Tuesday, September 11, 2012

ICOM Working on Syrian Red List

NBC News reports that ICOM is working on a Syrian Red List of Antiquities at Risk.  Unfortunately, the unfolding tragedy in Syria again seems to have encouraged others to use it as yet another opportunity to pursue an anti-collecting agenda, complete with the usual cast of villains and stratospheric valuations of objects that have allegedly been looted. 

CPO nonetheless wishes to join others in their concern about the consequences for archaeology of the chaos in Syria. Syria has far fewer sites than Iraq, but the disintegration of government authority across the country will surely put these, and the treasures in Syria's museums, at risk. Many Syrian artifacts are self-evident to the knowledgeable scholar and collector, and while most do not reach the level of high art, CPO counsels against acquisition of anything that is clearly of Syrian origin from anything other than reputable sources. 

It continues to be a dark shame that much Syrian archaeology is so little documented. The inventory of the Damascus Museum's, a true gem among museums in the Middle East, filled with crucially important material, is meager in comparison to what it holds. The same is true of Syria's other regional museum. Perhaps worse, excavations have done little to fully document what they have dug up, or allocated funds necessary to make full records of the material they have uncovered. It is always easier and more fun to dig than to record or publish. But the consequences of such negligence have been apparent in Iraq, and now stare us in the face in Syria.

What are we to do about it?


Paul Barford said...

"CPO counsels against acquisition of anything that is clearly of Syrian origin from anything other than reputable sources"

Meaning? How would you define that concept ? What kind of repute and by what scale is it measured? What about objects of potential Syrian origin?

Cultural Property Observer said...

If someone buys from an established dealer (preferably one associated with one of the recognized trade associations) they can generally buy in confidence. As you may know, there must be hundreds of thousands if not millions of objects of potential Syrian origin that left the country long ago with an uncertain provenance. Any due dilligence should recognize that fact.

I've answered your question. How about answering mine. Why don't archaeologists do a better job of documenting what they excavate and why don't they do more to help countries document their museum inventories better so if something goes missing it will be noticed sooner? That seems more positive than just bashing collectors.

Paul Barford said...

Well, I decided to reply to your first points on my blog, it seemed too long for a comment:


I really do not think replacing "reputable sources" by "established dealers" does answer my question. There can be in today's market no substitute for proper documented collecting histories.

I then reply to your other point about the collection management in the post below: