Posted by: CoinCoin Post Reply
I know there are many realistic archaeologists who fight a rear-guard action against the Retentionists' militancy. This was the theme of the journal TASART linked to, and similar views get published in related fields. But I don't agree that the burden of proof is on the seller to assure buyers that antiquities are "fair trade" or that buyers should avoid any class of things just because there is no such assurance. In the marketplace as it exists, and likely always will exist, sellers in these source countries have to be secretive even when selling things that have long been above ground, such as family heirlooms created by known ancestors and passed down. There are always corrupt officials who will seek to confiscate or demand bribes, and they could care less about digging or national treasures. No dealer in the west can get a straight answer out of the chain of supply, and the more the archaeologists and source-country politicians turn up the heat, the less the information flows. There is no such thing as a "reputable" dealer who knows the provenance of every object, unless they handle only high-end things traced through centuries of auctions, but somewhere in time behind this, there is a pit in the ground anyway. Archaeologists have to cooperate with corrupt regimes because they are the ones who grant permits to dig. What they don't have to do, but do anyway, is promote the permanent warehousing of common objects, which eventually come to ruin through neglect or are sold out the back door. A sensible policy would be to catalog what is excavated and sell duplicative items through a network of dealers, with certificates, which would generate funds for protection of sites and future excavation, depress the market prices for looted items, and provide buyers with surely genuine articles. Not one source country does this. As far as thefts from museums, yes, that is a crime, and specific stolen objects should be sought by customs in collector countries, but that is not the same as placing blanket restrictions on importers of mostly common things, who can not possibly get real information from sources. The ideas that middle-eastern museums have been widely looted or that artifacts of any source provide a significant funding for terrorism have been debunked, but they are always raised by apologists for the the warmongering nations (US, UK foremost) who are responsible for the unrest in the first place. Telling collectors to avoid things because they "might" have come from a "site" is unrealistic. Rather, better tell the archaeologists to use their lobbying and pulpits not against collectors, but against warmongering and corruption, and in favor of sensible engagement of the marketplace and turning cultural pride in source countries toward vastly better funded identification and protection of significant sites.
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