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Restrictive German Heritage Law Approved by Cabinet

November 20, 2015. Despite an overwhelmingly negative art world response to a draft German cultural heritage law, the German federal cabinet approved the draft proposed by Minister of Culture Monika Grütters on November 4. The proposed law is likely to be enacted by the Bundestag early next year.

Criticism of the law came from modern artists such as George Baselitz and Gerhard Richter, who threatened to remove loaned works at German museums. (Baselitz withdrew his paintings from the Albertinum Museum in Dresden in July.)

Antiques dealers have attempted to bring their concerns to the cultural ministry, but say their arguments have been dismissed.

CONTENTS OF THE DRAFT LAW    An October 8, 2015 report by Ursula Kampmann in Coins Weekly summarized the effect of the third draft of the law on antiques, antiquities and coin dealers:

I. The new law enlarges the definition of “cultural heritage” to any movable thing or aggregate of things “of artistic, historical or archaeological value or belonging to other cultural heritage categories, particularly of paleontological, ethnographical, numismatic or scientific value.”

II. The definition of “putting cultural heritage on the market” also applies to a “free submission and transfer” of cultural heritage so that a collector might be prosecuted if he donates illegally acquired art or coins to a museum.

III. Under the proposed law, all “cultural objects” valued at €300,000 or more and older than 70 years will require an export license to leave Germany.

IV. The law reverses the burden of proof when it comes to objects in legal dispute, placing it on the current owner or seller. The law requires that if an ownership claim is made by a source nation, the current owners of ‘cultural goods’ with a value of at least €2500 must provide proof of the item’s provenance for the previous 20 years. In the case of any item classified as ‘of archaeological value’, the threshold value to require this proof is €100.

V. It is sufficient for an object of cultural heritage to be considered the property of a nation if that nation classifies the item as national heritage. The item no longer has to have a special artistic, historical or archaeological value.

VI. If an owner of a cultural good that is repatriated can prove that he exercised due diligence in its purchase, he can receive financial compensation according to its current market value. If the owner cannot prove that he exercised due diligence, there is no compensation.

VII. Whoever unlawfully imports or exports cultural heritage or puts it on the market unlawfully may be sentenced to up to five years in prison and a financial penalty. The prison term may be between one and ten years incarceration if the person convicted acts for gain or as a member of a gang of criminals. If a dealer acts recklessly, he may be sentenced to a financial penalty or to up to three years in prison.

PROTESTS    Media reports have focused primarily on objections to the draft law’s effect on the contemporary market, which is a far larger market than the market for antiquities.  The first draft placed restrictions on sale and export of works as recent as fifty years old and worth over €100,000 euros. The current draft requires an export license for works over seventy years old and valued at over €300,000, excluding a far larger section of the contemporary market from regulation. Artworks by living artists can now only be categorized as national treasures with the artist’s consent. The later draft mitigates some concerns for contemporary artists, but not for art dealers in modern art, antiques, or antiquities. In an article in Die Welt, German contemporary art dealer Michael Werner accused the German state of using proposed law to track wealth and generate revenue from the cultural industry. “They want to know, despite contrary statements, what private citizens have hanging in their living rooms. They want to make money, as they did in 2014 with the ‘normalization’ of the VAT rate on works of art,” he wrote.

Antique dealers believe that requiring proof of provenance going back twenty years for virtually every antiquity will be an insurmountable burden since art frequently changes hands and there was no requirement to keep records of prior ownership in the past.

International art dealers have protested both the due diligence requirements and its implied characterization that all trade in antiquities is inherently illegitimate. British coin specialists AH Baldwin & Sons stated that the law’s “due diligence” requirement is “an unrealistic demand which completely misrepresents those items that are currently traded on the international market.” The protesters believe this due diligence clause – and the bureaucracy it will creates will severely damage the legitimate market.

The restrictions on import and export of antiquities are seen by some in Germany as politically correct. For example, while Liberal politician Hermann Otto Solms criticized the provisions related to modern art, saying that “The bill seriously weakens the German art market and could lead to artists and collectors taking their works overseas as a precaution,” he also stated that the provisions regulating the import of ancient and ethnographic art and the return of “illicit cultural goods” should be ratified as quickly as possible. It appears that even among those who see a free trade in art as beneficial, there is no contradiction between condemning control of German art in Germany and deferring to nationalization policies and control of art by other nations.

