Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Loot or not loot - Who can tell? Who cares?

Museum Surplus Antiquities (Ken Martins, Laguna Niguel, CA 92607) like a number of other US dealers in portable antiquities is currently selling some nine cuneiform tablets and a foundation cone, but they reassure their potential customers “Since the looting of the Iraqi Museum, all of our Mesopotamian or Babylonian material purchased has been checked against the Interpol Database of Iraqi Museum looted materials”… But then, surely if the objects can be checked in the database, it means the objects concerned have a photographic record and a link to provenance information in the museums accession registers.

Surely the more important type of looting is the tablets that have been illegally dug since the 1990s out of archaeological sites of Iraq and without any records put by various means on the market. Surely customers can only be satisfied that they are buying legitimate items if the seller can produce verifiable documentation that those particular items were already in old collections outside Iraq before the current spate of exploitive and destructive digging started. Only those items can be regarded as legitimate, all the rest are in the eyes of the world totally suspect.

No special pleading, no excuses. I don't know about you, gentle reader, but I would not buy meat from a shopkeeper or stallholder who cannot determine exactly where it came from and whether it has all the requisite papers; why should the peddlars of portable antiquities feel they can ignore the same type of trading standards and proof of legitimate origin as other suppliers have to maintain in order to maintain our custom? What kind of customers do they have? The kind that would put on their table uncertified meat of unknown origin perhaps.
Photo: Isin, waving looters, SAFE website, photo: John Russel.

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