Thursday, 26 May 2011

Fincham: Blaming the Victim?

There is a lengthy review of "Chasing Aphrodite" by Derek Fincham on his blog. I really cannot let his final comment go unremarked. The lawyer apparently does not see the antiquities market as driving commercial antiquities looting. According to him, even though it is clear that the book rightly highlights the "illegal and unethical conduct of the Getty":
the archaeological community and nations of origin have much to answer for as well. When these ancient cities are studied, concern needs to be directed at the source to how the locals will react. What good is a trained archaeologist who painstakingly unearths parts of an ancient city, only to have her work undone at night by looters. [...] Moving forward how can we envision a collaborative network which follows the law, but also protects sites, allows for professional excavation, and allows us to steward these precious resources for future generations.
Well of course protecting the tropical rainforests does not consist of finding ways to professionally make tropical hardwood toilet seats from the trees, but preserving the trees in situ and sustainably. In the same way then conservation of archaeological sites (Fincham's "cities") does not mean excavating them all (however "professionally") to get the displayable goodies out right now, but preserving them as intact as possible. Excavation does not come into it. So in order to provide stewardship, how about laws which (a) make it illegal to plunder sites for collectables, and (b) a market within which illicitly obtained collectables cannot be sold? Oh wait, we already have the first in most civilized countries (well, except the barbarian west, the island which is a "treasure hunter's paradise"). The problem is policing that market where many cowboys still apply piratical nineteenth century no-questions-asked ("optical due diligence") principles.

I really think we'd got past the stage of placing the blame for rape on the victim - which is exactly what Fincham does here trying to lay the blame on "nations of origin". Likewise it really is not the "good archaeologist" who pays nocturnal looters money for finds plundered from the site they excavate in the daytime - is Fincham suggesting they should try to outbid the antiquity marchands who finance such looting? I simply do not follow his point that "concern needs to be directed at the source to how the locals will react". Eh? React to what? The fact that archaeologists are digging? or the fact that some shady character in a black hat turns up one day and says he'll pay a few dollars for some of those terracotta figurines (heads with faces on them preferred, torsos also acceptable)?

How does looting start? At Wanborough, was it the discovery of a Roman temple (and lack of concern for "how the locals would react") that started the looting off, or was it the fact that some blokes would buy the coins and other metal artefacts from metal detecting the site that led to the destruction? Are looters going out to farmer John Browning's farm (the source of the Icklingham Bronzes) because archaeologists had made discoveries there and had not sufficiently "directed concern at the source to how the locals will react" or because the finds made there can be sold on at a tidy profit to people that will not ask too many questions? The bloke that looted the wreck I reported here a month ago because there was no "concern how the locals would react" or because he could sell the artefacts at a tidy profit to people who'd not ask too many questions? Is the Roman town at Archar in Bulgaria now totally trashed (a whole Roman town) currently in that state because nobody "directed concern at the source to how the locals will react" to the fact that was a Roman town under the fields, or was it because container loads of the metal detected artefacts could be shipped through Munich and Frankfurt to US markets where they were being sold by the kilogramme like onions to buyers who did not give a monkey's about where they came from and what had been destroyed to produce them? Likewise in the States is looting going on in the Four Corners region because of a lack of "concern directed at the source to how the locals will react" to there being ancient sites and graveyards in public lands out in the desert, or is it due to the desire of collectors to collect pots and pans and their high market value? (And Judge Waddoups saying its "OK" to loot the "Injun past" out there)?

Slimy toad dealers and their lawyers may try to persuade their clients and the wider public that there is "no scientific evidence that no-questions-asked trading is the motor of looting". I say they are fogging the issue. There is no scientific proof that it is NOT, and there is every indication that in fact the no-questions-asked trade is directly responsible for the commercial viability of looting. Derek Fincham may try to claim that the archaeologists and the victim nations are in some way responsible for the commercial rape of the heritage of countries with ancient cultures. I say that no-questions-asked dealers and collectors are clearly the guilty party. Let us have transparency and openness of the trade in antiquities, documented and verifiably licit collecting histories and exclusion from the market of the cowboys whose two-minute due diligence is merely "optical" (in other words, merely illusory).

UPDATE: I did a follow-up text on this here (Fincham's "Collaborative Network" involving Locals, sans "Filth")
Now I see Dr Fincham, replying to Gill, is claiming that archaeologists are partly to blame because "it is my understanding that often times when a new site is discovered, archaeologists will study a part of a site, but when they leave, looters will come in; either at night or when the site is left when summer digs have concluded". So what is he saying? that archaeologists should not sample new sites? That archaeologists should set up house on the sites of their research projects and live there for the rest of their lives (what if the site is wreck underwater)? In what way are they to "blame" for what criminals do? Is the home owner to "blame" because they went out to see that film when the burglars came visiting? Would an apprehended burglar's lawyer really argue that it was the victims' fault for going out of their houses providing an opportunity to thieve? I really do not follow the logic of Fincham's argument.

Vignette: "Chasing Aphrodite", object lust and blaming the victim


Derek Fincham said...

Wow. You have sunk to a new low. I'm sorry to see you take this argument to Glenn Beckian depths. No thinking person would equate my words to justifying rape. I am thoroughly disgusted. You do your cause a disservice with this filth.

Paul Barford said...

Well, not exactly "filth" Derek, and I rather think it is your last paragraph which is Glennbeckian and frankly incomprehensible. The book you were reviewing is about object lust and the way I read what you wrote is that you conclude by saying the victim is partly to blame for the looting.

I quote however four or five relatively random cases of looting where it seems to me object lust on the market is the cause of the problem and ask how what you say can be applied to them, and where the source countries or archaeologists are ("partly") to blame. I note you declined to address that question, sidestepping it by dismissing my text as "filth". The reader will have to decide for themselves whether or not to believe that looting is due to the commercial value its products have even if of potentially illicit origin. or whether they believe what you said - if they can work out what it actually was you were getting at.

Paul Barford said...

and the word is being used in the metaphorical sense, I am sure you are perfectly familiar for example with Lyn Nichols book the Rape of Europe -
you write to her and accuse her of writing "filth" and see what answer you get.

Or there is Brian Fagan's "Rape of the Nile: Tomb Robbers, Tourists and Archaeologists in Egypt" and Larry Rothfeld's "Rape of Mesopotamia, behind the looting of the Iraq Museum". All "filth"?

Why not instead explain what you meant?

David Gill said...

The AIA (one part of the "archaeological community") has been taking a formal firm stand on looting since 1973. So why does Fincham blame the "archaeological community" in his review? If he had read Chasing Aphrodite he would have noted members of the North American museum community (and their legal teams) sinking to new lows.

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