Most collectors, dealers and lobbyists will have stopped reading at the eighth word of the title of the text by Sarah Parcak ('Lust for Loot: Collecting Is Driving the Demand for Plunder' National Geographic Explorers Journal. May 19, 2016)
People can be Gollum; they want the precious. There’s a desire to own, to hold, to make a piece of the past belong to you. Because of that, collectors sometimes don’t look critically enough at how the objects they’re buying are obtained. Some collectors are driven by owning a particular type of object, others by owning objects from a particular culture—and a big problem arises when people purchase objects obtained illegally. Sometimes, it’s an honest mistake. But sometimes, it’s willful ignorance. [...] My colleagues and I published a detailed look at looting across Egypt between the years of 2002 to 2013. We found that looting levels doubled in 2009-2010, on the heels of global recession, then doubled again following the Arab Spring. Looting is an economic issue—it’s something people turn to in desperation. It’s not looting that drives demand for antiquities, but the other way around. In 2002, the total value of Egyptian antiquities sold at Sotheby’s auction house was $3 million. In 2010, it soared to $13 million. We’ve now entered the age of “blood antiquities,” and not asking the right questions is no longer excusable.Despite noting that collectors are wilfully deaf to arguments that might change their acquisition processes, Sarah Parcak still advocates talking to collectors (note, even she's given up on dealers):
As archaeologists, engaging with collectors is important. A year and a half ago, I testified in front of the State Department’s Cultural Property Advisory Committee when Egypt requested import restrictions. I was speaking as a scientist with large-scale data on looting across the country, but there were also coin collectors there who were concerned that new laws would inhibit their work [sic]. I went over and talked to the collectors, to try to understand their point of view. The reality is: we need to create safe spaces for these dialogues. If they could present their concerns and we could present ours, we could find that thin line where we can work together.Note how she buys into the spin of the collectors, that the main motive for building a collection of portable antiquities is "studying" the past (so she calls what they do "work"), yet the title reveals the real nature of the activity. It is fulfilling a lust. Collecting is a vice. It is a damaging one when done no-questions-asked. Most of it is.
In Britain as an experiment such a safe-place was set up in which to "outreach to" (educate) collectors. The experiment failed. All it did was encourage the expansion of collecting and involve heritage professionals in its legitimation and promotion. No measurable changes in "best practice" (where artefact hunters dig and how) are discernible, and the main purpose of the exercise, to allow archaeologists access to the items found to prepare a proper professional analysis and record has been thrown out of the window with the increasing reliance on the use of members of the public after a brief schooling to compile the 'database'. As for "safe spaces", look at the fate of the PAS public forum as a space for presenting archaeological concerns to collectors. A total failure.
Parcak is, I think, not looking deeper than the facadism of the declarative smiley-face interactions of those involved in the portable antiquities trade (as sellers and buyers) intended to stave off critical examination of tits nuts-and-bolts. When however you look on their forums, websites, the sales descriptions on the web-pages (it's all a mouse-click away) a different picture emerges, especially from the candid discussions on closed forums and discussion lists. Readers will know that my own familiarity with this milieu prevents me from having any optimism at all about the prospects of a meaningful dialogue with collectors - safe space or not. I think it is a waste of time, time which is running out for the larger part of the accessible archaeological resource.
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