Monthly Archives: October 2007
Archaeology and Cultural Heritage Management Engage the Final Frontier
The current and last issues of Archaeology, a publication of the AIA, discussed the future prospects of space tourism and the need to protect historical objects orbiting our planet and left behind on the moon. Objects from the earliest days of the American and Russian space programs, these relics testify to humanity’s first efforts to travel beyond the confines of the Earth and to reach out to worlds far beyond us.
Over the next few decades, as space tourism becomes commercialized, average people may be able to take trips to the moon. Some archaeologists caution that plans need to be in place to protect artifacts in orbit and on the lunar surface. Something as iconic as Neil Armstrong’s footprints on the moon’s surface could easily be destroyed by the mere brush of a hand.
An interview regarding these concerns can be found on the Archaeology magazine website. For the articles see Archaeology 60:5 (Sept./Oct. 2007) and 60:6 (Nov./Dec. 2007).
Hot off the presses! Princeton reaches accord with Italy
Not long after Yale University agreed to return objects originally taken from Machu Picchu to Peru, another of the most prestigious American universities, Princeton, has agreed to return eight ancient pieces to Italy that were illegally excavated and exported. Like the Yale-Peru agreement, the accord between Princeton and Italy will promote scholarly exchange, with Princeton having access to scholarly archaeological digs in Italy and the ability to receive long-terms loans from Italian institutions. By doing the right thing and returning the looted pieces, they benefited ten-fold!
Read the New York Times article about the deal here.(MORE ...)
Archaeologists don’t care about ancient coins?
The notion that classical archaeologists do not care about ancient coins, or are ignorant of the utility of their study, is a myth repeatedly perpetuated by vocal members of the coin dealer lobby. One evident example is on the FAQ page of the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild (ACCG):
“Aren’t archaeologists good custodians of ancient coins?
While a few dedicated archaeologist-numismatists do care about coins and have used them to make important contributions to the study of numismatics, many, if not most, archaeologists view coins as just one means to date archaeological sites. Most well preserved specimens that numismatists prize do not even originate from archaeological sites. That is because most large hoards rarely come to light at archaeological sites; the ancients typically sought to hide their savings away from the prying eyes of neighbors. Instead of large hoards of well preserved coins, archaeologists typically find large numbers of ancient ...(MORE ...)
Archaeological ethics and the Roman metro line C
Published by SAFECORNER on behalf of the author Francesca Haack
As Rome builds the third line of its subway, workers continually chance upon archaeological material. This paper discusses the ethical considerations behind the project. Some of these considerations are the necessity to satisfy all groups affected by the project, including archaeologists, commuters, the government, and construction companies, and the obligation to publish and study the finds. Other questions of archaeological ethics that arise are what to do with the plethora of artifacts uncovered, how to store and conserve them and what should and should not be destroyed. The paper begins by discussing and analyzing the archaeological discoveries and ethical considerations of metros in other Mediterranean cities, namely Athens, Istanbul, and Naples. It goes on to discuss the lack of emphasis on archaeology during the construction of Rome’s first two metro lines as compared to the methods and findings so far from line C. Finally, the paper outlines the ethical problems above and suggests ...(MORE ...)
Cultural property law theory and United States v. Schultz
Published by SAFECORNER on behalf of the author Nora Crumpton.
Frederick Schultz’s 2002 conviction for illegally importing and selling looted Egyptian artifacts drew tremendous public attention to the illicit antiquities trade. Schultz once a successful and prominent figure in the ancient art community, quickly became a symbol of the changing tides in international cultural property disputes. In this paper, I examine the circumstances surrounding Schultz’s conviction under the National Stolen Property Act, with particular emphasis on the legal framework of the prosecution’s case. I also use United States v. Schultz as a resource for exploring several different theoretical approaches to cultural property law and assessing their strengths and weaknesses.
The conviction of Manhattan art dealer Frederick Schultz in 2002 for his part in importing and selling looted Egyptian antiquities was a landmark decision in cultural property law. Never before had such a prominent recipient of stolen antiquities received jail time for trafficking in cultural property; Schultz’s ...(MORE ...)
A critical look at U.S. media coverage of antiquities issues
This paper was given by Roger Atwood, a visiting researcher at Georgetown University and a contributing editor atArchaeology magazine, at the conference “The Future of the Global Past” at Yale University on April 14, 2007. Atwood spoke on the panel “The Media and the Message” with John Malcolm Russell, Mark Rose and Michel Brent.
Anyone who reads a newspaper knows that major American museums are facing unprecedented scrutiny in the press over their antiquities collections. Investigative-reporting teams more accustomed to covering government graft or corporate malfeasance have been probing museum acquisitions and finding dubious practices at some of the country’s most prestigious cultural institutions. In this paper, I will compare coverage by three major newspapers—The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe andThe New York Times—of antiquities issues as they relate to museums in the newspapers’ respective cities. Other news organizations, including National Public Radio and Bloomberg News, have also covered antiquities issues but these three metropolitan dailies have dedicated the most resources and set the pace within ...(MORE ...)
