Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Archaeologists, Foreign Policy and the National Security State

Christina Luke, previously best known in collecting circles for her association with Nathan Elkins' notorious academic diatribe against a not-for-profit group that uses ancient coins to teach children about Roman history, has authored an article entitled, "U.S. Policy, Cultural Heritage, and U.S. Borders," 19 International Journal of Cultural Property 175 (2012) .

Luke, like many of her peers, appears to subscribe to the view that any artifact without a demonstrated provenance before 1970 should be deemed stolen.  She describes a system where this view has permeated into the State Department bureaucracy that makes the applicable regulations, and which is taught by archaeologists holding similar views to the enforcement arm of US Customs and Border Protection (CBP).

She maintains that the resultant crack down on collectors, museums and dealers is good for U.S. Foreign Policy and National Security, but cites little evidence other than self-serving statements of  several diplomats and off the record comments of unnamed CBP officials.

So does this system really benefit our foreign policy and national security?  Or is it just another special interest program to help archaeologists get access to excavations and which provides the US Cultural Bureaucrats with increased funding?

And even if there is some benefit to our foreign policy or national security, is it worth the costs and the burden associated regulations place on American businesses, collectors and museums?  Doesn't overregulation adversely impact the people to people contacts and cultural exchange collecting brings (at no cost to the US taxpayer)?

Our nation is in financial difficulty. Foreign aid for important projects like defeating Aids in Africa is under threat.  Under the circumstances, the programs Luke describes should be closely scrutinized for their real value.  In short, our courts are already open to foreign states that seek to repatriate objects.  So why should the U.S. taxpayer underwrite these efforts instead?

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