Monday 18 November 2013

Focus on UK Metal Detecting: Specious Arguments and Nighthawking

The G20 countries in the EU and beyond (Wikipedia). In many of them archaeological looting
and museum thefts are taking place

James Cuno was interviewed by Philip Kennicott (Emma Green 'Hunting Art Thieves Across Borders and Time', The Atlantic Nov 13 2013) about "how transnational politics have complicated the question of ownership in the art world" with particular reference to antiquities. For Cuno a serious problem is the identification of certain items as stolen.
In some ways, Cuno said, this incentivizes a culture of looting, presumably because art thieves are more easily able to sell art on the black market than legitimate dealers are. But people also become art thieves for other reasons. “Looters don’t wake up one day and decide between being a lawyer and a looter,” Cuno said. “These are people with very few choices, these are people with failed states and failed economies who are desperate. They’re willing to risk their lives. To prevent looting is going to require a much larger set of activities: restore stable governments, the economy, stop warfare, stop sectarian violence.” So, it seems, even art theft has been affected by globalization: Porous borders, changing regimes, and regional inequality make it hard to tell who owns, and who has stolen, any work of art.
... or antiquity. So, according to this view, those (like so-called 'nighthawks') who go out and illegally loot archaeological sites for something to take away and sell are there because they are all "desperate people, with very few other choices". Cuno suggests that the reason for archaeological looting in the world today is not the existence of people willing to buy items without enquiring too closely where they come from, but wholly external factors such as being people with failed states and failed economies to contend with who are desperate. Is this really an explanation of the looter with metal detector and spade in countries like Great Britain and the United States, what about their counterparts in France, or Germany and other G20 coungries?

The reality is neither poverty nor political inequalities are the sole reason behind the prevalence of looting. The advocates of collecting suggest that dealing with illicit antiquities (looting and smuggling) is "impossible" through maintaining a more transparent and accountable market. Like some vacant beauty pageant miss, they say the "only" way to deal with this is first to eliminate world poverty and bring world peace ("restore stable governments, [restore] the economy, stop warfare, stop sectarian violence"). By attempting to gain acceptance for such utopian postulates substituting for real action, the pro-collecting lobby wish to deflect attention from the role of the no-questions-asked market in promoting the looting of archaeological sites throughout the world.

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