Monday, September 15, 2008

ICE Scorecard on Antiquities Seizures

The Museum Security Network has this AP Story entitled, "Antiquities Smuggling: Growing Problem at US Ports:" The article recounts recent antiquities seizures and hypes the supposed growth in antiquities smuggling.

Despite the title, overall, I suspect that the numbers cited more accurately reflect changed enforcement priorities than anything else. As was explained to me by an old Customs lawyer, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) loves these cases because of the publicity. The problem, of course, is that the quest for publicity often leads to hype that is not reflective of reality. Statements like these certainly don't help: "'A nation's culture is not for sale. These are not souvenirs to be displayed at someone's house,' said Anthony Mangione, a special agent in charge of the Miami office of the agency also known as ICE." In particular, this statement implies that collecting itself is somehow an illicit pursuit. Apparently, Agent Mangione does not know or much care that cultural artifacts have long been collected, preserved and displayed legally by Americans in their own homes for generations.

Again, while no one should condone smuggling, preservation of cultural heritage would be better served if there was less hype and more of an effort to incentivize source countries to pass fairer laws akin to the UK's system of Treasure Trove. That way, any problems would be largely addressed at the source than through our criminal justice system here.

A major problem in my opinion is that ICE and other federal agencies rely far too heavily on archaeologists with an axe to grind against collectors and museums as major sources of information. Using activists as experts is patently unfair and no doubt has led the government to overreach on occasion. (See: One hopes that the new "Penn Cultural Heritage Center" will not institutionalize this problem, but that remains to be seen.

1 comment:

Voz Earl said...

"A nation's culture is not for sale. These are not souvenirs to be displayed at someone's house."

I read this quote the other day and nearly laughed out loud. It is perfectly indicative of a sort of Neanderthal mindset rampant among law enforcement types in which all the complexity and subtlety of real life issues is boiled down into black and white, good guy vs. bad guy slogans.

Perhaps special agent Mangione would care to qualify his pronouncement along the lines of, 'A nation's culture is not for sale...uhh, unless the "souvenirs" are legally exported--in which case, the sale of a nation's culture is perfectly legitimate and morally acceptable--VIVA LA SALE OF THE NATIONAL CULTURE! VIVA!'

Something tells me he hasn't spent much time pondering the implications of his blanket condemnation of collecting.