Friday 18 May 2012

No Environmentally-Impacting Economic Development Outside the US? (Zeugma in the eyes of US antiquity dealers)

Over on the coiney blogs the dealers' lobbyists are decrying source nations who want to protect the archaeological heritage from the effects of looting, smuggling and the illicit (and no-questions-asked) trade yet on the other hand who allow archaeological sites to be affected by economic development. Alfredo De La Fe questions: 'Should Institutions Support all Repatriation Attempts? Some food for thought'.
Before the Trustees of  Bowling Green State University seriously consider calls to send mosaics installed in their new arts center to Turkey because some academic claims they might have come from Zeugma, a Turkish site, they should ponder the fate that city– sunk beneath waters created by a Turkish Government hydroelectric dam. The Trustees should also consider that the AIA and other archaeological groups that support repatriation [...] turn into pussycats when it comes to the decisions of foreign governments to sacrifice whole sites to dams and the like.  Indeed, instead of outrage for inundating Zeugma and many of its magnificent artifacts — these groups only offered the Turkish Government their thanks for allowing “rescue excavations” that, of course, were largely funded not by the Turkish Government itself, but by an American Foundation.  
He copies and pastes this from Peter Tompa's  “Ponder the Fate of Zeugma”. Pretty astounding stuff. First of all, what do these dealers consider the role of the US is in determining Turkey's economic development and energy programme? Do they expect the US to "bomb Turkey into the Stone Age" if Turkey (a sovereign country) does something (some or all) US citizens disapprove, like invest in hydroelectric power schemes? Just who do they think they are?

How is developing Turkey to produce energy when the same US gets jittery and suspicious when an Islamic nation, for example, starts to develop a nuclear programme? Perhaps they think that Turkey should restrict itself to donkey power and windmills?

I find it wholly hypocritical of these people to voice such sentiments when US industry (oil for example) is not exactly a shining example for the world to follow in that regard. It may have escaped these dealers' notice that America too has its fair share of dams, dams that submerge archaeological sites. I was writing about an example in Texas (as I recall) about a year ago where submerged 'injun' sites (so that's OK to flood them without excavation, eh Mr Tompa?) were being looted by artefact hunters when water-levels dropped.

Then we have the Tennessee valley. It was the flooding of 'injun' sites there by New Deal projects - as every textbook will tell you - that in the 1930s gave rise to modern (I use the term loosely) 'salvage archaeology' in the US (see Edwin A. Lyon 1996, 'A New Deal for Southeastern Archaeology', University of Alabama Press). So, according to Tompa and de La Fe, it's OK for the Americans to build dams and submerge sites, but if any other nation attempts it, they should be punished by World Policeman Washington by having all their cultural heritage stolen from them by American institutions and collectors? Yes, is that what they are saying?

Also I find it really pathetic that the Americans here assume that the ONLY people concerned about (and spending money on) were the US. That is patently wrong.

There has been rescue work carried out here since the 1950s by the Turkish archaeologists (nota bene prompted by looting, including of mosaics later found in the Menil Collection in Houston, Texas). An environmental impact survey was conducted here in 1988 (led by Guillermo Algaze from University of Chicago) but at the time, "no institution or university heeded his urgent call for rescue excavations". Working on their own, archaeologists from the museum in Gaziantep, the region's principal city, began excavations in 1992 by  Gaziantep Museum director Rifat Ergeç. There was a larger Turkish project in 1998-1999, the first foreign salvage excavation project was a mission from the West Australian University (David Kennedy) one season in 1993. The next one was Pierre Leriche and Catherine Abadie-Reynal of Nantes University in France in 1995 together with archaeologists from Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa museums working with money provided by the Turkish  Ministry of Culture and the French Foreign Ministry. It was in 1994 that Ergeç alerted the international archaeological community that work was going to start on the dam in 1996. He started the "save Zeugma" campaign calling for Turkish and foreign solidarity and support for Zeugma in the form of funds and more archaeologists, conservators, and excavators. Ergeç himself, working with limited resources provided by the continued sporadic rescue excavations.
Muammer Güler, the governor of Gaziantep, renewed the call to save Zeugma in 1998, channeling funds intended for the building of schools and hospitals to the rescue excavations. "We can build schools and hospitals next year," he explained, "but we can't save Zeugma." A Turkish company stepped up as a sponsor of the rescue efforts, providing funds for the museum in October 1999. Heavy earthmoving equipment and trucks given by the company speeded up the work.
 While all this work was going on, the dam started filling up. In June 2000 "with the world waking up to the drowning of Zeugma" (so six years after the appeal started and local archaeologists had been struggling to save what they could with local funds and outside sponsorship), did the US funds to which Tompa and de La Fe allude materialise:
the Packard Humanities Institute in California committed $5 million to saving Zeugma. The funds provide for 50 additional foreign archaeologists and 200 workers. 
Once again, however, it was not just US archaeologists saving the world single-handed. Many British archaeologists were actively involved in the campaign. An Oxford Archaeological Unit team, under the direction of Rob Early was working on the site too. An international team led by Roberto Nardi from Rome's Centro di Conservazione Archeologica, worked on conservation of the objects found (using it seems some Packard Institute money - not without controversy about the motivation behind this). Turkish work is still continuing on 'Zone C' of the site which was higher up on the hillside and is not submerged.

Whether or not the AIA were"pussycats" in not advocating bombing or starving Turkey into submission, or whatever these people think they should have done, I cannot say. I certainly recall a huge howling of protest from all sides back in the late 1990s and 2000. Maybe even advocates for the no-questions-asked trade in antiquities joined in? 

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