An interesting debate over ancient Roman coins is going on. It's collectors vs. archeologists and the renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding with Italy. Looting is not a good thing, but if coins are not found in an archeological-rich setting then it would seem they should be enjoyed and traded. But a lot of damage and loss of history can be done without some regulation in place. And how do you know for sure where they were found or how they were collected?

It's somewhat similar to finding arrowheads or fossils. If antiquities have been removed from their orginal location (particularly a long time ago) and do not have archeological value and/or are not particularly rare then it is nice to be able to collect them. Selling arrowheads and fossils to me though is a gray area–not particularly desirable from the scientist's viewpoint. Knowledgeable amateurs have made, however, significant contributions to paleontology and archeaology.

Here are the two sides of the argument:

1) From part of one archeologist's perspective:

"Since the collectors have whipped up a lot of emails calling for the "internationalist" (free for all) approach to antiquities imports, anyone with an interest in helping preserve the archaeological record will be interested in adding their voice to counter the collectors' nonsense. By all means read the collectors' reasons for opposing import vigilance. they are quite an eye-opener as to what is going on in the US trade of antiquities. Apparently actually having valid export licenses for the antiquities imported from Italy "will add to the cost" of collectible antiquities. That is an astounding pronouncement - it implies that artifacts are currently on open sale by those dealers which are "cheaper" because they were imported but do not have valid export licenses. Astounding."

2) From the Ancient Coin Collector's Guild perspective:

The U.S. State Department has announced a date of May 6-7 for Cultural Property Advisory Committee hearings on the request for renewal of the Memorandum of Understanding with Italy. In practical terms, the U.S. government is about to decide whether antiquities and other forms of cultural property that Italy claims as its heritage ought to be restricted from entry into the U.S. unless accompanied by Italian export permits. There is already such an agreement in place, but ancient coins have been exempted twice before in these renewal requests that cover a 5-year window. We have very good reason to believe that Italy and members of the archaeological community will this time seek to add coins to the list of restricted items. There is a period open for public comment on the issue and the best way to comment is by fax. Don't despair, this is VERY easily done. Simply go to the ACCG web site at  and click on the Fax Wizard link (picture of U.S. Capitol Building) on the left side of the page. It says "Fax Your Legislator" but will indeed send your message to the State Department. You will be guided through a brief and easy to follow process that sends a free fax to the State Department registering your views. Why oppose these import restrictions? Because Roman coins are at the very core of the cultural experience that we all treasure. They have circulated all over the known world in antiquity and since through trade and collector markets. It is impossible to distinguish a Roman coin found in Britain, for example, from exactly the same type, mint, etc found in Italy. Requiring an export permit from Italy on a coin found and legally exported from Britain would not only be impractical, it would not have any legal foundation. Still, any court challenge by an individual is unlikely since the legal costs usually far exceed the value of seized objects. Import restrictions are simply not a viable solution to protecting archaeological sites. They are an idealist panacea that cause far more harm to society than any possible good. Excluding the U.S. collector and trade from the legitimate world market for Roman coins, or unilaterally forcing draconian documentation requirements on Americans, would be grossly prejudicial and would certainly be against the interests of American citizens and their traditional freedoms. We simply MUST oppose any expansion of the MOU with Italy to include coins. We must do so with an absolutely resounding voice. EVERY person reading this has an interest in ancient coins, even if you don't collect Roman coins, and needs to make their view known. The entire hobby is being challenged. There is simply nothing more important to do RIGHT NOW than to take five minutes, go to the ACCG fax wizard and register your concern. Don't wait 'til the 22 April deadline. The ACCG will defend the hobby to the best of its ability, but in the final analysis it is the will of the people that will prevail. Those who speak most loudly and clearly will succeed. DO IT!


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