Saturday, 11 April 2009

US Portable Antiquity Collectors Demand change in foreign laws


More portable antiquity collecting rant from the USA, this is Jorg Lueke again bad-mouthing other countries attempting to protect their archaeological heritage.

If source countries continue to implement restrictive laws that lead to looting in those countries who is responsible for stopping that looting? Under UNESCO it those source countries. They can also ask for help via import restrictions which Italy may soon do. If Italy insists on a domestic policy that discourages reporting and increases looting should the United States or other countries grant import restrictions or should they politely refuse and offer the UK Treasure Act as a model to better protect cultural property?
Well, first of all, let us note how insulting the notion of a “source country” is here. In the eyes of the US collector a country does not have a cultural heritage of its own, but is merely a “source” for the collectables that US collectors will buy by hook or crook! These “source countries” have “restrictive” laws which aim to prevent their archaeological heritage being dug over by looters eager to find geegaws with which to earn a few dollars from middlemen acting for foreign markets.

The reason why the laws are not as effective as they should be is that people like Mr Lueke back in the USA will pay money no-questions-asked for whatever is offered, no matter if it is looted and smuggled or not. It is not the laws that are at fault but those who pay money to those who break the laws.

More importantly the United States of America regards itself as above the other nations that have become party to the 1970 convention. It has passed the Convention on Cultural Property Implementation Act [19 U.S.C. §§ 2601-2613 (1982)] which totally ignores recognising any obligations under Article 13 of the Convention it has signed. Instead there is a convoluted process of individual nations requesting it to enforce any form of restrictions on the undocumented (and here's the crucial point so often ignored) trade in cultural property of specified types. This request then undergoes a protracted review process in the State Dedpartment in which the Presidential advsory CPAC plays its role, and which inevitably is fought at every step by self-interested collectors and especially dealers eager to prevent its own nation actually respecting export licencing concerns (even though this is required by the convention).

Now we see a further development. US collectors like Lueke are trying to persuade that the honouring of such requests should be conditional on those "source countries" who have already stated that their cultural heritage is threatened by looting should adopt collector-friendly laws first. Collector-friendly laws by their very nature however DO NOT protect the archaeological resource from being exploited as a source of collectables, they merely facilitate it. Where is the logic in that?

Further lack of logic is evidenced by the suggestion that in the interests of US collectors and dealers would be if nations were forced by the US to adopt something like the "UK Treasure Act" (sic). Well, the useflness of that for the COLLECTOR varies on whether Lueke means the English version, the Scottish or Northern Irish one. Whichever he means however, these are all acts intended to secure material for PUBLIC collections and not to release it on the market! I suspect that what Lueke means is however the English Portable Antiquity Scheme, though this does NOT "pay" collectors for reporting finds, it merely attempts to deal with the recording of non-Treasure items. I suspect the latter is what Lueke is really getting at. He wants "source nations" to differentiate between the shiny glittery stuff it wants for museum cases (which it buys off the legalised looter) and the more mundane stuff like coins and painted pots which Mr Lueke and his buddies would all too willingly collect.

John Hooker in Canada thinks Lueke is onto a good thing and adds his two cents:
This is the crux of the matter, but before we can hope to change the minds of these states, it must be made very clear to them that what they are currently doing is not working. In areas where the demands of foreign states are eroding the citizen's rights of the collector's own country then such actions should be really brought into the light and demands must be made. After all, many people have even lost their lives in order to win these rights. Should that amount to nothing? [...] going along with any of these ideas about buying only provenanced objects etc. will only encourage the states to try for more and it might be about something very different next time.
Well, it just so happens that the Good Ole' Portable Antiquities Scheme seems to be setting out to do just what Hooker suggests for their "partners" the artefact hunters. In September 2009 the PAS is organizing a conference which the pre-event blurb suggests is primarily instigated to demonstrate the corresctness of the US dealers and collectors' assertion that "only" the Portable Antiquities Scheme is the way forward to deal with the threat to the archaeological heritage caused by portable antiquities collecting. The UK's is a defeatist approach of "if we cannot beat them, let's join them", and that is precisely what US collectors want the rest of the world to be induced to do.

Fortunately there is still another school of thought which is that if collectors and dealers were to be induced to act ethically and responsibly (ie take responsibility), then nobody would need to become "partners" with artefact hunters and collectors. All it takes is for collectors and everybody to "Say No to Tainted and Undocumented Antiquities". ("SANTUA"?)

I would like to propose another paper for the PAS conference, applying the PAS to the protection of the Iraqi archaeological record - a theme dear to the heart of the British Museum that will be hosting this pro-PAS-propaganda event.

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