Tag Archives: conflict antiquities

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.”

Conflict Antiquities Symposium

ANS, 1944.100.30790
ANS, 1944.100.30790

Dr. Ute Wartenberg Kagan, Executive Director of the American Numismatic Society, will be speaking on the subject of “Coin Collecting and the Conflict in Syria” this evening as part of a symposium co-sponsered by the U.S. Department of State and The Metropolitan Museum of Art . “Conflict Antiquities: Forging a Public/Private Response to Save the Endangered Patrimony of Iraq and Syria” features two panels of experts that will review international cooperation against looting in Iraq and Syria and discuss a new initiative to combat the trade in conflict antiquities. The event will be live-streamed starting at 4:30PM EDT:  http://bcove.me/0r5bhzji

Additional details are available from the U.S. Department of State website

*Header image is the obverse of a rare silver antoninianus of Vabalathus Augustus (266-272 CE) minted in Antioch. 

ISIS, Numismatics, and Conflict Antiquities

In preparing a session on cultural property issues for the Eric P. Newman Graduate Seminar, I was reading more of the news about the systematical looting of Syria. The debate about how the sale of antiquities, including coins, helps to fund ISIS has been hotly contested, but images such as the aerial views of the ancient site of Dura-Europos are just too depressing for words.

Palmyra Gate, Wikipedia
Palmyra Gate of Dura-Europos via Wikipedia

What I had missed until I read Sam Hardy’s blog on conflict antiquities is the discovery of a numismatic book among an unlikely assortment of weapons and somehow academic-looking publications. The photograph below was one taken of materials confiscated by the Kurdish People’s Defence Unit after a battle with Turkish Islamic State fighters.

‘New documents unravel ISIS-Turkish state cooperation’ (c) Mehmet Nuri Ekinci, Ajansa Nûçeyan a Firatê (ANF), 3rd June 2015
‘New documents unravel ISIS-Turkish state cooperation’
(c) Mehmet Nuri Ekinci, Ajansa Nûçeyan a Firatê (ANF), 3rd June 2015

An open page shows what numismatists and archaeologists identified immediately as a group of various Persian and Phoenician coins, with some text below. I knew right away that I had seen this page some time in the past, and after a few minutes I was able to decipher the title of the article, ”La Syrie sous la domination achéménide” by Maurice Sartre. A Google search quickly confirmed that this was published in the volume Archéologie et Histoire de la Syrie II, edited by Winfried Orthmann and Jean-Marie Dentzer and published in 1989. Here is the entry for the book in the ANS Library Catalogue, and upon arriving at the ANS this morning, I was able to confirm the identification:

American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Society

Towards the end of the book, there is a map of archaeological sites of Hawran, an area in southwestern Syria:

American Numismatic Society
American Numismatic Society

The confiscated book is missing the first pages, its dark-green hard cover, and very last page (p. 591). The page with the text and images of coins in the Syrian photograph is page 17. Incidentally, the first volume of Archéologie et Histoire de la Syrie was published in 2013.

There is indeed a personal connection of mine to the book. Winfried Orthmann was professor of Near Eastern Archaeology at Saarbrücken University, where I attended his lectures as an undergraduate. And the book was published and printed in my hometown Saarbrücken.

IMG_116018Now how this very scholarly book on archaeology of Syria ends up in the hands of ISIS fighters is an interesting question. I, for one, have never underestimated the often erudite knowledge people who are involved in looting ancient sites in the Mediterranean. For people interested in a general overview of coins from Syria, this book is indeed helpful. Articles by Christian Augé on “La monnaie en Syrie à l’époque hellénistique et romaine” (pp. 149–190, with four plates illustrating 71 coins) and by Cécile Morrisson (who won the ANS Huntington Medal in 1995) on “La monnaie en Syrie byzantine” provide excellent and well-illustrated introductions to the coins of this region. Her article gives a considerable amount of detailed scholarly information on site finds of coins in Syria.

So this is an extremely unlikely find—a scholarly, not exactly inexpensive, and heavy—book on the archaeology of Syria in the hands of ISIS fighters. If anyone doubts the multifaceted connections between looted antiquities and war in Syria, this discovery has to make one wonder.

Ute Wartenberg


Ar-Raqqah Museum

After my last post identifying the Archéologie et Histoire de la Syrie (1989) as the volume confiscated from ISIS fighters, Professor Winfried Orthmann, one of the editors of this German collection of essays on the archaeology of Syria, sent me an email. He informed me that he had sent a copy of the book to the director of antiquities at the Ar-Raqqah Museum. It is also possible that the had an additional copy of the book. Raqqa, a city in the Euphrates River in the northern region of Syria, has been a stronghold of ISIS for a while, and the looting of its museum has been widely online (see, for example, this and this). In any event, it is certainly possible that this relatively rare academic volume seen in the photos was one of the copies from the Ar-Raqqah Museum.