Sunday, 12 August 2012

Smuggler Nabbed in Nayarit: What Looting and Smuggling Mean

People do care about antiquities smuggling. In response to a tip from the public, a man was arrested for it in the western state of Nayarit, the Mexican Attorney General's Office said. The authorities seized twelve archaeological items (including four sculptures  more than 2,000 years old, of a "high artistic [read commercial] value") which the man had planned to sell, the AG's office said in a statement. The suspect will reportedly be charged with violating the Federal Monuments and Archaeological, Artistic and Historic Areas Law.
The pre-Columbian pieces recovered by authorities are from the Tumbas de Tiro cultural tradition, which flourished from 200 B.C. to about A.D. 450 [...]. The pieces include four hollow female anthropomorphic sculptures, with the figures in sitting poses, an animal effigy vessel and three bowls. Three other items, including another bowl and a female anthropomorphic figure, were also seized. The pieces will be turned over to National Anthropology and History Institute, or [Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia] INAH, officials in Nayarit "for the safekeeping, management and protection of the nation's archaeological heritage," the AG's office said. 
The reference in the article to a 'Tradición de las tumbas de tiro' refers to the Western Mexico shaft tomb tradition which occurs across the western Mexican states of Jalisco, Nayarit, and partly Colima. Archaeologists consider this to be a group of overlapping cultural traits dating to about 300 BC and c. 400 AD. It is worth noting that, as the introduction to the Wikipedia article summarises:
Nearly all of the artifacts associated with this shaft tomb tradition have been discovered by looters and are without provenance, making dating problematic [...]. Until recently, the looted artifacts were all that was known of the people and culture or cultures that created the shaft tombs. So little was known, in fact, that a major 1998 exhibition highlighting these artifacts was subtitled: "Art and Archaeology of the Unknown Past". It is now thought that, although shaft tombs are widely diffused across the area, the region was not a unified cultural area. Archaeologists, however, still struggle with identifying and naming the ancient western Mexico cultures of this period.
Nothing could more clearly illustrate the problems of treating the products of  artefact hunting and collecting as the 'next best thing' to archaeology which is one of the leitmotifs of this blog. Across a wide region of western Mexico, ancient cultures produced things collectors will buy without asking any real questions about where the stuff actually came from and how. Certain types of archaeological features in the region are relatively easy to find and hoik stuff out from (by virtue of them being shaft tombs). As a result of these two factors , so people hoik the more saleable finds from these archaeological contexts and flog them off. Because of the nature of the material, the archaeologist has the chance to see mainly only one aspect of the cultural whole, in other words the material correlates of a certain form of behaviour (disposal of the dead). This leads to a distortion of the picture at the expense of a more holistic understanding. This is the narrowness of the PAS and its 'Finding the Norman Conquest' syndrome writ large.

EFE, 'Antiquities seized, man arrested in western Mexico', Fox News Latino, August 09, 2012

Vignette: Nayarit

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.