Archaeologist Donna Yates ("Not far 'Beyond El Dorado': Grumblings about the British Museum, Colombian gold, and looting in public display" 22 October 2013) reports her first impressions on her visit to Britain's flagship museum, apparently to come away disappointed, well worth reading and reflecting upon:
The objects were presented as floating in space (and in their cases), unstuck from time. [...] I really am quite let down by this. I fear the possibility that such a hyped exhibit that shows absolutely zero social conscious about the looting and trafficking of Colombian gold can only encourage the market in this illicit material. [...] I hate to say that Beyond El Dorado didn’t seem to move far beyond El Dorado[...] they display artefacts [...] that are not [...] contextualised [...] as a learning experience, Beyond El Dorado falls well short. And, okay, let’s be honest: the exhibit is about gold gawking, not learning. For your £10 you get to see the strange “Other” sheathed in goldSo, sort of like the British Museum's very own Portable Antiquities Scheme and Treasure Act writ larger, then. Quelle surprise.
What are British archaeologists thinking of? Archaeologists claim a position on the basis that they and their discipline are the way (a way) through which the past (the heritage) is presented to a grateful public. But what happens when they stop doing that, just becoming gatekeepers, like any show-and-tell collector, to piles of gawp-worthy objects?