Wednesday 14 December 2011

Cultural Heritage and Gubn'mint Repression of Collecters' "Rights"

Edgar Owen, , antiquities dealer from New York state ( "A Premier Gallery of Antiquities, Ancient Coins and World Art"Lake Hopatcong, NJ 07849, USA) has a number of views on artefact collecting and those who oppose no-questions-asked antiquities collecting and support cultural patrimony laws. He has recently become active in the debate on these issues, though mainly posted to closed-access discussion lists not publicly accessible. It seems worth therefore bringing this discussion to the attention of a wider audience.

The first text (Moneta-L Message #102012) can now also be seen elsewhere:
we have to stop letting the antis define the issue in terms of 'looting' and 'evil collectors' and expose it for what it really is, the growing efforts by governments everywhere to take away more and more individual freedoms, most often on the basis of manufactured issues of 'political correctness'. In the case of antiquities and ancient coins there is a peculiar quasi religious zeal to the antis' crusade. They would have everyone believe that even common everyday pottery and coins from ancient times have some sacred quasi religious nature that makes them completely off limits to lowly ordinary people, and that they are only to be held and examined in inner sanctums by the high priests of archaeology, and only these properly sanctified priests have the right to handle such artifacts and only they are qualified to interpret them to us lowly commoners but we must never touch them on pain of violating the commandments. And that all ancient objects are so sacred that no matter how many of them there are they all must be confiscated from the impure hands of the unwashed and stored forever safely away from our impure possessive desires to share in the common history of mankind.
He ends by suggesting that in its essentials, efforts to suppress the no-questions-asked market in antiquities are nothing more than "an attempt by governments to expropriate and control history". The aim is to "take history away" from the public "and make us more and more dependent on government control of the present". Furthermore, "if all antiquities and coins are off the market" the effect is that "the only things left to buy are modern consumer goods where the profits go into the pockets of big business instead of to other people".

Owen's second text was posted on Tim Haines' Yahoo "Ancient Artifacts" discussion group, ostensibly for "responsible collectors". It too was leaked on a coiney list:
There is a basic error here in the whole 'looting' discussion and that is that somehow the current government of any country is the rightful owner of anything it chooses to claim ownership of. That is in basic violation of individual property rights and based entirely on unjust laws. If a country wants to keep some selected part of its historical heritage within its boundaries then it should be required to compensate the rightful individual finders/owners at full market value. Governments do not own everything. Any just government derives its powers entirely from its individual citizens who are the rightful owners of all property except insofar as they willingly cede such powers to their governments. Rather than let source country governments, and archaeologists who are dependent on source country permits to work, define the debate, we need to reframe it in terms of basic human rights. That I think many or most Americans and citizens of other countries can understand... Cultural heritage belongs to people, not governments. Only the people can justly decide what part of cultural heritage should be given to the care of their government.
The third text comes from the same discussion list of Tim Haines (you know, the one ostensibly for "responsible collectors"). Here Edgar Owen wrote:
There are many including the AIA who want to ban collecting ancient items entirely. The whole process is trending in that direction and who knows how far it will proceed unless it is stopped?

Also you are simply wrong that "whether we like it or not, source countries have their own laws and everything that comes out of the ground belongs to the state and so these looted pieces are stolen as they do belong to the governments..." Because there is a law doesn't automatically mean that law is just, rational, or in the best interest of people involved. Also the UK is a source country and finders and land owners have rights to what comes out of the ground. Also potatoes come out of the ground. What's the moral difference between a potato and an AE4 coming out of the ground? Why does one belong to the government and the other not? Or a better example a lost object less than 100 years old versus one 2000 years old. What's the moral difference?
And what is the moral difference between an osprey egg and a chicken egg? An egg is an egg, a potato is a potato and an ancient coin is a piece of archaeological evidence when in the context of its deposition. Once it has been stripped from that context it ceases to have that additional potential value. Once again we see the English (not UK) example being trotted out in support of no-questions-asked collecting. One day I expect the Portable Antiquities Scheme might face up to their responsibilities and do a bit of archaeological outreach on their webpage pointing out the fallacies of such arguments as they are employed by their "Friends", the dugup antiquity and coin collectors of the United States. Maybe in another thirteen years' time they might get around to it...

It is notable that Owen wants us to stop defining the issue as "looting" and the evil that no-questions-asked collecting does. What he does not explain is why, when that clearly is the problem. He wishes to direct attention away from this to government repression (nota-bene in the US). The depiction of archaeology as some kind of religion falls flat on its face when we realise that the ONLY antiquities (and therefore the only type of collecting) most of us are concerned about are those freshly surfacing on a no-questions-asked market, and those being freshly dug up to fuel it.

Again, the dealer would have his readers believe that the aim of any action against the no-questions-asked market is to "confiscate" every single artefact (and "repatriate" them) which is not at all what most of us are fighting for. Likewise that all archaeologists want to "stop collecting" is another of those myths dealers like to perpetuate, though seldom can cite anything to support this assertion beyond stating that if the antiquities trade had to stop being no-questions-asked as is being urged, it would be the end of trading as we know it - but then, that surely is the point, to cut out the dodgy dealers and their goods.

Mr Owen wants landowners and finders to get the value of the type of items he sells in his "premier gallery", I wonder how far he has gone with realising that. How profitable would his trade be if every owner of the land from which those artefacts came, and every finder, got something like the current market value of each items he is selling? Somehow there is a flaw in this argument, isn't there? It's called a "profit margin" I believe.
"Because there is a law doesn't automatically mean that law is just, rational, or in the best interest of people involved".
I would like to see those who deny governments to claim cultural property in trust for the benefit of citizens to develop their argument further. It seems to me that to take these arguments to their logical conclusion, one denies a government the ability to legislate in any manner that affects a citizen's property rights, and that includes for example levying taxes on the results of a person's labour. Or saying they have to have a piece of paper to allow them to drive their own car legally, which "they" can take away if you drive your car in a way they do not like? The US government is also "owner" of huge tracts of land, but by what right? From whom did the gubn'mint purchase it (at a fair price)? In what way is the US appropriation of huge areas of valuable real estate for itself any different from the British Crown saying certain buried goods are the property of the crown, or Poland saying archaeological finds when discovered should be turned in because they are state property? I wonder if Mr Owen pays his taxes and if so to whom and why, if he really believes what he says about governments. Do governments merit the label "quasi-religious zeal" for the way they insist on their tax collection and driving licence issuance, I wonder?

Well, I think we all look forward to Mr Owen's continued "reframing" of the debate in terms of "basic human rights". Like for example the basic human rights of the citizens of all the countries Mr Owen is currently stocking material from in his New Jersey gallery to have their cultural heritage back where it cannot be proven to have been legitimately acquired at source.
That I think many or most Americans and citizens of other countries can understand... Cultural heritage belongs to people, not governments. Only the people can justly decide what part of cultural heritage should be given to the care of their government.
Or to foreign galley owners. For how many of those expensive and spectacular pieces does he now have documentation of the "people's" acquiescence to its removal from the country?

No comments:

Creative Commons License
Ten utwór jest dostępny na licencji Creative Commons Uznanie autorstwa-Bez utworów zależnych 3.0 Unported.