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Summary of March 17, 2021 CPAC Meeting to Accept Public Comments on Proposed MOU with Albania and Proposed Renewal with Egypt

March 23, 2021 9:51 AM | Peter Tompa (Administrator)

On March 17, 2021, the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (“CPAC”) met to consider a proposed MOU with Albania and a proposed renewal of the MOU with Egypt. The following members were present: (1) Stefan Passantino (Chairman- Public); (2) Steven Bledsoe (Public); (3) Karol Wight (Museums); (4) J.D. Demming (Public); (5) Ricardo St. Hilaire (Archaeology); (6) Joan Connelly (Archaeology) and (7) Anthony Wisniewski (Collector-Sale of International Cultural Property).  Allison Davis, CPAC’s State Department Executive Director, and Andrew Cohen, State Department Lead Foreign Affairs Analyst, were also present.

Chairman Passantino welcomed the speakers.  He indicated that the Committee had read all the comments, and as indicated in an email to the speakers, they would be allotted 3 minutes to focus on points most important to them.  Chairman Passantino called on speakers who had put in papers on Albania first, then speakers who had written about coins, and finally speakers who wrote on Egypt.  There was some overlap because some speakers put in papers on more than one topic.  He deferred questions to the end to be assured everyone who registered to speak would be heard.

The following individuals provided oral comments:  (1) John K. Papadopoulos  (UCLA); (2) Michael Galaty (U. Michigan), (3) James Gould (RPM Nautical Foundation); (4) Randolph Myers (Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG)); (5) Peter Tompa (Peter Tompa Law-International Association of Professional Numismatists (IAPN) and Professional Numismatics Guild (PNG)); (6) Steve Benner (Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington, D.C. (ANSWDC)); (7) Kate FitzGibbon (FitzGibbon Law-Committee for Cultural Policy (CCP) and Global Heritage Alliance (GHA)); (8) Brian Daniels (Archaeological Institute of America (AIA)); (9) Mireille Lee (Vanderbilt); (10) Marcel Marée and Suzanne Veigh (British Museum); (11) Rocco Debitetto (Hahn Loeser- Association of Art Museum Directors); and (12) Katie Paul (ATHAR Project). 

John Papadopoulos has visited in Albania periodically since the late 1990’s.  He undertook field work there from 2004-2008.  Looting was at its height in the late 1990’s.  It is not as severe today, but it is still problematic.  Looting destroys context which tells us much about how people lived in the area from the Neolithic through the Byzantine and post-Byzantine periods.  Coins are amongst the most common, easily located, and smuggled ancient objects. Albania is very welcoming to academic exchange and has made strides in cultural heritage management. 

His written testimony may be found here:

https://www.regulations.gov/comment/DOS-2021-0003-0056

Michael Galaty has excavated in Apollonia and North Albania.  Galatay has documented systematic metal-detecting in the Shkoder province, targeting both settlements and burial mounds. He says he has been approached by children selling coins at archaeological sites.  He also has seen people metal detecting who had learned about it in England where it is legal.  Some are hobbyists but others are in it for profit.  He also indicates European coin dealers buy coins in Albania. Over the years, he has seen the government of Albania take great strides in trying to limit looting, including expansive cultural heritage laws, a professionalized regional archaeological/heritage service, upgrades to site security, and public education about the problem.  His testimony may be found here:

https://www.regulations.gov/comment/DOS-2021-0003-0010

James Gould speaks for the RPM Nautical Foundation.  During the Hoxha regime, anyone diving in Albanian waters would be shot on sight.  Since the fall of Communism, underwater looting with the use of scuba gear and fast boats for a getaway have become a problem.  Amphorae are typical targets for looters.  The Albanians have been excellent collaborators and a MOU would help address looting.

The Nautical Foundation’s written comments can be found here:

https://www.regulations.gov/comment/DOS-2021-0003-0046

Randolph Myers indicates the current membership of CPAC does not reflect Congressional intent because the interests of dealers and the small businesses of the numismatic trade are underrepresented. Given their wide circulation, it is impossible to assume that coins struck in Albania are necessarily found there.  Numismatic research proves far more hoards of coins struck at Apollonia and Dyrrachium are found outside Albanian than within it.

