Thursday 25 February 2010

Resistance Looting and "Cosmopolitan" Collecting

The buyers of decontextualised archaeological material claim that by doing so they are combatting what they (incorrectly) call "cultural nationalism" (about which I will write later as it is a key element in the coineys' Baltimore Coin Stunt case papers) and engaging in the dissemination of cosmopolitan attitudes. I personally think this is just another word for "greed", but there is another aspect to this. The looted objects themselves might be the product of looting driven by nationalist agendas. Morag Kersel’s research in the so-called Holy Land has revealed the existence of some examples of this insidious process. This so-called "resistance looting" comprises people pulling sites and monuments apart to try and remove evidence of the existence of a former alien presence on their land. Kersel found evidence for this happening in the West Bank, though there was no evidence that it was being carried out in an organized way. So far she has not identified examples in Israel or Jordan. “People looted to find and destroy any evidence of occupation on their land [...] Anything with a Jewish motif or anything with a Christian motif… it just so happens that those things are (worth hundreds) of dollars on the market”, she says. So the market is encouraging this process rather than "saving" its "products".

Probably many more examples can be found of this sort of process, raising the question of to what extent the no-questions-asked market in contextless antiquities can be claimed to be "combatting" (sic) "cultural nationalism" (sic) of one kind when it may be intimately related to a cultural nationalism of another kind? What kind of cosmopolitanism is it to become involved in the process of cultural cleansing?

[Morag Kersel by the way is one of the editors of the Journal of Field Archaeology so vilified the other day by Peter Tompa for publishing an article about the antiquities trade].

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