Over on the SAFECorner blog, archaeology student Damien Huffer reports on a recent guest lecture by Dr. Christopher Chippindale in the School of Archaeology and Anthropology at the Australian National University, Canberra. It was given the title: "Illicit Antiquities: Scandal of Our Age". Huffer summarises the lecture neatly:
At its heart, he [Chippindale] argues, the modern antiquities trade revolves around the boost to one's appearance of wealth, prestige, status, and power that the ownership and display of antiquities is deemed to convey, especially amongst the collecting and dealing 'elite.' Underpinning this stance is what Chippindale has dubbed the "Connoiseur's view", defined as the idea that things (objects) have instrinsic merit and can reflect 'cultural universals', or 'eternal values', as tangible to the ancient people who made the object as to any living person today. Holding this view would then lend the collection of antiquities much "sophistication". This can be directly contrasted to the "Archaeologist's View", which defines artifacts as sources of information in context first and foremost, "worthy of celebration and care. [This view is...] that, while some meaningful information is inherent in the object itself, it is outweighed by contextual details, and greatly diminsed without them. [...] "these attitudes are not opposed, but the loss of context leaves the connoiseur's view intact, but 'wrecks' the archaeologist's view." To Chippindale, this exposes the fundamental self-centredness of the connoiseurs view from its inception, but especially after, World War II, when looting and modern, global, collecting really began to flourish. As he then goes on to show, the missconceptions of connoiseurs and the demand they create continues to profoundly affect [our ability to contribute to understanding of] the Classical archaeological world." Because it is much more difficult to openly sell stolen art [...] collectors have been turning to easily transportable small items; both recent and ancient, especially since the 1980s when looting increased world-wide". Chippindale cited the examples of Cycladic art: "of the 1,369 artifacts assessed for provenance history in Gill and Chippindale (2000), only 39 were traceable...the rest just "surfaced" during the 1980s or 1990s!" Other cases dealt with are the Medici/Hecht affair and others.
Chippindale asserts that "there remain no large stockpiles of authentic Classical antiquities available for the market and museums, outside of forgeries and newly looted pieces". Given his expertise in studying the market, I would say that this is a judgement that we can accept as reflecting the truth.
Damien Huffer adds that archaeologists must urgently continue, and in fact 'step up,' our "watch dog" roles in this crisis. (He is studying in Australia, so he did not add that this is unless you are a British archaeologist, when you just unthinkingly join in as "partners" with the collectors). He adds that
"activists in general must continue to find ways to take the "hip" and "chic" (if you will) out of antiquities collecting. Easier said than done, but only further education will continue to make a dent".Chippindale and Huffer conclude: "We must continue to learn from the past, not consume it". Read the original piece and judge for yourselves to what degree the current state of the antiquities market is contributing to both these processes.