Monday, July 2, 2012

Archaeologists Ignore Implications of Timbuku's Destruction at the Hands of Islamic Militants

Islamic Militants linked to Al Qaeda have destroyed culturally significant Islamic religious sites in Timbuktu.  Back in April, CPO reported that a proposed renewal of the current MOU with Mali had already been overtaken by events on the ground and then concluded,

A recent military coup and the takeover of important cultural sites like Timbuktu by well armed Islamic rebels again raises fundamental questions about whether the State Department and its allies in the archaeological community are really furthering the protection of cultural artifacts or whether their knee-jerk repatriationism does more harm than good.

Yet, it would seem that this latest sad but predicatable news has so far at least been largely ignored by the same archaeological community that was so quick to press for the unqualified renewal of he MOU.   
It also remains to be seen what, if any, impact this news will have on the State Department's own decisionmaking.


Paul Barford said...

"their knee-jerk repatriationism "

I suppose the answer is to rewrite the CCPIA so it does not talk of "repatriation", but (along the same lines as the 1970 UNESCO Convention it purports to "implement") of preventing the import of artefacts illicitly exported from a country in conflict. Oh, wait a minute, that is what it says.

So you think that the US should suspend the MOU to allow the free import into the US of objects looted and smuggled out of the country by renegade elements from Mali? No doubt the buyers would claim to be "protecting" the objects. But they'd also be financing the conflict would they not?

Would you buy such items Mr Tompa? Blood antiques/antiquities from a war-torn country?

Or would you, as a lobbyist for the trade, prefer to see steps taken to keep such items off the legitimate market which you represent?

Cultural Property Observer said...

I raise the larger point of whether archaeologists and the US State Department should support repatriation of artifacts in the circumstances where they risk destruction.

As to your "blood antiquities," claim I will avoid the temptation to blog yet again about archaeologists' cozy relationships with some of the worst regimes on the planet (does that make them "blood archaeologists"?) and instead suggest to you that antiquities are not very liquid objects and thus are much less likely to fund terrorism than things like "hot oil," diamonds, gold, the musing of Col. Bogdanos and others with a vested interest in the subject notwithstanding.

Also, if you look at the materials on the Mali designated list, this is not the stuff with which to fund an insurgency. Most of it is rather obscure material which is probably of limited interest to collectors of ethnographic material.

Paul Barford said...

We only have to "repatriate" that which finds itself at the borders of a foreign country and which has been illegally exported. So if you want to "save" stuff by importing it into the US, why not simply export your legal purchases legally, then there'd be no danger of it being "repatriated", would there?

[It seems to me that the items listed on the designated list are PRECISELY the sort of things collectors and dealers are interested in. You did see the Djenne-Jeno figures on that list did you not? Some of those go for pretty high prices... Maybe they are not noted on CPO blog, but I'm pretty sure they are discussed on mine].

Cultural Property Observer said...

Come now, you know better, import restrictions will bar entry of an artifact adjudged from Mali by the virtue of being on the designated list whether it is imported from Mali itself, or if it has been sitting in France for years, but no one kept any paperwork, assuming such paperwork was even required.

I also have to think unless you can show othewise that these Islamic radicals would rather destroy offending artifacts than sell them-- its all about purity isn't it?