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CPAC Meets to Discuss Renewals of Colombian and Italian MOU’s

July 24, 2020 11:00 AM | Peter Tompa (Administrator)
On July 22, 2020, the US Cultural Property Advisory Committee (“CPAC”) met to consider proposed renewals of MOU’s with Colombia and Italy. The following CPAC members were present via videoconferencing: (1) Stefan Passantino (Chairman- Public); (2) Adele Chatfield-Taylor (Public); (3) Karol Wight (Museums); (4) James Reep (Public); (5) Ricardo A. St. Hilaire (Archaeology); (6) Lothar Von Falkenhausen (Archaeology); and  (7) Anthony Wisniewski (Collector-Sale of International Cultural Property).  Allison Davis, CPAC’s State Department Executive Director, was also present.


Chairman Passantino welcomed the speakers.  He indicated that the Committee had read all the comments, and that speakers would be allowed 5 minutes to focus on points most important to them.  After all the speakers were finished, he would open up the floor to questions. Those who wanted to speak about the proposed Colombian MOU went first.  The order of speakers was as follows:  (1) Sarah Newman (University of Chicago); (2) Robert Drennan (Society of American Archaeology); (3) Kate FitzGibbon (Committee for Cultural Policy); and (4) Brian Daniels (Archaeological Institute of America).   Next, the Committee heard the following speakers on the Italian renewal: (1) Kate FitzGibbon (Committee for Cultural Policy); (2) Arturo Russo (International Association of Professional Numismatists); (3) Doug Mudd (American Numismatic Association); (4) Josh Knerly (Association of Art Museum Directors) (5) Peter Tompa (Global Heritage Alliance); (6) Elizabeth Greene (Archaeological Institute of America); and (7) Randolph Myers (Ancient Coin Collectors Guild).

Sarah Newman (University of Chicago) spoke about her experiences as a Fulbright Scholar.  Although Covid 19 cut her work short, she enjoyed her experience with Columbian colleagues studying museum collections. She found them very helpful in making their collections accessible to her for her study.

Robert Drennan (Society of American Archaeology) indicated that the MOU has benefitted the protection of Colombian cultural patrimony because even people in rural areas know that it is illegal to loot artifacts. There have been efforts to perform rescue archaeology before construction projects.  One example showing that legislation protecting archaeological remains actually carries substantial weight on the ground, is the case of Nueva Esperanza. Archaeological remains were reported in the process of planning for the construction of a major electricity substation just south of Bogotá. These remains turned out to be those of a large nucleated pre-Hispanic Muisca settlement. Against strong political and economic opposition, construction was delayed and an extensive multimillion dollar excavation project was funded under the terms of regulations to protect cultural heritage.

There have also been more academic interest.  Recently founded Masters' and Doctoral programs in anthropology, archaeology, and cultural heritage at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, at the Universidad de los Andes, at the Universidad Pedagógica y Tecnológica de Colombia, and at the Universidad Externado have grown and become more solidly established during the past five years. 

Campaigns to increase awareness that pre-Columbian Native American artwork is not simply a potential economic resource have had an impact, as have enforcement efforts, but more remains to be done. Sadly, the US continues to be a major market for looted Colombian cultural materials.

The existing Memorandum has been successful. The Memorandum, however, is still very much needed. There is every reason to believe that a renewal would help to maintain the momentum and lead to continued progress in the future.

Dr. Drennan’s written testimony can be found here:  https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0299

Kate FitzGibbon (Committee for Cultural Policy) provides some brief thoughts about the proposed renewal with the MOU with Colombia.  Ms. FitzGibbon indicates that Colombia is obliged to engage in self-help measures, but it is unclear, what, if any, self-help measures have been undertaken.  Ms. FitzGibbon urges the Committee to ensure such self-help measures have been undertaken before a MOU with Colombia is renewed.  She also questions whether all the material described as “ethnological” on the current designated list meets the definition of such material under the Cultural Property Implementation Act (“CPIA”).

The Committee for Cultural Policy’s and Global Heritage Alliance’s written testimony concerning the Colombian renewal can be found here: https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0044

Brian Daniels (Archaeological Institute of America) indicates that Colombia has met all four determinations for a renewal of its MOU.  First, he acknowledges Dr. Drennan’s testimony about the collaboration between US and Colombian archaeologists.  He indicated this relates to the fourth determination under the CPIA, relating to whether import restrictions are “consistent with the general interest of the international community in the interchange of cultural property among nations for scientific, cultural, and educational purposes.”

