Conflict Antiquities and the ANS

Ute Wartenberg Kagan, Executive Director of the American Numismatic Society, spoke about collecting coins and the conflict in Syria as part of a larger program about conflict antiquities last week. The event was sponsored by the United States Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, and was hosted by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City on September 29th. As described by the State Department, the panel discussions “highlighted the connection between ISIL’s looting and trafficking of antiquities and the financing of terrorist operations . . . and forged public-private education and advocacy campaigns about best practices for museums, collectors, and auction houses around the world.” Select segments of each panel were captured on video, and the PDF remarks, presentations, and slides of many of the speakers are available on the State Department’s website.

The first of two panels featured officials from the State Department, United Nations, Department of Homeland Security, and the FBI, as well as the Michael Danti of the American Schools for Oriental Research. The State Department for the first time presented publicly concrete evidence that ISIL is systematically looting archaeological sites in Syria, and is profiting from selling the antiquities on the black market.

Looted Antiquities US Department of State

This is a topic that was previously explored on this blog, but the government’s presentation leaves no doubt that there has been a very organized and focused effort by ISIL to profit from the trade in antiquities. The full PDF presentation including photographic documentation of the evidence can be viewed and downloaded here.

The second panel hosted six speakers from the ANS, CBS News, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Pergamon Museum, Christie’s, and eBay to discuss best-practices and communication regarding exercising thorough due diligence when buying and selling antiquities. Wartenberg’s presentation focused on the American Numismatic Society’s guidelines for the acquisition of coins, and its recommendations to its Members who collect about how to protect themselves from buying potentially looted coins. The ANS promotes and supports ethical coin collecting, but reminds buyers to exercise both caution and common sense when considering purchasing fresh coins from Syria and surrounding regions. You can read or download Wartenberg’s full presentation at the symposium.

Silver Tetradrachm of Cyme (ANS 1948.19.1171)
Silver Tetradrachm of Cyme (ANS 1948.19.1171)

On June 16, 2012, the ANS Board of Trustees ratified revised collections management policies, which include general principles, acquisition procedures, sales, loans, and deaccessioning criteria and procedures. These may be read online here and will also be published in the next edition of the ANS Magazine.

Throughout 2015 and 2016, the ANS will host various events during which Members will be given the opportunity to learn more about these issues, and to discuss them with the senior staff and administration. Details about these events will be posted on the ANS’s Events and Exhibitions webpage.

Lastly, we would like to underscore Wartenberg’s concluding remarks that the American Numismatic Society’s curatorial staff is committed to taking a more active role in raising awareness about the destruction of national heritage and the looting of antiquities, including coins. As she notes, much of this damage will be impossible to undo, but we will nevertheless work to “engage collectors, dealers, archaeologists, legislators, and law enforcement officials in a dialogue that creates a 21st-century academic discipline and hobby for serious coin collectors as it should be undertaken.”