The ACCG’s written comments may be found here:

https://www.regulations.gov/comment/DOS-2021-0003-0014

Peter Tompa acknowledges the passing of James Fitzpatrick, Esq., one of the drafters of the CPIA who appeared before CPAC multiple times to emphasize the need for the Committee to follow Congressional intent.  He indicates that only coins that exclusively circulated within a given country can be restricted under the CPIA’s limitations of import restrictions to archaeological objects “first discovered within” and “subject to export control” by a UNESCO State party.  He believes that the 2016 Egyptian designated list violated this requirement because it included widely circulating large denomination Greek and Roman Provincial coins.  He also indicates there is no basis to expand current import restrictions further to widely circulating Roman Imperial coins struck in Egypt.  Nor is there any basis for restrictions on silver ancient Illyrian coinage struck in what is now Albania because far more hoards of these coins are found in Romania than Albania.  He also asks CPAC to recommend that Customs no longer apply import restrictions on coins as embargoes, but rather limit detentions and seizures to situations where there is probable cause that coins were illicitly exported after the effective date of governing regulations. 

Peter Tompa’s oral comments may be found here:  https://culturalpropertyobserver.blogspot.com/2021/03/cpac-must-focus-on-congressional-intent.html

IAPN’s and PNG’s written submissions may be found here:

Albania: https://www.regulations.gov/comment/DOS-2021-0003-0015

Egypt: https://www.regulations.gov/comment/DOS-2021-0003-0016

Peter Tompa’s personal written submission may be found here:

https://www.regulations.gov/comment/DOS-2021-0003-0055

Steve Benner indicates that collectors like himself and other members of the Ancient Numismatic Society of Washington, D.C. are interested in numismatic scholarship, not making money out of coins.  The joy of holding an ancient coin in one’s hand stimulates one’s interest even more, pushing collectors to ascertain facts about a coin’s history and composition. Taking this away would be demoralizing to collectors and detrimental to our hobby. The Roman Republic and Empire included all the countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea as well as Western Europe, Britain, the Balkans, etc. Roman coins struck at any of the mints circulated freely throughout the Empire and should not be considered the property of any single country.

Kate FitzGibbon also invokes Jim Fitzpatrick’s efforts to ensure that the Committee complies with the law, particularly the need for a showing of substantial current looting for an agreement to be justified. She questions whether there is such a problem in Albania or if looted material is coming here in quantity given the dearth of archaeological items being imported into the United States. As for Egypt, Ms. FitzGibbon notes that Egypt fails to acknowledge much material left the country legally before the 1980’s, and even where export certificates were issued, they were so general as to be useless to show provenance. Ms. FitzGibbon suggests that Egypt has only made a token effort at self help measures to care for its own cultural patrimony. Instead of spending money on preservation efforts, it has dumped huge amounts of money on General Sissi’s museum vanity project being built in the desert.  CPAC must consider such self help measures as part of its review of MOUs.  She also notes the China MOU which should be undergoing an interim review should consider China’s intentional destruction of Uighur cultural heritage.

The CCP’s and GHA’s written submission on the Albanian MOU can be found here:

https://www.regulations.gov/comment/DOS-2021-0003-0031

The CCP’s and GHA’s written submission on the Egyptian MOU can be found here:

https://www.regulations.gov/comment/DOS-2021-0003-0044

Brian Daniels indicates ongoing looting and violence in Egypt justify the renewal of its MOU.  Recently, two site guards were killed by looters.  Egypt has been a good collaborator with U.S. archaeologists.  There was a conference about looting in Albania in 2009. There has been excellent collaboration with Albanian colleagues.  There will be a travelling exhibition of Albanian archaeological material in the U.S. in 2022.  Archaeological preservation efforts help foster tourism.  The AIA conducts tours in both Egypt and Albania.

The AIA’s written submissions for both Albania and Egypt can be found here: 

https://www.regulations.gov/comment/DOS-2021-0003-0043

Mireille Lee has used travelling exhibits as teaching tools.  It is important to question how an object got there. There are also ethical questions related to exhibiting mummies.  Hopefully, after the pandemic students will be able to visit exhibitions in person, but in the meantime, they have taken advantage of the Internet.

