Thursday, 7 November 2019

'Christian' Museum at end of a criminal chain

Roberta Mazza of Manchester has a text 'The Green Fiasco in Context' (Nov 7th) in the latest number of Eidolon ['Classics without fragility, makes the classics political and personal, feminist and fun'] . In it, she identifies five important issues that apply to antiquities collecting in general:

Problem 1: Researchers in text-based disciplines don’t think of texts as objects.[...]
While archaeologists deal with the materiality of the objects they excavate and study, papyrologists and more broadly classicists and those in other textual disciplines often do not grapple with this reality, because these fields have been mainly preoccupied with the inscribed contents of the manuscripts rather than their materiality. More often than not, these specialists produce knowledge that separates the text from where it belongs (i.e. the object) and from the collection process through which the text reached them[...] This break from reality and refusal to grapple with materiality has set these fields back — this problem must be addressed because it has undermined the ability of scholars to understand the very nature of these things and, as a consequence, has fostered a scholarship that has not properly reflected on the legislation and ethical norms regulating the handling of ancient artefacts, let alone the [...] epistemology of the disciplines at stake.
This is our problem with the coineys of course (and the cunie-fondlers), it is also what Elizabeth Marlowe discussed in her 2013 book 'Shaky Ground: Context, Connoisseurship, and the History of Roman Art'. The issue here is the difference between 'addressed' sources (objects created with the intent of transmitting a message/information) and 'non-addressed' ones, what archaeologists more generally are dealing with.

Mazza's next three identified problems are:

Problem 2: The purchase and publishing of papyri that have recently emerged from the market and are of questionable legal status.[...]
Problem 3: Private collections have accessibility problems.[...]
 Problem 4: Accessibility is also problematic in institutional collections.[...]
I like the way that the fifth one is particularly strongly-formulated and refers to the entire no-questions asked antiquities market:
Problem 5: The black to grey market is a serious threat because it involves criminals.As documented by research and UNESCO reports, crime in art and antiquities is the business of dangerous people and organisations. The products of such endeavours are later laundered through transit countries, the grey market, and also academic expertise and publications that make any illegally-sourced antiquity more acceptable to the public. Given this last point, I am appalled by the fact that in 2019 some academics still think that publishing unprovenanced materials has no consequences on society. The idea that scholarship lives in a vacuum, in a separate universe from the rest of the world, is not only unrealistic–it’s unacceptable. In Egypt, criminals are taking advantage of the socio-economic climate: looting, theft, and trafficking are thriving. These activities have harmed local communities deeply and in many ways, and not only because they destroy archaeological evidence: children employed to pick up antiquities from shafts have been seriously injured and killed, and guards of archaeological sites have lost their lives protecting objects and places. Would you pay the price to be at the end of this crime chain just for the sake of adding another line on your CV?

She concludes with a challenge for the greedy collectors like the Greens:
This brings me back to the episodes addressed in the rest of this special issue. As the Green collection includes many more fragments than those at the center of the current scandal, can I finally receive an answer to the question I have been asking since 2014: where the hell are these other papyri from?

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