Friday, December 19, 2014


Is the only way to describe a proposal Monika Grütters, Germany's Commissioner for Culture, has made at the behest of archaeologists with an axe to grind against collectors and cultural bureaucrats of failed states and/or dictatorships like Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq and Syria. 

According to the report,

Ms. Grütters outlined plans for a new law that would require documented provenance for any object entering or leaving Germany, long among the laxest of regulators of the art market. Among other measures, dealers would be required to show a valid export permit from the source of the piece’s origins when entering Germany.

It's unclear how Grütters believes German dealers and collectors are going to come up with documentation that simply does not exist for artifacts that have been traded legally for generations without such paperwork.

Meanwhile, there was apparently no discussion about simple steps archaeologists can take that will discourage looting like hiring site guards and paying local diggers a living wage.    

Ethical archaeologists are already taking similar steps.  So why not make them a legal requirement for every archaeologist excavating abroad?  It's always better to tackle any problem at the source. 

And, if the point of Grütters' proposals is to ensure Germans appear ethical to the world, shouldn't that start with archaeologists, who after all, have direct contact with the people of source countries?


John H said...

Oh dear, oh dear, Mr Tompa.

Yet the German proposal could be “a big step,” said Neil Brodie, an antiquities expert at the Scottish Center for Crime and Justice Research at the University of Glasgow.

“You don’t just have to prove something is not guilty, but show that it is innocent.”

Do I detect the acrid aroma of:-

Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer in all of this.

The alarm bells should be ringing loud.

Best wishes

John Howland

Cultural Property Observer said...

John, I wouldn't go so far to say the archaeological lobby are fascists, but shifting the burden of proof and requiring permits that don't exist should be very troubling to anyone who believes in civil liberties. And it also should be raising alarm bells that these proposals are being made on behalf of failed states and dictatorships. Perhaps, if they (and archaeologists) treated local people better any problem would not be anywhere near as bad as claimed.