Tuesday 14 February 2012

Antiquitist Anti-Academism

One of the antiquitist mantras is that they are all against the illicit trade in antiquities, their bit of the trade is "all legitimate" and they cannot abide the black sheep "who get us all a bad name". So you would think they would all welcome the announcement that the European Research Council has awarded a team at Glasgow University led by Dr Simon Mackenzie a £1m grant to study the illegal trade in antiquities. Not so, paid lobbyist for the Professional Numismatists Guild (a dealers' association) is quite strong-worded in his rejection of the idea ('Your [sic] Tax Euros at Work', 14th Feb 2012) . He dismisses the researchers as "some well known academics with an axe to grind against collectors" and suggests that the "publicity for the grant" (sic) "does not suggest anything that even remotely resembles academic detachment". he cites the Guardian article. He suggests that if its goal really is to fund high quality research, "the European Research Council should be embarrassed" by this project. He reckons that "by the looks of it" (sic):
"this study will have about as much credibility as one funded by big Pharma to justify sales of a new drug, no one actually needs. It is, however, part of a trend. Get a governmental entity to fund an anti-collector study by academics with an axe to grind, and use it to help justify further government action and spending on cultural bureaucracies.
In other words, he alleges that there is an international conspiracy against collectors, and the ERC and Glasgow University are in on it. That's before he's even had the chance to observe the team at work and learn the final results of their research. It seems he has made up his mind to prepare collectors to dismiss the results of this research into the illegal side of the market before they have even read it. Why would a lobbyist for legitimate (PNG) dealers do that? What secrets do legitimate dealers have to hide?

Vignette: Legitimate dealers and black sheep... (sodahead)


Dorothy King said...

I'm not sure how anyone can object to a study designed to help implement the law - similarly, you may not like the PAS, but it's the best system we have at the moment. Switzerland studied the problem through public funding, and cracked down significantly on looted antiquities - I'm not saying their system is perfect, but it's improved a lot, and that's why so much more loot is now going through Germany.

It's always going to be frustrating seeing what's in auction house catalogues, but honestly things have improve so much in the last 20 years. I remember seeing a sarcophagus front with fresh chisel marks at Christie's a few years back, and I hope one wouldn't see that these days.

Though a few more practical things could also be done, for example forcing auction houses to name those that have consigned two or more pieces that turn out to have been looted or stolen (one could be a mistake but two ...).

Paul Barford said...

Thank you for that comment Dorothy.

Indeed I hope this project will lead to some clear suggestions what can be done in practical terms to clean up the ambiguities in the dugup antiquities market. I suspect that is what some of the dealers and their lobbyists are apprehensive about.

[To put the record straight, I personally am not against having the PAS, what I disagree with is the direction in which the current directorship has been taking it for the last fourteen years. As "archaeological outreach" the PAS should surely be actively discouraging the exploitive use of archaeological sites as "mines" for collectable (and saleable) geegaws, not encouraging it and becoming a passive "partner" in the indiscriminate emptying of decontextualised bits of the archaeological record into scattered ephemeral, and for the most part undocumented, personal artefact collections.]

Dorothy King said...

I don't think that's what they are trying to do - but obviously you see it differently.

I guess I tend to compare countries going through 'dodgy' times, where everything's a mess usually because of war - so the PAS looks amazing compared to that (everything is relative).

I guess looting or the rape of archaeological sites is something that will never go away - it's been going on since the ancient Egyptians - but all each of us can do is out best to either not contribute or stop it.

PS - I'm glad you brought the blog back. I'm not going to pretend to be a big fan, but I very much support your right to voice your opinions.

Anonymous said...

"That's before he's even had the chance to observe the team at work and learn the final results of their research"

AND before he has even read their grant proposal.

Paul Barford said...

Indeed. Antiquity collectors are not too good at reading it seems.

Paul Barford said...

I suppose the question is whether in mid February Ms Yates had. At any rate, she joined the Glasgow team at the end of May. http://anonymousswisscollector.blogspot.com/2012/06/want-to-hear-about-what-is-going-on-at.html

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