Saturday 6 November 2010

Roman Building in Pompeii Collapses

Roman walls weakened by seismic activity and excavated many years ago in Pompeii are subject to all sorts of damage due to their exposure. The upkeep of a site like this is a huge problem. Sadly one of the victims of the difficulties of overcoming them was the "House of the Gladiators" ("Schola Armaturarum Juventus Pompeiani") which collapsed just after dawn on Saturday, while the site was closed. It is believed the walls had been weakened by being penetrated by rain.

While the rest of us are upset by that, some US antiquity dealers see in this event an opportunity for point-scoring. Dave Welsh, unpleasant Californian ancient coin dealer triumphantly gloats on behalf of no-questions-asked collectors eager to get their hands on foreign dug-up classical antiquities:
"This disaster is concrete proof that "source states" such as Italy are in many cases unwilling or unable to take proper care of what they are already responsible for. That should be considered in deciding whether everything exported from a state neglecting its custodial responsibilities, or discovered there in the future, should be turned over to it".
[Mr Welsh of course neglects to point out to his applauding-collector readership that the US only "turns over" to other states that which has been shown to have been illegally removed from it]. So, I suppose by the same argument if a house collapses in St Louis the Egyptian state can demand the return of the Ka-Nefer Nefer mummy mask they have there in SLAM? Or when a house in Chicago collapses, the Art Institute ought to send all its artworks away? Or in Brooklyn, so we should empty the Met? Or in Washington DC so the Smithsonian collections should be dispersed? Where is the logic in that? I suspect if truth were known there'd be a few historic buildings, pueblo ruins, ghost town shacks, old mine shafts all not more than a few hundred years old not too far away from where Welsh is writing which are also collapsing due to natural processes. What logical reason would there be however for people of other countries to use that as an excuse for taking away and retaining illegally obtained North American cultural property ? That is plain stupid.

You Tube is full of dramatic videos of entirely modern buildings just collapsing (here too), there have been many tragic cases (an exhibition hall in Poland a couple of years ago for example). This does not mean that the people of these whole countries are "unwilling or unable" to take proper care of the structures in the country, it means that there are some buildings both old and new that need more money spent on them - in fact, are there many buildings more that a decade or so old that do not need money spent on their upkeep, and that money is not actually being applied when and where needed? Some of us have no doubt lived in such buildings.

When are collectors and dealers going to end this nonsense? They all claim they collect this dugup stuff and sell it because of a ("passionate") "interest in history". 'Told ya so" gloating when another remarkable survival of the past goes the way of all such fabric must inevitably do really does not suggest to me that there is any cultural sensibility in the US "collectors' Rights" lobby.

Neither is there any honesty. Note what Welsh actually wrote:
That should be considered in deciding whether everything exported from a state neglecting its custodial responsibilities, or discovered there in the future, should be turned over to it".
That is dishonestly suggests that the "source" countries are in fact asking for such a thing. That is of course totally untrue, though I bet there's not a collector on the yahoo list who's been brainwashed by the incessant repetition of these lies by self-appointed "collectors' rights" advocates will even spot the trick. Mr Welsh would be hard pushed to inform collectors precisely who in the international (or is he just talking about the US?) context of the global antiquities trade would be doing the "deciding" to which he refers. What a slimy piece of text.

Instead of gloating about the collapse of this building, how about the ACCG setting up a fund to send some US conservators to help the Italian ones retrieve the fragments of fresco from the rubble and reconstruct them? After all it was a Greek coin collector (Anthony Milavic) at the recent CPAC meeting at Washington who was saying that it was illegally exported Greek coins were such a vitally important source of iconography of sporting events which is so vitally important to a US citizen understanding the classical heritage. I reckon therefore the frescoes in that building were equally important to ACCG members and US citizens alike and they should be joining in the effort to rescue something from this ruin and not just gloating like grinning monkeys.

UPDATE: Beside Welsh's combative phillistinism even Peter Tompa's post looks moderate:Pompeii Collapse Brings Political Recriminations, now I see Welsh has a post on his blog about this: "Italy's heritage crumbles". "This story is very much relevant to our struggle to prevent collecting ancient coins in the United States from being strangled by import restrictions requested under the 1970 UNESCO Convention...." [by the way the Convention says states should prohibit all imports of illegally exported items which fall under the "source" state's legislation, the MOU is applied for under the US' own CCPIA]. It's funny isn't it when US dealers want to sell the stuff, it's "everybody's (mine too) heritage", except when they find it convenient to refer to it as ITALY's.

For some comments on the building itself, excavated in 1915, see Blogging Pompeii [hat-tip to PhDiva]

Photo: Image of damage disturbing to many of us used as an occasion to gloat and score points by insensitive antiquity peddlars and opposition politicians.

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