Thursday, October 23, 2014

Feds Pay SLAM $425,000 in Legal Fees for Defense of Forfeiture Action

The US Government has paid the Saint Louis Art Museum's lawyers $425,000 in legal fees after the government lost its effort to seek the forfeiture of the Ka Nefer Nefer Mummy Mask.

Hopefully, the DOJ will now think twice before pressing another dubious, stale claim on behalf of a military dictatorship.   And let's also hope that this award stiffens the resolve of museum directors everywhere to fight questionable, stale claims to important pieces in their collections.

Archaeo-blogger Confirms that It's Not About Conservation, It's About Control

Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford, who purports to speak for the archaeological community on portable antiquities issues, has responded to noted cultural property lawyer Bill Pearlstein's views about Cuno's latest article condemning repatriation.

However, in attempting in his own way to "be clever," Barford has only unwittingly confirmed what CPO has "observed" for quite some time:  All the talk at CPAC meetings about supposedly "preserving context" by honoring the UNESCO Convention in applying the broadest restrictions possible really is far more about ensuring "control" than "conservation."

Thank you, Paul Barford.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Cuno's Case Against Repatriation

James Cuno has made a well-reasoned case against repatriation.  What a welcome contrast to the blatant propaganda that has become associated with the archaeological lobby.

If Cuno fails at all, it's in his ignoring the interests of collectors, who have traditionally supported healthy museums.

And then there is his failure to reach as a conclusion the all too obvious end result of the cultural nationalism he decries:  if anything, the reality on the ground in Egypt, Syria and Iraq proves that sites are looted and museums are destroyed precisely because angry, disenfranchised locals associate state owned antiquities with hated dictatorial regimes who have appropriated the past to serve their own purposes.

Propoganda

It appears that German collectors and auction houses are now getting "the treatment" from access journalists who make the inflammatory claim that Western collectors are supporting terrorism in Syria and Iraq.

 Even with rudimentary knowledge of German, sophisticated collectors who have seen it all before will recognize the usual cheap tricks—shots of a well-known auction house juxtaposed with scenes of war and looting.  And then there are the interviews with some of the usual suspects—Van Rijn, Muller-Karpe, Bogdanos, etc. who apparently readily agree about a link between terrorism and collecting.   The underlying premise is that that collectors and dealers are funding ISIS and the only way to stop it is to suppress collecting.   


Amusingly, the filmmakers' camera keeps focusing on two solitary lots of early Middle Eastern objects in a German auction—as if all the air time they receive makes up for the lack of hard evidence supporting the filmmaker's thesis.  And, of course, no good propagandist will fail to mention the decade old looting of the Iraq Museum whatever its current relevance.

So what we have is more of a morality play than a true documentary. The heroes, of course, are archaeologists, the Caribinieri (who selflessly help countries like Iraq) and local cops while the villains are terrorists, looters, auction houses, and the shadowy collectors and dealers who support them. 

But this tale is at best incomplete.  Nowhere does anyone pause to consider whether looting is an expression of hatred for the repressive governments that have appropriated the past for their own nationalistic purposes.  And what of the roles of cops and archaeologists in these repressive regimes?Doesn't their unqualified support for nationalistic laws that declare anything "old" to be state property make them partly responsible for the unfolding tragedy?   

Oddly, the filmmakers appear to be operating on much firmer ground in Lebanon than in Germany. Some of the best footage depicts what Lebanese authorities have seized.   Still, CPO can't help wondering if any of the icons that are shown were confiscated from Christian refugees who have escaped with their lives and a few treasured possessions from ISIS.  If so, the filmmakers would be callously adding insult to real injury-- but do they really care given the point they intend to make? 

For what appears to be an English-language short of the same film, see here.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Who Burned the Museum?

The Conflict Antiquities blog is reporting on various theories on who burned a museum in a Kurdish area within Turkey.   It makes for interesting reading, but all the speculation glosses over an important point.  Museums and archaeological sites in places like Egypt, Iraq, Syria and now Turkey have become targets precisely because hated dictatorial or authoritarian governments have appropriated the past to help further their own agendas.   So, is the greatest threat to the preservation of the past in such countries Western collectors or the nationalistic regimes that use the past to lord it over the locals?

Where is the Petition Asking Turkey to Control its Borders?

The archaeological lobby's petitions asking the UN to call for a ban in the sale of Syrian antiquities have already received their share of attention in the archaeological blogosphere, but as far as CPO can tell, no scholar has yet proposed any similar petition addressed to the President of the Turkish Republic asking that Turkish authorities crack down on any effort to use the country as a transit point for looted artifacts.  After all, the Turkish Republic is uniquely situated to stem the flow of illicit Syrian antiquities given its long border with the country.  And with a large and well trained army, it can and should be able to control its own borders. 

Wonder why?

Friday, October 17, 2014

Viking Hoard

A significant Viking era treasure was recently found in Scotland and reported under its Treasure Trove law.  More evidence-- if any is needed-- that systems that encourage the public to report their finds with the prospect of compensation are much preferable to those which don't.