Marcel Marée and Suzanne Veigh work with the British Museum’s CircArt project.  The project, made possible by grants from the British Council’s Cultural Protection Fund, is generating a digital knowledge base of Egyptian and Sudanese antiquities in the trade.  CircArt examines objects offered for sale on the ‘official’ open market as well as on social media. CircArt and the ATHAR Project work closely together, as there are many synergies between the projects.

 The first results of their research show clearly that the scale of ongoing looting and trafficking is far greater than is generally assumed. Since its inception in 2018, CircArt has recorded some 50,000 circulating artefacts from Egypt on the market, of which at least 15% were demonstrably excavated and exported illegally. A group of dealers in the USA remain heavily involved in the release of such objects onto the open market. They show images of broken off faces from mummy cartonnages where the rest of the coffin was discarded.  They indicate all these faces were offered by one U.S. dealer.  Dealers in Turkey have also been active with trans-shipment points in the Middle and Far East.  Much material also shows up on eBay or Facebook.  The data show with increasing urgency the true scale of illicit trade in cultural artefacts, indicating not only a need to renew the MOU between the US and Egypt, but ideally to reinforce the present import restrictions and to enact more robust regulation of the trade.

The British Museum’s CircArt project’s submission may be found here:

https://www.regulations.gov/comment/DOS-2021-0003-0061

Its website may be found here:

 https://www.britishmuseum.org/our-work/departments/egypt-and-sudan/circulating-artefacts

Rocco Debitetto indicates that CPAC must consider whether Egypt has met all the four determinations before its MOU is renewed.  The renewal should not be used to expand the designated list beyond the 250-year-old threshold for archaeological objects.  Ethnological objects need not be 250 years old, but Egyptian ethnological objects do not fit the criteria under the CPIA.  Egypt was not a tribal society in the 19th century but a major power. If anything, the current designated list should be narrowed.  In addition, the MOU needs to be reformed to require Egypt to make available more objects for loan without attendant high fees.  Since the 2016 MOU, Egypt has only sent two travelling exhibitions to the United States, both of which were only available to museums willing to pay high fees.

The AAMD’s written submission can be found here:  https://www.regulations.gov/comment/DOS-2021-0003-0032

Katie Paul states that the ATHAR project is devoted to fighting trafficking on Facebook.   Research conducted by ATHAR Project illustrates a trafficking crisis in Egypt that is feeding material to black market groups on Facebook. This material includes items as small as coins and as large as coffins. She has tracked material from “trafficker groups” on Facebook that have ended up in the United States. She indicates this trade is hard to track because the buyers frequently try to cover their tracks.

The ATHAR Project’s written submission can be found here:

https://www.regulations.gov/comment/DOS-2021-0003-0039

Question and Answer Period

Anthony Wisniewski asks Marcel Marée to explain the difference between Alexander the Great and Hellenism. He indicates the Hellenistic period is generally thought to have started after Alexander died and his Empire was divided amongst his generals.

Anthony Wisniewski asks Randy Myers to confirm that Alexander the Great coins as well as Roman and Byzantine coins from Egyptian mints are found in quantity outside of Egypt.  He points to the ACCG’s research online and within the Royal Numismatic Society’s Coin hoard series of books.

Anthony Wisniewski asks Peter Tompa to confirm there were no Roman Imperial mints in Albania.  He does so.

Anthony Wisniewski asks Brian Daniels if there is sufficient evidence to establish the 4 required determinations for a MOU with Albania.  He says he believes so because the totality of the evidence shows that there is ongoing looting, and that Albania has also undertaken sufficient self-help measures and efforts at collaboration with American archaeologists to satisfy the statutory criteria.

Ricardo St. Hilaire notes that we should also acknowledge the passing of Nancy Wilkie, a long-term member of CPAC.  He asks Brian Daniels if archaeologists have had problems dealing with Egypt during the pandemic.  He says there have been issues, but they have been understandable ones given the circumstances. 

Joan Connelly elicits information from Michael Galaty and John K. Papadopoulos about a 1991-coin hoard containing coins from Aegina (in Greece).  She posits that the hoard shows that Albania was important cross-roads and that it suggests the presence of a city thought to be in the area.  They suggest we only know this information because the hoard was professionally excavated.

Stefan Passantino then closed the public meeting with thanks to all those who testified.


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