• Oscar Muscarella’s "Fifth Column" of Plunder Culture

    All too often, debates about cultural property are made to look simply like battles between curators/collectors/dealers and archaeologists. In an article published in Studies in Honor of Altan Çilingiroglu. A Life Dedicated to Urartu on the Shores of the Upper Sea, Eds. H. Saglamtimur, et al. Arkeoloji ve Sanat Yayinlari, Istanbul, 2009, “The Fifth Column Within the Archaeological Realm: The Great Divide,” Dr. Oscar White Muscarella looks at the network of plunder in all the complexity it deserves, and pays special attention to an overlooked accomplice in the continued destruction of the past.

    According to Muscarella there are four visible mutually supporting columns operating within the realm of “Plunder Culture.” These groups, in order, are: on-site looters or tombaroli, smugglers and local dealers, professional antiquities dealers, and lastly, wealthy collectors, including museums and ...

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  • Prison time, felony charges rare for relic looters in USA

    The strength of the market for antiquities and the consistent failures of the US legal system to deal with those committing offences against the 1979 Archaeological Resources Protection Act, together with a lack of manpower and other priorities for investigators, means that the US is currently “witnessing the wholesale stripping and selling off for scrap our collective American heritage“. Despite a push in recent decades to get tougher on artifact looters, there are no significant signs that prosecutions or punishments are having any major effect on looting, especially those that steal for commercial purposes, writes Mike Stark Associated Press writer (“Prison time, felony charges rare for relic looters“). It would seem the answer lies in controlling the market more closely. More here.

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  • In the name of ethics…

    Yesterday, a French celebrity collector, Pierre Berge, alleged that he offered to donate two Chinese bronze animal heads to Taiwan’s National Palace Museum but was turned down. AFP reports that the museum’s refusal was rooted in ethical reasons as well as a reluctance to incite conflict with China. The article quotes the director of the museum, Chou Kung-shin saying: “In accordance with professional museum ethics, we can’t collect disputed artefacts.”

    “Disputed” is the keyword here. These artifacts were not recently looted, but stolen from Beijing by the British and French during the Opium Wars in 1860, and Beijing has repeatedly asked for their repatriation. There were no laws in place 150 years ago to protect these items – the museum’s refusal to accept the bronzes was on moral, not legal, grounds. This incident is reflective of what I hope is a growing consciousness of the role that cultural heritage plays in a country’s relations with other nations.

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  • Roger Atwood launches new Web site

    Roger Atwood has been writing on art, archaeology and museums since the late 1990s in books and articles. His new Web site collects much of that writing along with photos, a bio, and excerpts of reviews of his SAFE Beacon Award winning book Stealing History. The book was the inspiration for SAFE Tours, which Roger has given since 2004.

    SAFECORNR congratulates Roger on this user-friendly and well organized resource. Check it out at www.rogeratwood.com.

    Photo: Werner Romero

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