Dr. Daniels then discusses the first determination which requires a showing the cultural patrimony of Colombia is in jeopardy from the pillage of archaeological materials. Ongoing looting in Colombia is outlined in the statement by Dr. Drennan and the SAA. He discusses recent seizures of looted cultural material in Colombia.

He also discusses the designated list and states that previous Committees had already made a determination what was considered ethnological material. 

The AIA’s written testimony on the Colombian renewal can be found here: https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0393

The Committee then turned to testimony regarding the Italian MOU renewal.

Kate FitzGibbon (Committee for Cultural Policy) recounts how both she and Patty Gerstenblith, who represented the interests of the archaeological community, were appointed at the same time, but Prof. Gerstenblith’ s application was rushed through so she could participate and vote on the initial Italian request.  Ms. FitzGibbon, who represented the trade, was not allowed to do so.  Had Ms. FitzGibbon been allowed to participate, she would have voted “no” on the request because Italy had not done enough to protect its cultural patrimony.

Since that time, Italy’s Carabinieri have done an excellent job stopping looting, but Italy has not complied with the MOU in other ways.  First, Italy has failed to allow the export of items freely available for sale within Italy itself.  Second, Italy has not made it easier for museums to secure loans. Finally, Italy has not released decades old Polaroid photographs of looted items in the Medici archive.  Instead, Italian authorities have shared them with a researcher who used them to play “gotcha” with auction houses.

The Committee for Cultural Policy’s written testimony about the Italian renewal can be found here:  https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0391

Arturo Russo (International Association of Professional Numismatists) speaks for the premier professional trade association for coin dealers.  He starts his statement with a Latin maxim, “pacta sunt servanda” which roughly translates as “bargains are to be observed.”

He notes that after the initial MOU with Italy in 2001, Italy did as promised make it easier to export Italian cultural goods, including coins.  However, since import restrictions were first imposed on coins in 2011, it has become increasingly difficult to obtain export permits, and today it is almost impossible to get such permits for even low value and common ancient coins.

Last year, Italian authorities published regulations that state that you cannot even apply for an export license unless you can prove that an archeological object is outside of the ground before 1909, the date of Italy’s first cultural patrimony law.  Italy has over twenty different export offices and luckily some of them don’t enforce this regulation, as quite rightly, they do not consider coins in trade to be archeological items. On the other hand, other offices, like that in Milan, apply this regulation in a very stringent manner, and require proof of provenance before 1909.  This makes it impossible to export ancient coins, because only few coins have a provenance stretching back that far.  Just to be clear, ancient coins are freely bought and sold inside Italy, but they become “illegal” and important to Italian cultural patrimony only when one applies to take them outside of Italy, which is unacceptable. 

The situation is so egregious that there have been cases where coins that were legally purchased by Italian collectors in US auctions prior to 1980 where not only denied an export license, but were confiscated simply on the basis of lack of provenance prior to 1909. It is worth noting that coins have been collected since the Renaissance. There are studies from prominent Italian scholars, which Mr. Russo would be happy to share, which demonstrate that coins in the market should not be treated as archaeological objects because an immense number of coins were found before 1909. Nevertheless, most of the coins do not have a documented provenance because until the recently auctions were limited to coins from highly important collections. Mr. Russo notes that in 1994 the two most prominent numismatists in Italy, Silvana Balbi De Caro and Francesco Panvini Rosati, stated that only coins documented to be from an archaeological find are of archaeological interest. 

In 2012, Mr. Russo’s firm, Numismatica Ars Classica, represented a group of investors that purchased and dispersed the Archer Huntington collection of coins.  This large collection was assembled between the end of 19th century and 1930. The collection was property of the Hispanic Society of America and on loan to the American Numismatic Society. The vast majority of the Ancient coins in the collection did not have a documented provenance prior to 1909 and theoretically if purchased by an Italian collector, would be subject to detention and seizure if they were subsequently exported from Italy.  

This behavior is clearly unacceptable.  So, Mr. Russo asks that CPAC freeze the renewal of import restrictions on coins until Italy complies with its obligation to facilitate the issuance of export licenses. The current situation clearly disadvantages American collectors and institutions as coins legally owned in the States can be freely sold to Italian buyers while the same coins cannot leave Italy and be freely sold to American collectors. 

