American portable antiquity collectors are desperately trying to convince public opinion and lawmakers of their message that they are doing „nothing wrong” buying unprovenenced ancient artefacts without documentation of licit provenience. In fact they even have the nerve to try and persuade us that what they are doing is for the “good of mankind”. The fact that the US State Department along with the rest of the world disagrees with their illogical assertion that “ancient coins are not archaeological finds" and included them in the Cyprus MOU has been the basis of their allegations that there has been some secret government conspiracy against them followed by an attempted 'cover-up'. They try to represent efforts by conservationists to stem the flow of illicit artefacts as an attempt to stifle their “avocational scholarship”. They allege that conservationists trying to stem the trafficking of illictly obtained artefacts are mere mouthpieces of an ideology of “retentionalist nationalism” and worse. They assert that collectors of unprovenanced artefacts are having to struggle to “preserve, study, display and enjoy” cultural artifacts” in the face of what they call an oppressive "Archaeology Uber Alles" perspective. They so far seem mainly to have succeeded in deluding only themselves. It seems to me that perceiving that they are not going to get very far with their current efforts, they’ve recently changed track and apparently hatched a new “cunning plan”.
If one reads the introductory material of the antiquity dealers’ new action group set up to debate the US application of the UNESCO 1970 International Convention on the Means of Prohibiting and Preventing the Illicit Import, Export and Transfer of Ownership of Cultural Property it seems fairly clear what the thinking behind it is. It looks for all the world like (though of course they deny it) these dealers are trying to gather material and arguments to attempt to persuade a future US government to denounce the UNESCO convention. In effect putting into action on a nationwide scale the Wisconsin “Collectors Rights Resolution” hailed as a “collectors’ victory”. Why would they do this? Well, it would seem that they probably plan to argue that regulating the movement of illicit antiquities is not in the interests of many “fine American small businesses” (and not a few rather big antiquity dealing businesses either). They probably intend to argue that the accession to the 1970 Convention a number of years ago of a major antiquities market country like the USA “has not stopped the looting of the world’s archaeological sites”. So, it seems extremely likely that their new “cunning plan” is going to be to lobby that the USA denounce the Convention and all those fine American traders and collectors can carry on collecting items without documentable licit provenance in the knowledge that if they get caught, any illicitly exported objects will not necessarily have to go back to their rightful owner. I think these traders and the American people should look closely at what the title of this document is and what it actually is intended to regulate. [Clue: “illicit”, the convention is no problem whatsoever to those who trade in objects of documentable licit provenance, and this surely is what dealers and collectors should be striving for.]
Part of this new plan on has been to set up another action group. This one is to debate what its organizers call the “Renfrew Hypothesis on Looting” (sic). This is connected with somebody (they say it was Colin Renfrew but it was not) formulating the epigram of the truism “collectors are the real looters” – referring to collectors of ancient artefacts without documentation of licit origin. The US collectors’ lobby feel uncomfortable with this and denies strenuously that this is true. This group has been set up with the obvious aim to prove the case. The arguments are weak and specious, but no doubt the Renfrew-L chapter of ACCG and its hangers on will be trying in future to persuade us that everybody has got it wrong. Oh, and its another pro-collecting discussion group with an ambiguous name. There already is a “Renfrew-L”.