Thursday, 12 March 2009

What is in a name?

Dealers and collectors of antiquities are constantly mocking the use by the media of the term which suggests that archaeological material removed from the soil in a specific region is the cultural property of a modern state. Every time there is a big news story about this, the forums are abuzz with Cuno-esque derision of “nationalist” sentiment and worse. The fault here however is the sloppy writing of our journalists.

The case is well illustrated by the constant battle the Polish foreign office has with dozy foreign journalists who keep writing of “Polish extermination camps” when they mean Nazi extermination camps which now lie in Poland. I see this morning that an Italian newspaper did the same. Let's have a bit more precision of language.

The remains associated with these complexes comprise a material heritage that surely must be preserved, must be linked with the non-material. Since the majority of these sites lie within the post 1945 frontiers of Poland, it is that country that has to bear the burden of organizing it, and finding funds for it, but it is not solely Poland’s heritage. They are not “Polish” camps. That does not mean that Poland should not be supported in her efforts to look after these remains and allow their study in context. In the same way the archaeological record of a country should not be despoiled by uncaring dealers and collectors just because the modern population is not perceived (by the foreign collectors) as having any genetic link with the creators of the material. The Cuno-wannabes fail to notice that "Power of Place" is a far more more important concept in today's global conservation theory as notions of "Ahnenerbe". They are chasing the wrong non-material values.

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