• In the Limelight: Female figurines and provenance

    Applause must be gathered for a small exhibition at The Brooklyn Museum. Hosted by the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art, The Fertile Goddess prominently focuses on the topic of provenance as a format for discussion. One wonders why the curators made such bold statements about the museum’s collections. Perhaps this was allowed because of the unique position of the Sackler Center as an institution functioning simultaneously within and beyond the confines of the museum’s hierarchy. This space in the Brooklyn Museum, known as the “Herstory” gallery, explores the guests of Judy Chicago’s The Dinner Party with The Fertile Goddess on view until May 31, 2009.

    The didactic text that amazed me is set as a prominent wall panel placed in the center of the exhibition. It discusses the acquisition of collections “through archaeological excavations, as gifts or loans, or by purchase.” For example, the Halaf figurine on display was purchased from a dealer. Its provenance is unknown and its ...

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  • US ratifies the Hague Convention

    Stephen Engelken, Chargé d’Affaires a.i. of the United States of America to UNESCO, points out that through the ratification the US “had decided to formalize its practice of protecting cultural heritage during armed conflicts and emphasized that the United States military personnel had already been trained in the Convention, added that the Convention would enter into force in the United States immediately.”

    To date, 123 countries have ratified the Convention. (Photo: © UNESCO/M. Ravassard)

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  • Tons of Looted Afghan Antiquities Heading Back– Why Now?

    National Geographic has an interesting story about England’s return of literally tons of Afghan antiquities seized at Heathrow over the past six years since the destruction of the Taliban regime. Although the story notes that

    Poor villagers lacking other sources of income use shovels and wheelbarrows to cart off precious objects from historic spots around the country, while criminal gangs smuggle the loot to Pakistan and onwards.

    The Kabul government remains too cash-strapped, and too caught up fighting the Taliban-led insurgency, to do anything about it. (Afghanistan’s own Ministry of Culture was the target of a suicide bomb attack last October.) And despite efforts to raise awareness among Pakistani customs and law enforcement officials, the situation is no better across the border.

    What is missing from the article is any indication of what, if anything, is being done by overstretched coalition forces to assist the Afghan government to protect some small fraction at least of its sites. Nor is there any indication whether ...

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  • More on Iraq’s Amnesty/Rewards Program for Turning In Looted Antiquities

    Donny George has kindly clarified that the amnesty program is not new, but is mentioned in Iraq’s antiquities laws. Antiquities coming to the museum are brought before a special “Technical Committee” which decides on the amount to be awarded the person who brought them. The money comes from the annual budget of the SBAH, as a line item. Sometimes the funds are exhausted before year end, and more monies have been requested from the ministry of finance to support the program. In 2003-2004, for obvious reasons, it was difficult to get money for the program, but the SBAH kept records for every one that brought antiquities to the museum, and payments were eventually made.

    Perhaps as useful as the artifacts themselves is the information that those returning items are supposed to provide the Committee regarding where and how they obtained the items to begin with. According to Donny George, such leads have in the past helped archaeologists locate hitherto unknown sites.

    The problem with the turnover of materials by high-level officials, however, is that — if these officials are to be believed — they merely accepted antiquities from their constituents. If that is the case, and those constituents cannot be identified and brought before the Committee, then any chance of tracking antiquities back to their original sites is lost.

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  • Iraq Appears to Have a Portable Antiquities Scheme of Its Own

    According to a new report from Azzaman, Iraq has adopted a new law not only immunizing those who turn in looted antiquities but offering them compensation. It is not clear if there is any requirement to assist antiquities officials in locating the sites from which items may have been taken.

    To read more, go to The Punching Bag.

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  • Art or Artifact? An opinion of “Beyond Babylon”

    A brief review of the exhibition, Beyond Babylon: Art, Trade, and Diplomacy in the Second Millennium B.C. at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (Special Exhibitions: Beyond Babylon) allowed this author to reflect on current practices of exhibiting ancient artifacts. (A more comprehensive exhibition review was undertaken by Archaeology Magazine Editor Eti Bonn-Muller: ARCHAEOLOGY: The Art of Foreign Influence).

    Participating institutions as well as foreign Ministries of Culture provided artifacts for display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (MMA). Lebanon, Greece, and Egypt among many other source countries were an integral part of the exhibition. Loans from Turkey suggest good relations with the country after the 1993 return of the Lydian hoard. However, a large amount of loans also came from Western museums in France, the United Kingdom, and the United States. In each case, the source of the loan was documented on labels and plaques highlighting their contributions, also acknowledged in the glossy exhibition catalogue. Read more. ...

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