Wouldn’t it be better for collectors and dealers to restrict themselves to the 145-year-old market in licensed antiquities from Cyprus?

It looks like 2017, when Cyprus and the United States will discuss the renewal of their Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on antiquities import restrictions, is going to be a long year for me. American antiquities collector and lobbyist Peter Tompa has temporarily excluded me from a perceived “archaeological lobby” in order to use the work that offended the anonymous activist against the “archaeological lobby”.

While the Cypriot Antiquities Service would plead “extenuating circumstances,” the information Hardy provides should cast the archaeological lobby’s moralistic attacks on coin collectors for contesting import restrictions on “coins of Cypriot type” in a new light.

In Cyprus, antiquities export has been licensed (or, periodically, prohibited) since 1869. At least since 1935, every antiquity should have had at least two paper trails – the state’s records and the licensed owner’s receipts. Thus, at least since then, every collector and dealer has had a legal and financial incentive to preserve their licences and receipts as well as their antiquities. While some records will inevitably be mislaid, only a certain number of files can be lost in floods. Realistically, there is a very simple reason that an antiquity does not have either an ownership licence or a state record.

And what of Cyprus itself?  Wouldn’t it be better to institute a program open to all akin to the UK’s Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Act than one based on insider access to looted material?

While there appears to have been more looting in poorer, more insecure Turkish Cypriot communities than in less poor, less insecure Greek Cypriot communities, there was equal international demand for the antiquities regardless of their source community and an equal local desperation to prevent any of them disappearing into inaccessible or invisible private collections around the world. As I explained in the post and as antiquities collector Kyri said, ‘they were complicit for the greater good as they saw it but in a roundabout way th[e]y encouraged the looting’.

It was a misguided policy. There was blowback. The unrelenting illicit consumption of Cypriot cultural property was the cause of the repetition of the antiquities amnesty. But the solution to persistent, harmful, criminal activity is not the deregulation of that activity. The solution to a misguided policy that protected local illicit collections in return for conservation and access is not the institutionalisation and expansion of that misguided policy.

Metal detecting is still a legal, licensed activity in Cyprus. Licit finders can still acquire licences for antiquities. There is still an active market in licensed antiquities. The source of the fundamental problem is not in the antiquities’ source country. Wouldn’t it be better for collectors and dealers to restrict themselves to the 145-year-old market in licensed antiquities?

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2 Responses to “Wouldn’t it be better for collectors and dealers to restrict themselves to the 145-year-old market in licensed antiquities from Cyprus?”

  1. Of course, the issue I raised related to the hypocrisy of moralistic attacks on coin collectors and others for raising legitimate concerns about import restriction on “coins of Cypriot type” in light of Cypriot antiquities service practices. As you should be aware, the real issue is shifting the burden of proof onto collectors and broad claims to everything ever made in Cyprus in ancient times rather than on items traced to illicit digs on Cyprus itself.

    But since you raise the issue of licenses, perhaps you can tell us how many have been issued in the last 10 years as well as how many export permits have been issued in that period and for what. That would be interesting reading.

    In any event, you yourself have already noted that there is a distinct difference between what the law says and how it is applied in Cyprus. And that is why a better path is a more equitable and transparent system than one that is based on favoritism for a select few. Why not celebrate the fact there are people who are interested in collecting and preserving artifacts from Cyprus’ past? The current system simply isn’t working and does no one any good.

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