Friday, 15 November 2013

More on the Antiquities in Jena from the "Swiss Foundation Nereus"

There is now some followup information to the Jena case I discussed earlier. There is an interesting discussion going on over on the Online magazine here.

Axel Burchardt, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena (24.10.2013 10:56) imparts the information that:
the "Swiss Foundation Nereus" emerged from the private collection of Takuhiko Fujita, which was mainly built in the seventies through purchases at international auctions. The foundation was created after the death of the collector in 2001. Objects from this Collection and Foundation have long been made ​​available as loans to several major antiquities museums at home and abroad and partly published in official publications such as the Archäologischen Anzeiger overseen by internationally renowned archaeologists. This also applies to some of the objects now situated in Jena as permanent loans[...].
 So that's OK then, bought in various (unnamed) auction venues from the 1970s onwards. There's "absolutely no chance" then of any of them being in any way dodgy. Burchardt points out no customs authorities questioned the movement of the objects (as if....) and the University has no documentation showing they are in any way illcit (hmmm). Simple. Their inclusion in the Jena collection makes them, as the owners want them to be, available for "scientific discussion of these objects" ("It should be noted that the inclusion of private collections / loans in publicly accessible University collections is a quite common practice").

Ruth Schmiedeke, Berlin (24.10.2013 14:18) is having none of this "Verehrter Herr Burchardt, Sie irren gründlich" - "In such a case, it is up to the collection, the museum, etc. to prove that the antiques are legal. This is an international standard, I am surprised that you seem to be unaware of this" (adding "Raubgräberei is one of the worst evils of archaeology"). Vladimir (28/10/2013 03:34) agrees, pointing out the decency of a 1970 "paperless acquisition getout" date for museums.*
If you can indeed show the objects under discussion have such a provenance, please do so. Without such clarification, your behaviour, though far from unique, is simply inappropriate. In the meantime, I must say that your statement that much of the Nereus material was acquired in auctions in the 1970s is worrying, since by far most items traded in those days had no proper provenance, and are most likely to derive from illegal excavation and export. As stated in several of the comments, according to current guidelines and law, it is up to you to show that the objects you show have a proper provenance. The fact that some of the objects have been published is of no relevance to the discussion, we all know that even very distinguished scholars have published very 'wrong' items, like the famous Euphronios krater. 
Others add to the theme. "G. W." (30.10.2013 23:51) sums up the issue succinctly:
Es ist die fachliche Verantwortung der Wissenschaftler, dafür zu sorgen, dass die Quellen unseres Wissens - die Funde und insbesondere ihr Kontext - nicht weiter zerstört werden. Unabhängig von allen rechtlichen Fragen, ist es eine Frage der wissenschaftlichen Ethik, dass genau geprüft wird, was man hoffähig macht, und dass man nicht neue Anreize schafft, weitere Fundstellen zu plündern.

As a sequel to this discussion is a very long comment by Raimund Karl (31.10.2013) which seems a bit ambiguous and its overall message perhaps tends to get lost (as somebody later commented: "Als Anmerkung: in der Kürze liegt die Würze, bitte mehr Effektivität in den Kommentaren"). At the beginning Karl seems to be coming to the succour of the collector and the acquiring (university) collection. He stresses that there is no evidence that the University has done its due diligence (that is deciding that no German law was broken) and that "a general suspicion is not enough here, just , either legally or ethically". He suggests that the other writers on the topic before him had adopted a prejudiced approach to the issue at question and he likens the structure of the argument to a "witch hunt" which disturbs him. He closes by rephrasing the questions into seven discrete ones which in his opinion the University should be asked. They concern the nature of the reviewing process and nature of any guidelines the University might have. He called for a rejection of what he called a "fundamentalist and totalitarian dogmatism" before the facts are clear.

 Subsequent discussion pointed out that Karl had apparently overinterpreted the comments of the others, and jumped to conclusions about what they had been affirming, rather than noting that they had been raising similar questions to his own. They also pointed out that the problem was that the facts of this acquisition are still unclear though questions were raised several months ago.

It should be noted that since his comment on the 24th, Axel Burchardt has maintained a stubborn silence, and to date Karl's questions remain unanswered.

*Though he slips up and accidentally writes "before" rather than "after"

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