Monday, December 1, 2014

Archaeology and Dictatorship: A Need to Examine the Archaeological Lobby's Links with Dictators and Terrorist Regimes?

Archaeo-blogger Paul Barford and his fellow-traveler, David Gill, have demanded that the EU Funded Glasgow Trafficking Culture group examine any links between paramilitary groups and the illicit antiquities trade. 

But what of the close and even more easily demonstrable links between the archaeological lobby and military dictatorships such as that in Egypt, Sectarian Governments like that in today's Iraq, or terrorist regimes like that of Assad's Syria or earlier, Saddam's Iraq?

Serious academic study could help illuminate how these links have buttressed State claims of ownership to anything and everything old, how this has only encouraged corruption, poor stewardship and even destruction and looting of artifacts in times of civil conflict or war.  It could also help illustrate how source countries can manipulate foreign archaeologists and other scholars by threatening denial of excavation or study permits, withholding sponsorship of excavations, and by other means well known to unscrupulous foreign government officials.

Now that would be an interesting study to read.  


John H said...

Whilst I you are right to have the links between archaeology and dictatorships scrutinized, equally the antecedents of those in the vanguard urging closer links and ties with authoritarianism should be exposed to inspection and debate. Let's see who these people are, and what damage they are likely to foist upon democracy.

We know for example that Paul Barford an undistinguished archaeologist, preferred apparently, to live under communism rather than enjoy the freedoms of the West. In 1986 he bunked off to Poland taking employment with the State bureaucracy, all at a time when the indigenous Poles where fighting for democratic freedom. Hardly encouraging perhaps.

One only has to browse his blog and ask; Would you want him and his pals running the place? Certainly the Poles didn't.

Best wishes

John Howland

Dave Welsh said...

I have just posted a comment to Barford's blog (where a remark about a "penis measuring contest" caught my eye), in which I mentioned that a very wise old lawyer once educated me by observing that in the eyes of the law there is no "truth" and no "right" or "wrong," but instead only points of view.

In Mr. Barford's case, his point of view is clearly that archaeology is by definition "right" and that collecting and metal detecting are by definition "wrong." According to this perspective, the only relevance that the facts and circumstances involved in any situation under discussion have is the manner in which they can be verbally manipulated to achieve his propaganda goals.

I have previously observed that Barford has much in common philosophically with Dr. Josef Goebbels (who was however a much more formidable exponent of his creed than Barfy). There is indeed a strong component of totalitarianism in the arguments Barford advances.

To be fair to the man, I believe that the entire concept of cultural property law is inherently totalitarian, and that Barford is simply being honest and consistent in advocating totalitarian concepts and measures as being essential to the preservation and advancement of archaeology.

Which brings us to my own personal point of view: a cause that can only be sustained by totalitarian concepts and measures is not worth preserving. There is much more to life than archaeology and the narrow perspective of Barford and other radical archaeologists.

Cultural Property Observer said...

Dave, good to hear from you. I agree Mr. Barford-- though he shares views with more than a few in the archaological community-- is so extreme that on occasion he takes on others in the archaeological communiy he does not think "pure enough." Still, I wouldn't personally go so far as to put him in the same category as Dr. Goebbels. Best, Peter