The U.S. State Department has approved another MOU, this time with Yemen's Saudi backed government which stands accused of complicity in human rights abuses and the intentional bombing and shelling of Yemeni cultural sites.
Effective Feb. 5, 2020, import restrictions have been imposed under the MOU on a wide variety of Yemeni archaeological and ethnological artifacts, including coins and books and manuscripts, which would cover religious artifacts of Yemen's displaced Jewish population.
The list of coins is extensive. It includes:
9. Coins—A reference book for ancient, pre-Islamic material in Yemen is M. Huth, Coinage of the Caravan Kingdoms: Ancient Arabian Coins from the Collection of Martin Huth, New York, 2010, pp. 68-152. A reference book for Islamic coinage to A.D. 1750 is S. Album, Checklist of Islamic Coins, Santa Rosa, 2011, pp. 116-127. Some of the best-known types are described below:
a. Ancient—In gold, silver, and bronze/copper, with units ranging from tetradrachms down to various fractional levels.
i. Earliest coins from Yemen are imitations of silver tetradrachms from Athens; feature a bust of Athena on the obverse and an owl on the reverse. The style of these imitations is distinctive, and they are usually marked with Arabian monograms or graffiti. Approximate date: 500 B.C. and later.
ii. Minaeans produced schematic imitations of the Athenian coinage; these coins have angular shapes, often triangular. Style is distinctive with monograms with Arabian letters. Approximate date: 200 B.C.
iii. Sabaeans struck distinctive local imitations of Athenian tetradrachms, with or without monograms, often with the curved symbol of Almaqah to the right of the owl, and of smaller units than previously. In the 1st century A.D., the head of Athena is replaced with a male bust resembling Augustus; owl on the reverse continues, as do monograms and the curved symbol. In the 2nd and 3rd centuries A.D., a beardless male head appears on the coins with the curved symbol, and a facing bucranium (a bull's head) appears on the reverse with the curved symbol and monograms. Approximate date: 400 B.C.-A.D. 300.
iv. Himyarite coins feature beardless male heads on the obverse coupled with bearded male heads on the reverse. Various South Arabian monograms appear on the coins. Rulers include Yuhabirr, Karib'il Yehun`im Wattar, Amdan Yuhaqbid, Amdan Bayan, Tha'ran Ya`ub, Shamnar Yuhan`am, and unknown kings. Approximate date: 110 B.C.-A.D. 200.
v. Qatabians produced imitations of Athenian coins also in 2nd-4th century B.C., with or without monograms; distinctive style. From the 2nd century B.C. to the 2nd century A.D., head of Athena is replaced with male ruler portraits, including those of Yad'ab Dhubyan Yuhargib, Dhub, Hawfi`Amm Yuhan`am III, Shahr Yagul, Waraw'il Ghaylan, Shahr Hilal, Yad`ab Yanaf, and various unknown rulers. Reverses of early types have the owl, while later types have a second portrait on the reverse. Approximate date: 400 B.C.-A.D. 200.
vi. Bronze coins from Hadramawt have radiate male portraits in a circle on the obverse and a standing bull on the reverse; Arabian symbols appear. Approximate date: A.D. 200-400.
vii. Various South Arabian types imitate Athenian coins, Hellenistic Alexander tetradrachms with a head of Herakles on the obverse and Zeus seated on the reverse, and Ptolemaic coins with a cornucopia on the reverse. Style is distinctive; designs are accompanied by Arabian monograms.
b. Islamic Period—In gold, silver, and bronze, and including anonymous mints in Yemen, and coins of unknown rulers attributed to Yemen. Non-exclusive mints are the primary manufacturers of the listed coins, but there may be other production mints.
i. `Abbasid coins struck in gold, silver, and bronze, at non-exclusive mints San`a, Zabid, `Adan, Dhamar, `Aththar, and Baysh mints. Approximate date: A.D. 786-974.
ii. Coins of the Amirs of San`a, struck in gold, at the mint of San`a. Approximate date: A.D. 909-911.
iii. Rassid (1st period) coins struck in gold and silver at Sa`da, San`a, Tukhla', and `Aththar. Approximate date: A.D. 898-1014.
iv. Coins of the Amirs of Yemen, struck in silver, at an uncertain mint. Approximate date: A.D. 1000-1100.
v. Coins of the Amirs of `Aththar, struck in gold, at the mint of `Aththar. Approximate date: A.D. 957-988.
vi. Tarafid coins, struck in silver, at the mint of `Aththar. Approximate date: A.D. 991-1004.
vii. Ziyadid coins, struck in gold and silver, at non-exclusive mint Zabid. Approximate date: A.D. 955-1050s.
viii. Khawlanid coins, struck in silver, at the mint of San`a. Approximate date: A.D. 1046-1047.
ix. Najjahid coins, struck in gold, at the mints Zabid and Dathina. Approximate date: A.D. 1021-1158.
x. Sulayhid coins, struck in gold and debased silver, at non-exclusive mints Zabid, `Aththar, `Adan, Dhu Jibla. Approximate date: A.D. 1047-1137.
