Sunday, July 6, 2008

Peru Officials Find Pre-Hispanic Textiles on Sale in Lima Tourist Market

This article posted on the Museum Security Network List piqued my interest:

Peru officials find pre-Hispanic textiles on sale in Lima tourist market

The Associated Press
Saturday, July 5, 2008

LIMA, Peru: Shoppers at a tourist market in Peru's capital could have netted greater bargains than they thought -- rare, pre-Hispanic textiles costing little more than a Machu Picchu magnet. Police and archaeologists raiding the block-long, outdoor Indian Market June 27 found swatches of centuries-old cloth -- mainly from the Chancay culture -- nestled among itchy llama sweaters and other mass-produced Peruvian handicrafts. The textiles, likely scraps from looted archaeological sites, were pasted atop decorative boxes and sewn into dolls that sold for as little as US$6.50, said Blanca Alva, chief of the Historic Patrimony Defense Department for the government's National Cultural Institute. Some dated as far back as the 13 th century. Alva didn't say why the material sold so cheaply, but she said the vendors knew exactly what they were selling. Some of the boxes decorated with ancient textiles sold for $50. "We saw with our own eyes a saleswoman hiding a box with swatches of the textiles in another stand, trying to get rid of the evidence," Alva said. According to Peruvian law, the destruction, alteration or sale of pre-Hispanic cultural artifacts can carry a prison sentence of three to eight years. Peru's famed pre-Inca art is featured around the world, especially the colorful weavings of ancient civilizations that thrived along the Andean nation's coast. But Peruvian officials are trying to crackdown on "huaqueros," or looters, who illegally traffic the artifacts, Alva said. The government has seized about 620 objects made with ancient textiles in three raids, one of them in the Duty Free shop of Lima's Jorge Chavez International Airport.

I obviously don't think its a good thing to cut up ancient textiles to decorated tourist trinkets. Also, Peruvian police have the right and obligation to enforce Peru's own laws aimed at stopping the looting of archaeological sites. At the same time, the fact that such artifacts were sold openly at a tourist market and even a duty free shop at the airport points to the fact that "the situation on the ground" can be quite different from what we hear from members of the archaeological community. Also, I suspect at least some members of the indigenous populations that make up the "looters" question the rights of the government to keep them from making a living off of artifacts left by their ancestors. I guess this is where "community archaeology" mentioned in a prior post should come in.

Perhaps, Peru should also create a licit market for such materials. Certainly, the Peruvian government does not have the funds to properly study, display and store all the artifacts from the ancient civilizations located within the bounds of the modern day nation state. A licit export market of more mundane material could help spread interest in Peru's ancient cultures, help stimulate tourism, help preserve artifacts, help fund Peruvian archaeology, and help poor indigenous populations put food on the table.

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