Thursday, 2 October 2014

What is on the AIA Songsheet?

Note: for Harageh see here, and here.

I'm less and less sure from which songsheet the Archaeological Institute of America (AIA) is singing. Some clarification would be most welcome, as what they are saying at the moment seems like an anti-archaeological lobbyist's caricature than a considered position. The whole issue arises connected with today's Bonhams antiquities sale (the so-called 'Treasure of Harageh') by a branch of the AIA which came as news to the national leadership of the organization who oppose it (Gary Shaw, 'St Louis archaeological society sells Egyptian treasure' Art Newspaper 01 October 2014).  Ann Benbow, the executive director of the AIA wrote of the sale of in an email to The Art Newspaper.
“If [it] goes forward, it will tarnish the long-standing reputation of the AIA, which has a strong stance against the sale of antiquities… Archaeological artifacts should be cared for and made available for educational purposes, not put up for auction.”
That's not my impression from reading other material they have produced, where it seems pretty clearly stated that the AIA opposes commercial circulation of illicitly-obtained artefacts and not artefacts per se. I wrote about this two years ago, and nobody challenged it then: PACHI Thursday, 11 August 2011, 'AIA Policies on Portable Antiquity Collecting'. Nor can I see anything on their webpage withdrawing those earlier views.

Nevertheless from what Ann Benbow is quoted by the Art Newspaper as saying, it would seem that the official position now is that the AIA is opposed to the whole market, not differentiating between items on it that are licit or illicit. That seems to me a totally unnecessary position in the case of the open sale of items which have a documented collecting history. I think some clarification is needed.

Benbow adds that the AIA has “formally asked the St Louis Society not to go forward with the [Harageh artefact] sale and are awaiting their response”. As are we all. "St Louis, glad I don't live there". 

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