PROCESS    According to Coins Weekly, which is managing a petition in protest of the law, the next legislative step is to present the approved draft law to the President of the German Federal Parliament. There are then three readings of the bill in the Plenary Assembly. The Council of Elders may appoint expert committees to review controversial laws. These committees develop amendments of the draft bill that would be capable of winning a majority. A vote on the bill takes place after the third reading. At this time, final passage of the law seems likely unless there is significant public protest.

The draft law as of November 4, 2015.

The legal opinion cited by the Ursula Kampmann article by attorney Joachim Walser.

Image: Reichstag building, Berlin, By calflier001 [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Aboriginal Site “De-Registered” for Freeway

September 22, 2015. An Australian Member of Parliament expressed dismay that a Western Australia government advisory committee has “de-registered” an archaeological site that stood in the way of a freeway extension. The Aboriginal cultural materials committee (ACMC), part of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, held that the site on the bank of Bibra Lake did not have archaeological interest because a department survey found no Aboriginal cultural material. Member of Parliament Lynn MacLaren responded that the survey was “cursory” and “gobsmackingly inadequate.”

Heritage clearance was denied to the freeway project in 2013 when the department granted protections to a nearby site, identified as the sacred birthplace of the creation spirit Waugyl, the serpent that created Perth waterways such as the Swan and Canning rivers.

The most recent survey used by the department, was done on the basis of a single test pit of approximately 8 inches depth. No artifacts were found.

More that 2000 artifacts of clay, quartz, glass and chert were discovered on the site in an archaeological survey done in the 1970s. Initial analysis of the chert artifacts showed that the site could be at least 5000 years old; the glass remnants indicated that it was still in use when Europeans first arrived. Nonetheless, the de-registration of archaeological sites in the freeway’s path has continued, although the site report itself noted that the survey may have been inadequate to determine the existence of further remains.

Aboriginal rights and recognition have come very slowly to Australia, and heritage protections have lagged as well. When the Australian national constitution was written 126 years ago, it included clauses discriminating on the basis of race. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were not counted in the Australian census until 1967. Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has pushed for a referendum on amending the Australian constitution in 2017.

A bill was passed in the Western Australia parliament to recognize aboriginal peoples as the original owners of Australia on September 10, 2015. It received bipartisan support and awaits signing by the governor. Opposition Aboriginal affairs spokesman Ben Wyatt said that the constitution of Western Australia still includes derogatory references to aboriginal peoples.

March 2015 Australian polls showed that colonial attitudes toward indigenous people are changing and 73% of Australians believe that Indigenous people should be recognized in the Australian constitution.


Image: Pectoral, mother of pearl; North West Australia; South Seas Department, Ethnological Museum, Berlin, Germany, By User:FA2010 (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons,

German Law: Disaster for Collectors of Antiques and Ancient Art

July 25, 2015.  Germany’s proposed Cultural Property Protection Act, heralded by archeological hardliners at London’s April 14, 2015 Culture in Crisis Conference, now appears even more draconian in effect than previously thought. The draft text of the new German law was shared early on with archeological insiders but had virtually no input from the collector or art dealer communities. The text of the new law began to be leaked to the press in early July; the 47 page draft law (with 100 pages of comments), has yet to be officially released.*

The law gives Germany’s government the right to prohibit export of any artworks that are deemed cultural treasures (see German Law: Bad for Collectors of Modern Art).  Committees in each of Germany’s federated states determine whether export will be allowed.  What is less known about the law is that it severely restricts import of ancient and antique works, places the burden of proof of legal ownership on owners and art dealers, requires very extensive documentation for import, export, and sale, and grants access to private homes and collections by government agents with authority to seize art objects “where there is a reasonable suspicion of a criminal offense.” In contrast to the strict rules for importation, repatriation of cultural objects to a foreign country requires only a statement by the claiming country, not proof that an object was illegally removed.

