Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Not so Difficult

Afghanistan has many problems, including the Taliban insurgency, endemic corruption, and extreme poverty, but after reading the archaeological blogs, one would think the chief among them is the looting of heritage by poor Afghan farmers.

But that's not all.  For looting provides yet another chance to lay blame for Afghanistan's state of affairs on America!  Indeed, despite fellow archaeological blogger Rick St. Hilaire's recitation of all the statutes federal prosecutors may use to force the repatriation of "looted" antiquities, anti-American archaeo-blogger Paul Barford goes so far as to claim that the protections afforded under U.S. law to "looted" Afghan antiquities are "scandalously" inadequate.  Barford also appears to assume it's just too difficult for countries like Afghanistan to request import restrictions under the Cultural Property Implementation Act.

But aren't the AIA and related archaeological groups always there to help craft a request?  And isn't the State Department always willing (perhaps too willing given what is actually required under the statutory regime) to oblige with a MOU?

In any event, to the extent looted Afghan materials are entering the country at all, it would seem federal prosecutors have plenty of tools at their disposal to stop them.  But lest we get ahead of ourselves like St. Hilaire and Barford, let's also acknowledge that it was quite legal to sell, collect and export antiquities at least before the Communist regime that preceded the Taliban took over.

Indeed, here is what one knowledgeable observer who actually lived in Afghanistan at the time has reported:

The 1958 Afghanistan law is not a vesting law, at least and would not trigger any US statute requiring a declaration of national ownership. There were licensed antiquities dealers in Kabul when I visited Afghanistan in the 70's and 80's. The Kabul museum issued permits for export - a flimsy blue sheet in Dari and a clumsy stamp. US Customs had no interest in these documents, at least in the 1970s and 80's. The reviewing archeologists at the Kabul museum did not allow export of Buddhist material but would sometimes grant permission for Bronze Age and Islamic pieces. Cotton foundation carpets were not allowed out in the interest of protecting the reputation of the Afghan carpet industry. 

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