What makes the whole situation even more inconceivable is the fact that Italy has probably one of the largest if not the largest numismatic patrimony in the world. There are over 200 institutions that have coins and the largest museums like Naples, Rome and Turin have collections which contain over a million specimens each. Unfortunately, most of these collections are not published nor accessible through the internet with the result that they are almost completely inaccessible to the public.

Mr. Russo indicates that the Italian Carabinieri do an excellent job fighting looters and he knows as a matter of fact that they do not share the belief that everything without a provenance prior to 1909 has to be considered illegal. They are fully aware that a legal and healthy market exists and must be preserved. IAPN is not against a stronger cooperation between Italian authorities and US to fight illegally excavated coins coming onto the US market, but blanket restrictions are unfair to the trade. 

In concluding, Mr. Russo also indicates that any effort to extend restrictions to Roman Republican and Imperial coins is simply ridiculous as it uncontested that the vast majority of these coins are found outside the boundaries of Italy.  In closing, he reiterates that current restrictions should be frozen until Italy makes it easier to procure export licenses.  

IAPN’s written testimony about the Italian renewal can be found here:  https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0143

Peter Tompa (Global Heritage Alliance) states that current events, including mobs tearing down historic statues and Erdogan’s conversion of Hagia Sophia from a museum to a mosque, as well as the reaction of archaeological advocacy groups and some of their prominent members, raise the fair question whether lobbying on behalf of foreign governments directed at suppressing market demand is really about conservation, or about exercises of power and control.

Tompa then states that it is time for this Committee to consider a new paradigm, one which focuses not on suppressing all trade of every conceivable artifact with embargoes, but which instead facilitates lawful trade in objects, especially those legally available for sale within the country seeking restrictions. 

He indicates that there is no better place to start than this renewal.  Legal trade in cultural goods of Italian types has already been embargoed for 20 years.  During this period, Italy’s Carabinieri have mounted a successful campaign against looters.  However, largely due to the sheer number of historic sites, lack of funding and corruption, the Italian State has failed to preserve all the cultural heritage already in its care.  As set forth in the IAPN’s study, this is particularly true for small, commonplace items like coins. 

What does GHA request?  First, GHA joins hundreds of coin collectors to ask that under no circumstances should the designated list be expanded, particularly to late Roman Republican and Imperial coins.  As set forth in IAPN’s papers, only 2.8% of Roman Imperial coins hoards containing coins from Italian mints are found within Italy itself making it impossible to fairly consider them Italian cultural patrimony.  GHA also believes that the CPIA mandates that the current Italian designated list needs to be reformed to ensure it only covers items only found in Italy.  For coins, this means—using the Greek designated list as a model—that at least larger denomination coins which circulated in international trade should be delisted.

GHA also requests that any renewal be conditioned on Italy immediately facilitating the licit export of any item legally available for sale within Italy itself.  Despite solemn promises to do so under each of the prior MOU’s, as Mr. Russo has noted, Italy has actually made it harder to export ancient coins of the sort openly and legally sold within Italy itself.  

Finally, GHA also asks the Committee to facilitate lawful trade by requiring US Customs to accept legal exports from sister EU countries as legal imports of items on the Italian designated list into the United States.  Tompa indicates such a modification of the MOU is not only consistent with the UNESCO Convention, but Italian law. 

GHA’s written testimony regarding the proposed Italian renewal can be found here: https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0048

Douglas Mudd (American Numismatic Association) indicates that his organization opposes any expansion of the current MOU to include late Roman Republican and Roman Imperial coins. Such coins are found in huge numbers outside of Italy and it makes no sense to recognize Italy’s rights to them as its cultural patrimony.  The cumulative impact of current MOU’s has already done much to damage ancient coin collecting in the US.  This is a shame because ancient coins are excellent teaching tools.  Students already suffer from a lack of understanding about ancient cultures.  Roman coins have been used as an adjunct to Latin classes.  The prospect of possible seizure of their coins has dissuaded foreign collectors from sharing knowledge with US Collectors at ANA seminars and coin shows. 

