• "We had no idea it was a library"

    The CNN story on the burning of the library in Egypt contains a telling vignette:

    At least one demonstrator was unaware that the structure was a library containing historical documents. “We had no idea it was a library. We love our country. Why were the military thugs on the rooftop of the building in the first place, throwing debris and rocks at us? They destroyed it, not us, and now they will use it to turn public opinion against us and label us thugs,” said Ahmed Ali, a student and activist involved in the clashes.

    “Since when are buildings or manuscripts more important than the lives of humans?” he added.

    The demonstrator’s comments hold several lessons one hopes will be learned by heritage protection advocates…

    (For more, go to The Punching Bag)

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  • After Iraq National Archives, after Baghdad Museum, after Cairo Museum, Why Was Egypt’s Library Not Secured?

    The burning of the Egyptian Scientific Institute in the midst of the chaos in Cairo is a cultural disaster on a par with the worst acts of destruction of heritage in recent years, arguably worse than the losses to the Iraq Museum (since stolen artifacts can still be recovered, whereas the burned original manuscripts are gone forever). Whether the fire was started by a Molotov cocktail or, as some have asserted, was set by the soldiers inside the building, is not yet clear, and may never become clear. What is clear, however, is that the burning of this library reflects yet another abject failure of heritage policy to protect heritage when it is most at risk.

    It is not as if this eventuality was unpredictable. After the Cairo Museum was robbed ...

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  • EBay: Lip service is not enough!

    Screen shot 2012-03-23 at 9.27.52 AM
    As the holiday shopping season goes into full force, eBay – the leading online auction and shopping site – once again offers a dizzying array of objects listed under “antiquities.” Described as “early Neolithic,” “Bronze age”, “Tang Dynasty,” to “Khmer,” “Pre-Columbian,” “12th Century Djenne,” “Ancient Roman,” etc. these “antiquities” are advertised to originate from all corners of the world. They include coins, pottery, shards, pieces of “ancient” monuments, statues, textiles, jewelry of all kinds, so on and so forth. The prices offered would suit any budget, ranging from a mere penny to millions of dollars, usually with shipping thrown in for free!

    According to eBay’s web site:

    Listings for antiquities have to meet the following criteria: ·       Items have to be authentic. ·       Sellers have to include ...

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  • Sad news out of Iran…

    This link takes you to a Tehran Times article (brought to my attention by Museum Security Network) discussing the on-the-ground looting situation at the ancient city of Dastvar, Khuzestan Province, Iran. After five excavation seasons spanning the 1960s-1990s, it appears that what’s left of the city and its cemeteries are being looted away at a frightening pace. Part of the Elymais (Elam) city-state east of the Tigris, historical and numismatic records have illuminated the reigns of at least 27 Greek and/or locally born kings spanning c. 147BC-224AD, and a few key events reported by scribes of later (or successive) Empires, after the fact. As always with large sites such as these, much remains unexcavated and/or not fully understood, especially in regards to daily life and deathways for non-elite individuals.

    With each hole dug by a looter’s spade as opposed to an archaeologist’s trowel, another piece of what’s knowable about the city’s rise and fall is erased forever. Every burial recklessly opened represents another individual life that archaeological science will never be able to bring to light. This has all been explained before, and yet such blatant looting to feed the international trade continues, with local and foreign professionals feeling powerless to stop it. Are we? As this example of Parthian artifacts for sale attests to (also here…note the VCoins connection), it is arguable that dealers and buyers in demand-side countries have yet to accept full responsibility for their part in this vicious cycle. We’re waiting…

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  • Should genuine ancient archaeological materials such as coins and pottery shards be repurposed and sold as jewelry?

    “Should genuine ancient archaeological materials such as coins and pottery shards be repurposed and sold as jewelry?” reads the poll currently displayed in the right hand margin. Until yesterday there were 20 votes for no, 2 for yes. Then on the US ancient coin collector’s forum “Moneta-L” this post appeared yesterday:

    Safecorner — the anti-collecting organization has a new poll (anonymous – one click): “Should genuine ancient archaeological materials such as coins and pottery shards be repurposed and sold as jewelry?” So far, only 31 people have responded. How sad! Why not head over to:http://safecorner.savingantiquities.org/ and register your vote. It will be fun ;-)

    The poll results have now taken on a wholly different character with the inflow of new readers as a consequence.

    SAFECorner is of course NOT “anti-collecting”, but some of us might feel that turning numismatic research material into wearable geegaws certainly IS.

    In their public pronouncements, US collectors of ...

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  • What about "cultural treasures" still in the ground?

    The European Commission just announced “a public consultation on a way to prevent the illegal trafficking of cultural goods removed from member-states” as well as their safe-keeping and restitution. The focal point for these efforts is Europeana – the digital library of millions of “culturally significant objects,” with the goal to “get all heritage digital.”

    “Without digitisation, our cultural heritage — the artefacts in Europe’s libraries, museums, galleries and archives — is like gold lying in a vault somewhere. We need to give ordinary people the key to access it,” Vice President of the European Commission and European Digital Agenda Commissioner Neelie Kroes reportedly said. A commendable effort, indeed.

    However, in order “to prevent the illegal trafficking of cultural goods” the problem of looting – and the plunder of artifacts that have yet to be excavated, documented and studied – must also be addressed. Looting denies everyone access to knowledge that belongs to us all. The chain of supply and demand to feed the illicit antiquities trade must be severed.

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