Ursula Kampmann, writing in Coins Weekly, outlines the key provisions of the draft law:

Section 29 of the draft law states that the import of cultural objects is prohibited if the objects are classified or defined by UNESCO Members States or EU states as “national treasures possessing artistic, historic or archaeological value” and if the objects were transferred from the foreign state in contravention of its laws. Ms. Kampmann notes that these provisions essentially make foreign legislation the criteria for German government action. (It is important to remember that art source country legislation often classifies every single artifact as a national treasure and places blanket prohibitions on export.)

Section 33 of the draft law states that, “The import of cultural property is illegal if:

  1. the cultural property has been transferred out of a country in contravention of the state’s legislation on the Protection of Cultural Heritage after December 31, 1992, from another Member State’s [EU State] territory or after April 26, 2007, from a State Party [non-EU State that has ratified the UNESCO Convention] or if
  2.  the import is a breach of the legislation of the Federal Republic of Germany.”

The law places the entire burden of proof of an object’s lawful ownership on the importer or owner.

The law assumes recent import into Germany unless proved otherwise. Under Section 51, the law assumes that cultural objects shall be regarded as having been transferred to German Federal Territory after the law came into force if it cannot be shown that the item has been in Germany, on the domestic market or in a third country prior to April 26, 2007. Section 34 grants authorities the right to seize cultural objects where there is a reasonable suspicion of a criminal offense. Section 39 provides that the cost of storage of the object by the government is paid by the person from whom it is seized.

Collectors and art dealers fear that the draft law effectively enables expropriation of private collections by controlling their transfer. The government must be informed of the art’s location at all times and of any changes of ownership. The law overrides “the basic right of inviolability of the home,” giving government agents the right to access private homes to ensure that cultural objects have not been secretly sold. The details of controls will not be available until after passage of the law, according to the draft. The draft authorizes the Culture and Media Commissioner of the German Federal Government to prepare the actual regulations at a later date, to be voted on by the Federal Council.

Art dealers trading in cultural objects must follow very detailed “due diligence” practices. If the value of the cultural heritage is €2,500, (€100 or more for “archaeological heritage” unless the dealer has a record going back 20 years) the dealer must detail and provide the name and the address of the vendor, a description and a photographic image, investigate the provenance of the cultural heritage, research the records of prior import and export, identify restrictions of import and export (presumably from source countries and intermediate transferring countries), obtain a declaration by the consignor or seller that he is authorized to dispose of the goods, and determine whether or not the object is registered in publicly accessible lists and databases. There is no minimum valuation threshhold if the object is of a type listed in the very generalized ICOM Red Lists.

These due diligence requirements would cost more to complete than the value of many antiquities, thereby ending the market in smaller, less valuable items including most coins, glassware, ceramics and minor stone or metal objects.

Section 60.3 describes the procedures for repatriation to a claiming country.  These require only a description of the cultural object, a statement that it is considered an object of national cultural heritage by the requesting state, and a statement that the cultural heritage was transferred from its territory illegally. No documentation of the illegal transfer is required. An owner would receive compensation only if he performed the requisite due diligence in acquisition of the object, for example, by demonstrating 20 years of known provenance . Compensation could be given to an owner only if he actually actually performed the due diligence – and would be his purchase price only.

Ms. Kampmann points out that there is no provision for determining whether an earlier, lawful transfer, for example through purchase of an antique or ancient item at a Swiss or French auction, would provide a German owner with protection as a lawful purchaser.

It appears that much of the rationale for the German legislation is founded on spurious claims similar to those raised in the US regarding the need for draconian legislation affecting private and museum ownership as well as trade: the claim that looting of art is a major funding source for terrorism. The preamble to the German draft law also recites the unproven claim that enactment of severe import restrictions on antiquities would not only “combat traffic in illicit artifacts in Germany” but also curb the activities of terrorist organizations said to be “more and more financed by illegal excavations at archeological sites.”

An international petition to support the right to privately collect antiques, coins, and ancient art is being circulated on the Internet. See:

*This post is largely drawn from Ursula Kampmann’s article, Ministerial draft updating the legislation on the Protection of Cultural Heritage, translated by Annika Backe, which appeared in Coins Weekly on July 16, 2015.