xi. Zuray'id coins, struck in gold, at the mints of `Adan and Dhu Jibla. Approximate date: A.D. 1111-1174.
xii. Coins of Mahdid of Zabid, struck in silver, at the mint of Zabid. Approximate date: A.D. 1159-1174.
xiii. Rassid (2nd period) coins, struck in gold and silver, at non-exclusive mints Zufar, San`a, Sa`da, Huth, Dhirwah, Kahlan, Muda', `Ayyan, Bukur, al-Jahili, and Dhamar. Approximate date: A.D. 1185-1390.
xiv. Ayyubid coins, struck in gold, silver, and bronze, at the mints of Zabid, `Adan, Ta`izz, San`a, al-Dumluwa, Bukur, and Mayban. Approximate date: A.D. 1174-1236.
xv. Rasulid coins, struck in gold, silver, and bronze, at non-exclusive mints `Adan, Zabid, al-Mahjam, Ta`izz, San`a, Tha'bat, and Hajja. Approximate date: A.D. 1229-1439.
xvi. Tahirid coins, struck in silver, at the mint of `Adan. Approximate date: A.D. 1517-1538.
xvii. Rassid (3rd period) coins, struck in silver and bronze, at the mints of San`a, Zafir, and Thula. Approximate date: A.D. 1506-1572.xviii. Ottoman coins, struck in gold, silver and bronze, at the mints of Zabid, San`a, `Adan, Kawkaban, Ta`izz, Sa`da, al-Mukha, and Malhaz. Approximate date: A.D. 1520-1750.
(Ironically, both Martin Huth and Stephen Album's firm have expressed concerns about import restrictions on coins to the Cultural Property Advisory Committee (CPAC) in the past. Yet, here their scholarly works on these coins are being cited as a basis for the restrictions!)
What's All the Fuss About?
The archaeological lobby supporting import restrictions have pitched them as a "consumer protection" measure designed to keep U.S. collectors from buying recently looted material. Yet, they must know that import restrictions are controversial to the trade and collectors because, as construed by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, they embargo all undocumented items of types on designated lists imported after the effective date of the regulations, not just items illegally exported from a UNESCO State party after the effective date of import restrictions as required under Cultural Property Implementation Act (CPIA), 19 U.S.C. §§ 2601, 2604, 2606, 2610. Such regulatory actions have converted CPIA import restrictions into embargoes of all objects of restricted types rather than targeted, prospective import restrictions that do not impact the purchase of artifacts from the legitimate marketplace abroad.
Import restrictions have been particularly hard on coin collectors and the small businesses of the numismatic trade because most collector's coins (which typically are of limited value) lack detailed provenance histories necessary for legal import. This has greatly damaged the legitimate trade in such items with fellow collectors, especially from within the E.U.
Jewish groups will feel particularly aggrieved by the State Department's treatment of their concerns. As has been the case with other MOU's made by the Obama and Trump State Departments on behalf of other authoritarian MENA regimes, import restrictions authorized by the MOU with Yemen contain no explicit exemption for artifacts once owned by Yemen's displaced Jewish population. That means the restrictions on books , manuscripts and other archaeological and ethnological artifacts also apply to Torahs and other personal property (like jewelry) that had to be abandoned when Yemeni Jews were forced from the country. As these groups see it, this is tantamount to U.S. State Department recognition of the rights of Yemen and other authoritarian Arab regimes to their personal and communal religious property.
There also is the obvious question about whether this MOU is really about "cultural property protection." Pursuant to the CPIA, any artifacts U.S. Customs and Border Protection seize will be sent to Yemen, a country involved in a multi-party civil war, and be given over to the custody of a government which itself has been accused of complicity in bombing cultural sites.
Finally, there is an important issue of process. The short comment period allowed before the CPAC meeting to address the MOU with Yemen (which encompassed important Jewish Holidays) raised suspicions at the time whether the decision was already a "done deal." Certainly, there was plenty of evidence of lobbying by the Antiquities Coalition, an archaeological advocacy group with ties to authoritarian MENA regimes in support of the MOU. Moreover, just recently, the U.S. Embassy in Jordan seems to have confirmed what Cultural Property Observer has long feared- that the State Department bureaucracy views CPAC as a mere rubber stamp for an agreement already worked out in advance among the archaeological lobby and the State Department and source country bureaucracies. Hopefully, going forward, CPAC's new Chairman and its new members will do their utmost to instead ensure CPAC sticks to its mandate to offer the State Department decision maker useful advice on whether or not to agree to a MOU based on inputs from all stake holders-- not just those associated with the archaeological lobby who already have strong relationships with the State Department Cultural Heritage Center.
Certainly, CPAC and Trump Administration political appointees need to ask themselves whether the State Department is providing a good example to MENA governments about what good governance and democracy mean. They also need to consider how the actions of the State Department are impacting ethnic and religious minorities, American small business owners, museum professionals and collectors, all of whom will be voting in the upcoming Presidential election.