The ANA’s written testimony about the Italian renewal can be found here: https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0288

Stephen J. Knerly (Association of Art Museum Directors) discussed the concerns of the country’s art museums with regard to the Italian MOU request. The AAMD’s written submission questioned whether Italy’s patrimony was still in jeopardy and whether there were less significant alternatives than import restrictions as well as problems AAMD members were having with loan agreements, but Mr. Knerly’s oral testimony focused on the last issue. Knerly emphasized that AAMD members have cordial museum to museum relationships with Italian institutions but noted that there are problems with loan agreements, in particular expensive fees.  He also criticized the State Department’s use of a standard Article II which made it more difficult to hold countries accountable to hold up their own obligations.

The AAMD’s written testimony about the Italian renewal can be found here: https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0383

Elizabeth Greene (Archaeological Institute of America) indicates that the AIA supports another extension of the MOU with Italy as necessary to protect Italian cultural patrimony.  As evidence, Dr. Greene points to “Operation Demetra,” which revealed extensive illegal excavations in Sicily linked to a buyer in London.  She also discusses seizures of 20,000 archaeological objects and 4,000 coins in other operations. She notes it is important to protect sites not only for academic, but for to help develop tourism.

The AIA’s written testimony about the Italian renewal can be found here: https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0392

Randolph Myers (Ancient Coin Collectors Guild) opposes the extension of the MOU as it applies to ancient coins.  He first focuses on any effort to expand current import restrictions to Roman Republican coins.  First, he indicates that one cannot assume late Roman Republican coins were both struck and found in Italy.  He notes this can be proved from a review of “Coin hoards of the Roman Republic Online" that is hosted by the American Numismatic Society. Found on the Internet at http://numismatics.org/chrr.  This database of Roman Republican Coin hoards mainly from the period 155 BC to AD 2 shows that such coins en masse outside of Italy. 

The data is even more significant for Roman Imperial coins.  Large numbers of Roman Imperial coins are found outside modern-day Italy. He cites "The Coin Hoards of the Roman Empire Project," found on the Internet at http://chre.ashmus.ox.ac.uld. This Project, a joint initiative of the Ashmolean Museum and the Oxford Roman Economy Project, "aims to collect information about hoards of all coinages in use in the Roman Empire between approximately 30 BC and AD 400." It proves that less than 3 % of reported Roman Imperial coin hoards containing coins from Italian mints are found within Italy, or stated another way, over 97% are found outside that Country.

The ACCG’s written testimony about the Italian renewal can be found here:  https://beta.regulations.gov/document/DOS-2020-0022-0244

Questions: Anthony Wisniewski (collector-sale of international property) asks Kate FitzGibbon (CCP) and Peter Tompa (GHA) whether EU nations have a right to export cultural goods that must be recognized by the Italian government.  Both FitzGibbon and Tompa say they believe that to be the case. FitzGibbon also notes that the basis for the new EU export law has been questioned by the Rand Corporation which debunked the claim that terrorists were using stolen antiquities as a major funding source.  Tompa notes the new law does not apply to exports of items that originated in the EU so it would not apply to Italian cultural goods.

Arturo Russo that Italy and Greece stand alone in making it difficult to get export permits for common ancient coins.  All the other major EU countries allow such items to be exported fairly easily.

Karol Wight (Museums) asks Stephen Knerly (AAMD) about courier fees.  He indicates this is a problem not only in Italy but elsewhere.  Italy treats couriers as essential visitors so they are allowed entry even during this pandemic.

Ricardo A. St. Hilaire (Archaeology) asks Brian Daniels and Elizabeth Greene (Archaeological Institute of America) about site security plans in archaeological excavation agreements in Colombia and Italy.  Dr. Daniels is not aware of the situation in Colombia. Dr. Greene has no knowledge of the situation in Italy as she has never signed a permit.  She does note, however, that archaeological groups work actively on site protection with local communities and the police.  She has seen this in action in Sicily, where she works.  She notes that local divers have helped protect underwater sites there.

James Reap (Public) and Lothar Von Falkenhausen (Archaeology) state it irrelevant and unfair to attribute the actions of prominent members of archaeological advocacy groups in encouraging or justifying mobs tearing down historic statues to their organizations.  Peter Tompa (GHA) respectfully disagrees because it raises the ultimate question whether the efforts of these groups are really solely about conservation or an exercise of power and control.  Von Falkenhausen adds that he believes in the archaeological value of coins and gratuitously states that ancient coin collectors should collect something else.  (In CPO’s opinion, this demonstrates the anti-collector bias of many of those appointed to represent the archaeological community on this Committee.  In reality, not all archaeologists take such a view and some even collect ancient coins and other mostly minor artifacts.)

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