Image: Wikimedia Commons, Bestandteil der Bemalung eines Raumes einer römischen Villa am Fuße des Vesuvs, vermutlich in Boscoreale. Höhe der Figur ca. 23 cm. Landesmuseum Württemberg.

German Law: Bad for Collectors of Modern Art

July 25, 2015.  Publication of the draft of Germany’s new Cultural Property Protection Act has provoked a firestorm of criticism in the German art world. The outcry by collectors and dealers has focused press attention on the effect on contemporary art and obscured some of the law’s most harmful effects on the collecting and trade in antique and ancient art. (See German Law: Disaster for Collectors of Antiques and Ancient Art, July 25, 2015.) Robert Ketterer, head of auction house Ketterer Kunst said the legislation raises the danger that important German artworks may only be sold within Germany and no longer traded internationally.

The wrath of the art collecting community is focused both on the invasion of collectors and dealers’ privacy and the export restrictions that would severely limit, if not kill Germany’s art market, shrinking it (as Italian export restrictions have reduced the Italian market) to a fraction of its former size and rendering Germany unable to compete with other world markets.

Many say the draft law amounts to state confiscation of private collections through refusal of export permissions for “national cultural objects,” even within the EU. The new law has a protectionist goal – to keep very broadly defined ”national treasures” inside Germany by requiring approval for export by a 5-member board in each of the 16 Bundesländer German states. These state-level regional boards will have authority to authorize or deny permission for export of artworks and artifacts older than 50 years or valued at €150,000 ($165,900) or more. Although the draft law’s export provisions appear at first glance to apply only to German artworks, comments by Germany’s cultural minister Monika Grütters indicated the law could apply more broadly to modern art by non-German artists, pointing to a recent sale by a German casino of works by Warhol as a sale the state might have an interest in. Export of non-German antiques and antiquities would also be subject to national claims by other nations.

Government officials claim the law merely adds teeth to existing EU and German law. Germany already limits the export of German Cultural Property through the 1955 Act to Prevent the Exodus of German Cultural Property, most recently amended in 2007. Over 2,000 works of art already cannot be exported or require legally binding agreement to return cultural objects for loans.

However, in an interview with Deutsche Welle (DW) German art lawyer Peter Raue pointed out that the new draft law goes far beyond previous German law: under the earlier law, “works sold in non-European countries are subject to an export permit. Here’s the decisive element: This export permit is given if the work has not been stolen, does not belong to Jewish heirs, and is not counterfeit. Whether or not the works sold abroad are German cultural assets has never been an issue.” Raue said that if the new law is approved he will advise collectors to send their art collections out of Germany.

Although German cultural officials have denied that the law will be used to appropriate collections, the preamble to the draft indicates that while it may cost millions in implementation and through costs to the German economy by reducing the value of Germany’s art market, these costs are justified because it will become much cheaper to buy works in Germany that the state wants for its museums.

German artist Georg Baselitz has already withdrawn nine paintings and a sculpture from long-term loans to German museums. Artists Günther Uecker and Gerhard Richter, and Mayenn Beckmann, granddaughter of Max Beckmann, have stated that they will consider removing artworks from German museums in protest. Art attorney Peter Raue stated that the result would be a “bloodletting for the museums.” The Art Newspaper quoted Kilian Jay von Seldeneck, of Lempertz auction house, who noted that, ”The German cultural landscape depends on private collectors who have donated tremendous works to public institutions.”

On July 16, culture minister Grütters responded to the furor by altering the draft text to change the export license requirement from works older than 50 years to 70 years, and from values over €150,000 ($163,000) to over €300,000 ($327,000). It has been suggested that the government might eliminate the anti-privacy provisions that give state authorities free access to private homes and business to inspect artworks. These concessions would do little, however, to assuage collectors’ concerns, and nothing to address the devastating impact of the proposed German law on antiquities collectors.