A critical look at U.S. media coverage of antiquities issues
“Anyone who reads a newspaper knows that major American museums are facing unprecedented scrutiny in the press over their antiquities collections. Investigative-reporting teams more accustomed to covering government graft or corporate malfeasance have been probing museum acquisitions and finding dubious practices at some of the country’s most prestigious cultural institutions.” Author and journalist Roger Atwood compares “coverage by three major newspapers—The Los Angeles Times, The Boston Globe and The New York Times—of antiquities issues as they relate to museums in the newspapers’ respective cities. Other news organizations, including National Public Radio and Bloomberg News, have also covered antiquities issues but these three metropolitan dailies have dedicated the most resources and set the pace within journalism.” Read the full story.(MORE ...)
2007 Global Candlelight Vigil for the Iraq Museum
In March 2007, on the eve of the fourth anniversary of the looting of the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, SAFE and the museum’s former director Donny George Youkhanna asked the world to pause on April 10-12, 2007 … light a candle … and remember not only the destruction that occurred at the Iraq Museum but also the destruction of cultural heritage that is occurring across Iraq and around the world every day.
The first Candlelight Vigil took place on the steps of the Iraq Museum on the morning of April 10th. Over the next few days, dozens of Candlelight Vigils and other events took place at museums, universities, schools and other venues around the world. This five-minute video memorializes those events.(MORE ...)
Will we achieve global recognition in the cultural heritage debate?
As we absorb the news of Al Gore winning the Nobel Peace Prize, let’s take a moment to recognize a simple fact. For years, Mr. Gore, his colleagues and predecessors have been battling powerful commercial interests and no small amount of misinformation in the ongoing climate debate. Yet against those odds, the truth has prevailed. Global recognition is now beyond dispute. How we react to the inconvenient truth that Mr. Gore talks about may well determine our future on this planet.
The dynamics that drive the climate debate may also serve as an analogue in the ongoing debate over the preservation of cultural heritage. In both cases, the facts and the truths that can be derived from those facts will prevail. But have we achieved global recognition in the cultural heritage debate?
What struck me most while listening to Mr. Gore at yesterday’s press conference was his razor-sharp focus and recognition that enormous difficulties lay ahead. Let’s all take lessons from this.
How we react, as a civilization, to the facts that are now beyond dispute in the cultural heritage debate will determine whether our most precious non-renewable resource — the intact evidence of our undiscovered past — will be preserved. Or not.(MORE ...)
It’s All the Same: the Looting of ‘High Art’ vs. the Looting of the Minor Arts
When ancient objects are studied from recorded contexts, usually through scientific excavation, they are invaluable historical sources. In archaeological excavations, all classes of objects are systematically recorded and studied by specialists. Archaeology has evolved from its origins in treasure-hunting and the indiscriminate antiquarian accumulation of objects into a scientific discipline, which treats each object as an historical source, the usefulness of which often revolves around the find’s context. Despite archaeology’s place as an academic discipline, which makes little aesthetic distinction between the ability of different archaeological objects to inform us about ancient society, media coverage of looting activities, detrimental to archaeology, frequently revolve around ‘high art’ objects – large statues, signed Greek vases, etc.(1) News stories devoted to cultural property issues frequently reference some unique statue or vase returning from X or Y museum to its home-country or the theft of ‘high art’ objects from museums or archaeological sites. It is clear, however, that the majority of trafficking in illicitly excavated and exported ...(MORE ...)
The Art Loss Register and Antiquities
Is the Art Loss Register (ALR) useful when it comes to preventing the emergence of recently looted antiquities? I have been collecting and discussing a range of views and comments on the subject and it seems to be an appropriate moment to take stock.
First, it is clear that if an object is already known, residing in a public or a private collection, and is then stolen, the ALR can help to identify it when (or if) it re-emerges.
Second, if an object is stolen from a public or private collection, and the theft is reported to the ALR, the database should pick it up if it comes to light.
However, there are problems if an object is stolen but the theft is either unreported, undetected, or predates the ALR. This seems to be the case for the Mummy Mask from Saqqara, or the Stele from the Thebes (Greece) Museum.
But can the ALR detect recently looted (“illegal” in contrast to “stolen”) antiquities?
Certainly ALR can help with the “due dilgence” process, but it is not the full picture. A collection which is in part formed after 1970 can still be issued with certificates from the ALR, but they only demonstrate that the objects are not known to have been stolen. (They could have been stolen but the theft could be unreported.)
The ALR does important work relating to the identification of stolen items. But does it make the limitations of its database known to potential clients? Is the ALR generating a false sense of security? Its website appears to be noticeably silent on the matter even though it notes the specialised service for antiquities.
How can the ALR become more responsive to the trade in antiquities? How can it help to save antiquities for everyone?(MORE ...)
Putting the past to use: A plea for community archaeology
Published by SAFECORNER on behalf of Barbara Betz.
The practice of archaeology can have profound and far-reaching effects, both negative and positive, on a wide-variety of people outside of academia. Community archaeology, an emerging sub-field of archaeology which aims to involve local communities in archaeological excavation and interpretation, has the potential to address many of the negative effects of archaeological fieldwork and to enhance and diversify its benefits. This article explores what community archaeology is and why it is necessary, and looks at two case studies of community archaeology in practice.
For years, archaeologists and politicians have been talking about “World Heritage” – a past that, in both its glorious and impressive monuments and its smaller more mundane particulars, belongs to everyone as a part of our collective history: the Heritage of Humankind. This discourse has caught the public imagination, helped gain funding and permits for research, and promoted the preservation of certain material remains of the human past all over the world. ...(MORE ...)