preserve knowledge about past societies. But it is extremely important that the voices of professionals and enthusiasts alike are heard. If we do not write, the committee considering Greece’s request cannot know what we think. If you would like to submit comments, go here and click on “Submit Comment”. If you would like help with what to say, go to the AIA’s page of information about the Cultural Property Advisory Committee, the body that will make the initial recommendation as to whether or not to enter into an agreement with Greece. It is very useful to look at the four determinations that the committee will use. It is important to note that Greece’s archaeological heritage – including coins, ceramics, sculpture and other objects – is under threat. If you would like confirmation that this is the case, you can read David Gill’s blog “Looting Matters”. His recent post “Protecting the Archaeological Record of Greece” lists earlier posts that demonstrate the damage that illegal excavation and import has done to our understanding of Greece’s rich past.