Image: Sculpture by Georg Baselitz at the entrance of the Museum für Gegenwart, Hamburger Bahnhof)By Frenchinmorocco (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

US House Passes HR 1493 Cultural Property Legislation – Will Senate Be Next?

June 8, 2015. The US House of Representatives passed HR 1493, the Protect and Preserve International Cultural Property Act on June 4, 2015. The bill that passed has good intentions in its desire to prevent the importation of pillaged, looted, or stolen cultural property. However, it has been strongly criticized for its expansive scope, which could harm the legitimate trade in art and antiques, for failure to provide a simple mechanism to give at-risk antiquities safe harbor in US museums, for requiring repatriation at the request of a foreign government or other owner that could send at-risk art back to the Assad Syrian Government, and for its creation of a new review body that will operate without transparency and without input from US collecting museums, collectors, the trade or the public to determine US policy. HR 1493 has been widely criticized for bypassing the 1983 Convention on Cultural Policy Implementation Act (CPIA) and the existing Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC).

HR 1493’s goal is “to protect and preserve international cultural property at risk due to political instability, armed conflict, or natural or other disasters, and for other purposes.” The bill provides that the Secretary of State shall designate a Coordinator between Federal agencies and a new coordinating body to recommend restrictions on importation of cultural property. The bill covers “cultural property” as defined under Hague 1954 and the UNESCO 1972 and UNESCO 1970 Conventions.

This coordinating body is tasked with “developing strategies to reduce illegal trade and trafficking in international cultural property in the United States and abroad, including by reducing consumer demand for such trade.”

In its present form, the bill affects importation of material that is archaeological, historical, cultural, rare scientific, or of religious importance unlawfully removed from Syria on or after March 15, 2011.

The bill as passed by the House was modified slightly from the original proposed form, but still fails to adequately address the concerns expressed by the Association of Art Museum Directors, the Committee for Cultural Policy and others because it places no limitation on repatriating to Assad; no protections for refugees fleeing with personal property such as icons; and bypasses the public input required under CPIA.

Image: Author, Khani Zaitoun, own work, 20 November 2012. Dome in Khan As’ad Pasha. Khan As’ad Pasha is the largest khan in the Old City of Damascus,covering an area of 27,000 sq ft. Throughout the Ottoman era, it hosted caravans coming from Baghdad, Mosul, Aleppo, Beirut and elsewhere in the Middle East.

Culture in Crisis Conference: Platform for Restrictive German Law

Updated May 27, 2015.  Despite its billing as a forum to explore solutions to the destruction and looting of artifacts and monuments in the civil strife in Syria and Iraq, the April 14, 2015 London Culture in Crisis Conference was short on facts about cultural losses and skirted key issues of how to preserve or rescue what remains in these devastated countries. Instead, speakers heaped vitriol on the art trade and used the conference as a platform to promote repatriation to countries still in crisis and passage of new national laws that could virtually end the circulation of antiquities in Germany and limit export to the EU.

Many speakers spoke enthusiastically about pending, still unpublished German legislation whose provisions would reportedly (1) restrict all art importation in Germany to objects with an export permit from the source country, and (2) require export licensing for all cultural goods from Germany even within the European Union. Since very few objects in circulation over the last century have export permits from source countries, such provisions appear primed to end the antiquities trade in Germany.

(At an April 22nd hearing at the Ministry of Culture in Berlin, Prof. Monika Grütters, Federal Government Commissioner for Culture and Media, spoke at length comparing a “billion” dollar illicit art trade to illegal trade in drugs and weapons. The export licensing she proposed for cultural goods would include objects from paintings and porcelain to antiquities and would involve separate systems for each of the 16 German federal states. It was suggested that licensing process could take up to three months. Hardliners asked that the German law be made retroactive to 2008 or even to 1970. Critics of the proposed law sought to bring to lawmakers attention that data on global annual turnover of the open market shows that the market for classical and preclassical antiquities is less than 200 million euros per year, and that the percentage of that market coming from Syria is a small faction of that number. No text of the proposed law has been made publicly available.)

Although several conference speakers from Germany mentioned the desirability of a government-funded plan to research the extent of the market, it appears that the study of the market would happen only after passing laws to effectively end it. Consistently, panelists and speakers failed to credit art dealers, collectors or even collecting museums with any interest in protecting monuments and antiquities anywhere – still less in the Iraq and Syrian crises.

