Monday, 29 September 2014

EES and Petrie Museum Condemn AIA Sale of Harageh Artefacts ,

The Egypt Exploration Society, quick off the mark, have published this 'Statement on The Loss of Antiquities from Public Collections (29th September 2014, authored by Dr Alice Stevenson, UCL Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archaeology, and the Society's Director, Dr Chris Naunton). This is prompted by the news that on Thursday 2 October 2014, the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) St Louis Society intends to sell Egyptian antiquities at the London auctioneers Bonhams which had been excavated in 1914 by the British School of Archaeology in Egypt (BSAE). The EES condemns this sale in the strongest possible terms.
Export was permitted from Egypt to London by the Egyptian authorities under the terms of the contemporary excavation licence, and these particular objects were subsequently sent to the USA on the condition that they went to a public collection. The AIA St Louis Society, an independent not-for-profit organization, received the items in exchange for their financial contribution to the excavations of the BSAE. The regulations of the BSAE stipulate quite explicitly that any antiquities granted to it by the Egyptian authorities were to be distributed to “public museums”. [...] Many other objects were distributed to public collections in the UK, USA and elsewhere by the BSAE and Egypt Exploration Society (EES) on similar terms and remain in those collections today. [...] Museums and archaeologists are stewards of the past; they should not sell archaeological items in their collections for profit.
The EES and Petrie Museum make the point about why they are against the deaccession of objects from public collections:
Public museums offer the best hope that ancient objects are safeguarded against loss or deterioration to their condition, and that they will remain accessible to scholars and the wider public for study and enjoyment. Objects which are sold on the open market may be transferred to collections which are not required to provide such safeguards, and which have no obligations to make the material they contain accessible.[...] We appeal to all museums to declare: (i) their opposition to any sale of antiquities from public museums into private ownership where the integrity and access to objects is at risk; (ii) their strong disapproval of any auction house, museum, archaeological society or other public body that is involved in such sales.
The statement is also available for download in pdf form, here.

 I am less sure whether I agree with one of the justifications they give, this seems rather a non-sequitur:
Any attempt by museums or archaeological societies to profit from sales of antiquities provides incentives for global criminal activity that can lead directly to the loss of the art they claim to value. [...]  the global networks start and end in the galleries of London, Brussels, New York, Paris, Zurich and elsewhere. 
Eh? I simply do not see how putting verifiably (because catalogued) legally-sourced antiquities onto the market in any way 'provides incentives' (how?) for global criminal activity - ie the passage of illegally-sourced artefacts onto the same market. The galleries of  "London, Brussels, New York, Paris, Zurich and elsewhere" surely should be encouraged to seek supplies of artefacts of known legal origins.

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