Prof. Malcolm Bell thinks they do and explained why during his lecture at GWU on March 4, 2010. Prof. Bell is a past VP of Professional Responsibilities for the Archaeological Institute of America. He is best known as the excavator of Morgantina in Sicily and for his work assisting the Italian Government in its repatriation efforts.
Somewhat unexpectedly, Prof. Bell did not start his lecture with slides of the magnificent Morgantina treasure that was repatriated from the Met. Instead, Bell began with an image of a 13th c. representation of Shiva. The statute was allegedly discovered by a farmer in India in 1976. It ended up in London where it was restored, then seized and repatriated. Along the way, a court evidently recognized the archaeological site from which it was taken as the Plaintiff in the case. This story helped inspire the idea that antiquities themselves should be granted rights.
Prof. Bell passed out a hand-out that elucidated these antiquities' rights. They include the rights to: (1) preservation of original context; (2) physical integrity; (3) proper conservation; (4) accessibility; (5) appropriate maintenance; and (6) documentation. He then applied these rights to the Morgantina treasure, along the way recounting the now familiar tale of how the artifacts were thought to have been found and the story about how the Met was pressured to repatriate them.
Basically, the Italian government asked Bell to excavate the area in Morgantina from which Italian authorities thought the treasure had been illicitly excavated. This took Bell to the ruins of a small house which showed evidence of looting. After hearing the story, I wondered how such a magnificent treasure could have ended up in such a small house. One might expect its find spot would have been in a much more substantial structure, but perhaps the treasure was hidden in this rather unlikely location to keep it from the Romans, who sacked the city circa 211 BC. [It is my understanding though the Met has turned over the treasure to Italy, it still disputes the proof offered by the Italians for its origins.]
In any event, Bell's views about giving antiquities rights took me back to law school where we discussed whether "trees' should have standing to bring court cases. In the US, we do not recognize standing for things such as antiquities for fear of flooding the courts with lawsuits.
One also can criticize Bell's proposal because he seems to assume archaeologists and nation states should be the ones to "speak" for antiquities. Of course, who does the "speaking" will decide what the antiquities "want." For example, let's flip this around to having coin collectors "speak" for ancient coins: "I've conferred with the coins in my collection--and they have informed me they are much happier living with me in comfortable surroundings rather than being cooped up in some dank storage somewhere!"
Kidding aside, Prof. Bell's lecture was an interesting one and well worth attending. He made excellent use of his slides, particularly to explain how he tried to reconstruct the context of the Morgantina treasure.
Oddly, at the end of his lecture Prof. Bell also expressed some of the same feelings about "communing" with antiquities that I have heard from fellow collectors. I suppose antiquities hold the same mystical power over some archaeologists, even as other archaeologists belittle such feelings in favor of a strictly "scientific approach" to the past.