Stéphane Théfo of Interpol was one of the few speakers who stated that the art market and auction houses could be allies in the efforts to track illicit art as it surfaced and to promote art market good behavior. He noted that auction houses have signed agreements with UNESCO not to buy Syrian objects. Although Interpol representatives have recently shown themselves willing to use discredited sources on the volume of the trade– for example, relying on a National Geographic article rather than law enforcement data – M. Théfo acknowledged that documentation of source country and site inventories was an essential step in curbing theft. He also urged that there be government registration of goods held by art market participants, mentioning that only a few states have created an obligation to keep an accurate register. Source country registers were not discussed.

James Ede, of the International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA), was the sole presenter in defense of the art trade (text). Ede said the picture of the art trade presented at the conference was false both in totality and in specifics. Addressing other speakers’ demands for documentation, he pointed out that in Britain, a detailed documentation system already exists in the VAT requirements for identifying the source of every purchase he makes. In addition, IADAA members are required under the organization’s rules to check any item sold for over 3000 euros against databases of lost and stolen art. He noted that collectors, dealers and museums have been denied access to inventories of stolen art like the Becchina archives, held by a Cambridge academic, making it more difficult to determine if items are stolen. Ede said that technology now exists to record objects cheaply and that UNESCO should focus on recording both museum and off-site inventories because once an object is recorded, the chance of recovery is far greater. He said that IADAA is involved with a project to build a database of objects now in the market for perpetuity, a huge demonstration of good faith, and a step that will make life much more difficult for those who deal illegally.

Ede said anyone with any knowledge of the legitimate market knows that it has no interest in buying looted goods from Syria and Iraq; the preservation of ancient cultural heritage is as important to the art trade as for any academics or archaeologists. He noted that it was the job of museums to collect and preserve for the benefit of the public and that this was impossible without the art trade.

Ede said that although there is certainly looting taking place in Syria and Iraq, the amount entering the market has been very small. He said, “The idea that ISIS has been paid for with Roman tear bottles worth $200 apiece is complete trash…The real question is what can be salvaged from these wars and by what means.”  He closed by asking the audience to spend just 15 seconds to think of Nimrud, a place he and many others had never seen, and now never would see.

A high proportion of speakers were from Germany, all extolling the benefits of the proposed German legislation. Professor Markus Hilgert is the director of the Ancient Near East Museum, Berlin State Museums- Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, a museum that holds 500,000 objects from Iraq, 95% of which were obtained many years ago through the practice of partage. Dr. Hilgert presented on a trans-disciplinary research project on the illicit trade, acronym ILLICID, with partners in customs and law enforcement, the German Federal Foreign Office, Federal Commissioner for Culture and Media, German Commission for UNESCO and ICOM. The 2015-2018 ILLICID project is financed by the Federal Ministry for Education with 1.2 million euros – a primary goal is to understand the illicit market in detail.

Dr. Hilgert also announced a program for Iraqi-German Expert Dialog on Iraq’s Cultural Heritage at Archeological Sites and Museums (ICHASM), which he defined as an expert panel to define and set methodological and operational guidelines for the “infrastructure, political, legal, scientific and operational requirements for sustainable exchange and development of knowledge.” This program is also financed by the German Federal Foreign Office. Although neither of these research programs have yet any results, Dr. Hilgert advocated for a German system of stricter import controls and mechanisms to return objects to source countries. He proposed a requirement that all archeological objects to be imported into Germany have export documentation from the source countries of origin. (This, despite the fact that almost all the ancient art in circulation has no export documentation, and that for most countries even today, no system of export documentation exists.)

A panel comprising Andreas Goergen, director general of culture in the German Foreign Office, Stefano De Caro, director General ICROM, Jonathan Tubb, British Museum, and Cori Wegner, Smithsonian Institution, and chaired by Hermann Parzinger, President of the Prussian Heritage Foundation, spoke on ‘International Perspectives and the Role of Museums’ at the Culture in Crisis conference.

