Sunday 17 March 2013

A Nation of Shopkeepers: Britain's Cultural Property Drain

A few days ago Rick St Hilaire published some revealing figures for imports into the USA of collectables and antiques and discussed the predominance of European nations within the top 20 sources of archaeological, historical, and ethnological material imported into the United States in 2012. Pre-eminent among them (by customs value) were Switzerland and Great Britain. In a later post he takes a closer look at these figures (Rick St Hilaire 'The U.K.: A Major Cultural Property Supplier', March 14, 2013). He shows the ranking of these countries as suppliers of collectables, including archaeological ones. The UK, Italy, China, Switzerland and Canada are in the top five, all with figures $10 million and above. The figures he presents indicate that the rate that these objects are being drained from the British Isles is is massive. Indeed he suggests that the official figures show that "the U.K. is the world's premier exporter by value" of this sort of material.  One wonders to what extent the flow of antiquities (including ancient and hammered coins) removed from archaeological sites in England and Wales by metal detectorists  - legal and illegal - is represented in these figures.  

There is an interesting discrepancy between the U.K.'s export data concerning transfer to the USA and the U.S.'s import data. Although there are problems with the way the goods are classified, the numbers do not match, $38 million recorded imports being a mismatch with $76 million exports to the USA. So where did the missing dollars/artefacts go? Obviously something to be explored. 

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