They must be made of tougher stuff in Missouri. First, the Ancient Coin Collectors Guild was born there. Then, the Saint Louis Art Museum stood up to overreach by both the Egyptian and US Governments in successfully defending its title to the Ka Nefer Nefer Mask. And now, by voting to retain its current board, the Saint Louis Chapter of the AIA has rightly stood up against the ivory tower bullies of the national organization. That the fanatics that currently run the AIA made the deaccession of such well provenanced artifacts such an issue at all speaks volumes about how far archaeological elitists have distanced themselves from collectors and museums. Indeed, after all this, it remains unclear to CPO and other knowledgeable observers what exact AIA stricture the St. Louis Society supposedly violated when it put up well-provenanced artifacts for sale to benefit local programs designed to foster interest in archaeology.
Thursday, January 15, 2015
Saint Louis AIA Chapter Stands Firm
Posted by Cultural Property Observer at 11:21 AM
Labels: ACCG, AIA, archaeological snobs, Museums
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Oh, very well done. No guts, no glory.
I suspect that the AIA leadership has a much smaller mandate than most realize. True, they are the "voice" of archaeology, but not the heart and mind of the science. This "voice" is a statement of political acumen, not professional representation. What human being in their right mind would want to be held in tow by a group of fanatics? The St. Louis Society deserves huge applause for their intestinal fortitude in standing on principle and adhering to the rule of law rather than the rule of an ideological dictatorship.
I have reviewed the published account of the decision by the St. Louis AIA Chapter to deaccession these artifacts, and believe that it conforms in every significant respect to responsible and ethical stewardship.
The AIA's position statement, published in the January 2015 issue of AJA, is as follows:
" A LETTER FROM THE EDITOR-IN-CHIEF
... given the recent and continuing threats to the archaeological sites and material culture of countries such as Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Libya, the Editor-in-Chief and members of the Advisory Board condemn in the strongest possible terms the recent sale of Egyptian artifacts and the scheduled sale of Mesoamerican artifacts by the AIA St. Louis Society through the auction house Bonhams. While techni-cally not illegal, the sale of the Egyptian antiquities certainly violated the spirit if not the letter of the agreement that brought the objects to St. Louis in the first place. The selling off of archaeological artifacts in the society’s possession not only contravenes the ethical standards current in archaeology but also reinforces the commodification of archaeological material and in effect condones the traffic in antiquities, which is in opposition to the AIA’s principal missions of research and education. As stewards of the past, no one associated with the AIA should be incentivizing the illicit trade in antiquities, which is a global criminal activity. High-profile sales such as these can have the unintended consequence of putting further at risk the archaeological heritage that the AIA has vowed to protect.
This statement refers to "... the commodification of archaeological material and in effect [this sale] condones the traffic in antiquities, which is in opposition to the AIA’s principal missions of research and education. As stewards of the past, no one associated with the AIA should be incentivizing the illicit trade in antiquities, which is a global criminal activity."
The "traffic in antiquities" to which Sheila Dillon refers is NOT an "illicit trade in antiquities, which is a global criminal activity." If the terms in which this statement is framed do not actually constitute libel or slander, they approach that, and should be resented and condemned by the many legitimate and ethical individuals involved in the licit antiquities trade.
Classical Coins deals honestly and ethically in the field of supplying ancient coins to collectors, and I strongly resent and condemn the AIA's unwarranted claim to be "stewards of the past" and arbiters of "ethical standards" regarding the antiquities trade.
The AIA claims a membership of "... nearly 210,000 Members and more than 100 Local Societies in the United States, Canada, and overseas." However, only a very small fraction of these "Members" are actually archaeologists.
No organization representing a few thousand professionals has any right to imply or suggest that it thereby has the moral authority to dictate what is or is not "ethical" for individuals who are not society members.
Sheila Dillon's statement included this misleading phrase: "While technically not illegal, the sale of the Egyptian antiquities ..." Use of the word "technically" implies that the sale would have been unlawful but for some legal technicality.
In point of fact this sale was unquestionably legal, and the only technicality involved was the AIA's decision to prohibit members from becoming involved selling antiquities under any circumstances, no matter how respectable and lawful the sale and provenance of the items may be.
I have previously pointed out that archaeocentrism (the unreasonable viewpoint that archaeology trumps all other human activities and concerns in its importance) endangers cultural heritage in its own insidious ways, perhaps just as much as the overt offenses of looters and smugglers involoved in illicit trafficking in antiquities.
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