Thursday, 14 October 2010

Putting it in Perspective

Yesterday the world heaved a sigh of relief as the last of thirty three miners that had been trapped 700m deep in a mine in Chile for nearly 70 days was winched to safety. Several teams of men had been working all this time drilling three boreholes down to reach them, constructing an elaborate device to bring them out. Such an effort costs money, 14 million pounds, but the money was found and the men are safe and sound, reunited with their families. While the men were trapped down there, an anonymous buyer spent in Britain 2.3 million pounds (so one seventh of that sum) to secure a striking and "cultural" decoration for his hallway instead of it going to a British museum where we can all see it. One seventh the cost of one of the most elaborate and technologically advanced mine rescue operations ever carried out. I think that rather puts the somewhat obscene price paid for this trophy piece of heavily restored metal detectory into perspective.

Johnathan Jones too on his blog ('I can't bury my hatred for Antiques Roadshow any longer') talks of how an interest in history is being replaced by an interest in how much objects from the past are worth financially:
Last week an ancient Roman helmet, only discovered a few months ago by a young man with a metal detector, was sold at auction for £2.3m. The museum that hoped to get it was outbid, despite raising an impressive sum. To add insult to injury, the buyer has remained anonymous – in other words, this remarkable piece of British history (see my blog last week for why it is so special) is being spirited from public view to an undisclosed place, one supposes behind closed doors. Reports in the press have focused on the fact that the money made will be shared between the man who dug it up and the farmer whose field it was. Concern for the fate of a beautiful and fascinating object that logically belongs in a British public collection has been eclipsed by the narrative of treasure-hunter-gets-rich. Buried treasure has dazzled the media. The Antiques Roadshow view of the world has prevailed. [...] There are much healthier approaches to archaeology and history on television. The popularity of programmes that dig up the past is terrific – and it has nothing to do with dosh. The Time Team don't hold a car boot sale at the end and sell off the stuff they have found. But Antiques Roadshow is an advert for a sleazy industry. The antiques business prospers by turning heritage and culture into a racket. It turns us all into money-grasping cynics who would sell Magna Carta, given half a chance.
To the joy of those who'd buy it, to stash it away for their own sole self-gratulatory enjoyment, a tacit expression of their wealth and 'influence'. Something only they have the right to properly appreciate. But there is no "archaeology for all" here.

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