Saturday, 4 October 2014

New AIA Policy Statement on Antiquity Sales

Norman Rockwell
Dr Anne Benbow, Executive Director of the Archaeological Institute of America, replied very mysteriously to my query. To her credit though, even though no doubt she is very busy - unlike the Portable Antiquities Scheme which in my recent experience totally ignores their correspondents - she replied promptly (and thanking me for getting in touch about a matter which concerned me - PAS a manners lesson for the lot of you). I had written (October 02, 2014 10:45 PM) on the position of the AIA and the sale of antiquities, referring to the statement in the previous day's 'Art Newspaper' in which she was quoted saying:
"the AIA [...] has a strong stance against the sale of antiquities..."
My understanding was that this stance applied only to antiquities of illicit (and maybe unstated/unknown) origin, and not objects like those from Harageh which have a fully documented collecting history going back over a century. I asked her to clarify the statement (I assumed the answer would be that she had been misquoted), or if there had been a policy change from that which I had earlier discussed here ('AIA Policies on Portable Antiquity Collecting') whether she could point me to an official policy statement saying the AIA opposes the antiquities trade as a whole. As an answer I was informed that the AIA was working on a new position statement which will be issued in the "very near future".

This perhaps need not surprise us much in that 44 years after the 1970 UNESCO Convention, the US and international antiquities trade still shows absolutely no sign of willingness to introduce measures allowing the transparent separation of the trade in licit from illicit artefacts, preferring to mix them and even deliberately obscure the origins of licit artefacts in order that the others do not stand out in contrast. In other cases, collecting histories are quite obviously deceitfully and blatantly made up. The failure of the market to clean up its own act cannot do anything but bring the whole market into disrepute.

A "new policy" is not enough, let it be accompanied by some real and effective public outreach getting information about the deleterious effects of the current form of the antiquities trade into every American home and on the desk of every thinking lawmaker. Let us also hope this "new policy" leads to effective lobbying to make the atavistic CCPIA more appropriate for the changed markets (in both scale and mechanisms) of the second decade of this century rather than the third quarter of the last.

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