Tuesday 8 February 2011

IADAA Statement on Looting in Egypt

The International Association of Dealers in Ancient Art (IADAA) has issued a statement about the alleged looting of museums, archaeological stores and archaeological sites in Egypt, condemning "the looting of Egyptian antiquities and offers help". The Association characterises the problem as due to "poorly protected museums, magazines and excavations". This seems hardly fair in the circumstances, tourists and academics in Egypt cannot fail to observe despite the endemic poverty of the country the number of personnel guarding sites and museums around the country. The problem we observed only arose with the (temporary) crisis of government last week.

The IADAA goes out of its way to mention that it "deplores the reports that the necessary security is lacking". This of course is the same old collectors' mantra, according to them to stop looting and the illicit trade in artefacts you have to run a police state with guards posted 24/7 at every site across the country containing finds that can be looted.
IADAA wants to point out emphatically that the most effective protection of cultural property happens on-site. For this reason we consider it imperative to intensify and organize surveillance on-site.
Well, until two weeks these sites were pretty well guarded, certainly better than any in the UK or USA and yet David Gill points out case where an IADAA member has stuff in their stocks which seem to have come from them from the period before the current security crisis. ("It should be noted that a former (temporary?) IADAA Spanish member currently appears to hold material listed on the SCA's website"). So how does the IADAA model fare then?

IADAA says it would like to help out, but:
In order to recover stolen goods it is vital that detailed information as to damage and losses in Egypt are disseminated as fast as possible. [...] the most detailed descriptions possible and photographs of all lost objects are necessary. The best, least expensive and most efficient form of cultural property protection is an internationally accessible picture library of lost art works, which has to be clearly structured and available online.
"Art works" - we are of course talking about archaeological material, dessicated human cadavers for example are not "art". IADAA seems to ignore the fact that its not just storerooms that were opened, but there was digging on archaeological sites. How are the Egyptians supposed to produce for the convenience of the IADAA photos of the freshly and clandestinely dugup material?

I think a point worth noting here about "least expensive", it is not the Egyptians that are making a profit on storing archaeological material as an archive in museum stores or in leaving it in situ in the ground as a resource for future generations. It is however the members of the IADAA that are making a tidy profit selling this sort of stuff. Who should be bearing the costs of cleaning up the global antiquities market, the Egyptian people, or the international trade? As David Gill points out, a much cheaper method for all concerned would be for "IADAA members [and all handling such material] to insist on documented collecting histories for Egyptian material". Trying to shift the blame on the Egyptian people at the moment seems at the least ungracious.


Anonymous said...


"If you'd locked 'em up better m'dears Bill wouldn't 've stolen 'em an' I wouldn't 've fenced 'em...."

Larry Rothfield said...

If the IADAA really thought it imperative to intensify and organize surveillance on-site, it would be pushing for a tax on all sales of antiquities -- or perhaps a voluntary tithing! -- to help pay for this. But of course it doesn't really want better policing, as that would cut down the flow of "fresh" material.

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