Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Immediate Past President of the AIA to American Museums: Stop Collecting!

Brian Rose, the AIA's immediate past president, has been quoted as telling America's museums to stop collecting antiquities. According to the report,

Rose said he felt the era in which American museums can collect antiquities is coming to a close.

Source countries are becoming more aggressive in pursuing traffickers and enforcing laws against looting, he said.


Buying antiquities could alienate foreign governments and prevent the cooperation necessary for international loans of individual objects or traveling exhibitions, Rose said.

“You’ll end up in litigation, and you won’t be able to enter into collaborative projects,” he said. “It’s all about collaboration now.”

Rather than collect, museums ought to forge agreements with source countries to share cultural riches, Rose said.

See http://www.cleveland.com/arts/index.ssf/2011/12/conference_at_the_american_aca.html

Despite such quotes, archaeo-blogger Paul Barford continues to claim that the AIA is really not against collecting. But if so, where are quotes from the AIA's leadership indicating that they support the rights of ordinary Americans to collect minor portable antiquities, such as coins, let alone more significant items?

Addendum: For more on the AIA's anti-collecting stance, see http://www.archaeological.org/sitepreservation/faqs

Q: Isn’t this disagreement between collectors and archaeologists really the work of a bunch of radical archaeologists who have lost touch with the public?
A: No, in fact, the stand taken by the AIA, the oldest and largest archaeological organization in North America, is representative of the point of view of all the mainstream archaeological organizations in the U.S. including the Society for American Archaeology, the Society for Historic Archaeology, the American Schools of Oriental Research and others. It’s also the stance of other major international archaeological groups. In fact, in January, an unprecedented agreement will be signed among the AIA, the German Archaeological Institute and the Institute of Archaeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences to battle the scourge of looting. A Harris interactive survey published in 2000 also showed that public opinion agrees with the position of the AIA—the main value of archaeological sites is scientific and educational and U.S. museums should not acquire illegally exported artifacts.

Q: What about the orphaned object that is out of the ground and circulating in the market with its context already destroyed and it provenance uncertain? Shouldn’t this object be acquired and given a good home?
A: The acquisition of these objects encourages looting. Objects like this are likely stolen. When confronted with an object like this, the best thing to do is to contact the authorities. You would not buy a hot car or a diamond watch from a disreputable source -- why buy an antiquity from a disreputable salesperson?

Q: In many cases there are multiple copies of certain antiquities, some with so many duplicates that they cannot all be displayed. What is wrong with the trade in multiples?
A: Some countries do allow trade in duplicates, including Israel. But it is difficult to identify a duplicate from a country that allows trade, and it’s difficult to prevent the sale of new objects as duplicates. Furthermore, most museums and private collectors are interested in high-end, unique objects, not “duplicates.” It’s primarily the trade in expensive, unique artifacts that drives the illegal market.

I would note the AIA also describes what constitutes a "licit artifact" according to its view of the law, but that is hardly an endoresment of collecting.

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