Saturday 25 February 2012

Potts on Policing

Larry Rothfield discusses Lee Rosenbaum's recent interview with Getty's Tim Potts (' "We have to support better policing of the sites", says the new Getty Museum Director. What does he have in mind?', February 25, 2012). The interview is also discussed by David Gill ("Timothy Potts: "the problem hasn't gone away" "). Potts concedes that "there is still a huge amount of ongoing looting and this issue is not being addressed". He then says that:
The only way to address it is on the ground in the source countries. We have to support better policing of the sites, better understanding by the local communities of the importance of the archaeological heritage, particularly to them. And it's only through these programs that we're really going to tackle the core problem, which is the illicit excavation that's still going on and the huge urban projects, dam building, and so on. The educational process has to happen not only with the local community but also with the government and ministers."
Now of course, whatever Dr Potts wants to believe (along with every no-questions-asking dealer and collector in Christendom) there is not one, "only", way to deal with the problem. We need a more holistic approach, and one obvious place to start is cleaning up the market making it less easy to foist looted objects off onto the market alongside material of more legitimate origins. At the moment there is absolutely no barrier whatsoever to this.

It seems Potts wishes to place the burden for the policing entirely on the shoulders of the victims of the looting, the citizens and governments of countries being looted. In usual atavistic colonialist fashion, it seems he treats all the inhabitants (and their governing elites) of the source countries of the antiquities collectors so covet as ignorant, uneducated, backward oafs who only have themselves to blame if they are ripped off by western dealers.

This is the Witschonke premise. This postulates that if - despite all the other problems it may have now - the looted "source" countries are not going to put 220% effort into protecting the sites and the cultural property they contain, the outside world (in particular the United States of America) should not lift even a little finger to help them. It is not as if the USA has anything like acceptable success protecting all of its own archaeological heritage (but that's only "injun" stuff and "stuff happens"). I really would like to see Dr Potts and his Getty going out there to the meth addicts of the Ozarks and among the pot-hunting and collecting folk of the Four Corners area (do make the effort to drop in on Judge Waddoups) and doing their please-don't-do-this,-it's-not-nice "education" there first as a pilot scheme before adopting it as a global policy.

Vignette: Dr Tim Potts, from the Chasing Aphrodite blog.

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