While antiquities trade lobbyist Peter Tompa believes that claims of significant connections between paramilitary violence and antiquities trafficking are ‘hyped‘, ‘dubious’, ‘wild’ ‘propoganda [propaganda]’, he finds the news that Islamic State fighters carried heavy weapons, identification material, communication equipment and a book on ancient coins so unsurprising that he finds it literally ridiculous.
Deploying the tactics that have been neatly characterised by numismatist Nathan Elkins, Tompa shared the news that “ISIS HAD A BOOK WITH PICTURES OF COINS IN IT!” He riled at the ‘implication… that this image is somehow hard “proof” that the Islamic State is funding itself with conflict antiquities’, even though he previously conceded that ‘ISIS probably derives some income from [antiquities] looting’.
What I said was that it ‘it might help us to identify which ancient coins the Islamic State is handling (or expecting to handle)’. It is difficult to understand Tompa’s attitude towards the investigation of possible evidence for an activity that he himself believes is probably happening.
Tompa sighed that, “of course”, ‘it does not seem much to matter that the coins depicted appear[ed]’ to have been made in places that are now ‘outside of ISIS’ control’. Of course, the possibility of making such judgements is dependent upon first identifying the coins. And of course, the information from the identifications has mattered very much in interpreting the evidence.
As Paul Barford noted, the books might indicate that ‘a local coin collector has been topped, his artefacts seized and his library destroyed (the numismatic book can be seen in the picture to have stab marks or bullet holes and the middle ripped out)’. In a follow-up post, I considered other possibilities, including that the fighters were studying history or strategy.
Since two of the three books were about the Pyramids, I suspect that they had been stolen by fighters who could not read them, who were keeping them for someone else to check. It still seems unlikely that the French-language book on Phoenician numismatics (and other as-yet-unknown subjects) and German-language books on Egyptian pyramids were the property of the displaced villagers.
Certainly, Tompa did not offer a blindingly obvious explanation that the archaeologists, historians, dealers and collectors in the conversation had overlooked in their frenzied search for the name of the first book. Thus, they still appear to be materials that Islamic State fighters valued enough to take and keep along with heavy weapons, identification material and communication equipment.
Tompa characterised an attempt to work out the name of a book as a ‘minor frenzy’, which he quarantined in the ‘archaeological blogosphere and Twitterdom’, despite the explicitly recognised fact that an antiquities auctioneer, a coin trader and an ancient coin forum moderator were part of the conversation – and, as was visible, were key contributors. (More tradespeople, including numismatists, shared the appeal for information.)
Why didn’t Tompa recognise the contribution of people in the trade and the cooperation of cultural heritage workers and cultural property tradespeople – the perfectly everyday cooperation of people with shared interests?
Why did coin dealer Dave Welsh make a point of not contributing, because ‘if the identity of that book could somehow be established, the archaeological blogosphere and twitterdom would then find reasons to advocate more restrictive regulations affecting importation of ancient coins into the USA’, when other people who work within such regulations had no such problem in contributing?
Even the smallest points were misconstrued. In a footnote, I acknowledged the fact that the coins had been minted in at least four different cities, but that ‘they were used and may have been deposited elsewhere’ than those four cities. Tompa directed Elkins to ‘take note‘, because Elkins has published peer-reviewed research that – partly with data from the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG) of which Tompa is president and Welsh is international affairs committee chairman – empirically demonstrates that certain ancient coins did not often circulate more widely than their locality or region and that import restrictions on those coins can be justified when there is no evidence that they have been legally exported. The non-sequitur appears to be an attempt to query either that research or the sincerity of that argument.
Whether as a lobbyist or a collector (in Tompa’s case) or as a dealer (in Welsh’s case), how do they advance the trade’s interests (which it demonstrably shares with cultural heritage workers)?