Thursday 3 November 2011

The Heritage of Heritage Salvage

Over on Meg Lambert's blog is posted a comment which merits drawing attention to. It highlights the problems of treating unique archaeological complexes as artefact mines. The text is a report of Mr Agus Sudaryadi (Coordinator for Underwater Archaeology, Office for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Jambi, Ministry of Culture and Tourism, Indonesia) referring to The Belitung shipwreck site after commercial salvage in 1998
The Belitung Shipwreck Site, located at 17 m depth in Belitung waters, Indonesia, is a shipwreck site containing Tang Cargo Treasure that was lifted by private salvage companies, PT. Sulung Segara Jaya and Seabed Exploration Company in 1998. The salvaging process [wa]s done without involving Indonesian archaeologist. The ship is an Arab dhow with 15.5 m long that includes 60,000 pieces artifacts from Tang Dynasty period. At present these artifacts are under the management of Singapore Sentosa Leisure Group. In 2010, the Office for Cultural Heritage Preservation of Jambi conducted the first underwater archaeological survey at the Belitung Shipwreck site in order to find out the recent conditions of the site after salvaging in 1998. The result shows that the site is extremely ravaged, where unidentified ceramic fragments spread out in a radius of ± 20 m². It seems clear that the ceramics fragments have been removed by the company then thrown back into the sea because they were considered non-commercial. Meanwhile, the shipwreck was not found anymore. It was only a big form hole with 6 m wide and 15 m long, which seems to be the ship place. The remaining wrecks are now just a few small wood fragments and a sizable chunk of wood sitting, seems as a mast foundation.


Jon said...

I had posted two times at Mrs. Lambert's Blog, and everytime she simply refused to publish my comment.
I take the freedom to comment here on her strong support to move ahead with the display of the "treasures" from this shipwreck at the Smithsonian's Sackler Gallery.
She aims "for a change within" while overseeing that the change came very much from within the Smithsonian itself! Good guys in the other parts of the Smithsonian raised the alarm when they found out about this exhibition and display of nice art (Read the catalogue, Mrs. Lambert!) By supporting the director of the Sackler to display the shipwreck (all of which is gone because it was looted for ending up in nice display cases like this art gallery, as the one post of mine she not refused, makes clear) she is fighting against the very people she wanted to help, in all her happiness being allowed to work with the great Mr. Raby. I noted in one my comments which she refused to post that the Smithsonian's secretary Clough had clearly stated the exhibition IS cancelled, not postponed. The fact that Julian Rabi continues according to her blog with it is in my opinion a simple sign of a bad loser.

The comments on are in my opinion NOT bad spelled. Someone should mention to her that English is not the only language where should express concerns about our world's cultural heritage. In her case with wishing to see the shipwreck treasures on display, she might be advised to learn Bahasa Indonesia first.


Paul Barford said...

Hi „Jon” (it would be nice if you are attacking somebody to give your full name). Thanks for your comment. Let me begin by saying that I am not very happy about you using my blog to criticise a third person. Its like idjits who post attacks on me on Peter Tompa’s blog instead of coming here and saying these things to my face. It’s just not on. Nor am I very happy about the tone in which you wrote. If you wrote in similar vein to her, I am not surprised that the comment was not approved on what is, after all, her own personal blog. I therefore publish this with reservations.

As readers of this blog will know, I am a great supporter of Meg Lambert and a great believer in her. That does not mean that I agree with everything she writes and says (nor she with me), which is how it should be.

A moment’s search here will also reveal what I think about the Belitung fiasco and the Smithsonian’s handling of the issue. I certainly had not got the impression that the exhibition was cancelled and I am sure the topic will reappear here in due course, and I will welcome comments from supporters and opponents where appropriate.

Meg is entitled to her opinion on the Smithsonian exhibition. These are contentious issues and there is room for many opinions, as long as they are based in sound reasoning. Of Meg’s ability to reason soundly, I have no doubt. I am happy for her that as an undergraduate she has established with the Museum staff – perhaps you are not quite aware of the suspicion bloggers like us are treated by certain members of the various collecting communities and their supporters as soon as they realise what we write about. This makes proper dialogue impossible. So, I wish her luck in her research, and look forward to learning what she comes up with. If I find myself in disagreement, I will say so, and I expect the young lady to defend her position vigorosly and with intellectual rigour in a frank and honest exchange of views. That is surely what this is all about.

But my post was about a hole in the seabed where an important archaeological site was and the fact that the area around seems to be covered with archaeological material that reportedly was „sampled” according to „commercial value” rather than archaeological information content. The manner in which the „excavation” took place is the matter fundamental to the issue, the exhibition is secondary to that. Could we talk here please about the former before getting bogged down with the latter?

Jon said...


I really appreciate you let my comment stay. I was and I am ready to write about a hole in a seabed instead of criticizing someone who refuses to post my comments. Meg promised to be transparent about her findabouts and I hope with all readers she is indeed, since I have followed her blog and her ideas also with great interest.

My name is Jon Bennet and I live in Virginia. I am in no way an archaeologist. But I have close friends in Indonesia. I am lucky enough to visit this beautiful country at least three times a year. I learned about the plans of the exhibition and the Smithsonian's outrage to stop this exhibition, after the show was almost on their way, and the catalog was printed ($$$), since friends of mine are from the wider circle of those within the walls who stood up: those Meg Lambert seems wishing to challenge now by siding with Julian Raby, who never intended to let those who are interested in preserving Indonesian heritage or archaeologists speak, since this was about showing treasures only as can be seen in the glossy catalog. The statement of Smithsonian secretary Clough to cancel this treasure focused exhibition altogether ("the exhibit is definitely NOT coming to the Smithsonian.") can be read here:
In his words: "Clearly, you don't want to encourage people to loot, or to desecrate these sites." My friends from the Smithsonian and from Indonesia have high regards for him on this decision.

Simply ask: did Julian Raby approach the Singapor guys to mount an exhibition on the problems of commercial archaeology or was this about treasures to be displayed? Read the comments by those on Meg Lambert's "I am back, I hope," and the problematic past of the exhibitions he brought to the Smithsonian and how objects ended up on the market for good $$$. My only comment to Meg was that she should consider working also with those who were opposing the treasure show.

But maybe that is the root of all the problems since everyone wants to be the first who stands up against unjustness and unethical behaviour.

Paul Barford said...

Thanks for the comment and the link to secretary Clough text (which contains much more of interest than this one statement).

Point taken, and I am sure Meg is not by any means going to ignore those other voices.

I think there are a number of important questions raised by all this, not least the role of the Museum. Is it an institution that stands for something, or just an exhibition hall for Treasures for people to gawp at under the guise of being "cultured"? The same may be asked about British museums now ever busy trying to raise funds, not for research, but gaining yet another glittering metal-detector found Treasure to exhibit...

Meg Lambert said...

Dear Mr. Bennet,

I honestly have no idea why your comments didn't post; I don't have an approval setting for my comments, so I have no explanation for why they didn't show up! I have received them in email notifications. I can post them myself if you so desire.

I can assure you that I am taking all voices into consideration in my research, but that, simply put, I feel this is a great educational opportunity to expose these issues to the wider public and create a mainstream dialogue. I can also assure you that Julian Raby feels this way himself. He is currently in the process of creating an advisory committee to figure out how exactly to tackle this issue in an exhibition form, or if an exhibition is even the right way to go. There is a great deal of sensitivity to various parties' concerns, and Dr. Raby is open to various possibilities for communicating these issues.

Paul, thank you very much for your support!

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