Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The Essence of Numismatics


Student Conference programme
Q "At which numismatic conferences have you delivered papers?"
A "None. Numismatic conventions normally do not include presentation of formal papers. [...]  This question, I will add, reveals much regarding Mr. Barford's ignorance of numismatics.
I rather feel it shows more that the self-styled "professional numismatist" from the US has never been to a proper conference at which real professional numismatists present the results of their research. We have them pretty frequently here in the Academy of Sciences in Warsaw, and in Cracow, Poznan, Wrocław etc etc...
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Tuesday, 30 June 2015

Green Collection: "We have one of the largest cuneiform collections in the country"


What Makes the Green Collection Unique? "We have one of the largest cuneiform collections in the country" (over 10,000 pieces, "dating from the time of Abraham") Well, let us hope that what does not makes it unique is that nobody knows where the pieces came from and how they "surfaced" on the market - unlike its rivals in size in the US - all from known excavations. The collection was assembled beginning in November 2009 by its original director, ancient/medieval manuscript specialist Dr. Scott Carroll, in cooperation with its owner, Steve Green. So where did 10000 cunies suddenly surface from after 2009? Who knows? Dr Carroll? Dr. Marcel Sigrist, Director of the Ecole Biblique (Jerusalem), GSI Senior Scholar for Cuneiform Texts?

US Visitors Ignorant about Slavery in their Country's Past


For more than six years, Margaret Biser gave educational tours and presentations at an historical site in the South of the USA which included an old house and a nearby plantation (I used to lead tours at a plantation. You won’t believe the questions I got about slavery. by Margaret Biser Vox.com June 29, 2015 ).

Hawass on Future of Egypt Museum


four years after the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak and nearly ended his own career, Zahi Hawass can be found in a cramped Cairo office, lamenting the state of the antiquities bureaucracy he once ruled like a pharaoh and dreaming of a new museum whose fate lies in limbo. His trademark wide-brimmed hat and safari vest may be hung up for now, but he is brimming with ideas on how to revive Egypt's antiquities and bring back tourists after years of unrest.
'Fallen Egypt archaeologist wants international Grand Museum' NewsOK June 30, 2015

Monday, 29 June 2015

Museums and Looted Art


Kanishk Tharoor ('Museums and looted art: the ethical dilemma of preserving world cultures' Guardian Monday 29 June 2015) asks "how can western ‘universal’ museums acquire and display artefacts without stoking the illegal arts trade and reproducing colonialist narratives?"
The ongoing destruction of ancient sites in the Middle East by the Islamic State has galvanised the case for the universal museum, with advocates like Gary Vikan, the former director of the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, arguing that only institutions in the west can preserve the world’s cultural heritage. Isis’s cultural atrocities “will put an end to the excess piety in favour of the repatriation model”, he told the New York Times. From another perspective, that defence smacks of western privilege. “Colonialism is alive and well in the art world,” Davis said. “So-called leaders in the field still justify retaining plunder in order to fill their ‘universal museums’ where patrons can view encyclopaedic collections from all over the world. A noble idea, in theory, but in practice, a western luxury. The citizens of New York, London, and Paris may benefit, but those of Phnom Penh? Never.” 
But what, preecisely do commentators such as Vikan mean by "the repatriation model"? This is the effect of a mental shortcut which sees the end result as the whole. Objects which are repatriated (sent back to the source country where this can be identified) are seized because there is evidence, or a presumption that is not challenged, that it is in some way where it is illicitly (looted, smuggled etc). This is why "repatriation" happens, but before that is a whole series of investigations, and maybe a court case. Is Vikan saying we should from now on waive all concerns about how an object comes onto the market?Mr Vikan, the world's heritage are the mosques, tombstones - some of them not particularly old, and all of which would not be particularly welcome in or around the Museum of Baltimore if magically transported there intact by some culture-loving dzjinn. Museum curators using such arguments are ignoring what is actually being destroyed and simply rubbing their metaphorical hands in glee that they can have an 'excuse' (note it is a Two Wrongs argument) to get their hands on some nice statues, manuscripts, carved stones, a few coins maybe to beef up the range of their display. And of course hang onto it, avoiding it getting back in the hands of all the 'Ignorant Brown Folk Abroad'. Indeed, colonialism of the worst kind.

Not Bolted Down, a Buyer will be Found


It was not bolted down, so an artefact hunter 'procured' it for collection or sale. .
Thieves have stolen unique stone artefact, dating back 1,200 years, from a church in Hovingham, near Malton, North Yorkshire.

Sunday, 28 June 2015

Who IS behind Antiquities Lobbying?


Sangwon Yoon ('ISIS Is Selling Looted Art Online for Needed Cash' Blomberg Business June 29, 2015) has a mixture of the same old tropes with some new information/reflections. Fresh from another brush on another blog with the lobbyists' nastiness intended to discourage discussion, I was struck by this bit:
Islamic State acts as a supplier for a complex chain involving at least five brokers and dealers, said Michael Danti, an adviser to the U.S. State Department on plundered antiquities from Iraq and Syria. The extremists are closely linked to Turkish crime networks in the border towns of Gaziantep or Akcakale, he said. Once the artifacts are smuggled into Turkey, a broker will cash them for resale to dealers who have pockets deep enough to pay for storage and wait up to 15 years to sell, when law enforcement is less focused on them.
The thought struck me that over on this side of the fence, there are folk working away trying to get changes in the manner in which the antiquities trade is regulated to make this sort of thing impossible in the near future (well before 15 years). I which case those deep pocketed individuals are not going to be able to realise those investments. In such a situation they certainly would use their influence and money to place obstacles in the way of any widespread discussion of the issues surrounding the lucrative no-questions-asked and 'ooops-I-lost-the-paperwork' market in portable antiquities. Like encourage lobbyists to disrupt discussions of portable antiquities collecting issues. What would a lobbyist supporting the trade in illicit antiquities look like, what would he do and how? We must keep our eyes open for them.

 
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