Monday, 27 October 2008
Archaeologists and their Ivory towers
Over on the SAFE blog I gently chide my colleagues that few of them seem terribly excited about the demonstration that with the right pressure applied, even eBay can change its policies to do its corporate part to help protect an endangered resource. The world's archaeological record is being exploited and eroded to an increasing degree to produce an array of collectable "pieces of the past" for entertainment and profit. A lot - perhaps now even the majority - of them are sold through Internet portals like eBay. But the most many archaeologists will do about it is to get discouraged by the scale of the problem, the apparent size of the opposition, and try to ignore the problem. Perhaps archaeology needs to take a more active line and whip up public opinion to try and get eBay to clean up the enormous scale of the trade in the UK and US of totally undocumented archaeological artefacts (and yes, I include coins in that category). This obviously has an enormous potential to act as a cover for the movement of illicitly-obtained artefacts, and the dissemination of fakes as authentic items. I think if eBay starts attracting wider attention as a place where looted items and fake antiquities can be and probably are being laundered (with all that entails), then eBay will not be slow to react. Or are our 'professional' archaeologists going to continue to passively sit in their ivory towers while the foundations continue to be dug away from under them?
But then of course the British ones would run the risk of upsetting many of their mates the "metal detectorists" if they did something like that. That speaks volumes for the nature of the "bridge" they have built themselves with the world of portable antiquities collecting.