Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Strangely Silent on Provenance of Artifacts in Chinese Museums

The New York Times recently reported on China's museum boom:

Overall, this is a very good thing, particularly when one compares China today with China of the Cultural Revolution, when government sponsored mobs smashed cultural relics with abandon.

On the other hand, I find it interesting that while archaeologists are vociferous in their demands that US Museums establish the good provenance of the pieces they accession beyond a reasonable doubt, they are dead silent on provenance requirements for public and private museums in source countries like China. Certainly, entities like the Poly Art Museum (a museum associated with the Poly Group, the former commercial arm of the People's Liberation Army) don't seem to care one bit about an artifact's provenance. Yet, one never hears criticisms from the archaeological community about such museums.

It seems that all the high minded talk about the need to only purchase artifacts with a good provenance to protect the archaeological record gives way when a source country museum (whether private or public) is involved.

One thus has to wonder if all this high minded talk really is just a cover for supporting the nationalistic claims of the source countries which offer excavation permits to archaeologists. If not, why is there no consistency in the archaeological community's views on provenance requirements?

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