Andreas Goergen described plans in Germany to implement a strict law stopping imports, then asked how much would be left in the market if proof of provenience was required: very little, he said. Hermann Parzinger strongly supported all prosecutions of antiquities claims, adding that it would be good to have “one of these cultural destructors in front of the Hague tribunal.” He absolved public museums from playing an important role in purchases of looted antiquities – but claimed that buyers from all around the world were on the Turkish border placing orders for ancient statuary from Syria and Iraq. In response to an audience comment that there were “grey” areas in dealing with antiquities, he asserted that if there were “grey” areas between the “white” and “black” markets, the grey was very dark indeed. Parzinger said the international community should reaffirm the international framework of treaties on cultural property and work to strengthen them.

Cori Wegner, who chairs ICOM’s disaster relief task force, advocated for making cultural heritage an integral part of the humanitarian response to crisis, and urged having a plan in place for heritage protection long before a crisis occurs, since a purely reactive response after crisis does not work. Dr. Wegner urged international cooperation for teaching locals heritage preservation, especially among museums and other cultural organizations that could provide on the ground assistance. She pointed to how the Smithsonian, Metropolitan Museum, and the German Archaeological Institute were able to work together to assist at the Islamic Museum in Egypt after it was bombed. ICOM is giving basic emergency training, buying equipment for museum and heritage staff in Iraq. She said that cultural heritage experts have a responsibility to train military to help them to understand their countries’ obligations under the 1954 Hague Treaty to protect heritage.

Stefano De Caro, currently Director General of ICCROM, said that it is essential to educate the general population to see the local archaeological resources as a central part of their local heritage; the next step in museology was to build local museums and cultural centers in Italy. Interestingly, De Caro said that negotiation for long-term loans to US museums should be revived and expanded, since Italy had plenty of materials that could be used abroad and that Italy should expand loans for research and exhibition free of charge. (This would be a noteworthy departure from the current Italian policy which has limited loans to museums that have sent art from their collections back to Italy and there have been recent demands from Sicilian cultural authorities for exorbitant loan fees). De Caro also said that research by foreign museums should be on art from Italian storage rooms, not on items acquired from the market, as Italy had so much in storage that should be researched.

Jonathan Tubb was one of the few speakers to address plans for immediate needs to preserve artifacts and monuments. Tubb acknowledged that it is not possible to do anything now to protect the archeological sites now under ISIS control but said that it was essential that qualified specialists be ready to step in whenever it is possible to do so. The British Museum is creating an educational program in emergency heritage management, conservation, techniques of recording, and other skills where a group of Iraqi trainees can be instructed along with archeologists. Dr. Tubb also pointed out that people in many nations often have a very strong interest in their local heritage, but when faced with people who are holding guns and persecuting them, the population does not have the option of defending their heritage.

In a recorded statement, Maamoun Abdulkarim, Director General of Antiquities and Museums, Syria acknowledged that the absence of government institutions contributed to systematic clandestine excavations and extensive smuggling. He blamed Mafia from neighboring countries and claimed antiquities experts were advising on what to dig for. He said that fighting damaged 140 buildings in Aleppo and another 1000 damaged by fire. Displaced people are living inside sites and using stone blocks from sites to rebuild destroyed homes and buildings. He said that 99% of artifacts from museums are safely stored. Maamoun Abdulkarim listed a dozen meetings, conferences, and relationships established between Syrian cultural heritage officials and foreign organizations, but without explanation of specific results from these cultural connections.

Speaking from the audience at the close of the last panel, Sir Colin Renfrew congratulated the German government on putting forward new law, and he made the very unusual claim that there was an increase in auction prices for unprovenanced antiquities. However, recent sales such as that of the Northampton Museum’s Egyptian sculpture have shown the opposite – that the most valuable ancient art today is not the most beautiful nor the rarest pieces, but the ones with the longest and least questionable history of ownership.

The conference was jointly sponsored by Yale University and Victoria & Albert Museum. Videos of all the conference presentations are available on YouTube.

Image: Nimrud, By M.chohan (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Please note: This is an updated post with a correction regarding scope of German law.