American Collectors Eye Events in Egypt with Mistrust
GAINESVILLE, Mo., Feb. 16, 2011 /PRNewswire/ — Ongoing developments in the Egyptian revolution and its reverberations in the Middle East have the world riveted on this historical event. Beneath the headlines, vacillating reports of vandalism and looting that allegedly took place at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo and other sites have American collectors skeptical of motivations behind the apparent orchestration of news. Spotty and contradictory reports of museum looting had barely surfaced when members of the American archaeological community were calling for import restrictions on artifacts made in Egypt. It is unclear whether any of these calls have led to consideration of such action within the Obama administration.
According to Kerry K. Wetterstrom, President of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), the reason for concern among collectors is that import restrictions like those sought by archaeologists have typically been applied far and beyond the scope of authority vested under U.S. law. Restrictions are being applied to common objects traded for centuries without provenance requirements. This tendency toward bureaucratic overreach is discussed introspectively in Archaeology Under Dictatorship, Michael L. Galaty and Charles Watkinson, eds., New York, 2004. In the final chapter: Dealing with the Devil: The Faustian Bargain of Archaeology Under Dictatorship Bettina Arnold says: “Financial dependence on the state makes archaeology especially vulnerable to manipulation by political entities, including individual leaders, whose interest in its research potential varies but is always expedient.” Coin collectors see the driving force behind import restrictions as stemming from a belief that legitimate markets for cultural objects fuel clandestine excavation or theft in source countries. To collectors, the failure of states to enforce their own cultural heritage laws is a key factor in any illicit activity. Corruption within nationalist governments is pervasive and compounds the problem–Egypt is no exception. In A message to Dr. Hawass from Dr. Hany Hanna, the Egyptian conservator says, “We will not accept the continuation of the same system and the faces of corruption in the field of archeology and conservation.” Recent reports of calls for the resignation of Dr. Hawass seem to be growing in intensity.
The ACCG, while equally concerned about archaeological site looting, has opposed unreasonable import restrictions and has argued that the best approach to reduce looting and corruption is to address the problem at the source.
For more information on the ACCG, see:
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SOURCE Ancient Coin Collectors Guild