Archaeologists Plead for Import Restrictions on Common Coins





Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) representative Sebastian Heath indicated during a State Department (DOS) hearing in Washington last Friday, (November 13, 2009) stated that the AIA supports expanding the current import restrictions on cultural property from Italy to include coins. With Roman and Greek coins struck in Italy being the most popular of all ancient coins in the U.S., Heath's statement is a wakeup call for thousands of private collectors, museums and independent scholars. The Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG), a collector advocacy group, anticipates a deluge of opposition to this proposed expansion when DOS formally reviews the current Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), probably next fall.

The AIA position is controversial, even among archaeologists, with some AIA activists suggesting that preventing trade would end site looting. A 36-year-old AIA Convention resolution, expanded in 2004, restricts research on any object acquired after December 30, 1973 unless its existence (provenance) is documented earlier or it was legally exported since then from the country of origin. This excludes from study millions of privately owned coins that are legitimate "orphans" in the venerable 600-year-old coin market.

ACCG Director Kerry K. Wetterstrom represented the collectors guild at the DOS hearing with an oral presentation criticizing Italy's failed efforts to "improve the efficiency of the system to release certificates of exportation" as promised in Article II of the existing MOU. The ACCG also submitted written comment that outlines the success of British systems such as the Portable Antiquities Scheme, the Treasure Act and the Oxford Institute of Archaeology's Celtic Coin Index, started in 1961. The latter is a model of cooperation between finders of coins, archaeologists, coin collectors and the trade. Wetterstrom's presentation and the guild's written comment are posted on the ACCG web site.


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