Monday, January 26, 2015

Apologist: Tut Mask Botch Job No Big Deal

Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford has now taken on the role of apologist for the Egyptian Military Dictatorship and its cultural bureaucracy.  It's no surprise that Barford relies mainly on official Egyptian and Chinese sources for the claim that irreparable damage to the iconic Tut Gold Mummy Mask is "no big deal" despite reports the soft gold mask was also scratched in the debacle.   And Egypt is a democracy.  And the restoration of the Step Pyramid was performed to the highest standards.  And looting in the aftermath of the military takeover was caused by "cultural racketeers," not mobs angry that "their president" was overthrown.  Such are the fictions that become "fact" in dictatorships like those in Egypt and China.  So, why is Barford so willing to take Egyptian claims at face value and why are his own fellow archaeo-bloggers so willing to remain silent about the matter? Is it really about conservation or control and continued access to digs in Egypt?

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Cultural Heritage Center in Conservative Cross-Hairs

The State Department and its Cultural Heritage Center find themselves in conservative cross-hairs for wasteful spending in their Ambassador's Fund for Cultural Heritage Preservation.   The Weekly Standard paints a picture of a misguided "soft power" effort that has spent millions in anti-American countries.  In so doing, the author, Stephen Schwartz, focuses on the foolishness of giving millions for restoration projects to the same Assad regime which has bombed the Old City of Aleppo into rubble.

The article expresses hope the new Congress will scrutinize the program.  CPO also hopes Congress will also review the Cultural Heritage Center's administration of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.  Even leaving aside serious concerns about prejudgement of MOUs, it's increasingly clear that MOUs are little more than special interest programs for foreign cultural bureaucracies and the archaeologists that do business with them.  For proof, one need look no further than low public support for MOUs.  For instance, CPAC recently received only four public comments regarding a renewal of the MOU with Nicaragua, including one from the AAMD that suggested it should be turned down.

Friday, January 23, 2015

"It's a crime, it's really an art crime, it's insane.... It happened due to incompetence."

So says Egyptian archaeologist Monica Hanna about the botched repair job on King Tut's iconic gold mummy mask.  But where are Hanna's Western colleagues on this?   And how is it that the archaeological blogosphere, which goes into overdrive whenever there is a whiff of looting or other damage to Egyptian artifacts allegedly perpetrated at the behest of Western Museums or collectors, is strangely silent about the tragedy?  This deafening silence again raises the question:  Is it really about conservation or ensuring state control and continued access for professional archaeologists?

What's Wrong with the Rule of Law Anyway?

Archaeo-blogger Rick St. Hilaire has expressed alarm that the AAMD has opposed the renewal of the MOU with Nicaragua.  But the concerns that AAMD expressed relate to Nicaragua's failures to meet the statutory criteria for a renewal.   CPO also questions whether the AAMD has "changed its prior position" as much as reemphasized the importance of adhering to the letter of the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act.  So, an apt question to put to "Cultural Heritage Lawyer" St. Hilaire might be, what's wrong with the rule of law anyway?

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Egypt's Most Iconic Object Irreparably Damaged in a Botched Cleaning and Restoration Effort

King Tut's Gold Mask, Egypt's most iconic object, has been irreparably damaged in a botched cleaning and restoration effort. This horrible news is part of a pattern.  Just recently, allegations also surfaced that an unqualified contracting firm had also botched the restoration of the Step Pyramid. 

All this raises a simple question.  Is this really time to help legitimize the Egyptian Military Dictatorship with a MOU that will in effect recognize its rights to exclusive control over every artifact deemed "Egyptian?"

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

AIA St. Louis Chapter President on the Controversy

The AIA St. Louis Society President Michael Fuller has made a forthright statement to the AIA national organization about the issue of deacessioning artifacts and orphans.  Unfortunately, while Fuller sought reasonable accommodation on these issues, the AIA's ivory tower academic leadership answered with nothing but ideology and disdain for anyone not of the view that all antiquities should be the exclusive preserve of cultural bureaucrats from such authoritarian and/or dysfunctional countries as China, Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Italy and Turkey and their chosen archaeologists.  The shame of it all.   The AIA has sadly become little more than a club for out of touch academics more interested in "purity" than common sense.

It's Official: AIA Against All Dealing in Cultural Artifacts-Violators to Be Terminated

In conjunction with its revocation of the Charter of the AIA's St. Louis Society, the AIA has now also made quite clear that it's against all trade and private ownership of archaeological objects, not just those without a collection history dating back before the 1970 UNESCO Convention.

According to the AIA's new membership rules,

Cause [for termination] shall be deemed to be any action taken individually, or as an officer or director of an affiliated Society, detrimental to the purpose, interest, public image or principles of the Institute and shall include, without limitation, the use of the name of the Institute in connection with or in the furtherance of transactions involving archaeological artifacts which could have the effect of removing such archaeological artifacts from general availability for scholarly investigation or public display.

It remains to be seen how far the AIA will take this in practice and whether there will be a backlash against the AIA leadership once the effect of this rule change sinks in with the AIA's non-academic members whom are presumably the source for most, if not all, of its funds.