Friday, 24 July 2009

A question and Two Answers

I think I mentioned earlier Robyn’s question to Peter Tompa:

Given the scale of damage done by commercial diggers to ancient Native American burial, sacred, and other sites which are protected by law, would you also oppose an MOU between the US and another country that restricts the import of Anasazi pots (such as the ones in the Blanding case) into another country? Or would you welcome their help in enforcing our own cultural property laws? After all, it's not illegal to own Anasazi pots in Egypt. Would you support their "right to collect" them, even though they were illegally dug up here?

The Washington lawyer chickened out of giving a straight answer “Robyn - If you fully identify yourself, I will be happy to answer that question. Regards, Peter Tompa”. I think Robyn is sufficiently identifiable, a collector that asked Mr Tompa a question he is not prepared to answer.

Coin collector Bill Donovan had no such qualms, his long comment goes over some of what he has garnered from the writings of the “sages of collecting”, none of which has any relevance, philosophical or otherwise, to the question posed in the main post. He does however answer it. What a revealing answer it is, it speaks volumes for the mentality of these collectors and their failure to connect elements of the wider picture.

[...] I personally would not have a problem with someone in Egypt owning an Anasazi pot, because that object would bring that person a little closer to a global awareness. That Native American pot in a foreign country might build a little bridge of friendship, empathy, and optimism. I am so proud of my country that I am willing to share its identity objects. In fact, I would much rather have a person who would identify with, look it, and study an artifact be able to purchase and own it over a state. [...]

Jeepers, he’s so “proud of his country” that he’s willing to give away illegally excavated pots from Anasazi graves to “build a little bridge of friendship, empathy and optimism”. (In other words, use it in international diplomacy – is that not what the ACCG is criticising the Cyprus MOU for?) As Robyn quite rightly observes, what kind of "bridge" is built on the proceeds of illegal activity? It would appear from this that Mr Donovan basically is not against the looting of archaeological sites in the USA since some of the loot can go to collectors and build empathy. With what?

Why would Mr Donovan use ancient Native American grave goods to "build empathy" between a nation that came into being in 1776 and others? Isn't that what the ACCG is criticising nations like Italy, Greece and Turkey for doing, because there is "no continuity" (they say, I'd dispute that) between the ancient people that made the stuff they covet and the modern nation? Why for a collector is it American heritage when old stuff is dug up in Utah, but a "global heritage up for grabs by US collectors whose heritage it is too" when not.

Vignettes: Oedipus and the sphinx ; chicken; vulture - Getty Images

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